Tuesday, October 11, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.15: Abandoning Two-Bit Reductionism

skandhāṁś-ca rūpa-prabhṛtīn daśārdhān
paśyāmi yasmāc capalān-asārān /
anātmakāṁś-caiva vadhātmakāṁś-ca
tasmād vimukto 'smy-aśivebhya ebhyaḥ //18.15 //

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

Again, the five skandhas,
beginning with the organized body,

I see to be inconstant and without substance,

As well as unreal and life-negating;

Therefore I am free from those pernicious constructs.

The first two pādas and the fourth pāda of today's verse are Indravajrā (I), and the third pāda is Upendravajrā (U). This IIUI scheme for a verse written in the 11-syllable Upajāti metre is called Sālā, which is the 2nd most common form (after IIII, Indravajrā) among the Upajāti verses in Buddha-carita, as analyzed by Ānandajoti Bhikkhu.

The word skandha appears in two other verses in Saundara-nanda, namely 11.24 (in which it means "shoulder") and 16.37 (in which it means "division" or "part of the tree-trunk where branches begin"), thus:

Just as, for the purpose of sitting, somebody might carry around on his shoulder a heavy rock; / That is how you also, for the purpose of sensuality, are labouring to bear restraint. //11.24 //

Giving oneself to this path with its three divisions and eight branches -- this straightforward, irremovable, noble path -- / One abandons the faults, which are the causes of suffering, and comes to that step which is total well-being. //16.37 //

Today's verse is the only verse in Saundara-nanda where skandha is used in the so-called Buddhist technical sense, according to which five skandhas are enumerated as follows:
1. rūpa, material form (i.e. the organized body);
2. vedanā, sensation;
3. saṁjñā, perception;
4. saṁskāra, aggregate of formations;
5. vijñāna, consciousness or thought-faculty.
So it may be that Aśvaghoṣa, along with Nanda, and along with the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara as celebrated in the Heart Sutra, saw those five reductionist 'skandhas' as totally empty.

The principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, having been adopted in such fields as holistic hairdressing, has become something of a cliché. But more than that, it is a principle that can be investigated in sitting.

Dogen said there is sitting with the body, which is different from sitting with the mind. An example might be the approach advocated by Gudo Nishijma, that is, physical effort to keep the spine straight vertically so as to allow the autonomic nervous system, and therefore the unconscious mind, to become balanced.

Dogen said there is sitting with the mind, which is different from sitting with the body. An example might be the approach advocated by FM Alexander, which entails learning a new way to think, so as to consciously direct the use of the whole self in such a way as the whole body, whether breathing in or breathing out, keeps tending upwards and outwards, lengthening and widening in an expanding space.

To sit as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts might be two abandon both these approaches, or in other words, to drop off body and mind.

But dropping off body and mind does not mean only to recognize the need to abandon two-bit reductionism, in a brain that is more or less disconnected from a pelvis, via a back that is unduly hyperextended, or collapsed, or twisted in on itself. Hence Dogen said that there is sitting as body and mind dropping off, which is different from sitting as body and mind dropping off.

Trying to be oneself, for example, by organizing one's body, is not it.

Thinking of oneself as a "stream of consciousness" might not be it, either.

In a very stimulating article on "Buddhism, the only real science" a Buddhist monk writes that "Some misguided scientists maintain the theory that there is no rebirth, that this stream of consciousness is incapable of returning to a successive human existence."

But I feel very strong skeptical doubt about this Buddhist monk's argument. He makes the case well that "there is no such thing as re-birth" is only a theory, a view to be abandoned. But when he criticizes misguided scientists for maintaining an unproven theory, is the mirror principle at work? What does he mean by "this stream of consciousness"?

Speaking for myself, I am not a stream of consciousness. I am a big fat bloke (increasingly so since injuring my left knee, now tipping the scales at over 90kg!). I was born as a whole. I will die as a whole. And in between, on a good day, I sit as a whole.

EH Johnston:
I have dissociated myself from the five unholy skandhas, matter etc., since I see them to be transitory, unsubstantial, unindividual and injurious.

Linda Covill:
I can see that the five constituents of human identity such as material form are fickle, without substance, without self, murderous -- so I am free of these pernicious things.

skandhaan = acc. pl. skandha: m. the shoulder , upper part of the back or region from the neck to the shoulder-joint ; the stem or trunk of a tree (esp. that part of the stem where the branches begin) ; a troop , multitude , quantity , aggregate ; (with Buddhists) the five constituent elements of being (viz. ruupa , " bodily form " ; vedanaa , " sensation " ; saMjNaa , " perception " ; saMskaara , " aggregate of formations " ; vijnaana , " consciousness or thought-faculty ")
ca: and
ruupa: n. any outward appearance or phenomenon or colour ; form, shape ; (with Buddhists) material form i.e. the organized body (as one of the 5 constituent elements or skandhas)
prabhRtiin (acc. pl.): beginning , commencement (ifc. = " commencing with " or " et caetera ")
dash-aardhan (acc. pl.): mfn. pl. " half of ten " , five
dasha: ten
ardha: mfn. halved , forming a half; mn. half, part

pashyaami: I see
yasmaat: ind. since
capalaan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. moving to and fro , shaking , trembling , unsteady , wavering ; inconstant
asaaraan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. sapless , without strength or value , without vigour , spoiled , unfit , unprofitable

an-aatmakaan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. unreal
an: prefix conveying a negative or privative or contrary sense
aatmaka: mfn. having or consisting of the nature or character of (in comp.)
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
vadha: m. one who kills , a slayer , vanquisher , destroyer ; the act of striking or killing , slaughter , murder , death , destruction
aatmakaan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. having or consisting of the nature or character of (in comp.)
ca: and

tasmaat: ind. (correlative of yasmaat) therefore
vimuktaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. unloosed , unharnessed &c ; set free , liberated
asmi: I am
ashivebhyaH = abl. pl. m. ashiva: mfn. unkind , envious , pernicious , dangerous
ebhyaH (abl. pl. m. ayam): from these ones

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