Thursday, September 8, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.45: More Anecdotal Evidence

tath" aiva elivilo raajaa
raaja-vRttena saMskRtaH
svargaM gatvaa punar bhraShTaH
kuurmi-bhuutaH kil' aarNave

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

Likewise King Ilivila

Being perfect in kingly conduct,

Went to heaven and fell back down,

Becoming, so they say, a turtle in the ocean.

Vishnu, so they say, took the form of a turtle in order to prevent mount Mandara from sinking into the ocean. And Vishnu is known by a thousand names. Sadly, Ilivila is not listed as one of those names. Nor is Elivila. EHJ raises the possibility of reading Ailavila = Rama = Vishnu.

In any event, whether the reference is to much-celebrated Vishnu or to a less famous ruler, Ananda's intention might be that he wants Nanda to consider the evidence -- anecdotal though it is. A double-blind clinical trial to test claims for the permanence of happiness in heaven might be difficult to set up. There again, thought experiments were apparently good enough for Einstein.

So Ananda as I hear him is saying to Nanda: Don't take my word for it. Consider the anecdotal evidence for the desirability of getting to the top of the samsaric cycle; and on the basis of that evidence, decide what you want and where you want to be.

Where is this consideration of anecdotal evidence leading? We know the answer to that, having worked through Canto 12 already. Considering the evidence causes Nanda to gain confidence in the existence of a better way than the cycle of unconscious reaction which is stimulated by a man's desire to go directly for an end relying on means which have not been thought out clearly.

My Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima, in the days when he seemed to be grooming me to become his successor, told me that being a Zen Master was mainly a matter of trial and error.

But I have begged to differ with his view. Good teachers, it seems to me, work to a principle; they don't just bungle on based on trial and error. Still more, when they make mistakes, they learn from their mistakes and modify their understanding of core principles where necessary, not just bungling on regardless in fear of losing face. This is certainly true in Alexander work, and it might be true in other fields also.

In the past few days I have been reading a couple of books about dogs, one by John Bradshaw (In Defence of Dogs) which considers what evidence there is to support the commonly held view that dogs are descended from wolves. This is a view, I should add, that I in my gullible ignorance have hitherto readily subscribed to. But Bradshaw finds such evidence wanting. He rather points to evidence supporting his thesis that dogs and wolves have evolved quite separately from a common ancestor -- and this has certain implications for the principles on which training of puppies and dogs might reasonably be based.

Another book, one recommended by Bradshaw, is The Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey. In the preface she writes:

For more than 20 years I have worked with dogs that do not make it through the whole of their lives with the same owner. This is often because the first owners did not put enough effort into acquiring the knowledge needed to bring up a puppy correctly. If the partnership cannot be repaired, the loser is always the dog. Usually owners are not irresponsible or uncaring, but they often lack the necessary knowledge to do the job properly. It would take several dog lifetimes to get it right by trial and error, but it becomes much easier if we all learn from each other's mistakes and successes....

Planning in advance and getting things right first time around are quicker, in the long run, than having to sort out problems later. To make the best use of this book, put the ideas and suggestions into place BEFORE things begin to go wrong. In this way you will be able to avoid the problems that so many dog owners run into. This will make life easier, and better, for you and your puppy.

In short, working to a preventive principle makes for an easier and better life. Confidence (shraddhaa) in this, as a better way (shreyas), is what Ashvaghosha as I read him is now working towards.

Between the ages of 6 and 18 I was taught a lot about virtues like love, learning, trust, and being in the moment by an old mongrel stray that my mother picked up from a dog's home and named Kim. Twenty years later, shortly after I brought my own family back to England I got a border collie named Roy and turned out to be one of those owners who didn't put enough effort into acquiring the knowledge needed to bring up a puppy correctly. I thought I already knew what I needed to know to train a dog, but in fact I didn't. Besides which the need to look after Roy got in the way of going to France. So I ended up palming Roy off into the hands of my brother and his family.

It is a sobering reflection that after 20 years of trying to fit the bill of being a true Zen Master (including by the time I acquired Roy a year or two of Alexander teacher training), I had turned myself not into a better dog owner but a much worse one -- a more end-gaining one, a less attentive and open-minded one. I don't think I ever once got annoyed at Kim, who I dearly loved. But I used to get irritated all the time with Roy who, like Gudo Nishijima, became a kind of mirror reflecting back at me my arrogant incompetence.

What do I want? Right now I am looking forward to having another go at being a dog owner, with confidence in a better way of going about it. Whether the confidence is misplaced or not, the dog will surely let me know.

EH Johnston:
King Ilivila similarly, perfect in all the conduct of a king, went to Paradise but fell again thence to become, they say, a turtle in the ocean.

Linda Covill:
Likewise King Ilivila, perfected by his royal conduct, went to heaven but fell again and became, it is said, a turtle in the ocean.

tathaa: ind. in like manner, likewise
eva: (emphatic)
ilivilaH (nom. sg.): m. N. of a son of daśaratha
raajaa = nom. sg. raajan: m. king

raaja-vRttena (inst. sg.): n. the conduct or occupation of a king
raajan: m. king
vRtta: n. (also pl.) procedure , practice , action , mode of life , conduct , behaviour (esp. virtuous conduct , good behaviour)
saMskRtaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. put together , constructed , well or completely formed , perfected ; made ready ; purified , consecrated , sanctified , hallowed , initiated

svargam (acc. sg.): m. heaven
gatvaa = abs. gam: to go
punar: ind. back again
bhraShTaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. fallen

kuurmii-bhuutaH (nom. sg. m.): a turtle
kuurmii: f. a female tortoise/turtle
bhuuta: (ifc.) being or being like anything
kila: ind. so they say
arNave (loc. sg.): m. the foaming sea: mfn. agitated, foaming


an3drew said...

i have known a few so called "zen masters" and i cannot think of a single one who would not have been better off doing something completely different!. it is to your credit that you didn't fit the mould, i hope you can see this !

Mike Cross said...

To Roy I tried to be a strong pack leader, like an alpha wolf to a junior wolf, and I probably succeeded too well -- based on a false conception that a dog is essentially a wolf. A dog-loving friend of my brother said, as soon as she set eyes on Roy that his spirit had been crushed.

It will be to my credit if I learn from the mistake and don't repeat it -- in dealings with both dogs and humans.

an3drew said...

well my reading is that dogs are genetically descended from wolves, but wolves are fascinatingly human with a huge degree of learning as cubs

i think these notions of alpha and dominance are screwed, that would be the mistake !















yourself !

an3drew said...

good video with humans and wolves

about 1/3 to half way through

it's rather exceptional to see the close up contact between humans and wolves,
they are not dogs tho!

an3drew said...

whoops that video link should be