Friday, September 23, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.60: Chiding a Stairway to Heaven

kṛtvā kāla-vilakṣaṇaṁ pratibhuvā mukto yathā bandhanād/
bhuktvā veshma-sukhāny atiitya samayaṁ bhuuyo vished bandhanaṁ/
tadvad dyāṁ pratibhuu-vad ātma-niyamair dhyān'-ādibhiḥ prāptavān/
kāle karmasu teṣu bhukta-viṣayeṣv ākṛṣyate gāṁ punaḥ //11.60//

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Just as a man temporarily released from prison on bail

Enjoys home comforts and then, when his time is up,
must go back to prison,

So having got to heaven, as if on bail,
through restrictive practices beginning with meditation,

Is one eventually dragged --
after enjoying those objects
which were one's karmic reward --
back down to earth.

The 19-syllable metre used in today's verse is one of those relatively uncommon metres that Anandajoti Bhikku describes as "employed as a prosodic flourish to round off the Chapters."

For practice, with a view to preparing the whole transliterated text for posting on, I am starting to render the Sanskrit transliteration into Unicode using the Unicode Input Programme on that site.

Whether to continue in the Clay Sanskrit Library style, which makes it easier to identify and look up individual words, or whether to switch to the standard transliteration style, is a question to consider. In the latter format, today's verse would read like this:

kṛtvā kālavilakṣaṇaṃ pratibhuvā mukto yathā bandhanād
bhuktvā veśmasukhānyatītya samayaṃ bhūyo viśed bandhanaṃ /
tadvad dyāṃ pratibhūvadātmaniyamairdhyānādibhiḥ prāptavān
kāle karmasu teṣu bhuktaviṣayeṣvākṛṣyate gāṃ punaḥ //11.60 //

In any event, I will be happy if I can yoke my effort to that of Anandajoti who evidently also wishes to clarify Ashvaghosha's original teaching not merely as a scholar but as a devotee of that teaching.

To be devoted to Ashvaghosha's teaching, it seems to me, is primarily a matter of daily practice of sitting-meditation, aka dhyāna, aka Zen, aka Zazen, in the context of which understanding it is striking in today's verse that dhyāna is cited as a typical example of a practice by which those who are riding a stairway to heaven restrict themselves.

Reading the words of ancient buddha-ancestors generally causes me to think I know nothing, I have not understood anything yet. So I have nothing to add, nothing to say.

Then why do I persist in seeming to need every day to write one voluminous comment after another? Because when I look around me, and when I look back at my own career, it seems to me that I have a lot to say. What the truth of the buddha-ancestors is, I do not know. But the various -isms that pass for the truth of the buddha-ancestors, including the "One True Buddhism" of my own teacher, are all more or less false. That much I do not doubt, even if I doubt myself.

And so in writing this comment, not for the first time, I will be like the surrounded American soldier in the Vietnam war who called in an air strike on his own position.

My Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima , the buddha-ancestor who transmitted the Dharma to me, used to say that Zazen (sitting-dhyana; sitting-meditation) was a kind of physical gymnastics.

When I told Gudo about a friend of mine in Japan who was not interested in Zazen but who worked out every day in the gym, Gudo said that for my friend working out in the gym was his Zazen. Gudo correctly pointed out that in Dogen's writing, body invariably comes before mind, so that Zazen is described as dropping off body and mind, not as dropping off mind and body. My teacher conceived of sitting-meditation as primarily physical, putting sitting before meditation. This approach appealed very much to me, who came to Zazen as one who enjoyed physical pursuits like rugby, weight-training, running, and karate-do. But gradually over the years, as I wrote yesterday, I have come to see a lack of wisdom in it.

To see sitting-meditation as primarily mental, as a means of controlling the body with the mind, is not the Buddha's teaching.

To ride on the swing of samsara to the other extreme and to see sitting-meditation as primarily physical, as a means of quieting the autonomic nervous system through physical gymnastics, is also not the Buddha's teaching.

Thus, just because I practise sitting-meditation and you practise sitting-meditation doesn't automatically make us brothers. It depends on how you practise. People who belong to the Samgha which Gudo organized in his senilescence, calling it Dogen Samgha International, I do not see as my brothers.

Similarly in this verse, as I read it, Ananda does not see as his brothers those for whom meditation is a form of ascetic self-restraint practised with a view to future rewards in heaven.

Rather, Ananda might see as his brothers those for whom sitting-meditation is learning of a step whose direction is backward, opposite to the rolling on of the wheel of samsara.

EH Johnston:
As a man is released through a surety from prison for a definite period and, after enjoying the pleasures of home, returns to prison when his time has expired, so man reaches heaven by means of self-restraint, abstract meditation and the like, as through a surety, and in time is dragged back to earth again when his actions have produced their full meed of enjoyment.

Linda Covill:
A prisoner is released when bail has secured him a reprieve for a certain time. ḥe enjoys domestic pleasures, but when his time is up he must go to prison again. In the same way a man wins heaven through self-restraint, meditation and so on, as though on bail, but is eventually dragged back to earth again when the sensual pleasures resulting from his good actions have been enjoyed.

kRtvaa = abs. kR: to do, make
kaala-vilakShaṇam: ind. for a certain time
kaala: m. time
vilakShaṇa: n. any state or condition which is without distinctive mark
vi- √ lakṣ: , to distinguish , discern
pratibhuvaa = inst. sg. prati-bhuu: m. a surety , security , bail
muktaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. released, set free, let out
yathaa: ind. just as
bandhanaat (abl. sg.): n. the act of binding , tying , fastening , fettering; n. catching , capturing , confining , detention , custody , imprisonment or a prison

bhuktvaa = abs. bhuj: to enjoy
veshma-sukhaani (acc. pl. n.): pleasures of home, home comforts
veshman: n. a house , dwelling , mansion , abode
sukha: n. pleasure, comforts
atiitya = abs. ati- √i: to pass by , elapse
samayam m. coming together ; appointed or proper time ; limit, boundary
bhuuyaḥ: ind. once again
vishet = 3rd pers. sg. optative vish: to enter
bandhanam (acc. sg.): n. detention , custody , imprisonment or a prison

tadvat: ind. so, in like manner
dyaam = acc. sg. div: mf. heaven, the sky
pratibhuu-vat: ind. as if on bail
aatma-niyamaiḥ (inst. pl.): by means of restrictions on himself
aatman: self
niyama: m. restraining, checking; limitation , restriction
dhyaan'-aadibhiḥ (inst. p[.): meditation and so on
dhyaana: n. meditation , thought , reflection , (esp.) profound and abstract religious meditation
aadi: ifc. beginning with , et caetera , and so on
praaptavaan = nom. sg. m. past part. pra- √āp: to attain to ; reach , arrive at

kaale: ind. (loc.) in time
karmasu = loc. pl. (abs.) karman: n. action, work, effect ; former act as leading to inevitable results , fate (as the certain consequence of acts in a previous life)
teShu (loc. pl.): those
bhukta-viShayeShu (loc. pl.): objects having been enjoyed
bhukta: mfn. enjoyed
viShaya: m. sense object ; (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
aakRShyate = 3rd pers. sg. ā- √ kṛṣ: to draw towards one's self , attract , draw away with one's self
gaam (acc. sg.): f. the earth
punaḥ: ind. back again

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