Friday, August 5, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.11: Telling It Like It Really Is

vyaadhir alpena yatnena
mRduH pratinivaaryate
prabalaH prabalair eva
yatnair nashyati vaa na vaa

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

A mild illness is warded off

With little effort;

A serious illness is cured with serious efforts,

Or else it is not.

On coming back to this verse yesterday morning, it reminded me of statements of Zen enlightenment like "a stone lantern in the garden is a stone lantern in the garden," or "fishes are swimming like fishes, birds are flying like birds."

A minor illness is minor; it is seen off with not much effort.
A serious illness is serious; it is cured with serious efforts.

But when after a few hours I read today's verse again last night I was as if stung by the sting in its tail -- vaa na vaa, or else not.

This morning I find myself looking up in the dictionary the word "glib": fluent in a superficial or insincere way ; shallow and lacking thought or preparation.

In glibly subscribing to the view that "a serious illness is serious, cured with serious efforts," I set myself up to be stung by "or else not."

Having been stung, and having slept on it, I find much deeper meaning in today's verse than I suspected it contained. Today's verse might be the real story of many people's lives, including my own -- in which I have glibly expected certain things to turn out well in the end.

"Or else not" might mean, for example, "this serious illness is more than just serious; it is fatal: it is going to kill you, regardless of what efforts you make."

"Or else not" might mean, for example, that many handsome princes fail to slay the dragon, fail to cross the moat, and fail to live happily ever after with the beautiful princess.

"Or else not" might express the ultimate teaching of the buddha not as a Zen view of a stone lantern in a temple garden but as the ripping away of all views.

Enlightenment, my Zen teacher told me, is something as it is. I believed him and wholeheartedly bought into his view. But what, in the end, did he know? When it came to the appropriate means for pursuing desired ends, my teacher did not know as much, it transpired, as I thought he did. He did not know as much, I dare say, as he thought he did.

The Japanese have a saying that in past years my wife quoted to me in a spirit of optimism: OWARI YOKEREBA, SUBETE YOSHI, lit. "if the end is good, everything is good," i.e., All's well that ends well.

Sometimes, my wife cheerfully opined, when people grow old and sense death approaching, they begin to let go of everything and their original buddha-nature shines through.

Or else not.

On the contrary, I have had plenty of cause to reflect, in a spirit of negating all -isms, that if the means are wrong, things have no chance of turning out well in the end.

"Just practise Zazen every day and your life will be an inevitable process of the truth unfolding."

Or else not.

"Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while sending the knees forwards and away. Never let a day go by without coming back those words. Those directions will take you where you want to go."

Or else not.

So in this verse gentle Ananda is just sort of softening Nanda up by stating some self-evident truths about mild and serious illnesses; he is gradually coming around to saying what needs to be said.

Or else he is ripping out the Buddha's eyeballs.

EH Johnston:
A minor illness is averted with little trouble but a great one can only be cured by great efforts and not even always then.

Linda Covill:
A mild illness can be checked with little effort, but a violent illness is destroyed only with great effort, if at all.

vyaadhiH (nom. sg.): m. disorder , disease , ailment , sickness ,
alpena (inst. sg. m.): mfn. small
yatnena (inst. sg.): m. activity of will ; effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care , endeavour

mRduH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. soft, mild, slight
pratinivaaryate = 3rd pers. sg. passive causative prati-ni-vvR
prati: ind. (as a prefix to roots) against , in opposition to
ni- v vR: to hinder , stop , prevent

prabalaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. strong , powerful , mighty , great; pernicious, dangerous
prabalaiH (inst. pl. m.): strong , powerful , mighty , great
eva (emphatic)

yatnaiH (inst. pl.): m. activity of will ; effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care , endeavour
nashyati = 3rd pers. sg. nash: to be lost , perish , disappear , be gone
vaa na vaa: or else not

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