Sunday, July 17, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.57: Desperate Seeking of Refuge, with Rhymes

sthite vishiShTe tvayi saMshraye shraye
yathaa na yaam' iiha vasan dishaM dishaM
yathaa ca labdhvaa vyasana-kShayaM kShayaM
vrajaami tan me kuru shaMsataH sataH

- = - = = - - = - = - =
- = - = = - - = - = - =
- = - = = - - = - = - =
- = - = = - - = - = - =

In you who abides conspicuously in the state of refuge,
I seek refuge.

So that I might not go through this world
loafing hither and thither,

And so that, after coming to that abode
which is my adversity-ending end,

I might go beyond,
please help me who is repeatedly pleading."

In a note to his Sanskrit text, EHJ states that the 2nd line of the original manuscript evidently contains a mistake, and he explains his emendments, which both LC and the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon Project follow in their transliterations.

In form, today's verse mirrors the play on words in yesterday's verse:

- = - = = - - = shra ye shra ye
- = - = = - - = di shaM di shaM
- = - = = - - = kSha yaM kSha yaM
- = - = = - - = sa taH sa taH

Line 4 not only ends with the repetition of the syllables sa and taH, but also contains the word shaMsataH which itself means "repeating." A verse like today's is so rich in both its form and its content, that it could almost warrant a book in its own right. No English translation, I am afraid, will ever do justice to Ashvaghosha's original.

In its content, this verse can be seen as marking the beginning of the second half of Saundara-nanda. It is the point where Nanda really takes refuge in the Buddha -- as opposed to reluctantly going through the motions as he did in Canto 5.

It is not difficult to call oneself "a Buddhist." Anybody can tick that box. But the most difficult thing for one who aspires to follow and understand the Buddha's teaching, according to Dogen, is to meet a real human being who abides in the samadhi of the buddha-ancestors and to ask him or her for his or her help.

For me, to meet Gudo Nishijima and ask for his help was the best I have been able to do. He seemed to me somehow to meet the criterion, in spite of self-confessed stupidity. But that evidently didn't disqualify me from suspecting that his Zazen teaching was all arse over tit, and from endeavouring to clarify exactly why and how his teaching was arse over tit. His teaching was arse over tit because the supreme method of the buddhas is a practice of non-doing, whereas Gudo's teaching was based on the opposite conception of doing this, that, and the other to keep the spine straight vertically. And to turn the practice of non-doing into a doing is just to turn freedom into its opposite.

Today's verse in its content also brings to my mind a song sung by supporters of Birmingham City Football Club, whose lyrics go:

Keep right on to the end of the road,
Keep right on to the end.
Though the way be long, let your heart be strong,
Keep right on to the end.
Though you're tired and weary still journey on,
Till you come to your happy abode,
Where all you love, you've been dreaming of,
Will be there, at the end of the road.

Depending on how one understands vrajaami (because √vraj means both to proceed onwards, and to retire) today's verse seems to add to these sentiments the direction, "and, having already come to that happy abode, keep going on some more."

Alternatively, today's verse can be read as saying, "and, having come to that happy abode, retire. Job done."

It may be that Ashvaghosha's use of √vraj is deliberately ambiguous, reflecting the tendencies that we have (a) when in end-gaining mode to conceive of gaining our end and then retiring; and (b) when in non-endgaining mode to wish to keep going endlessly in the right direction.

If √vraj in today's verse expresses true transcendence, going on as in the matter of a buddha's going on up, is Nanda aware of the truth of his own words, or is he not? I think maybe not.

For the purpose of expressing a would-be practitioner's wish to seek the help of a good teacher, the words Nanda speaks today are a truly excellent example. But is Nanda himself aware of the excellence of his own words? I think maybe not.

If the state of refuge is the samadhi of accepting and using the self, is it possible for an impassioned person who is not in that state to wish for an end to end-gaining, without that wish itself being a kind of end-gaining? I think maybe not.

This is a philosophical impasse, like the kind of Zen koan that some Zen practitioners like to think about (thinking about being a different kettle of fish from thinking itself, or non-thinking). And the practical way out of it might be just to will a means, to get going in some direction, without worrying about whether one's willing the means and going into movement is tainted by emotional grasping for the end, or not.

Like Marjory Barlow used to say "Think your directions and go into movement, without a care in the world. Let it come out in the wash."

Thus, to Nanda at the extremity of his suffering (as also in the case of the bereaved mother who the Buddha sent on a mission to find a mustard seed), the Buddha does not preach any Zen philosophy about donkeys and carrots, or polishing tiles and making mirrors. Neither does the Buddha give Nanda a subject of meditation. The Buddha just gives Nanda a great big carrot, to get the donkey trotting eagerly into movement, head leading, body following.

EH Johnston:
I take my refuge in Thee, the preeminent Refuge. Do Thou so act for me who implore Thee that I may not wander from birth to birth but may come into possession of that abode which is the destruction of misfortune.'

Linda Covill:
I take refuge in you who are established in the best refuge. So that I do not depart from this life to dwell now here, now there, so that I can obtain that abode which is the end of misery -- and still continue -- take action for me who am your suppliant."

sthite (loc. sg.): mfn. standing , staying , situated , resting or abiding or remaining in (loc) ; being there , existing , present , close at hand , ready
vishiShTe (loc. sg.): mfn. distinguished , distinct , particular; pre-eminent , excellent , excelling in or distinguished by (loc. , instr. adv. in tas , or comp.) , chief or best among (gen.) , better or worse than (abl. or comp.)
vi- √ śiṣ: to distinguish , make distinct or different , particularize , specify , define ; to distinguish (from others)
tvayi (loc. sg. m.): in you
saMshraye = 1st pers. sg. pres. saM- √ shri: to join or attach one's self to , go for refuge or succour to , resort or betake one's self to , cling to for protection , seek the help of
shraye (loc. sg.): m. (fr. √shri) approaching for protection , asylum , refuge , protection

yathaa: ind. that , so that
na: not
yaami = 1st pers. sg. pres. yaa: to go , proceed, move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey; to flee , escape
iha: ind. in/to this place/world; here ; now, at this time
vasan = nom. sg. m. pres. part vas: to dwell , live , stop (at a place) , stay
disham (acc. sg.): f. quarter , region , direction , place , part ( dishi , dishi , in all directions , everywhere )

yathaa: ind. that , so that , in order that ca
labdvaa = abs. labh: to meet with , find; gain possession of , obtain
vyasana-kShayam (acc. sg.): the end of adversity
vyasana: n. moving to and fro , wagging (of a tail); attachment or devotion or addiction to (loc. or comp.) , passion , (esp.) evil passion , sin , crime , vice ; evil predicament or plight , disaster , accident , evil result , calamity , misfortune ; ill-luck , distress , destruction , defeat , fall , ruin
kShaya: m. an abode , dwelling-place , seat , house; m. loss , waste , wane , diminution , destruction , decay , wasting or wearing away (often ifc.); removal ; end, termination

vrajaami = 1st pers. sg. pres. vraj: to go , walk , proceed , travel ; to go away , go abroad , retire , withdraw
tad (acc. sg.): that, there, then
me (gen. sg.): me
kuru = 2nd pers. sg. imperative kR: to do, make; to do anything for the advantage or injury of another (gen. or loc.)
shaMsataH = gen. sg. m. pres. part. shaMs: to recite , repeat ; to relate , say , tell , report , declare , announce ; to be unhappy
sataH = gen. sg. m. pres. part. as: to be

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