Friday, October 28, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.32: Getting the Goods

diṣṭyāsi śāntiṃ paramām-upeto
nistīrṇa-kāntāra ivāpta-sāraḥ /
sarvo hi saṃsāra-gato bhayārto
yathaiva kāntāra-gatas-tathaiva // 18.32 //

= = - = / = - - / = - = = // = = - = / = - - / = - = -
= = - = / = - - / = - = = // - = - = / = - - / = - = -
Upajāti (Bālā)

How great it is
that you have reached the deepest tranquillity,

Like a man making it through a wasteland
and gaining possession of treasure.

For everyone in the flux of saṁsāra is afflicted by fear,

Just like a man in a wasteland.

This verse also, when I reflect on it, is a stimulus to the tendency I have to worry about ends, as opposed to attending to a means; or to worry about finding a final and universal solution to everybody's problem, which most probably I shall never do, as opposed to working on myself, which on a good day -- albeit falteringly, in accordance with my own strengths and weaknesses -- I can do, or choose not to do.

Reading today's verse, one cannot help wondering: just what is the prize, the treasure, the heart of the matter, the marrow (sāra) that the Buddha seems to be praising Nanda for having finally made into his own possession?

In yesterday's verse, as I interpreted it, the prize was freedom from the backward and downward pull of habit -- transcendent freedom and lightness like the freedom of a bird perching lightly on the tree of dharma.

In today's verse the prize is deepest tranquillity, and implicit in the verse is the recognition that the deepest tranquillity is a condition of freedom from fear.

So exactly what is it that we are directing ourselves towards? Is it freedom from habit, or from fear?

This question might be like the argument between two blind men, one who puts his arms around an elephant's leg and declares the elephant to be like a tree-trunk, the other who sweeps his palms along the elephant's side and declares the elephant to be like a bloody great wall.

Speaking of freedom from fear, or lack of it, yesterday morning two blokes from the water company drove up and started digging up the pavement a few metres from where I was sitting. I thought I would keep sitting for a while, and just observe, in the spirit of "look the bugger in the eye." A few seconds of that was enough. I quickly decided to get the hell out of there and go for a walk. It seemed to me that what I was observing in myself was an unconscious response rooted in a not very well integrated auditory Moro reflex. It was a clear case of what FM Alexander called "unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions."

Later in the day I followed up an invitation to watch a Youtube clip of a Japanese Zen teacher who seemed to be talking about using Zazen as a kind of spade to dig out the ego. My reflection on it was that 'the ego' is a construct from psychology. And that is all very well, but, from working with children who, like myself, are subject to labile emotions rooted in immature primitive reflexes, I am aware of the danger of attributing psychological causes to behaviour which has physical (or neuro-physiological) roots in a dodgy vestibular system.

Anyway, the early-morning experience of the pneumatic drill was enough to remind me, if any reminder was needed, that in the quest for deepest tranquillity, finality for me is not in sight.

EH Johnston:
By good fortune you have reached the supreme tranquillity, like a man who has crossed the desert and obtained wealth ; for everyone caught in the cycle of existence is harassed by the fear of danger, like a traveller in the desert.

Linda Covill:
How wonderful that you, like a man who has come through the wilderness and found riches, have reached supreme tranquillity! For all who are in samsara are prey to danger, just like people in the wilderness.

diShTyaa (inst.): by good fortune; how wonderful! etc. [expression of strong pleasure]
asi: you are
shaantim (acc. sg.): f. tranquillity , peace , quiet
paramaam (acc. sg. f.): highest, supreme
upetaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who has come near or approached , one who has betaken himself to , approached (for protection) , arrived at , abiding in; one who has obtained or entered into any state or condition

nistiirNa-kaantaaraH (nom. sg. m.): a man who has crossed the wilderness
nistiirNa: mfn. crossed , passed over , spent , gone through
kaantaara: mn. a large wood , forest , wilderness , waste ; a difficult road through a forest , forest-path
iva: like
aapta-saaraH (nom. sg. m.): one who got the marrow, one who obtained riches
aapta: mfn. received , got , gained , obtained
saara: the substance or essence or marrow or cream or heart or essential part of anything ; the real meaning , main point ; cream , curds ; wealth , property , goods , riches

sarvaH (nom. sg. m.): all
hi: for
saMsaara-gataH (nom. sg. m.): in the flux of samsara
saMsaara: m. course , passage , passing through a succession of states , circuit of mundane existence , transmigration
gata: mfn. being in
bhay'-aartaH (nom. sg. m.): fear-afflicted
bhaya: n. fear ; terror , dismay , danger , peril , distress
aarta: mfn. fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained ; injured, oppressed

yathaa: just as
eva: (emphatic)
kaantaara-gataH (nom. sg m.): in the wilderness
tathaa: just so
eva: (emphatic)

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