Saturday, October 22, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.26: Just Willing the Means

aho dhṛtis-te 'viṣayātmakasya
yat-tvaṃ matiṃ mokṣa-vidhāv-akārṣīḥ /
yāsyāmi niṣṭhām-iti bāliśo hi
janma-kṣayāt trāsam-ihābhyupaiti // Saund_18.26 //

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

Ah! What firmness in you,
who is a slave to objects no more,

In that you have willed the means of liberation.

For it is a fool in this world who,
thinking 'I will be finished,'

Gives in, in the face of the end of existence,
to a state of quivering anxiety.

The metre in today's verse, an Upajāti verse in which the first pāda is Upendravajrā and the rest are Indravajrā (UIII), is called Kīrti.

Today's verse whose theme as I hear it is just willing the means, is intimately related with yesterday's verse whose theme is just listening -- not a subject listening to an object, but just listening.

"In the long run," some economist once said, "we are all dead." This statement accords with the Buddha's teaching as I understand it. In the long run "I will be finished" is a true thought. So the fool in this verse, as I read it, is not a fool because he thinks "I will be finished"; rather, he is a fool for worrying about what he can't change. If, instead of quivering in the face of his demise, the fool attended whole-heartedly to a means-whereby, or to just listening, he might thereby make a difference for the better at the only time and place a difference can be made -- here and now.

Described like that, the fool in today's verse could be me, who a teacher of mine named Marjory Barlow described as "an inveterate worrier."

One of the things that so greatly impressed me about another teacher of mine named Gudo Nishijima, incidentally, is that he was a genius at not worrying. The big difference between Marjory and Gudo, however, to me, is that Marjory taught a means-whereby, whereas Gudo's approach was basically end-gaining. Marjory's teaching was in the direction of growth of consciousness. Gudo's teaching was just to do it, unconsciously. The fact that Marjory was a worrier and Gudo wasn't, as I understand it now, had to do with their inherent constitution and the way they were nurtured and brought up in their early years. Marjory, for example, didn't crawl and she hated her mother who was given to emotional mood-swings. Gudo in contrast was the treasured son who arrived after three daughters. So I think that being or not being a worrier was symptomatic of development in their early years, and not symptomatic of the teaching they taught.

The teaching of both teachers was very centred in the present moment. Marjory's teaching was, here and now, just will the means. Gudo's teaching was, here and now, just will the end.

Neither teacher gave me any reason to believe that "I will be finished" might be a false statement.

Of course, if you believe in re-incarnation, or in God in heaven, you can take comfort from your belief that in the long run we may be resurrected, or re-born in a happier realm of existence. So if you are a believer, you can interpret that the Buddha's words in today's verse are dangling the carrot of non-extinction or non-oblivion. You can hear the Buddha suggesting that only a fool thinks "I will be finished," whereas a wise man thinks "If I can get my dirty paws on the deathless nectar, then I might not necessarily be finished."

As a non-believer, I don't hear the Buddha suggesting to Nanda that he can take solace in the prospect of any kind of life after death. I hear the Buddha congratulating Nanda for keeping his eye on the ball, for attending to the means and not worrying about the end which, for all of us, might be extinction and oblivion.

The gist of today's verse, as I read it, then, is to encourage us that as long as we steadfastly will the means, then there is no need to worry about ends, which will all take care of themselves.

Forgive my lack of optimism but, having spent the last three years considering what Aśvaghoṣa meant by "obtaining the deathless nectar," my tentative conclusion is that the deathless nectar is not an end any of us can hope to arrive at in future. It might rather be arrival here and now at a means.

EH Johnston:
I applaud your firmness in that, free from bondage to the objects of the senses, you set your mind on the means of salvation; for it is only the fool who feels terror in this world at the destruction of rebirth, thinking it means total extinction for him.

Linda Covill:
What constancy in you, who are not sense-based, in that you have set your mind on what is prescribed for liberation! For only a foolish person in the world thinks 'I will pass into oblivion!' and so comes to fear the end of rebirth.

aho: ind. a particle (implying joyful or painful surprise) Ah! (of enjoyment or satisfaction) Oh!... et cetera
dhRtiH (nom. sg.): f. firmness , constancy , resolution , will
te (gen. sg.): of you, in you
aviShay'-aatmakasya (gen. sg.): not being identified with objects, having no fish to fry
viShay'-aatmaka: mfn. consisting of or identified with wordly objects , sensual, carnal
aviShaya: mfn. not having an object
viShaya: m. an object of sense ; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
aatmaka: having or consisting of the nature or character of (in comp.); consisting or composed of

yat (relative pronoun): that
tvam (nom. sg.): you
matim (acc. sg.): f. intention, wish ; (matim kR, to set the heart on, make up one's mind , resolve , determine)
mokSha-vidhau (loc. sg.): release-practice
moksha: m. release, liberation
vidhi: m. any prescribed act ; a means ; any act or action , performance , accomplishment , contrivance , work , business (ifc. often pleonastically)
akaarShiH (2nd pers. sg. aorist kR): you made

yaasyaami (1st pers. sg. future yaa, to go, proceed ): I will go
niSThaam (acc. sg.): f. conclusion , end , termination , death
iti: "..... " ; thus
baalishaH (nom. sg.): m. a fool , simpleton , blockhead
hi: for

janma-kShayaat (abl. sg.): because of the end of birth
janman: n. birth , production, exisence, life; re-birth
kShaya: end , termination
traasam (acc. sg.) m. fear , terror , anxiety
√ tras: to tremble , quiver , be afraid of
iha: in this place , here, in this world, here and now
abhyupaiti = 3rd pers. sg. abhyupe: to go near, to enter a state or condition; to admit as an argument or a position; to agree with , approve of

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