Wednesday, August 10, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.16: Mission Difficult (III)

a-priyaM hi hitaM snigdham
a-snighdham a-hitam priyaM
dur-labham tu priya-hitaM
svaadu pathyam iv' auShadhaM

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For there is disagreeable good advice,
which is kind,

And agreeable bad advice,
which is not kind;

But agreeable good advice is hard to come by --

Like sweet and salutary medicine.

The gist of Mahayana Buddhism, as an optimistic philosophy, may be outlined like this:

Because the Buddha-nature is the original nature of every human being, all we need to is just to sit in the right posture, keeping the spine straight vertically, and our life will inevitably be an unfolding of the truth, like a lotus flower opening. This is the fundamentally optimistic teaching of Mahayana Buddhism, of which Ashvaghosha may be regarded as one of the earliest proponents. And because this teaching is both optimistic and true it may be compared to medicine that is both sweet and salutary, like honey or like a little glass of sweet white wine.

Actually what the above is, is an example of a-hitam priyam agreeable bad advice, which is not kind. The above, if one is gullible enough to believe it, is an invitation just to go for it, to end-gain for right posture on the basis of one's feeling, which is liable to be faulty. Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

The essential message of Saundarananda, sugar-coated though it may be in order to help us swallow the bitter pill, is a-priyam hitam good advice which is disagreeable. For who likes to be constantly reminded they are wrong? Certainly not me. Who likes to be reminded that all the suffering in the world, from the riotous streets of London and Manchester, to the oppressed cities of Syria, to famine in East Africa, has its cause, for all practical purposes, nowhere else but in this end-gaining which triggers faults deep within one's own system? How tedious is that? Awareness of what one is up against, in terms of the faulty sensory appreciation and habitual end-gaining which are the cause of suffering, truly is a bitter pill to swallow.

Hence the condition that Patrick Macdonald identified as Alexander's gloom:

As one's coordination improves there is usually a heightened awareness of what one is doing with oneself. In particular one notices, much more often, how frequently one is going wrong. This is disconcerting at first and brings about the condition known as "Alexander's gloom." Unpleasant as this is at first, it is a step in the right direction and, as such, is one to be welcomed.

Maybe in certain conditions honey or wine can be regarded as a kind of medicine. But honey and wine are not the kind of medicine that Ashvaghosha, as I read him, has in mind in this verse. The kind of medicine that Ashvaghosha has in mind might be along the following lines:

Fluidity of water, solidity of earth, motion of wind, and constant heat of fire, / Are innate in them; as also it is in the nature of both the body and the mind to suffer. // [16.12]

So when Ashvaghosha describes agreeable good advice as dur-labdham, "hard to come by," and says that such teaching is as hard to come by as sweet and salutary medicine, I think his real intention might be, in other words, that such teaching is hard to come by as rocking horse shit.

And so dur-labdham ("hard to come by") in today's verse, as I read it, expresses the same degree of difficulty as dur-haraH ("hard to remove") in 11.12 and duSh-karam ("hard to do") in 11.13.

In short, sweet and truly salutary medicine, like optimistic Buddhism, or like rocking horse shit, is something that has never existed, except in people's imagination.

EH Johnston:
For unpleasant and advantageous speech proceeds from affection, and pleasant speech, which is not advantageous, from a lack of it ; but it is as hard to obtain speech that is both pleasant and advantageous as it is a medicine that is effective and tastes sweet.

Linda Covill:
For unpleasant but beneficial advice is a kindness, while pleasant but unhelpful words are not. It is as difficult to find advice that is both pleasing and beneficial as it is to find medicine that is both palatable and effective.

a-priyam (nom. sg. n. ): mfn. disagreeable , disliked
hi: for
hitam (nom. sg.): n. (sg. or pl.) anything useful or salutary or suitable or proper , benefit , advantage , profit , service , good , welfare , good advice &c
snigdham (nom. sg. n. ): mfn. sticky , viscous, smooth, oily; adhesive , attached , affectionate , tender , friendly , attached to or fond of (loc.); soft, gentle

a-snighdham (nom. sg. n. ): mfn. not smooth , harsh , hard.
a-hitam (nom. sg.): n. damage , disadvantage , evil
priyam (nom. sg. n. ): mfn. beloved , dear to , liked , favourite , wanted ; fond of attached or devoted to (loc.)

dur-labham mfn. difficult to be obtained or found , hard , scarce , rare
tu: but
priya-hitam n. things which are agreeable and salutary

svaadu (nom. sg. n.): mfn. sweet , savoury , palatable , dainty , delicate , pleasant to the taste , agreeable
pathyam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. " belonging to the way " , suitable , fit , proper , wholesome , salutary (lit. and fig. ; esp. said of diet in a medical sense)
iva: like
auShadham (nom. sg.): n. herbs used in medicine , a medicament , drug , medicine in general

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