Tuesday, July 26, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.1: Nanda the Unready

tatas taa yoShito dRShTvaa
nando nandana-caariNiiH
babandha niyama-stambhe
dur-damaM capalaM manaH

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

And so, having gazed upon those women

Who wander in the Gardens of Nandana,

Nanda tethered to a post of restraint

The fickle and unruly mind.

Nandana is the name of Indra's celestial garden, translated in 4.6 as Indra's Gardens of Gladness, and referred to in 10.18 as kriiDaa-vanaM vajradharasya raajNaH, "the pleasure-grove of the royal bearer of the thunderbolt."

In my first attempt at translating today's verse I translated the second half in a way that sounded natural to my ear:

Nanda tethered to the post of restraint his fickle and unruly mind.

But after reflecting on it, I changed the translation to:

Nanda tethered to a post of restraint the fickle and unruly mind.

Clear and unambiguous though Sanskrit grammar tends to be -- mercifully so when compared with Japanese and Chinese -- in some instances Sanskrit is more ambiguous than English, as in its failure in today's verse to distinguish between the definite and indefinite article.

Does niyama-stambhe in line 3 mean "to a tethering post of restraint" or "to the tethering post of restraint"?

Does dur-damaM capalaM manaH mean "a fickle and unruly mind [i.e. Nanda's]" or "the mind which is [universally] fickle and unruly"?

For Nanda, evidently, restraint (niyama) was a tethering post -- something that restricted his freedom of movement. But when the Buddha in 10.63 tells Nanda "delight in restraint!" (niyame ramasva), does the Buddha have in mind something like a tethering post? I think not. I think that what the Buddha means by delighting in restraint might involve something less direct, less fixed, less crudely physical, less restrictive of freedom.

And was there something special about Nanda that made his mind peculiarly fickle and unruly, as compared, for example, to the mind of me or you, or as compared to the mind of a fifty or sixty-year veteran of Zazen? Again, I think maybe not. I think Ashvaghosha's intention might be that the human mind, in general, is fickle and unruly. And the mind of a Zen veteran with sixty or seventy years experience of daily sitting is liable to become more and more fickle and unruly. People don't expect the mind of a "Zen Roshi" to deteriorate. But what seems to be self-evidently true, especially if it carries a convincing-sounding label, so often turns out not to have been true after all.

What sounds goods does not always make the best sense. And what looks impressive does not always have valuable substance. Michel Thomas and Richard Feynman would not need convincing on these points. Why so many of my heroes are non-Buddhists of Jewish descent, I don't know. It might have something to do with a tendency not to worship false idols, graven images, fake elephants.

Among dragons and elephants in the world of Zen today, it is very difficult to find one real dragon who is not at least somewhat tied to the tethering post of good posture.

The Buddha's exhortation in 10.63 that Nanda should delight in restraint, as I hear it, does not involve any kind of tethering post. What it involves is rather being attentive (apramattaH) and ready (samudyataH).

People who have heard of the Alexander Technique think that it has to do with posture. Truly, AT has more to do with practice of restraint. Posture is just a post to which to tether a donkey for ten thousand years. FM Alexander himself was not interested in posture. According to him, "The readiness is all."

Still, when a photographer has got his or her finger on the shutter, ready to take a picture, who can truly say that he doesn't care what kind of form will be captured for posterity? I for one, in the effort to appear free and poised, am liable to stiffen up and grin like an idiot.

EH Johnston:
Then Nanda tethered his fickle rebellious mind to the post of self-control, after seeing those women who wander in the grove of Nandana.

Linda Covill:
After seeing those women who wander in the gardens of Nandana, Nanda bound his volatile mind, so difficult to tame, to the post of restraint.

tataH: ind. from that, thence
taaH (acc. pl. f.): those [women]
yoShitaH (acc. pl.): f. women
dRShTvaa = abs. dRsh: to see, behold, look at

nandaH (nom. sg.): m. Nanda
nandana-caariNiiH (acc. pl. f.): who wander in [the Garden of] Gladness
nandana: mfn. rejoicing , gladdening; n. gladdening or gladness ; a divine garden , (esp.) indra's paradise
caarin: (ifc.) moving , walking or wandering about , living , being

babandha = 3rd pers. sg. perfect bandh: to bind , tie , fix , fasten; to fix , direct , fasten , rivet (eyes , ears or mind) on (loc.)
niyama-stambhe (loc. sg.): to the post of restraint
niyama: m. restraining , checking , holding back ; any fixed rule or law
stambha: m. a post , pillar , column

dur-damam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. hard to be subdued
dam: to tame , subdue , conquer
capalam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. moving to and fro , shaking , trembling , unsteady , wavering ; wanton , fickle , inconstant
manaH (acc. sg.): n. mind

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