Tuesday, October 4, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.8: Like Getting On the Road...

kathaṃkathābhāvagatosmi yena
chinnaḥ sa niḥsaṃśaya saṃśayo me/
tvacchāsanāt satpathamāgato 'smi
sudeśikasyeva pathi pranaṣṭaḥ//18.8//

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

A doubt,
by which I fell into a state of hesitant questioning,

O One Beyond Doubt, has been eradicated in me --

Through your teaching I have arrived at a true path

Like a straggler, under a good guide, getting on the road.

The four pādas of today's verse are again in the 11-syllable Upajāti metre, the 1st and 4th pādas being in in the Upendravajrā form (U), while the 2nd and 3rd pādas are in the Indravajrā form (I). In Ānandajoti Bhikku's analysis of the Sanksrit prosody of Buddha-carita, this UIIU scheme is identified as the type of verse called Ārdrā (moist, fresh).

In the 1st pāda the original palm-leaf manuscript apparently has kathaṁkathībhāvagatosmi. In the notes to his Sanskrit text EHJ states with an irony that may or may not have been intended: "As there is apparently no adjective kathaṁkatha but only a substantive kathaṁkathā and an adjective akathaṁkatha, I have with much hesitation adopted P's [the paper manuscript's] reading."

If the view mentioned by Nanda in yesterday's verse was the hedonism Aśvaghoṣa described in Canto 4, the self-doubt and hesitant questioning to which Nanda refers in this verse might be those doubts and questions Nanda himself expressed in Canto 7:

"What man in the prime of youth could keep such constancy in the spring months which are, as it were, dharma's rival? //7.23// With their way of being, their pride, their way of moving, their grace; / With a smile or show of indignation, with their exuberance, with their voices, women have carried off hosts of gods, kings, and seers: How could they not throw a man like me? //7.24// For, overcome by desire, the fire god Hiranya-retas, 'Golden Sperm,' succumbed to sex with his wife Svaha, as did Indra 'The Bountiful' with nymph Ahalya; / All the more liable am I, a man, lacking their strength and resolve, To be overwhelmed by a woman!//7.25//.... Hordes of gods, kings, and seers such as these have fallen by dint of desire into the thrall of women./ Being weak in understanding and inner strength, all the more discouraged, when I do not see my beloved, am I. //7.46// Therefore I shall go right back home again and make love properly, as I please! / For the insignia do not sit well upon a backslider from the path of dharma, whose senses are restless and whose mind is elsewhere.//7.47// When a man has taken the bowl in his hand, shaved his head, and, putting aside pride, donned the patched-together robe, / And yet he is given to pleasure and lacking in firmness and tranquility, like a lamp in a picture, he is there and yet is not.//7.48// When a man has gone forth, but the red taint of desire has not gone forth from him; when he wears the earth-hued robe but has not transcended dirt; / When he carries the bowl but is not a vessel for the virtues; though he bears the insignia, he is neither a householder nor a beggar.//7.49// I had thought it improper for a man with noble connections, having adopted the insignia, to discard them again: / But that scruple also fades away, when I think about those royal heroes who abandoned an ascetic grove and went home.//7.50// For the Shalva king, along with his son; and likewise Ambarisha and Rama and Andha, and Rantideva son of Samkriti / Cast off their rags and clothed themselves again in fine fabrics; they cut off their twisted dreadlocks and put on crowns..//7.51// Therefore as soon my guru has gone from here to beg for alms I will give up the ochre robe and go from here to my home; / Because, for a man who bears the honoured insignia with stammering mind, impaired judgement and weakened resolve, there might exist no ulterior purpose nor even this present world of living beings.".//7.52//

When Nanda says in today's verse that such doubt has lifted and he has arrived at sat-patham, a/the true path/way, what does he mean?

Is he saying "I have attained the Truth," "I have realized the Way," "I have got Enlightenment," "I have become an Enlightened Buddha"?

Is he saying, more modestly, "I have found a way of working," "I have arrived at a way that works for me," "I have found my own way, my own path with heart"?

As Linda Covill points out in her book A Metaphorical Study of Saundara-nanda, metaphors "are so deeply ingrained in the tradition as to be barely noticeable." And no metaphor is more deeply ingrained than the metaphor of a path.

But in today's verse sat-patham, a/the true way/path, is not a metaphor. Rather sat-patham (accusative) is what Nanda is saying he has actually arrived at. And he compares this experience of having arrived to pathi (locative), which means getting or being on a path or road, with direction.

