Friday, November 4, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.39: Indifference to Praise and Blame

ity-evam-ādi sthira-buddhi-cittas-
tathāgatenābhihito hitāya /
staveṣu nindāsu ca nir-vyapekṣaḥ
kṛtāñjalir-vākyam-uvāca nandaḥ // 18.39 //

= = - = / = - - / = - = = // - = - = / = - - / = - = -
- = - = / = - - / = - = = // - = - = / = - - / = - = =
Upajāti (Buddhi)

While the Tathāgata told him this and more
for his benefit

Nanda remained firm in his judgement and thinking

And was indifferent to plaudits or criticisms.

With hands joined, he spoke these words:

What kind of person is indifferent to plaudits and criticisms, praise and blame? A person with a severe neurological disorder -- maybe a person in a persistent vegetative state or perhaps some sort of psychopath -- is one answer that springs to mind. A person who disregards negative feedback to which he would benefit from listening, again, might be a very ignorant person.

Another kind of person who is indifferent to plaudits and criticisms, judging from today's verse, might be a practitioner who is fully awakened, as Nanda is now being portrayed to be -- and as the Buddha is portrayed to be in Canto 3:

Being revered gave him no thrill; disrespect caused him no grief./ He was clear in his thinking, come sword or sandalwood, And he did not change his attitude when the going got hard or easy. // 3.19 //

In both today's verse and 3.19, the absence of any emotional reaction in response to approving or disapproving stimuli is described as associated with a certain firmness and clarity of thought. This firmness and clarity is expressed in 3.19 as niścita-matiḥ (clear/decisive in mind/thinking) and in today's verse as sthira-buddhi-cittaḥ (firm in mind/judgement and mind/thinking).

I could rather fancy myself in such a heroic state of being, like a clear-thinking emotional brick, or like some kind of Jack Reacher character. Trying not to react emotionally, however, because of wishing to be hard or cool or enlightened or some sort of dream hero, might be end-gaining. Whereas the enlightened indifference that Aśvaghoṣa described in the Buddha in Canto 3, and now describes in Nanda, might be one of the countless benefits that accrue indirectly to a person beyond trying who (to borrow a phrase of Dogen's) is caught by the still state.

Trying not to react emotionally was just what Nanda conspicuously did NOT do in Canto 7, Nanda's Lament. So if one recognizes that the indifference Nanda is manifesting today is not something to be gone for directly, but is rather the indirect result of a gradual process, then one can trace the beginning of the process back to the beginning of Canto 17, where Nanda made for the forest with the intention, following the indirect route that the Buddha had mapped out for him, to come unglued in sitting-meditation. But I prefer to trace the roots of Nanda's present indifference back to the attitude he showed in Canto 7, when he did not try to pretend he wasn't bothered but rather allowed himself to emote freely.

When stiff, as Alexander teacher Ron Colyer once advized me, be stiff. When you're lonely, feeling small, be lonely and feel small. Show some emotion. Put expression in your eye. Light up, light up, if you're feeling happy, but if you're sad just let those tears roll down. And that might be the true starting point of the indirect route which leads to the indifference of Buddha.

This comment, again, is based on the only thing that I truly know, which is that I myself went wrong, aided and abetted by Zen teaching that was wrong.

My Zen teacher, Gudo Nishijima, taught me to go directly for indifference (= the state of zero = balance of the autonomic nervous system) by pulling the chin back and down to block off thoughts and by "keeping the spine straight vertically." But that approach was just end-gaining itself, just striving itself, just trying to be right.

Among Japanese Zen teachers, my teacher by his own admission was the stupidest of the stupid. Surely no other Zen teacher could be such a blind and stupid end-gainer as him? Probably not. At the same time, before you put all your eggs into the basket of the teaching of any Zen teacher, whether Japanese or of Japanese descent, it might be worth checking, just in case, that you are not making the same mistake that I made.

EH Johnston:
Nanda, when addressed in this way by the Tathagata for his good, kept his mind and thoughts fixed and was indifferent to praise and blame ; and he spoke thus with folded hands : --

Linda Covill:
When the realized one said this and more for the sake of his welfare, Nanda remained steady in mind and heart, unaffected by praise or criticism. He folded his hands in reverence and spoke:

iti: ".... ", thus
evam: thus, such
aadiH (nom. sg. m.): and so on
sthira-buddhi-cittaH (nom. sg. m.):
sthira: mfn. firm , hard , solid , compact , strong ; fixed , immovable , motionless , still , calm; firm , not wavering or tottering , steady
buddhi: f. the power of forming and retaining conceptions and general notions , intelligence , reason , intellect , mind , discernment , judgement ; perception, comprehension ; presence of mind , ready wit
citta: n. thinking , reflecting , imagining , thought ; n. intention , aim , wish ; the heart , mind ; n. intelligence , reason

tathaagatena (inst.): by the Tathagata, the realised one
abhihitaH (nom. sg. m.): spoken to
hitaaya = dat. sg. hita: n. (sg. or pl.) anything useful or salutary or suitable or proper , benefit , advantage , profit , service , good , welfare , good advice

staveShu = loc. pl. stava: m. praise , eulogy , song of praise
nindaasu = loc. pl. nindaa: f. blame , censure , reproach , reviling , defamation
nind: to blame , censure , revile , despise , ridicule
ca: and
nir-vyapekShaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. disregarding , indifferent to (loc. or comp.)

kRt'-aaNjaliH (nom. sg. m.): with hands joined
kRta: done, made
aNjali: m. ( √añj, to receive respectfully) , the open hands placed side by side and slightly hollowed (as if by a beggar to receive food ; hence when raised to the forehead , a mark of supplication)
vaakyam (acc. sg.): n. speech, saying, words
uvaaca (3rd pers. sg. perfect vac) : he spoke
NandaH (nom. sg.): m. Nanda

No comments: