Thursday, July 28, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.3: Horse-Power Reined In

tathaa lol'-endriyo bhuutvaa
indriy'-aartha-vashaad eva
babhuuva niyat'-endriyaH

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Thus did one whose sense-power had been restless,

Whose senses had grazed on the pasture of his wife,

Come, by the very power of sense-objects,

To have his sense-power reined in.

If rasa, taste, was the refrain in yesterday's verse, the refrain in today's is indriya, which means the senses or, more exactly, the power of the senses.

In 10.41 the restless power of the senses, lol'-endriyaH, was compared to a horse:

Dragged along by the mind-chariot whose horse is the restless power of the senses, he could not come to stillness. [10.41]

This verse can be read as an extension of that metaphor, with gocaraH having the double meaning of a pasture and the range of the sense organs.

Restraining the power of the senses is, as the Buddha makes abundantly clear in Canto 13, a fundamental step in the Buddha's teaching. Hence, for example:

On that basis, standing grounded in mindfulness, the naturally impetuous senses / From the objects of those senses you should hold back (nivaarayitum arhasi).// [13.30]

Through effort of the highest order, therefore, contain the power of the senses (kaaryaH indriya-saMvaraH); / For unguarded senses make for suffering and for becoming. [13.54]

But notice that the subtle and indirect means which the Buddha advocates in these verses is minduflness (smRtim) and effort of the highest order (parama yatnena), and not the lowly means of a tethering post or a great big carrot.

If the power of the senses is akin to a wayward horse that needs to be restrained, what kind of restraint are we talking about? Restraint like understanding the fears of the horse as a flight animal, and the desires of the horse as a social herd animal, training the horse on that basis, and giving him a wide field? Or restraint like simply tying him to a tethering post?

It is the combination of direct restraint, or suppression, as symbolized by the tethering post, and exciting carrot-like stimulus, Ashvaghosha tells us in 11.6, which causes formerly handsome Nanda to become extremely ugly.

Is it true to say that the Buddha relied on the lowly means of a tethering post just as a temporary expedient, just to begin with? Ashvaghosha's narrative might be read as inviting such an understanding, but I don't read it like that. The Buddha tells Nanda in 10.63 to delight in restraint (niyame ramasva), being attentive and ready. It is not the Buddha who ties Nanda to a tethering post of restraint. It is Nanda who, failing to understand the Buddha's instruction, ties himself up.

Trying to restrain oneself without due awareness of exactly what it is that needs restraining, is not a recipe for that stillness without fixity which makes for beauty of the highest order. It is a recipe for that fixity without stillness which becomes extremely ugly, being associated as it is with unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions.

EH Johnston:
Thus it was under the influence of the objects of the senses that from having had restless senses with his beloved as the sole province of his senses he now became controlled in his senses.

Linda Covill:
So it was that Nanda with his restive senses, who had pastured his senses with his lover, now became controlled in his senses through the very power of sensory experience.

tathaa: ind. so, thus, in this manner
lol'-endriyaH (nom. sg. m.): with his restless senses, a man of restless senses
lola: mfn. moving hither and thither , shaking , rolling , tossing , dangling , swinging , agitated , unsteady , restless; changeable , transient , inconstant , fickle
indriya: n. bodily power , power of the senses , sense
bhuutvaa = abs. bhuu: to be, become

dayit'-endriya-gocaraH (nom. sg. m.): the pasture ground of his senses having been his beloved wife
dayita: mfn. cherished , beloved , dear
dayitaa: f. a wife , beloved woman
indriya: n. bodily power , power of the senses , sense
go-cara: m. pasture ground for cattle ; range , field for action , abode , dwelling-place , district (esp. ifc. " abiding in , relating to " ; " offering range or field or scope for action , within the range of , accessible , attainable , within the power "); the range of the organs of sense

indriy'-aartha-vashaat: by force of an object of his senses
indriy'-aartha: m. an object of sense (as sound , smell , &c ) , anything exciting the senses
vasha: m. authority , power , control , dominion
eva: (emphatic)

babhuuva = 3rd pers. sg. perfect bhuu: to be, become
niyat'-endriyaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having the passions subdued or restrained
niyata: mfn. held back or in , fastened ; restrained , checked , curbed , suppressed , restricted , controlled ; disciplined , self-governed , abstemious , temperate
ni- √ yam: to stop , hold back ; stay ; to hold in , keep down , restrain , control , govern , regulate (as breath , the voice , the organs of sense &c)
indriya: n. power of the senses

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