So today's verse as I read it wakes us up to the fact that a/the path/way/road is a metaphor and at the same time is not only a metaphor.

Understanding sat-patham as a way, I remember the words of Gudo Nishijima when he told me in 1986, after I shaved my head and quit a job with which I was fed up, "Everybody has the existence of his or her own way. So I affirm your way. But at the same time there might be a more realistic way." Those words angered me greatly at the time, since there was only one way for me at that time, and for better or for worse I was following it. I felt like a diver who had jumped off the high board, only for his coach to ask him, half way down, "Are you sure it was a good idea to jump?" So even though those stupid words of a stupid man angered the hell out of me, they do have the virtue of containing the principle of affirming the existence for each individual of his or her own way.

As a more universal principle, as FM Alexander pointed out, there is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a thing as a right direction.

There really is such a thing as a right direction, which is not only a metaphor, but is something that we can actually go in; or, in which we can decide not to go anywhere.

When I look back on 30 years of plodding along my own path as a follower of the Buddha's teaching, there have been not a few times when I seemed to get hopelessly stuck. As a matter of fact I am somewhat stuck at present, lumbered with an injured knee. In any event, with or without bendy legs, I cannot claim to have arrived yet at a conclusive realization of Enlightenment, or of the True Way, or of the eightfold noble path. But a few times I have had the experience of having been stuck and then getting back on the road -- like, for example, in 1986 when I first began reading Shobogenzo in the original Japanese, and in 1994 when I first encountered FM Alexander's teaching of a right direction, and again in 2008 when I first encountered the writings of Aśvaghoṣa. And as experiences go, I know of none better than the experience of getting on the road again.

What I am striving so wordily to express is this: when the Buddha's teaching is groped for from the inside, there seems to be movement in a certain direction, which is not a metaphor, but which is me moving somewhere, or slowly getting nowhere, by going forwards and going backwards.

EH Johnston:
The doubt of mine, O Thou Who art free from doubt, which led me to vain questionings, has been destroyed ; under Thy instruction I have reached the good Path, as a man who has lost his road is put on the right one by the direction of a good guide.

Linda Covill:
The doubt which made me full of questions and opinions has been excised, O you who are without doubts. Because of your instruction I have arrived at the true path, like a lost man who finds his way through the directions of a good guide.

(in comp. for katham ; at the beginning of an adjective compound it may also have the sense of kim)

kathaMkathaa-bhaava-gataH (nom. sg. m.): fallen into a condition of intellectual questioning
kathaMkathaa: f. doubt and questioning
kathaMkathika: mfn. one who is always asking questions , an inquisitive person
bhaava: state , condition , rank; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling , sentiment , opinion
gata: mfn. gone to any state or condition , fallen into (acc. or loc. or in comp.)
asmi: I am
yena (inst.): by/through which

chinnaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. cut off, taken away
saH (nom. sg. m.): it, the [doubt]
niH-saMshaya (voc. sg. m.): O, one who is without doubt
saMshayaH (nom. sg.): m. uncertainty , irresolution , hesitation , doubt
me (gen. sg.): of me

tvac-chaasanaat (abl. sg.): from your teaching
tvat: you
shaasana: n. punishment , chastisement , correction; an order , command , edict , enactment , decree , direction; teaching, instruction
sat-patham (acc. sg.): m. a good or right way , correct or virtuous conduct , orthodox doctrine
sat: being , existing , occurring , happening , being present; real , actual , as any one or anything ought to be , true , good , right
patha: m. a way , path , road , course (generally ifc. for pathin)
aagataH (nom. sg. m.): come to, arrived ; walked through (as a path)
asmi: I am

su-deshikasya (gen. sg.): belonging to a good guide
su: (laudatory particle) good
deshika: mfn. familiar with a place , a guide (lit. and fig.)
iva: like
pathi = log. sg. pathin: m. a way , path , road , course
pranaShThaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. lost
naShTha: mfn. lost , disappeared , perished , destroyed , lost sight of invisible ; escaped, run away from (abl.) , fled


Ian Cross said...

Don't think I've got anywhere very far on the road to the 4 noble truths but I certainly enjoyed the Canned Heat video, especially with the original footage.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Ian.

"Well, I'm so tired of crying, but i'm out, on the road again."

There's some kind of noble truth in that lyric, isn't there?

This recent version by Status Quo lacks the youthful energy of the original...


... but credit to the aging rockers for still being out, on the road again...