Monday, August 22, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.28: Like a Drug, But Worse

aakaaNkShec ca yathaa rogaM
duHkham anvicchati bhavaaMs
tathaa viShaya-tRShNayaa

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Again, just as a man might want to be ill

In his craving for a pleasurable remedy,

That is how you are seeking out suffering

In your thirst for an object.

viShaya-tRSNaa: object-thirsting, end-gaining.

In this verse as I read it Ashvaghosha is inviting us really to investigate what thirsting for an object is.

It is, he seems to suggest, like being addicted to a drug.

The most pertinent similarity might be that when we thirst for an object (as opposed to having a desire upon which we can choose either to act or not to act) we tend to go for that object without the latitude to care to whether the means is appropriate or not, in the manner of drug addicts who burgle houses, or who sell their bodies on the street, in order to feed their habit.

But even in purportedly loftier spheres such as Japanese Zen, among people who talk of SHIKAN-TAZA "just sitting," and MU-SHOTOKU, "no attainment," one can also find end-gainers, striving to be right. Q.E.D.

FM Alexander said in his teaching: "This end-gaining business has got to such a point -- it's worse than a drug."

That was pre-1955, the year in which FM died. What would FM have made of today's target-driven culture, in which a national curriculum dictates that British children aged 5 - 7 shall be tested on reading and writing, before they have had a chance to learn properly how to play? Not much, I should think.

So thirsting for objects, or blinkered pursuit of targets, or end-gaining, is like being addicted to a drug. But in one important sense it is not the same as being addicted to a drug. The challenge for a person who is addicted to a drug is a relatively straightforward one: just stop taking the craved substance. To refrain from end-gaining, in contrast, requires more skill and honesty and wisdom, and a moment-by-moment attention to what is going on in the brain and nervous system. It requires us to work against the habit of a lifetime, in everything we do, and particularly in time set aside for practise of non-doing.

To quote Alexander again, "We only want to gain our end in the process of ordering our heads forward and up, our backs to lengthen and widen, and so on."

When we are thirsting for an object, in contrast, we only want to gain our end. Full stop. We don't care about what harmful side effects might be produced in process. If we stiffen and shorten, so be it. Subjectively the end-gainer doesn't care about those side effects. He disregards them, blanking out negative feedback. But from the standpoint of an objective observer like Ananda, who understands what it is like to end-gain based on a misconception rooted in faulty sensory appreciation, continuing with one's end-gaining is tantamount to seeking out what such end-gaining inevitably produces: namely, harmful side effects, aka duHkham, suffering.

For a conspicuous demonstration of what I am talking about, as my brother will readily attest, look no further than your local swimming pool when lane swimming is going on. You will doubtless find some wiry triathlete, equipped with waterproof wristwatch, splashing manically along. What for? What is he or she striving after? From the standpoint of one who has been there, done that, and gone beyond it, it may seem that the striving triathlete is actively seeking out self-inflicted harm.

EH Johnston:
As a man might wish for disease in order to secure the pleasure to be derived from remedies, so you seek suffering out of a longing for the objects of the senses.

Linda Covill:
You are seeking out suffering with your thirst for sensory experience, as though someone would want to be ill just to enjoy the pleasure of a remedy.

aakaaNkShet = 3rd pers. sg. optative aa-√kaaNkSh: to desire , long for , endeavour to gain (with acc.)
ca: and
yathaa: ind. just as
rogam (acc. sg.): m. breaking up of strength " , disease , infirmity , sickness

pratiikaara-sukh'-epsayaa (inst. sg.): because of desire to obtain the pleasure of the remedy
pratiikaara: m. opposition , counteraction , prevention , remedy
prati- √ kR: to counteract
sukha: n. pleasure
iipsaa: f. asking , desire or wish to obtain

duHkham (acc. sg.): n. suffering, pain, sorrow
anvicchati = 3rd pers. sg. anv- √ iSh: to desire , seek , seek after , search , aim at
bhavaan = nom. sg. m. bhavat: mf. your honour , your worship , your lordship or ladyship , you (lit. " the gentleman or lady present " ; used respectfully for the 2nd pers. pron. , but properly with the 3rd and only exceptionally with the 2nd pers. of the verb)

tathaa: ind. so, likewise
viShaya-tRShNayaa (inst. sg.): because of thirst for an object
viShaya: m. object; sense object ; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
tRShNaa: f. thirst

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