Thursday, October 13, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.17: Birth & Death of an Unideal Universe, in a Moment of Being Restricted by the Still State

yataś-ca lokaṁ sama-janma-niṣṭhaṁ
paśyāmi niḥsāram-asac-ca sarvaṁ /
ato dhiyā me manasā vibaddham
asmīti me neñjitam-asti yena //18.17 //

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

Again, on the grounds that I see the whole world
as emerging and in the same moment passing away,

As having no essential meaning
and not being as it ought to be,

On these grounds, because of meditation,
the world is bound fast by my mind

In such a way that there is in me no flicker of "I am."

The UIUI metric scheme of this verse in Upajāti metre is called Haṁsī (a female goose).

In the first half of today's verse, Nanda describes seeing or experiencing or realizing the world, ideal though it is not, as a whole (lokaṁ sarvam).

Truly to work on the self is to forget the self. And to forget the self -- even if it is only for a moment -- might be to see the whole world. Truly to forget the self, in other words -- even if it is only for a moment -- might be to experience the world as whole.

"I sit by the forest," to coin a phrase, "till only the forest remains."

[Pretentious? Moi?]

What I can venture with no danger of having to ask somebody to pass me the sick bag, is this: when a person sees or experiences anything, this seeing, or this experiencing, might be a function of how a person accepts and uses himself.

To grasp intellectually the theory of the instantaneous appearance and disappearance of the expanding Universe, while all the time shortening and narrowing one's own back, might not be it. Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

With regard to the second half of today's verse, in the notes to his Sanskrit text, EHJ says that "the text of c [the 3rd pāda] is very suspicious, but difficult to amend to any purpose." In the notes to his English translation, EHJ adds: "I am still unable to solve the reading of c, possibly dhiyo me manaso niruddhā."

LC subsequently amended the 3rd line to ato dhiyā me manasā vibuddham.

In their English translations, EHJ and LC interpret that vibaddham ("unyoked") or vibuddham ("awoken") modifies manas, mind. But manasā is in the instrumental case, so is that grammatically permissible? In any event, something strikes me as amiss in those suggested amendments and translations -- possibly because the translators were not working on the translation, in the words of Ānandajoti Bhikkhu, "from the inside."

"From the inside," for me, means from the inside of work-in-progress practice of sitting-dhyāna.

One way of understanding this verse, and indeed the present series of verses, is that Nanda is now expressing the view that we should each aspire to realize for ourselves -- the view of an Enlightened Buddha, in whom the ego is dead and buried, once and for all. This might be the understanding of somebody who believes in Buddhism.

But I can't understand today's verse like that, because I haven't ever experienced such a view, and what in any case would be the point of arriving at such a view?

As FM Alexander most pertinently asked: "Don't you see that if you get perfection today, you will be farther away from perfection than you have ever been?"

Again, as FM Alexander truly advised: "The experience you want is in the process of getting it. If you have something, give it up. Getting it, not having it, is what you want."

So I refuse to believe a single word of anybody's enlightened Buddhist view -- even if the one who seems to be expressing it is Nanda, or even if the one who seems to be expressing it is called Gautama Buddha. What I have confidence in is the existence of a way of working on the self which leads in the direction of abandoning such views.

I have this confidence because of having been taught the principles of Alexander work (not that I have necessarily learned them yet). But before that I have this confidence because of practising sitting-dhyāna. And in today's verse as I read it "because of practising sitting-dhyāna" is expressed concisely in one word: dhiyā.

If Nanda in today's verse is singing from this hymn sheet, then what he is describing in line 4 is not the death of the ego, but the momentary state of, say, a fit cyclist cycling easily up a hill; or a hiker who is in the zone and walking towards a good look-out spot; or a plumber who, in an unideal world where leaks are liable to spring, is diligently engaged in making a watertight connection between two pipes.

What Nanda might be describing is the situation in which buddha-ancestors, because of practising sitting-dhyāna, find themselves "restricted by the still-state" (in Dogen's words GOTSU-CHI NI SAERARU).

In that case, today's verse is filled with the irony that in the unfathomably rapid passing of the instant during which the whole world springs into life and simultaneously dies, everything stops, as if held fast (vibaddham) in an unyielding grip.

And it might be that when the buddha-ancestors investigate this state of being restricted by stillness, so that nothing is flickering up, they do so in the context of progressing, or regressing, through the four stages of sitting-dhyāna. Hence, it might be no coincidence that the other place in Saundara-nanda where the word iñjitam (flicker) appears is in the description in Canto 17 of Nanda's progress (or regress) through the four dhyānas:

In excitement (iñjitam ) there is interference, and where there is interference there is suffering, / Which is why, insofar as ease is excitatory, devotees who are desirous of quiet give up that ease. //17.53//

EH Johnston:
And since I see that the world's beginning and end are simultaneous and that all phenomena are without substance or reality of existence, therefore my mind is unyoked from thoughts so that no change in it is caused by belief in my real existence as an individual.

