Wednesday, November 2, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.37: You Cannot Do an Undoing

duḥkha-pratīkāra-nimittam ārtaḥ
kṛṣyādibhiḥ khedam upaiti lokaḥ /
ajasram āgacchati tac ca bhūyo
jñānena yasyādya kṛtas-tvayāntaḥ // 18.37 //

= = - = / = - - / = - = = // = = - = / = - - / = - = =
- = - = / = - - / = - = = // = = - = / = - - / = - = =
(Upajāti Sālā)

Struck by calamity,
stung to do something to combat suffering,

The world exhausts itself with work like ploughing:

And yet it is ceaselessly re-visited by that suffering,

To which,
using what you know, you today have put an end.

What does Nanda know now that he didn't know before?

I think this question has already been answered in 18.35. What Nanda knows is how to work on himself, that is to say, how to practise in the direction of a better way.

A better way might mean a better way than the thirsting after objects (viṣaya-tṛṣṇā), which is the trigger for suffering (duḥkha). In other words, a better way might mean a better way than the end-gaining which, in combination with faulty sensory appreciation, FM Alexander identified (first in himself and then in others) as the root cause of stress.

A better way, when we investigate it for ourselves in our own work on the self, mainly involves NOT thirsting after an object, or NOT end-gaining, or in other words NOT doing something to counter suffering (duḥkha-pratīkāra) -- at least not doing something directly.

The main difficulty we are faced with in this work is our evolutionary inheritance. We have evolved to do; we have not evolved NOT to do. Therefore, faced with a problem that we sense as "suffering" or as "stress," we generally try to do something about it. And if what we are trying doesn't seem to be working, then we try harder, we strive. But all this doing, and trying and striving, though it takes us to the point of exhaustion (khedam), only causes us to be re-visited again and again by the suffering or stress that we wished to do something about.

Today's verse can be understood, then, as advocacy of working on the self, in an intelligent and rational manner, but also in an intuitive manner -- working on the self in a way that one knows, from experience, actually works -- as opposed to trying to combat suffering in the world via outwardly-directed work like ploughing.

But this is not to deny the value of outwardly-directed work like ploughing or digging earth -- or ploughing through a translation and trying to dig out meaning -- as part of a means-whereby for combatting stress in the only place stress can truly be combatted, within the self.

I have translated ārtaḥ in line 1 as "struck by calamity," but an alternative translation I considered was "stressed," or "in distress" or "distressed." On an individual level, when I started this work of mining Aśvaghoṣa's gold three years ago, I hadn't exactly been struck by calamity, but I was under a certain amount of emotional stress, as manifested by stomach pain that wouldn't go away. And I knew from experience that what I needed was not only to keep on working at the backward step of turning my own light and letting it shine, but also to direct my energy into some job that I felt was really and truly worthwhile and that I could get on with by myself without having to rely too much on unreliable others. So incredibly fortunately, possibly guided from somewhere by prajñā, I found this job.

The pain in the stomach went away a few weeks into this work. But can I claim to have put an end to or done away with (kṛtaḥ antaḥ) stress or suffering?

Not blooming likely. So the thing which is difficult, or impossible, for me to understand about this verse, as also 18.35, as also many other verses in this canto, is the sense of finality.

What makes more sense to me, as a work in progress, are the words of Patrick Macdonald that I quoted back on 1st August while commenting on 11.7:

Do not forget that right and wrong change, and should change as your body and co-ordination change. What is right for you today should be wrong for you tomorrow. Do not, therefore, try and fix a picture of a specific co-ordination in your brain as the right one; it will have to be modified, perhaps many times, over a long period. You must learn to think in trends and tendencies, and not in fixed positions. Everything (so they say) is relative, not least the proper relationship of the neck to the head, the neck and head to the back and neck, and the head and back to the rest of the body. If you can learn to think in tendencies (which is the way I teach you) you may continue to teach yourself. Remember, you are slowly eliminating the wrong. Finality, for most of us, and that includes me, is not in sight.

In conclusion, I refuse to believe that the Buddha and Nanda attained some final Enlightenment that I haven't ever experienced myself or seen in another. But I recognize the possibility (as also is implicit in Pat Mac's words "for most of us") that for some excellent individuals final Enlightenment might be a reality.

Either way, whether we are believing Buddhists or non-believing non-Buddhists, the central truth to take from today's verse might be the truth that we cannot do an undoing. Whether working on the self by the backward step of turning our own light and letting it shine, or by the forward step of going into movement without a care in the world, we cannot do an undoing. The best we might hope for is somehow by hook or by crook to get out of the way, and give the right thing some chance of doing itself.

EH Johnston:
Mankind toils in wretchedness at agriculture and other work to find a remedy for suffering, and yet suffering, to which you have put an end to-day by knowledge, returns to them again without intermission.

Linda Covill:
The afflicted masses exhaust themselves in work such as plowing to counteract suffering. Suffering returns continually, but through your knowledge you have put an end to it today.

duHkha-pratiikaara-nimittam (acc. sg. m.): occasioned by counteraction of suffering
duHkha: suffering, hardship
pratiikaara = pratikaara: mfn. acting against , counteracting(ifc.)
nimitta: n. cause ; mfn. ifc. caused or occasioned by
aartaH (nom. sg. m.): fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained , disturbed; oppressed

kRShy'-aadibhiH (inst. pl.): by work of ploughing and so on
kRShya: mfn. to be ploughed ; pulled to and fro
aadi: and so on
khedam (acc. sg.): m. lassitude , depression ; exhaustion , pain , affliction , distress
upaiti = 3rd pers. sg. upe: to go near, undergo, suffer
lokaH (nom. sg.): m. the world; the inhabitants of the world , mankind , folk, the masses

ajasram: ind. perpetually , for ever
aagacchati (3rd pers. sg. aa√ gam): it comes
tat (nom./acc. sg. n.): it, the suffering
ca: and
bhuuyaH (nom./acc. sg. n.): mfn. further, again

jNaanena (inst. sg.): n. knowing , becoming acquainted with , knowledge , (esp.) the higher knowledge (derived from meditation on the one Universal Spirit)
yasya (gen. sg.): of which
adya: ind. today, now
kRtaH (nom. sg. m.): done, made
tvayaa (inst. sg.): by you
antaH (nom. sg.): m. an end

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