Tuesday, April 14, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.61: A Little Bit of Thirsting Ignites a Whole Lot of Suffering

[No Sanskrit text]

| chuṅ du’i me yis nags kyi me | | rluṅ gis bud de bskyed pa bźin |
| ’dod sogs ñon moṅs rgya chen rnams | | sred pa yis ni skyed par byed | 

chung: small
me: fire
yis: [instrumental particle]
nags: forest
kyi: [genitive particle]
me: fire

rlung gi: aerial
bud:  any darkening of the air through dry matter
bskyed pa: produce
bzhin: like, as (, sadṛśa)

sogs: et cetera
nyon mongs: affliction; afflictive emotions (kleśa [EHJ 'sin' = kleśa])
rgya chen: vast
rnams: [plural marker]

sred pa: attachment, craving; thirst (; tṛṣṇā)
yis: [instrumental]
skyed par byed: produce, engender ()

EHJ's translation from the Tibetan:
61. Just as the forest is set ablaze by a little fire, when the wind fans it, so thirst gives birth to the vast sins of sensual passion and the rest.

just as a little fire enflames the mountains ; (SB)
just as a small fire may set a mountain ablaze. (CW)

Again, a distinction is asking to be drawn between thirsting, which is to be inhibited, and desiring, which is to be alive.

A little bit of thirsting becomes the cause of a whole lot of suffering. Desiring little, in contrast, is synonymous with nirvāṇa.

Hence, the ultimate teaching of theBuddha, bequeathed on the night before he died, begins with the precept recorded in Sanskrit as alpecchu-saṁtuṣṭa, and in Chinese as 少欲知足 (Jap: SHOYOKU-CHISOKU), wanting little and being content. 
The Buddha said, "You beggars should know that people of big desire and abundant wants abundantly seek gain, and so their cares also are abundant. A person of small desire and few wants, being free of seeking and free of wanting, does not have this trouble. Small desire, wanting little, you should practise just for itself. Still more, wanting little can produce all kinds of benefits: People of small desire and few wants have no tendency to curry favour and bend in order to gain the minds of others. Again, they are not led as if they were enslaved by the senses. Those who practise wanting little are level in mind; they are without worries and fears; when they come into contact with things they have latitude; and they are constantly free from dissatisfaction. Those who have small desire and few wants just have nirvāṇa. This is called 'wanting little.'"
Writing this comment, I am reminded of the Alexander teacher who joked that he had pretty much got the teaching of FM Alexander sussed out. The only difficulty he had now was in the small matter of getting out of a chair.

Something else that today's verse brings to mind is sitting in the office of Gudo Nishijima in the late autumn of 1985, shortly after coming back to Tokyo after an emotionally challenging trip back to England. As I sat there is an agitated state, twisting my scarf in my hands, Gudo removed his reading glasses, looked across the table, and stated the obvious: “The fire is burning again.”

So  understanding the danger of a little bit of thirsting, and effectively guarding against that incendiary flame, are not necessarily the same thing -- though the former may be a help towards the latter. 

In the case for the defence, one thing I can honestly write about small desire, or the inhibition of thirsting, is that it is has been the principle behind the modus operandi of this one-verse-per-day translation of Aśvaghoṣa's two epic poems. It is not that I have not wanted to gain the end as soon as possible, and not that I never worried about whether I would get to the end or not. Rather,  notwithstanding the tendency to thirst for a result, in actual practice I have carried on going deliberately slowly as an antidote to my habitual impatience -- going pratilomam, against the grain. 

As a result of these efforts, as I sit at the same table, looking out of the same window, at the same trees in the distance -- though one or two have fallen down -- I can't help noticing that I am suddenly seven years older. 

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