Saturday, July 30, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.5: Nanda All Washed Out & Dried Up

saMvRtena ca shaantena
tiivreNa madanena ca
jal'-aagner iva saMsargaac
chashaama ca shushoSha ca

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

By a suffocating inhibition,

And by a burning love,

As if from a combination of water and fire,

He became both washed out and dried up.

Line 1 literally seems to suggest an inhibited state rather than a process of inhibition. A more literal translation of saMvRtena shaantena might be "by stifled calm," or "by suffocated tranquillity."

If we follow the translations of EHJ and LC, saMvRtena shaantena expresses true restraint -- restraint that produces tranquillity, calming restraint.

In that case, if Nanda were wobbling between true tranquillity and burning love, the next verse should tell us that naturally handsome Nanda wobbled between his naturally handsome state and an ugly state of grasping desire.

In fact what Ashvaghosha tells us in 11.6 is that Nanda became extremely ugly -- yes, because of his anxious grasping desire for the apsarases, but also because of his protracted self-restraint.

So we need to be clear in this part exactly what kind of restraint we are talking about.

True, Ashvaghosha describes Nanda in 11.8 as vyavasthitam, which seems to mean "settled."

And when Ananda begins his speech to Nanda in 11.9, true, Andanda begins by praising Nanda for holding back the power of his senses and devoting himself to restraint.

But vyavasthitam can also mean fixed (as in 10.64). And behind Andanda's praise, it turns out as his speech progresses, lurks not a little irony.

So line 1 of today's verse, as I read it, is not expressing true restraint.

When it comes to understanding this verse, I might sagely add, it helps to have had long years of experience tying oneself to a tethering post of false restraint.

True restraint, which involves what the Buddha in 10.63 calls being attentive (a-pramattaH) and ready, or up for action (samudyataH), does not involve any tethering post.

When looking for a word to express true restraint, FM Alexander looked to the lexicon of neuro-physiology and opted for "inhibition." This word, of course, is also used by students of the human mind to express something that suppresses or blocks spontaneity.

So what "inhibition" means to us in English is totally ambiguous. In Alexander work, inhibition unlocks spontaneity. In Freudian psychology, inhibition blocks spontaneity. The same ambiguity is intended by Ashvaghosha, as I read him, in the use of the word shaanta, which might express a state of stillness in which passion is absent, or might express a state of fixity in which passion is suppressed.

But in this verse, as I read it, as is made particularly clear by the following verse, Ashvaghosha is describing not the true restraint that makes for stillness and beauty; he is describing the false, stifling, repressive restraint that makes for fixity and ugliness.

Some people say that the point of Soto Zen sitting practice is just the sitting posture itself. The problem with that understanding is that it has already turned "the sitting posture" into a kind of tethering post. I would say that a closer approximation of the truth is that the ultimate point of the sitting practice of all the buddha-ancestors, from the Buddha, through Ashvaghosha, to Dogen, is to manifest stillness without stifling spontaneity.

What the hell that means, don't ask me. But one thing it doesn't mean is tying oneself to a tethering post.

EH Johnston:
By means of the restraint that produces tranquillity he became tranquil and through the sharp pangs of love he withered, just as, when fire and water come together, the one is quenched, the other dried up.

Linda Covill:
He was soothed by calming restraint and drained by violent passion, just as one is calmed and dried from a combination of water and fire.

saMvRtena (inst. sg.): mfn. covered , shut up , enclosed or enveloped in (loc.) , surrounded or accompanied or protected by (instr.) ; full of (inst.); concealed , laid aside , kept , secured; restrained , suppressed , retired , withdrawn ; contracted , compressed , closed (as the throat); subdued
ca: and
shaantena (inst. sg.): m. tranquillity , contentment ; m. an ascetic whose passions are subdued ; n. tranquillity , peace of mind

tiivreNa (inst. sg.): mfn. strong , severe , violent , intense , hot , pervading , excessive , ardent , sharp , acute , pungent , horrible; m. sharpness , pungency
madanena (inst. sg.): m. passion , love or the god of love
ca: and

jal'-aagneH (gen. sg. m.): water and fire
jala: n. water
agni: m. fire
iva: like
saMsargaat (abl. sg.): m. mixture or union together , commixture , blending , conjunction

shashaama = 3rd pers. sg. perfect sham: to become tired , finish , stop , come to an end , rest , be quiet or calm or satisfied or contented ; to cease , be allayed or extinguished
ca: and
shushoSha = 3rd pers. sg. perfect shuSh: to dry , become dry or withered , fade , languish , decay;
ca: and

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