Thursday, January 15, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.32: Precept Three - Steering Clear of Illicit Sex

vibhav’-anvito ‘pi taruNo ‘pi
viSHaya-capal’-endriyo ‘pi san
n’aiva ca para-yuvatiir agamat
paramaM hi taa dahanato ‘pi amanyata

Even the man of money and youth,

Virile power set twitching by its object,

Even he never went near the wives of another.

For they, more than a fire, were full of unknown dangers.

Among many second lines with colourful overlays and a sense of wicked iconoclasm, this one may take the biscuit. It could be translated more drily as "Even he, a sense organ reacting to sense objects." Or, less drily, as a more direct suggestion of a throbbing phalus: "Even he, an organ of virility set twitching by its object." So I have gone for somewhere in the middle, but maybe biased towards the latter. This being a work in progress, if anybody is too scandalized, I can always change it later.

Master Dogen in his instructions for sitting/realisation only mentions putting the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh -- the reverse is understood. Maybe the same is true of the fourth line of this verse. Or maybe Ashvaghosha, as a man, was confining himself to what he knew from experience: that an attractive woman truly is more dangerous to a man than a house on fire.

In Ashvaghosha's own description of (i.e. indirect instructions for) the practice of sitting/realisation, in Canto 17, to which we are coming soon, he describes the joy which Nanda felt in this sitting practice as deeper than any joy he had ever felt -- i.e. deeper even than the joy of sex he had experienced with Sundari. Ashvaghosha goes on to describe the ease that Nanda experiences from non-attachment even to this deepest of all joys. Beyond that, beyond hardship and ease, Nanda goes on to realise the ultimate simplicity and clarity of just sitting, endowed with equanimity and mindfulness. This, the fourth realisation, is described not as achievement of the end itself, but rather as a powerful ally in the quest to conquer unknown lands.

So, even if Ashvaghosha is steering us clear of the sweet taste of forbidden fruit, which here he clearly is, his teaching is never all sack-cloth and ashes. Rather, he is leading us all on a bloody great adventure!

vibhava: wealth, money, riches
anvita (from anv + i, to go alongside): gone along with, accompanied by
api: even, however
taruNa: youth, young
api: even, however

viSHaya: object, sense-object, end
capala: moving to and fro, wavering, wanton
indriyaH (nominative, singular): agreeable to Indrah; show of power; virile power; semen; sense, organ of sense
api: even, however
san (nominative singular masculine of sant) = present participle of as: to be

na: not
eva: ever, indeed
ca: and
para: others, strangers
yuvatiIIH (accusative, plural): girls, young women, wives
agamat: went to, approached

paramaM: more, greater
hi: for
taa (nominative, feminine, plural of sa): they, those women
dahana: burning, fire
-taH (ablative suffix): [more] than [fire]
api: even
man: to think, to be aware
a-manya-ta: being unawareness

EH Johnston:
And however rich a man might be, however young, however stirred in his senses by passion, he never touched the wives of others; for he deemed them more dangerous than fire.

Linda Covill:
Even the man of money and youth, with his senses itching for action, even he did not approach the wives of others, for he considered them more dangerous than fire.


Jordan said...

During the wealth of my youth,

When I was lead around by my stack and swivel,

I stayed away from married women,

Because I knew messing with them was trouble.

Not at all Ashvaghosha's point I think. Just a reflection.

Keeping on!

Mike Cross said...

Sincere thanks for keeping on, Jordan.

To know that you are following with interest is a big encouragement for me to carry on.

For weeks I have been struggling with my old Monier-Williams Sanskrit dictionary, which is in print small enough to give me a headache. But yesterday I found the online version, which would have made life vastly easier if I had bothered to look for it a few weeks ago.

Sometimes I feel like a relic in cyberspace from a bygone age.

So again, thanks for your continued encouragement.