urvyādikān janmani vedmi dhātūn
nātmānam-urvyādiṣu teṣu kiṁ cit /
yasmād-atas-teṣu na me 'sti saktir
bahiś-ca kāyena samā matir-me //18.14 //
= = - = / = - - / = - = = // = = - = / = - - / = - = -
= = - = / = - - / = - = = // - = - = / = - - / = - = =
In a birth, I perceive earth and the other elements,
But in earth and those other elements, no self at all.
On that basis,
there is no attachment in me to those elements;
My orientation is equal
with regard to my body and outside.
The specific metric scheme of today's verse is IIIU, called Bālā (as in 18.9). The University of the West (UoW) version has the 1st pāda as: urvyādikān janmani vedima dhātun. This variant must be a typo as it has 12 syllables, whereas the present series of verses are all written in the 11-syllable Upajāti metre. Today's verse thus serves as an example of why understanding the metre can help judge the authenticity of the text.
For another very minor variant of the 1st pāda, the Clay Sanskrit Library (CSK) version has urvyādikāñ janmani, as a result of ex-post application of the rules of sandhi.
In pāda no. 4 bahiśca kāye ca is another variant. UoW has bahiśca kāyena and CSK has bahiś ca kāyena, as per EHJ's original Sanskrit text. But as EHJ himself points out in a note to his English translation, the instrumental kāyena does not make sense. So I have followed EHJ in reading bahiśca kāye ca. LC seems to have left kāyena in the instrumental in her Sanskrit text but treated it as if it were locative in translation.
One virtue of noting these textual variants, by the way, might be to convince Ānandajoti Bhikkhu that he can justly post on his ABT website the Sanskrit text as I have transliterated it, without worrying about infringing the copyright of other editors, as I might be doing if I just copied out their texts.
With regard to the meaning of today's verse, I think the most important thing is to read it in the context of Nanda's wish to describe his own method of working on himself (svaṃ upacāraṃ; 18.12) which has been successful in leading him in the direction of freedom. Nanda is not out to establish or to confirm a new paradigm in philosophy.
"Earth and the other elements" (urvyādikān dhātūn) means earth, wind, fire, and water, as discussed in 9.12. Nanda perceives these elements, but in perceiving them he seems to be oblivious of the perceiving self.
So what Nanda seems to be expressing here is a totally detached manner of seeing. And seeing like this, again, is not only a matter of the eye, and not only a matter of eye and brain, but is a matter of how one accepts and uses the whole of oneself.
Hence FM Alexander (who knew a thing or two about use of the self, and who had plentiful experience of dealing with philosophical thinkers of his day, like Aldous Huxley, who liked to speculate and/or pontificate about detachment) wrote the following in the preface to his final book, The Universal Constant in Living (1946):
"The fact to be faced is that the human self was robbed of much of its inheritance when the separation implied by the conception of the organism as 'spirit,' 'mind' and 'body' was accepted as a working principle, for it left unbridged the gap between the 'subconscious' and the conscious. I venture to assert that if the gap is to be bridged, it will be by means of a knowledge, gained through practical experience, which will enable us to inhibit our instinctive, 'subconscious' reaction to a given stimulus, and to hold it inhibited while initiating a conscious direction, guidance, and control of the use of the self that was previously unfamiliar. I suggest that only those who become capable of translating into practice what is involved in the procedure just described can justly claim to have experienced detachment in the basic sense."
Truly detached mindfulness of breathing, then, might arise from (a) a practitioner's inhibition of his instinctive reaction to the stimulus to be mindful of breathing (generally some pernicious form of trying to concentrate), and (b) his initiation of a conscious direction of the use of the self (e.g. directing the whole self to lengthen and widen) that was previously unfamiliar.
What Nanda is expressing here, as I hear him, is this kind of work, and not an objective viewpoint, not the kind of viewpoint that we might understand by reading and thinking about it. Nanda is describing a practical approach to working on the self, such that seeing what is, and forgetting the self, reinforce each other in a virtuous circle.
Following the Buddha's outline in cantos 12 through 16 of a plan leading to liberation, Nanda is giving the evidence that he himself has "become capable of translating into practice what is involved in the procedure just described."
So perceiving elements does not mean stooping at a laboratory desk and squinting into a microscope. It might mean sitting by a forest stream being aware of breathing and being aware of burbling and birdsong.
I know that the elements, earth and the rest are present in birth and that there is no self at all in them. Therefore I have no feeling of attachment to them and my mind makes no distinction between that which is my body and that which is outside it.
I know that the elements of earth and so on are present in birth, and that in these elements such as earth there is no self at all; that is why I do not cling to them. I think the same way about my body and what is outside it.
urvy'-aadikaan (acc. pl. m.): the earth and so on
urvii: f. the earth
aadi: ifc. beginning with , et caetera , and so on
janmani = loc. sg. janman: n. birth, existence, life, re-birth
vedmi = 1st. pers. sg. vid: to know , understand , perceive
dhaatuun (acc. pl.): m. element , primitive matter (= mahaa-bhuuta; water, earth, wind, and fire )
aatmaanam = acc. sg.: m. self
urvy'-aadiShu (loc. pl. m.): in the earth and so on
teShu (loc. pl. m.): in them
kiM cit: any
yasmaad ataH: therefore
teShu (loc. pl. m.): in them
me (gen. sg.): of/in me
asti: there is
saktiH (nom. sg.): f. connexion , entwinement (of creepers) ; clinging or adhering to (loc. or comp.) , attachment ,
bahis: ind. out , forth , outwards , outside
kaayena = inst. sg. kaaya: m. the body
kaaye = loc. sg. kaaya: m. the body
samaa (nom. sg. f.): even , smooth , flat , plain , level , parallel ; same , equal , similar , like , equivalent, like to or identical or homogeneous with (instr. e.g. mayā sama , " like to me " ; or gen. , rarely abl.) , like in or with regard to anything (instr. gen. loc. , or -tas , or comp. ; samaṁ- √kṛ , " to make equal , balance "); always the same , constant , unchanged , fair , impartial towards (loc. or gen.)
matiH (nom. sg.): f. thought , design , intention , resolution , determination , inclination ; opinion , notion , idea , belief , conviction , view; the mind , perception ; esteem , respect , regard
me (gen. sg.): of me, my