Linda Covill:
Since I can see that in all the world birth is equivalent to death, without substance and without reality, my mind has awoken from thought, so that I have no inclination to think 'I exist.'

yatas: ind. from which, whence, as, because, since ; as soon as
ca: and
lokam (acc. sg.): m. the world ; the earth or world of human beings; ordinary life , worldly affairs , common practice
sama-janma-niShTham (acc. sg. m.): simultaneously emerging and vanishing
sama: mfn. even, level; same , equal , similar , like , equivalent; n. likeness , similarity , equality ; ind. in like manner , alike , equally , similarly; ind. together with or at the same time with or in accordance with (instr. or comp.)
janman: n. birth , production; existence, life
niShTha: mfn. (in some senses = niH + stha) being in or on , situated on , grounded or resting on , depending on , relating or referring to (usually ifc.)
niH: without
stha: mfn. (only ifc.) standing , staying , abiding , being situated in , existing or being in or on or among

pashyaami: I see
niH-saaram (acc. sg. m): mfn. sapless , pithless , worthless , vain , unsubstantial
saara: mn. the core or pith or solid interior of anything ; firmness , strength power , energy ; the substance or essence or marrow or cream or heart or essential part of anything , best part , quintessence; real meaning, main point
a-sat (acc. sg.): not being , not existing , unreal ; untrue, wrong, bad
sat: mfn. being , existing ; real , actual , as any one or anything ought to be , true , good , right
ca: abd
sarvam (acc. sg. m.): all, the whole

atas: ind. (correlative of yatas) hence
dhiyaa = inst. sg. dhii: f. thought , (esp.) religious thought , reflection , meditation
dhiyaaH = gen./abl. sg. dhii: f. thinking, meditation
me (gen. sg.): in me, of me, for me, my
manasaa = inst. sg. manas: n. mind
manasaH = gen/abl. sg. manas: n. mind
vibaddham (nom./acc. sg. n.): mfn. bound or fastened &c ; obstructed , constipated (as the bowels)
vi- √ bandh: to bind or fasten on different sides , stretch out , extend ; to seize or hold by (instr.) ; to obstruct (faeces)
vi-: ind. apart , asunder , in different directions , to and fro , about , away , away from , off , without (as a prefix, it can have a negative sense, or not change the meaning at all)
baddha: mfn. bound , tied , fixed , fastened , chained , fettered
vibuddha: (1) without consciousness; (2) awakened
niruddha: mfn. held back , withheld , held fast , stopped , shut , closed , confined , restrained , checked , kept off , removed , suppressed

asm' -iiti: "I am"
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be , live , exist , be present
iti "...."
me (gen. sg.): in me, of me
na: not
iNjitam = (?) iNgitam [see 17.53]: n. palpitation; change of the voice , internal motion , motion of various parts of the body as indicating the intentions ; hint , sign , gesture ; aim , intention , real but covert purpose
asti: there is
yena (inst. ya): by which cause, so that


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

On a hunch I checked MW and was surprised to find a separate entry for manasaa. Buried in the entry is this:

m/anasaa ind. in the mind ; in thought or imagination ; with all the heart , willingly.”

An indeclinable form - but I can't work it into a translation that works for the pada.

MW also has, under manasaa: "with gen., by the leave of"

Maybe, then manasaa goes with me??

But still, as far as I know, the participles should agree with a substantive. more ways than one. Can you make anything of those possibilities?


Mike Cross said...

Hi Malcolm,

The issue as I see it is not so much how to understand manasā as how to understand vibaddham.

If the meaning were "I am mentally unyoked" or "I am mentally bound" then I think the Sanskrit would be manasā vibaddhaḥ. If "I am mentally awakened" then "manasā vibuddhaḥ." If the meaning were "my mind is unyoked/awaken" then me manas [nom. sg. n.] vibaddham/vibuddham."

So the only way I can make sense of it is by understanding that vibaddham, bound, modifies not manas but lokam, the world.

So the world is bound by my mind.

I think this is an expression of what Gudo Nishijima used to call, misguidedly in my opinion, "balance of the autonomic nervous system."

I think it was better expressed by Dogen as "being restricted by the still state."

jiblet said...

I confess I didn't read your comment carefully enough, Mike. I now see what you're getting at...sort of.

But isn't vibuddha, in the sense of 'awakened', a better fit than vibaddham for how the world is because of Nanda's meditation? That's what it says in lots of books on Buddhism - you get enlightened and the whole world gets enlightened.

I shouldn’t mock. What do I know about it? Not a lot. I think your version does make grammatical sense, and you just might be onto something.

Mike Cross said...

People with an immature Moro reflex don't like shaky foundations; we don't like the feeling that the world is wobbly; we like the sense of standing, or sitting, on solid ground.

What I am talking about is primarily a vestibular problem, a kind of fear rooted in vestibular dsyfunction.

Not being able to understand the amendments and translations of EHJ and LC made me feel mildly sea-sick.That is what I meant by "feeling something amiss." And your comment this morning didn't help, but rather seemed to make things worse.

In this situation, my world is not suffering from a dearth of light or enlightenment; it is suffering from a dearth of stillness or balance.

When I talk about fear rooted in immature vestibular reflexes, it is not some theory that I am playing with, not some hypothesis that I am onto. It is something I am suffering from!

How to suffuse the world with the golden hues of enlightenment is not the problem I am working on. How to make the world a safer stiller place, in spite of a dodgy vestibular system, is the problem I am and have been working on.

jiblet said...

I don't like travelling on water, Mike. Likewise, I've never had the courage to abandon the safety of terra firma for the thrills and spills of the roller-coaster.

While I don't have much to say about enlightenment, balance or stillness, I am trying to listen.

Thanks for continuing to translate, and for commenting,


Mike Cross said...

Thanks Malcolm.

Your reference to the roller-coaster is apposite, and gives the lie to what I said about people with an immature Moro reflex -- because on reflection the truth is that some Moro customers like from time to time to scare ourselves shitless by reckless behaviour, sometimes just for the hell of it, and sometimes in order to give ourselves an adrenalin boost when the energy is flagging.

So we get back on the roller-coaster, or the roundabout, or the sledge-hammer, or the ghost train, or the log-plume, only to emerge a bit later shaking our heads and saying "Never again!"

Thanks for continuing to listen and to monitor. Thanks for staying in the water!