Wednesday, November 9, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.44: Higher Order Happiness -- Like Knocking Back Heavenly Nectar

idaṃ hi bhuktvā śuci śāmikaṃ sukhaṃ
na me manaḥ kāṃkṣati kāmajaṃ sukham /
divaukaso bhuktavataḥ sudhām-iva // 18.44 //

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For now that I have tasted this pure, peaceful happiness,

My mind no longer hankers
after happiness born of desires --

Just as the costliest earthly fare cannot entice

A god who has supped the heavenly nectar.

If I decide that I wish -- even if only for the space of one sitting -- not to be a slave to the aspirational desire which is ambition, then is that wish itself a kind of desire or ambition? And is any happiness that ensues from it (as for example I sit alone by the forest in France) kāmajaṃ sukham, happiness born of desire?

Even if the answer to both those questions is yes, in seeing a desire as a desire, the seeing might be different from desire. And there might be happiness in that seeing. Just in the moment of that seeing, it might be that the mind is no longer hankering.

This kind of seeing, and this kind of effort to see, as I see it, falls under the heading discussed yesterday of sitting in full lotus with the mind.

But what I have just expressed might be a view from the basement, or at least a view from the stairwell, whereas what Nanda seems to be expressing is the view from the 39th floor.

If I understood anything from translating Dogen's rules of sitting-zen for everybody, Fukan-zazengi, and from regularly reciting Fukan-zazengi in Japanese from memory, as a standard for my own sitting-practice, over many years,

I understood that Dogen understood the danger of fancying oneself to be on the 39th floor when in reality one is still in the basement.

My own teacher thought he was enlightened, but when it came to teaching others how to sit, let me tell you again, he was totally in the basement.

In this situation, Dogen wrote, one almost totally lacks the means of getting the body out/up (HOTONDO SHUSSHIN NO KATSU-RO O KIKETTSU).

The original version, shown here, is shorter: these five characters read SHUSSHIN NO RO O KAKU, "we lack a way of getting the body out."

So in his original version of Fukan-zazengi, Dogen didn't write HOTONDO, "almost." He added HOTONDO, "almost," in the revised version, which is interesting.

Why, on reflection, did Dogen add the character for "almost" (HOTONDO)?

I think because when one realizes that one is not, as one fancied, somewhere up there; when one finds oneself instead in fact still down in the basement, there might be stairs. And all is never lost, so long as there are stairs. Whereas if there were no stairs, we truly would be fucked.

Actually, I don't think the above. I know it from experience. Down here in the basement, there are stairs -- not that I always pay sufficient attention to them.

But when I teach the Alexander technique, down here in the basement, what I am mainly teaching is how NOT to walk up and down those stairs. When you and I walk up and down the stairs, there might be a better way than our habitual way.

This is why I gradually saw at some point during these last three years that I wanted to translate śreyas not as "higher good," but as "a better way." Because in my experience a very good place to gain confidence in śreyas, and to get on it, is down here in the basement. For somebody who has not yet gained mastery of a better way, it seems to me, down here in the basement might be a better place, for the unfettered investigation of a better way, than some precarious lofty perch.

Going further, still talking in terms of higher and lower order, lower down still than workers in the basement there might be miners. There might be miners digging for gold. And there might be miners digging for coal, with which to serve to goldsmiths for use in their own furnaces.

A couple of days ago I watched a comedy routine by a working-class comedian named John Bishop who joked about his own sons having become middle-class -- the kind of blokes, Bishop laughed, that he used to punch. My feeling on hearing this was that I would like to go up to Liverpool and punch the fucker right back.

The background to this emotion is that at the age of 10 I passed an entrance exam to go to what at that time was regarded as the posh school in my home town of Birmingham. This involved me skipping a year, so I suddenly I was shunted upward into a much more precarious existence than I had been used to, with boys who were all older than me and who were regarded as being posh, intellectual, arrogant -- somehow less real, less hard, less cool (altogether less like Jack Reacher) than everybody else.

The working class credentials of my own parents, who conceived me shortly after meeting at Birmingham University, were totally copper-bottomed. My mother's father ran off when she was two, so that she lived in poverty in the 2-bedroom terraced house of her grandmother, a worker in a Lancashire cotton mill. And my father's stock, if it was possible, were even lower -- the slum-dwellers of Ebbw Vale who worked in the coal mines, the immigrant Irish catholics of South Wales, the lowest of the low.

So what?

So I am all too aware of being encouraged to aspire upwards, only to be knocked down, not only figuratively but also literally by the likes of the young John Bishop. I suppose it was partly that experience of being beaten up as a lanky teenager which gave me the fuel to want to go to Japan and devote myself to karate training. (So come and have a go now, John, if you think you're hard enough.)

And as for the heavenly nectar of which Nanda speaks, thanks anyway but I think I'll stick to my mug of builder's tea and plate of marmite on toast.

EH Johnston:
For now that I enjoy this pure happiness of tranquillity, my mind no longer hankers after the happiness that arises from love, just as the mind of the dweller in heaven who has fed on nectar does not hanker after the costliest even of earthly foods that is not eaten by the gods.

Linda Covill:
For having tasted this pure, peaceful bliss, my mind does not crave lust-born pleasures, just as, after tasting divine nectar, the mind of a heaven-dweller does not crave even the finest earthly fare that is not eaten by the gods.

idam (acc. sg. n.): this
hi: for
bhuktvaa = abs. bbuj: to enjoy , use , possess , (esp.) enjoy a meal , eat
shuci (acc. sg. n.): clear , clean , pure (lit. and fig.) , holy , unsullied
shaamikam (acc. sg. n.): peaceful
shaama: mfn. ( √sham) appeasing , curing , having curative properties
√sham: to become tired , finish , stop , come to an end , rest , be quiet or calm or satisfied or contented
sukham (acc. sg.): n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness

na: not
me (gen. sg.): of me, my
manaH (nom. sg.): n. mind
kaaNkShati = 3rd pers. sg. kaaNkSh: to wish , desire , long for , hope for (with acc.) , expect , wait for , await (with acc.) , strive to obtain , look for anything (dat.)
kaama-jam (acc. sg. n.): desire-born
kaama: m. desire, pleasure; love , especially sexual love or sensuality
sukham (acc. sg.): n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness

mah"-aarham (acc. sg. n.): mfn. very valuable or precious , splendid
maha: great
arha: worthy; worth (in money) , costing
api: even
annam (acc. sg.) n. food or victuals , especially boiled rice
a-daivat'-aahRtam (acc. sg. n.): not eaten by the gods, earthly
a: not
daivata: a god
aahRta: mfn. brought near , fetched , procured ; taken , seized , captivated ; taken (as food) , eaten

divaukasaH = gen. sg. divaukas: m. "sky-dweller " , a deity, a god
bhuktavataH = (1) gen. sg. m. pres. part. bhuj: to enjoy, eat, drink etc.
(2) gen. sg. m. bhuktavat: mfn. one who has eaten
sudhaam (acc. sg.) f. "good drink" , the beverage of the gods , nectar
iva: like

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