Tuesday, September 20, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.57: All You Need Is Love?

maitrayaa sapta-vaarShikyaa / brahma-lokam ito gataH/
sunetraH punar aavRtto / garbha-vaasam upeyivaan//11.57//

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Through seven years of loving kindness,

He went from here to Brahma's world,

But Sunetra span around again

And came back to live in a womb.

I am very slowly working through Anandajoti Bhikku's elucidation of Sanskrit metres on his Ancient Buddhist Texts website, as a result of which I would like to venture the following observation:

Notwithstanding EHJ's suspicion that today's verse is spurious, the verse seems orthodox insofar as it follow the rules for the pathyaa form of the shloka metre.



EHJ notes that Su-netra ("Good Eyes") is the hero of a Jataka tale, though I haven't traced it.

Brahma's world, though I am not sure if I have ever been there, must be some religious place high up in samsara.

A retired Church of England vicar once told me that, as he saw it, compassion was at the centre of all religions. As a devotee of Alexander work over many years this was a man who was conspicuously not fixed, for a vicar, either in his views or in his posture.

Again, I think of my grandmother who told me just before she died, as I was walking out the door, "Remember you were loved."

Loving-kindness and compassion, like the kind of peak out-of-body experience mentioned in yesterday's verse, are virtues not to be sneezed at. And yet, as tools to get out of samsara, Ananda seems to be saying, they don't cut it.

Morever, there is always a danger of trying to be prematurely compassionate, prior to having any wisdom. This is certainly recognized on good Alexander teacher training courses, where the emphasis remains on working on oneself, rather than end-gaining to give others a good experience. In other words, don't stimulate suffering in yourself through misdirected effort to relieve the suffering of others. Alexander short-hand for this is "Stay back in your own back!"

In the story of Saundara-nanda, similarly, the Buddha urges Nanda first to make the four noble truths his own, through solitary practice of yoga, i.e. by working on himself. Only in the final canto, Canto 18, which we will be tackling shortly, does the Buddha point Nanda in the direction of attending to others.

A final observation, stimulated by watching a documentary last night on BBC2 which featured a Tibetan practitioner in Ruislip, concerns the reality of samsara and belief in re-incarnation. The Tibetan practitioner in Ruislip, through no apparent fault of his own, seems to be regarded by many Tibetans as the re-incarnation of some past great Buddhist teacher. Though these Tibetan devotees were encouraged in their practice to be skeptical, the documentary told us, this skepticism, evidently, wasn't supposed to be extended to belief in reincarnation, which seems to be at the core of Tibetan politics. Whereas if we go back to Ashvaghosha, Ashvaghosha as I read him is not affirming belief in anything. He is rather encouraging confidence in a better way than the whirl of unconscious reaction which samsara is.

The point, it seems to me, is not to argue in favour of this belief or against that particular belief. The point is to eschew all belief, in favour of confidence in a better way.

EH Johnston:
Sunetra, who went from here to Brahma's world by the exercise of benevolence for seven years, returned again and entered the abode of the womb.

Linda Covill:
By practicing loving-kindness for seven seasons Sunetra went from this world to Brahma's world, but he returned to dwell in a womb again.

maitrayaa = inst. sg. maitraa = (?) maitrii: f. friendship , friendliness , benevolence , good will (one of the 4 perfect states with Buddhists)
maitra: mfn. (fr. mitra , of , which it is also the vṛddhi form in comp.) coming from or given by or belonging to a friend , friendly , amicable , benevolent , affectionate , kind
sapta-vaarShikyaa (inst. sg): seven years
vaarShikya: n. the rainy season

brahma-lokam (acc. sg.): Brahma's world
itaH: ind. from here
gataH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. went

sunetraH (nom. sg.): m. " fair-eyed " or " having a good leader "; Sunetra
punar: ind. back, again
aavRttaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. turned round , stirred , whirled; reverted , averted ; retreated , fled
ā- √ vṛt: to turn or draw round or back or near ; to return, revolve

garbha-vaasam (acc. sg.): womb-abode
upeyivaan = nom. sg. m. perfect part upa- √i: to go or come or step near , approach , betake one's self to , arrive at , meet with , turn towards

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