Friday, December 5, 2008


mahiibhRto dharma-paraash ca naagaa
mahaa-muner vighnam a-mRSHyamaaNaaH
MaaraM prati krodha-vivRtta-netraa
niHshashvasush c' aiva jajRmbhire ca.

Earth-bearing nagas, seeing Dharma as a dragon's paragon,
Brooked no hindrance to the great sage;
They turned angry eyes towards Mara,
And hissed, and sprang up out of their coils.

shuddh'aadhivaasaa vibudha'-rSHayas
sad-dharma-siddhy-artham abhipravRttaah
Maare 'nukampaaM manasaa pracakrur
viraaga-bhaavaat tu na roSHam iiyuH.

Whereas celestial seers of spotless abodes,
Who were set on gaining true Dharma as an end,
Wheeled out, in their minds, compassion for Mara:
They were not touched by anger, being devoid of all colour.

tad bodhi-muulam samavekSHya kiirNaM
hiMs"aatmanaa Maara-balena tena
dharm'aatmabhir loka-vimokSHa-kaamair
babhuuva haahaa-kRtam antariikSHe

Beholding the foot of the bodhi-tree, beseiged
By that band of sadistic souls which was Mara's army,
Those whose own breath of life was Dharma, and who wanted to free the world,
Issued 'Ah's into inner space.

upaplavaM dharma-vidhes tu tasya
dRSHTvaa sthitaM Maara-balam maha"rSHiH
na cukSHubhe n'aapi yayau vikaaraM
madhye gavaaM siMha iv'opaviSHTaH.

Still, as a menace to the work of Dharma,
Mara's army remained, and the great seer saw it
Without wavering and without worrying,
Like a lion among moo-cows, Sitting.


In these four verses describing the Gautama vs Mara showdown, the attitudes of three tiers of spectators, towards the Dharma and towards Mara, are contrasted by Ashvaghosha -- with more than a hint of humour. But the joke, as all the best jokes are, is rooted in too much truth.

Low-level lovers of the Dharma show how highly they value the highest good by their intolerance and hatred of the baddest baddie.

Way up above in heaven, meanwhile, hyper-compassionate vegan saints have set their sights on Dharma as a spiritual goal.

In the middle tier are those who are more truly mindful both of danger on the outside and of their own inner condition. Desiring the world's deliverance, they know the place where freedom begins -- maybe they are practising something along the lines of what FM Alexander called 'the whispered ah.'

Gautama, meanwhile, is looking the bugger straight in the eye. Seeing what he is up against, the great seer SITS.

With these four verses, then, Ashvaghosha is not emptily parrotting an old legend; he is describing how the world was burning then, how it is burning now, and how it will burn in future -- and also how the fire is to be put out. Ashvaghosha is describing religious zealots of all stripes with fire in their bellies. He is describing the bland and ineffectual idealism of innocents abroad during their gap year. He is describing real people who spend a lifetime practising practical practices, like Alexander work, or Gurdjieff work, or eastern martial arts, or kesa-sewing, or vipassana mindfulness of breathing. And he is describing Gautama, sitting, still.


mahiibhRta: earth-bearing
dharma-paraash: having dharma as the chief object
ca: and
naagaa: serpents, dragons, naga

mahaa-muni: the great sage
vighnam: obstacle, hindrance
amRSHyamaaNaa: not standing, not bearing, not brooking

Maara: Mara, the evil one
prati: towards
krodha-vivRtta-netraa: eyes turned in anger

niHshashvasush: hissing
ca: and
eva: [emphatic]
jRmbh: recoil, unstring a bow

shuddha: pure, spotless
adhivaasaa: abodes
vibudha: celestial, divine
rSHi: sage, bard, seer

sad-dharma: true Dharma
siddhi: achievement of success, gaining of an end
artham: aim, end, purpose
abhipravRttaah: occupied or engaged in

Maare: for Mara
anukampaa: compassion
manasaa = genitive plural manas: mind
pra: onward, forth,
cakra: wheel

viraaga: without colour, indifferent, detached
bhaavaat: from being
tu: but
na: not
roSHa: anger, rage
iiyuH: be touched by, give way to (?)

tad: that
bodhi-muula: root/foot of the bodhi tree
samavekSHya: look at, behold, observe
kiirNa: disshevelled, scattered

hiMsa: hurting, injuring, cruel
aatman: self, soul, breath, nature
Maara-bala: Mara's army, Mara's forces
tena = instrumental case of sa: by that [army]

atmabhir = instrumental, plural of aatman: life-breath, soul

loka: world
vimokSHa: release, setting free, deliverance
kaamair = instrumental, plural of kaama: desiring

babhuuva = perfect of bhuu: come forth, be issued
haahaa: Ha! Ha!; Aah... aah...
kRtam: did, made
antariikSHe: intermediate space between heaven and earth; atmosphere, sky, the air.

upaplava: disaster, misfortune, menace
dharma-vidhi: dharma-work, dharma-method, conduct as dharma
tu: but
tasya = genitive case of sa: that, the

dRSHTvaa: beheld, saw
sthitaM: standing, standing firm, remaining
Maara-bala: Mara's army
mahaa: great
rSHiH: seer

na: neither
cukSHubhe: tremble, waver, quail
na: nor
api: also
yayau: [from relative pronoun ya?]
vikaaraM: alteration, change, change of the normal condition of body, face, mind; perturbation, agitation.

madhye: among, in the middle
gavaam = accusative, plural of gavi: cow
siMha: lion
iva: like
upaviSHTaH: seated, sitting



And the earth-bearing Nagas, devoted to dharma, did not brook obstruction to the great sage and, turning their eyes wrathfully on Mara, they hissed and unwound their coils.

But the divine sages of the Pure Abodes, absorbed in the fulfillment of the good Law, developed compassion for Mara in their minds, but were untouched by anger, because they were freed from all passion.

When those who were given to dharma and desired the liberation of the world saw the root of the bodhi tree beset by Mara's cruel host, they raised cries of "Ha! Ha!" in the sky

But when the great seer beheld Mara's army standing as a menace to that method of dharma, like a lion seated amidst kine, he did not quail nor was he at all perturbed.


The serpents given to dharma who bore the earth,
unable to bear that hindrance to the great sage,
hissed aloud, and at Mara they unfurled their hoods,
their eyes rolling with anger.

But the divine seers residing in the pure realm,
engaged in gaining success in the true dharma,
displayed compassion toward Mara in their minds,
and, because they were devoid of passion,
did not give way to anger.

Seeing the foot of the bo-tree besieged
by those murderous forces of Mara,
those beings who were devoted to dharma,
and who longed for the release of the world,
cried out "Ha! Ha!" in the sky.

But when the great seer saw Mara's forces
ready to upset the course of dharma,
he neither trembled nor was he perturbed,
like a lion seated among cows.


lxg said...

"When the going gets tough, the tough get going".

For some reason that came into my head this morning.

Enjoying the translations Mike!

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for the enouragement, Alex.

The response that came into my head was:

"When the going gets tough... I tend to fix my jaw and hold my breath."

Not so elegant, but true!

lxg said...

I guess if I'm being honest, then:

"Even when the going isn't particularly tough....I still tend to fix my jaw and hold my breath."

Oh dear, oh dear!

Mike Cross said...

So, despite our inherent wimpish tendency, we redouble our determination to win release, for self and others -- not only as a religious vow but also, in our case, as a practical task and as a daily job, working to a principle and employing practical procedures like the whisphered ah!

In writing this, I fear, I may have stiffened my jaw.