Thursday, September 22, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.59: Wisdom Cuts It

suutreNa baddho hi yathaa vihaMgo /
vyaavartate duura-gato 'pi bhuuyaH
ajNaana-suutreNa tath" aavabaddho /
gato 'pi duuraM punar eti lokaH //11.59//

= = - = / = - - / = - = = // = = - = / = - - / = - = =
= = - = / = - - / = - = = // - = - = / = - - / = - = =

For just as a bird tied to a string,

Though it has flown far, comes back again;

So too do people return
who are tied to the string of ignorance,

However far they have travelled.

There are 11 syllables, lined up in a 4-3-4 formation, in each of the four pādas (feet) of this verse. The metre fits Anandajoti Bhikku's description of the Upajāti metre which predominates in Ashvaghosha's other epic poem Buddha-carita.

Specifically the first three pādas, beginning with two heavy syllables (= = -) are in the Indravajrā form of the Upajāti metre, and the fourth pāda, beginning with a light - heavy - light (- = -) combination is in the Upendravajrā form of the Upajāti metre.

The Upajāti lines found in Buddhacarita are far in excess of any other metre, Anandajoti informs us, and Aśvaghoṣa's handling of the metre is faultless.

As regards the meaning of today's verse, what ties us to the swing of samsara, Ananda seems to be saying, is not so much a lack of the kind of compassion described in 11.57, nor the kind of peak experience described in 11.56, but rather a lack of wisdom.

So what is the wisdom of Buddha? And how does one go about getting it?

I cannot claim to be an expert, but it is evident from the writings of buddha-ancestors like Dogen and Ashvagosha that the buddha-ancestors have considered the practice of sitting-dhyana to be vital.

A Japanese Zen teacher, Gudo Nishijima, taught me that what was particularly vital was balance of the autonomic nervous system -- a condition of the unconscious mind.

But how can one get off the roundabout of unconscious reaction relying on unconsciousness? I think Gudo's teaching was not true, or at best very inaccurate.

According to Gudo, a baby in its natural state has very excellent real wisdom -- as long as its autonomic nervous system is balanced, the baby's mind is like a mirror that reflects reality very well, moment by moment.

Ultimately, that teaching did not cut it for me. There is more wisdom, as I see it, in FM Alexander's teaching, which involves learning consciously to inhibit unconscious reactions, beginning with the tendency to pull the head back. But this learning is very far from easy, and it is all to easy to delude oneself -- by doing what one feels to be the right thing doing itself. Not a few Alexander teachers, in the view of Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow, are going around deluding themselves that they are teaching Alexander's fundamental principle of inhibition, when in fact they are practising a kind of bodywork, and failing to understand why Alexander described his work as the most mental thing there is.

I think wisdom, as opposed to ignorance, is not a state of innocence but is got from learning in experience. The wisdom of Buddha, in particular, seems to have to do with learning the backward step of turning one's light and letting it shine -- learning what gets in the way, and learning not to do it, or not to think it.

What Ananda as I hear him is saying now is that nothing else cuts it. Peak experiences, like those of a mountain-climber or a triathlete or an advanced practitioner of yoga or karate, do not cut it. Repeated acts of loving-kindness, like those of a midwife or a good vicar or a loving grandmother, do not cut it. Only wisdom cuts it.

Furthermore, even though the font of the Buddha's wisdom is sitting-meditation, 30 or 50 or 60 or even 70 years of daily practice of sitting-meditation, are no guarantee of having the wisdom that cuts it.

EH Johnston:
For, just as a bird which is tied to a string, however far it goes, is brought back again, so people, tied to the string of ignorance, return again, however far they go.

Linda Covill:
For just as a bird bound by a string flies back again although it has flown far, so do people bound by the string of ignorance return again though they have traveled far.

suutreNa (inst. sg.): n. a thread , yarn , string , line , cord , wire
baddhaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. bound, tied
hi: for
yathaa: ind. just as
vihaMgaH (nom. sg.): m. " sky-goer " , a bird

vyaavartate = 3rd pers. sg. vy-ā- √ vṛt: to become separated ; to go away , depart ; to come back , return ; to turn around, revolve
duura-gataH (nom. sg. m.): gone far away
duura: mfn. distant, far
api: even, though
bhuuyaH: ind. once more , again

ajNaana-suutreNa (inst. sg.): the string of ignorance
a-jñāna: n. non-cognizance ; ignorance
tathaa: ind. so, likewise
avabaddhaH (nom. sg. m.): fastened on , fixed ; captivated , attached to

gataH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. gone
api: even, though
duuram: ind. far
punar: ind. back
eti = 3rd pers. sg. i: to go
lokaH (nom. sg.): m. the world ; the earth or world of human beings &c; the inhabitants of the world , mankind , folk , people

No comments: