Wednesday, July 20, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.60: Exhortation to Practise, When Aroused

imaa hi shakyaa na balaan na sevayaa
na saMpradaanena na ruupa-vat-tayaa
imaa hriyante khalu dharma-caryayaa
sacet praharShash cara dharmam aadRtaH

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For these women are conquered
neither by force nor by service,

Neither by gifts nor by good looks;

They are mastered just by dharma-conduct.

If aroused, practise dharma diligently.

Today's verse, as I read it, is one of those verses whose ostensible and deeper meanings might be read as being totally opposite.

Today's verse could be the ultimate exhortation to go directly for a desired object, and Nanda seems to understand it like that. But it could also be read as an ultimate expression of non-end-gaining.

What is a man's conquest of celestial nymphs? The serial overpowering of women by a man? Or the man's mastery of something in himself, by himself, for himself.

Does conquering nymphs means winning them as objects of sexual conquest? If so, has anybody ever done it, or witnessed it happening? I think that in reality no man has ever bedded a celestial nymph, except in his own imagination.

Or is the Buddha's real intention that by dharma-conduct a man can become adept in accepting and using himself, in which state objects of sexual fantasy, being neither suppressed nor pursued, cease to be a problem?

The last line of today's verse literally reads, "If there is erection/arousal, practise dharma diligently." The overt meaning is "If you are turned on by these women, practise dharma diligently in order to gain them as objects of your sexual desire." This, in any event, is the meaning that Nanda took from the Buddha's words.

Another way of reading the line is in light of Dogen's teaching of delusion and enlightenment, viz., to push ourselves to practise dharma is delusion, whereas the condition in which something pushes us to practise dharma is enlightenment. In that case the last line means something like, "Providing the dharma is pushing you to do so (as opposed to you trying to push the dharma), practise dharma diligently."

In this distinction is the distinction that I spent (wasted?) so many years criticizing my Zen teacher for failing to clarify in his teaching around right posture in Zazen. It is the distinction between doing and non-doing, apropos of which the Alexander teacher Patrick Macdonald wrote:

"Of course, non-doing is a kind of doing, but it is very subtle. The difference is that, in doing, you do it, whereas in nondoing, it does you. Those of you who have never had practical experience of the Alexander Technique will probably find this difficult to understand."

sacet praharShaH, "if there is erection/arousal," ostensibly refers to a sexual motivation. But it brings to my mind another kind of motivation, which relates to a metaphor Ashvaghosha uses to describe the first stage of sitting-meditation. I think of a bloke on a hot beach on a windless afternoon beneath a cloudless sky, looking out over a bay where a cool sea laps the shore, and not needing to push himself at all to go for a swim. Entering the sea for him, is like entering the first stage of sitting-meditation, a refreshing experience. If, as he swims along diligently, doing a swimmer's dharma-duty, he accepts and uses himself well (possibly as a result of having taken lessons from an Alexander teacher like my brother or my wife), then his enjoyment of samadhi through his whole body might be very like the second stage of sitting-meditation.

Of course, if you are a hugely ambitious swimmer, if you want to be an Olympic champion, it might be necessary to push yourself hard, at least some of the time. But is it the Buddha's teaching to be hugely ambitious? Or is it the Buddha's teaching never to be ambitious at all?

The dharma of a buddha is not to swim. The dharma of a buddha is to sit. And the ultimate dharma of Gautama Buddha might be to do so just when roused by the dharma to do so, contentedly, without any ambition.

EH Johnston:
For they are not to be gained by force or service or gifts or handsomeness of person ; they are indeed only to be obtained by following the Law. If you find pleasure in them, practise the Law intently.

Linda Covill:
For they cannot be won by strength, nor by service, not by gifts, not by handsomeness, but only by the practice of dharma. If they please you, practice dharma diligently.

imaaH (nom. pl. f.): these [women]
hi: for
shakyaaH (nom. pl. f.): mfn. to be conquered or subdued
na: not
balaat (abl. sg): n. strength, force
na: not
sevayaa = inst. sg. sevaa: f. going or resorting to , visiting , frequenting; service , attendance on; worship , homage , reverence , devotion

na: not
saMpradaanena (inst. sg.): n. the act of giving ; a gift, present
sam-pra- √ daa: to give completely up or deliver wholly over , surrender , give ; grant, bestow
na: not
ruupa-vat-tayaa (inst. sg.): f. beauty
ruupavat: mfn. having a beautiful form or colour , handsomely formed , handsome , beautiful
-taa: (abstract noun suffiix)

imaaH (nom. pl. f.): these [women]
hriyante = 3rd pers. pl. passive hR: to take away , carry off ; to take to one's self , appropriate (in a legitimate way) , come into possession of (acc.) , receive (as an heir) , raise (tribute) , marry (a girl); to master , overpower , subdue , conquer , win , win over
khalu: ind. (as a particle of asseveration) indeed , verily , certainly , truly
dharma-caryayaa (inst. sg.): f. observance of the law , performance of duty
caryaa: f. going about , wandering , walking or roaming about;
caarya: n. (often ifc.) proceeding , behaviour , conduct

sacet: if
praharShaH (nom. sg. m.): m. erection (or greater erection) of the male organ ; erection of the hair , extreme joy , thrill of delight , rapture
pra- √hṛṣ: to rejoice , be glad or cheerful , exult
cara = 2nd pers. sg. imperative car: to move one's self , go , walk , move , stir , roam about , wander; to behave , conduct one's self , act , live
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. dharma, law, duty etc.
aadRtaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. attentive , careful , zealous , diligent ; respected , honoured , worshipped
√dR: (occurring only with prep. aa-) to respect , honour

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