Sunday, August 7, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.13: Mission Rather Difficult

duShkaraM saadhv an-aaryeNa
maaninaa c' aiva maardavaM
ati-sargash ca lubdhena
brahmacaryaM ca raagiNaa

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

Good is hard for an ignoble man to do,

Meekness is hard for an arrogant man,

Giving is hard for a greedy man,

And devout practice is hard for a man of passion.

The previous verse begins with dur-haraH, hard or difficult to remove, and this verse begins with duSh-karam, hard or difficult to do.

In both cases, the real degree of difficulty might be as expressed by a Japanese estate agent when a foreigner enters his shop seeking to rent a property and the estate agent sucks his teeth and says CHOTTO MUZUKASHI.... "it is a bit difficult..." by which he really means there is not a cat in hell's chance.

If an ignoble man does good, just in the moment of doing good, is he an ignoble man?

If an arrogant man peaceably backs away from a fight, just in the moment of meekly backing away, is he an arrogant man?

If a greedy man makes a gift, just in the moment of giving, is he a greedy man?

If a passionate man lies down on his back and completely gives up all idea of gaining any end, just in the moment of giving up his desire to go directly for any end, is he a passionate man?

In each case, I think that the answer is No. So the real meaning of duShkaram, lit. "hard to do," might be "totally impossible to do."

And so Ananda's true intention, which seems on the surface to be to praise Nanda for having done what was difficult for Nanda to do, might in fact be to highlight the fact that Nanda's ascetic practice, motivated by the prospect of celestial sex, has not for a moment been devout at all.

If brahma-caryam means a life of devout or religious or celibate practice, then what such a life is, I do not know. If brahma-caryam means only a moment of devout practice, I still do not know what it is.

I only know that when some strong desire to go directly for an end triggers in me a reaction that is coloured by the red taint of an infantile panic/grasp reflex, that is not it.

Or else it is.

Or else, just in the moment of being mindful of the reaction that I wish to be free of, some seed of devout practice -- even if only for a moment -- exists.

I once described myself to Marjory Barlow as an end-gainer, but Marjory wasn't having any of that. "Listen," she said. "You can end-gain. Or you can follow the means-whereby. It is your choice. It is up to you."

So here and now what am I: a man of passion? Or a man of small desire?

The Buddha said, "You beggars should know that people of big desire and abundant wants abundantly seek gain, and so their cares also are abundant. A person of small desire and few wants, being free of seeking and free of wanting, does not have this trouble. Small desire, wanting little, you should practise just for itself. Still more, wanting little can produce all kinds of benefits: People of small desire and few wants have no tendency to curry favour and bend in order to gain the minds of others. Again, they are not led as if they were enslaved by the senses. Those who practise wanting little are level in mind; they are without worries and fears; when they come into contact with things they have latitude; and they are constantly free from dissatisfaction. Those who have small desire and few wants just have nirvana. This is called 'wanting little.' "

Insofar as the Buddha talks of people of big desire, I am afraid I might be one of those. Insofar as the Buddha talks of a person of small desire, I am afraid I might never be one of those. But insofar as the Buddha talks of small desire or wanting little as a practice, then, yes, I am confident I can practise that practice. Even if it is only for a moment, I can practise that practice of small desire, or wanting little.

For example, even though my knee is taking a long time to heal, I wouldn't even dream of resorting to a so-called seiza bench as an alternative to sitting cross-legged. I prefer to sit in full lotus, even if I can't keep still for more than 20 minutes at a time. And if I can't sit still in lotus for more than 10 minutes, then I will settle for 10 minutes. Or if the limit is 5 minutes, then I will sit cross-legged for 5 minutes, then stretch a bit, then sit for 5 minutes again. This, for me, is one way of practising the Buddha's teaching of small desire, even if the practice time is only short. But sitting on a so-called seiza-bench, in my opinion, is not the Buddha's teaching but some other teaching.

Sitting in full lotus is always going to be rather difficult, one might say, for a man who prefers to rely on a so-called seiza-bench.

EH Johnston:
Hard it is for an irreligious man to do good, for a proud man to be humble, for a covetous man to be greatly generous and for a man full of passion to carry out the observance of chastity.

Linda Covill:
Goodness is hard for the ignoble, flexibility for the opinionated, liberality for the avaricious, and celibacy for the lustful.

duShkaram (nom. sg. n.): mfn. hard to be done or borne , difficult
saadhu (nom. sg. n.): mfn. straight , right ; leading straight to a goal , hitting the mark , unerring (as an arrow or thunderbolt); good
an-aaryeNa (inst. sg.): mfn. ignoble

maaninaa (inst. sg.): mfn. (fr. √ man or fr. maana) thinking , being of opinion; high-minded , haughty , proud
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
maardavam (nom. sg. n.): n. softness, pliancy , weakness , gentleness , kindness , leniency

ati-sargaH (nom. sg.): m. act of parting with , dismissal , giving away
ca: and
lubdhena (inst. sg.): mfn. bewildered , confused ; greedy , covetous , avaricious , desirous ; n. a lustful man

brahma-caryam (nom. sg.): n. study of the veda , the state of an unmarried religious student , a state of continence and chastity (see 11.4)
ca: and
raagiNaa (inst. sg.): mfn. red ; impassioned , affectionate , enamoured ; m. a lover , libertine


Pete said...

So tell me Mike in your opinion is sitting in half lotus the Buddha’s teaching? About three weeks ago I suffered an extremely painful groin strain and was told by my GP to rest my leg. So as not to aggravate the injury I now sit in half lotus and very pleasant it is too. I can recommend it. Give it a go.
I treasure your translation of Master Dogen's Fukan-zazengi Shinpitsu–bon but find Mining Ashvaghosa’s Gold a bit tedious. I appreciate that you must put a lot of effort into it but to be honest I read it for your comments. I love your anecdotes and always look forward to you getting into an online ruck with someone.
Cheers, and hoping our legs get better soon, Pete

Mike Cross said...

Hello Pete. For me not only sitting in half lotus but any kind of effort to sit cross-legged is better than sitting on a seiza-bench, because any kind of cross-legged sitting is a step on the way to sitting in full lotus. Count yourself lucky your GP didn't diagnose depression and tell you to take anti-depressants. If you like my anecdotes, have you heard the one about the GP who couldn't tell the difference between testicular torsion and mumps?
Cheers, Mike

dorebelle said...

I use half lotus and recently also the "constructive rest" position when I'm not sleepy and my legs are tired. Do I miss something important if I not even think to sit one day in full lotus?