Saturday, August 20, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.26: Something & Nothing

cikriiShanti yathaa paNyaM
vaNijo laabha-lipsayaa
dharma-caryaa tava tathaa
paNya-bhuutaa na shaantaye

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

Just as merchants buy merchandise

Moved by a desire to make profit,

That is how you are practising dharma,

As if it were a tradable commodity,
not for peace.

Profit and peace are totally different ends, the attainment of which require totally different means.

Means that are appropriate for success in business, sadly, are not always appropriate for success as a Zen practitioner. So for those of us who are devoted to sitting but who have not gone forth into the homeless life into which the Buddha led Nanda, it might be good if we don't get the two kinds of means and the two kinds of ends all mixed up.

For a businessman, the desire for profit is not wrong; it is a vital part of the proper means whereby a businessman gains his end of getting or achieving something.

For a buddha-ancestor whose primary job -- or sole job, if he follows Dogen's teaching -- is to sit in lotus dropping off body and mind, to sit as if it were a means of getting or achieving something would be absurd.

Again, when merchants desire to make profit, buying merchandise cheaply and selling it with a mark-up is not end-gaining; it is part of a merchant's proper means-whereby in which trading has to be profitable, or else ruin will follow. Hence Ashvaghosha begins Canto 18 as follows:

And so like a young initiate who mastered the Vedas, like a trader who turned a quick profit, / Or like a royal having conquered a hostile army, Nanda, having accomplished his purpose, approached the Guru. // [18.1]

Negation of end-gaining is not the negation of gaining ends. Negation of end-gaining is negation of the desire to go directly for an end without due consideration of whether the means are appropriate or not.

Foolish Nanda, having failed to understand the real meaning of the Buddha's words, has been doing dharma-practice -- centred on sitting in lotus -- as if it were a viable means of gaining the end of sexual enjoyment of celestial nymphs.

With both eyes fixed on the end, Nanda has had no eye with which to see that the means he is employing are inappropriate to the end he has in view. And so now Ananda is telling him that true dharma-practice is a means for going in the direction of peace, i.e., in the direction of losing everything. It is not a commodity that can be traded in to gain the sexual favours of nymphs.

Ananda is exemplifying the behaviour of a truly good friend -- the one who tells you exactly how you are going wrong.

In Nanda's example, Ashvaghosha is showing us the absurdity, writ large, of expecting wrong means to lead to the gaining of desired ends.


Upon whose end-gaining does Ashvaghosha wish us to shine light?

I think Ashvaghosha's intention is that each reader should turn his or her own light and let it shine.

Still, given the content of today's verse, I can't help remembering Gudo Nishijima's answer when I asked him why he had betrayed our translation partnership. He told me he had no consciousness of having betrayed me. How then had he taken the decision, at the publishing stage, to change our translation without consulting me? "I took the decision as a businessman in the modern age," was his unforgettable reply. That was in 1998, and I waited ten years for the old man in some way to redeem himself. But when the opportunity seemed to arise, Gudo did not take it. Instead he fell down, literally, and within a matter of days his Zazen dojo was demolished.

For many years Gudo Nishijima had been a great friend to me, as a mentor, as a teacher of Dogen's teaching and as a translation partner, but never in the sense that Ananda now is being a friend to Nanda. Gudo couldn't be like Ananda, because nobody had clarified for him what Ananda is clarifying for Nanda in today's verse, which is, in essence, that one cannot do an undoing.

Gudo tried to transmit the supreme non-doing method of the buddha-ancestors as if undoing were something that could be done. And when I tried to tell him the error of his ways, the old man noticed that I was threatening his very world view and rounded on me as if I were his enemy, eventually calling me, with no sense of irony, a non-Buddhist.

In the final analysis, however, understanding the folly of the end-gaining of the likes of Nanda and Gudo is no use to me, unless I apply that understanding to the inhibition of my own desires to go directly for ends, relying on inappropriate means.

Whatever understanding I have got of the problem of end-gaining vs a better way, I surprise myself every day by how often I fail to apply it, even in sitting practice itself. As FM Alexander observed, in opposing the end-gaining habit we are up against millions of years of genetic inheritance. We did not evolve to direct ourselves consciously. We evolved to go directly for ends, like donkeys after carrots.

Consequently, when I sit in lotus with even a homeopathic dose of the desire to be right, when I am even slightly concerned with the idea of right posture, when I try to lengthen at the expense of widening, when my trying to be still results in fixity, when I obsess compulsively about getting in my four sessions of sitting every day, I am end-gaining no less absurdly than Nanda has been end-gaining in his desire for sex with nymphs. I am pursuing a bit of nothing as if it were something.

"You cannot do an undoing," Marjory Barlow taught me, when I eventually beat a path to her door. Marjory showed me the error of my ways like Ananda now is showing Nanda the error of his.

The simple but blindingly obvious truth that Marjory showed me I purport to demonstrate to others: "You cannot do an undoing." And yet all too often, through the force of habit and faulty sensory appreciation, I continue to sit as if I could do an undoing, unconsciously trying to be right, which makes for... well, not for peace (na shaantaye).

EH Johnston:
As merchants wish to buy merchandise for the sake of profit, so you practise the Law, not for tranquillity, but to obtain something to barter.

Linda Covill:
Just as businessmen like to buy goods to make a profit, so you practice dharma as an article for trade, not to become peaceful.

cikriiShanti = 3rd pers. pl. desiderative krii: to buy
yathaa: ind. just as
paNyam (acc. sg.): n. an article of trade , a ware , commodity; n. trade , traffic , business; mfn. to be bought or sold , vendible

vaNijaH = nom. pl. m. vaNij: m. a merchant , trader
laabha-lipsayaa (inst. sg.): with the desire to gain gain
laabha: m. obtaining , getting , attaining , acquisition , gain , profit
lipsaa: f. (fr. Desid. labh) the desire to gain , wish to acquire or obtain , longing for (loc. or comp.)

dharma-caryaa (nom. sg.): f. observance of the law , performance of duty
tava (gen. sg.): your
tathaa: ind. so, likewise

paNya-bhuutaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. being like an article of trade
bhuta: mfn. (ifc.) being or being like anything , consisting of , mixed or joined with
na: not
shaantaye (dat. sg.): f. tranquillity , peace , quiet

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