Friday, October 21, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.25: Listening

adyārthavat-te śrutavac-chrutaṃ tac
chrutānurūpaṃ pratipadya dharmaṁ /
kṛta-śruto vipratipadyamāno
nindyo hi nirvīrya ivāttaśastraḥ //18.25//

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

Listening ears open to the truth replete with listening,
and with purpose,

Today you stand surefooted in the dharma,
in a manner that befits the listening tradition.

For a man equipped with listening ears who is wavering

Is like a swordsman lacking valour:
he is worthy of blame.

The metre in today's verse, an Upajāti verse in which the first and last pāda are Indravajrā and the middle two pādas are Upendravajrā (IUUI), is called Māyā.

In 18.22 the Buddha describes Nanda as dharme (locative) pratipattiH, "standing surefooted in the dharma." In today's verse the phrase is pratipadya dharmam (accusative), "having set foot upon the dharma." The intention of the two phrases, as I read them, is exactly the same; and pratipadya, having set foot upon (= being surefooted in) is contrasted with vipratipadyamānaḥ, pussyfooting about.

So the second half of the verse has something of the flavour of samurai Zen, with its emphasis on self-assured, decisive action -- which can be a double-edged sword, depending on what kind of confidence the self-assurance is, and how well-informed the decision is.

But the main theme of today's verse, as evidenced by four occurrences of the word śruta, is listening; or what is listened to, the teaching, the tradition. The verse in the round, then, might be interpreted as asserting that listening is not for wimps.

Ten years ago I attended an Ear-Voice Connection Workshop given by Paul Madaule, a protege of Alftred Tomatis and the founder of The Listening Centre in Toronto. Paul wrote an excellent book on listening, titled "When Listening Comes Alives." When he speaks of "listening" Paul seems to indicate more than just the act of a human subject receiving auditory information -- so that, for example, if I am sitting listening to the forest stream and the birds singing, that whole experience is listening, including not only me the listener but also the stream, the birds, the whole environment. This understanding of, and reverence for, listening is perhaps closer to the Sanskrit word śruta than what we usually mean by the English word listening -- because śruta seems to include not only the act of listening but also what is listened to.

Out of this kind of consideration, a couple of questions arise:
1. Is there any difference between (a) mindfulness of breathing, (b) watching the breath, and (c) listening to oneself breath?
2. Going further, is it permissible to aspire to a state of breathing being listened to, not by me; of breathing being listening itself?

True answers to these questions might be: 1. Don't know. 2. No. (Or, Shut the fuck up!)

But I shall carry on regardless...

A further reflection is that a central pillar of Dogen's teaching is the samādhi of accepting and using the self, which is intimately related with listening. For one thing, how one uses the self has a big influence on one's ability to listen. For another thing, truly to accept oneself depends on being able to listen to oneself.

I write the above as one who has a deep-seated listening difficulty.

My teacher Gudo Nishijima tried to explain the samādhi of accepting and using the self as balance of the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system. But the autonomic nervous system works unconsciously, whereas listening has to do with consciously paying attention. So Gudo's hypothesis, as I see it, has to be rejected as false. Since the false hypothesis is at the centre of Gudo's "One True Buddhism," I also reject Gudo's One True Buddhism as false. This may seem strident or rash, but I have spent the best part of 30 years pussyfooting about before coming to this conclusion.

There is a page on my website dedicated to listening. In a past life I have been on professional training courses to help people, mainly children, with listening difficulties. But I really know almost nothing about it.

The only thing I really know, which is why I keep coming back to it, is that the teaching of the buddha-ancestor who transmitted the Dharma to me, was very bad, like an apple that was rotten to the core. But a rotten apple is still an apple. And the ultimate teaching of the Buddha was not to be greedy.

EH Johnston:
To-day you have learnt that which is of good purport and full of learning and have followed the Law according to the learning. For he who is perfected in learning and acts contrary to it is worthy of blame, like a man who, having girded on his armour, shows cowardice.

Linda Covill:
Today you have learned that which is purposeful and learned, and you have followed the dharma according to that learning. For he who has perfect learning and acts contrary to it is blameworthy, like a man with a sword but no courage.

adya: today
arthavat (nom./acc. sg. n.): mfn. wealthy ; full of sense , significant ; suitable to the object, fitting ; full of reality , real ; ind. according to a purpose
te (gen. sg.): of/in you
shrutavat (nom./acc. sg. n.): mfn. one who has heard ; possessing (sacred) knowledge , learned , pious ; connected with or founded on knowledge
shrutam (nom./acc. sg. n.): mfn. heard , listened to , heard about or of , taught , mentioned , orally transmitted or communicated from age to age
tat (nom./acc. sg. n.): that

shrut'-aanuruupam: in conformity with the listened-to
shruta: n. anything heard , that which has been heard (esp. from the beginning) , knowledge as heard by holy men and transmitted from generation to generation , oral tradition or revelation , sacred knowledge; n. the act of hearing; n. learning or teaching , instruction
shru: to hear , listen or attend to anything (acc.) , give ear to any one (acc. or gen.) , hear or learn anything about (acc.) or from; to hear (from a teacher) , study , learn ; to be attentive , be obedient , obey
anuruupam ind. ifc. conformably , according
pratipadya = abs. prati- √ pad: to set foot upon , enter , go or resort to , arrive at , reach , attain; to come back to (acc.) ; to get into (acc.) , meet , with , find , obtain , receive , take in or upon one's self; to undertake , begin (acc. dat. or inf.) , practise , perform , accomplish
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. the Dharma, the teaching

kRta-shrutaH (nom. sg. m.): he who has done listening/learning well
kRta: mfn. done , made , accomplished; prepared , made ready ; obtained , gained , acquired , placed at hand ; well done , proper , good ; cultivated
vipratipadyamaanaH = nom. sg. m. present participle vi-prati- √pad : to go in different or opposite directions , turn here and there ; to roam , wander (said of the senses) ; to be perplexed or confounded , be uncertain how to act , waver , hesitate ; to differ or diverge in opinion , be mutually opposed ; to reply falsely or erroneously

nindyaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. blamable , reprehensible
hi: for
nir-viiryaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. powerless , unmanly , impotent ; m. a weakling
viirya: n. manliness , valour , strength , power , energy ; heroism , heroic deed; manly vigour , virility , semen virile
iva: like
aatta-shastraH (nom. sg. m.): a man with drawn sword
aatta: mfn. taken , obtained ; taken away or off , withdrawn from ; seized , grasped
shastra: n. an instrument for cutting or wounding , knife , sword , dagger

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