Thursday, January 22, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.40: Faring Well

vavRte 'tra yo 'pi viSHameSHu
vibhava-sadRsheSHu kash cana
vijahaara so 'pi na cacaala sat-pathaat

Even one hitherto caught in pursuit of absurd ends

-- Money, power and suchlike --

Was content with free giving
and the discipline of the precepts.

He also fared well, not straying from the true path.

This verse has to do with money -- a subject on which, amid the bursting of Britain's debt bubble, I have got my own views and opinions. But what is Ashvaghosha saying?

Thirty years ago I was doing a degree in Accounting & Financial Management. I chose that subject because, although my head was full of altruistic notions, I was also keenly aware that money makes the world go round. So I would very much like to pontificate, right now, upon the absurdity of people borrowing money in order to pursue happiness. To get oneself deeper in debt, for the sake of going on a Zen retreat, for example, in my book is very incongruous. But what is Ashvaghosha saying?

When, setting aside our own views and opinions and grasping pick and shovel, we examine the four lines that Ashvaghosha wrote, each word representing a decision on his part, we cannot escape the conclusion that, here again, Ashvaghosha was expressing a desire to clarify the four noble truths.

In Line 1, what is the criterion for truth or absurdity, if not SUFFERING? If I, by my end-gaining, pursue happiness in such a way that I bring SUFFERING in my wake, isn't that the essence of absurdity? But that, when I examine my own behaviour in detail, is precisely what I tend to do.

Line 2 brings the discussion down to the level of meaningless ACCUMULATION OF MATTER, i.e. money, real estate, political clout, military might, et cetera. How many thousands do I have in the bank? How many sheep do I have in my flock? How many head of cattle? How many acres? How many men, elephants, horses and chariots under my command? And how many brake horsepower does my chariot deliver? One to sixty in how many seconds?

Line 3 expresses INHIBITION of end-gaining ideas, synonymous with openness of hand and heart, self-restraint, and true job satisfaction.

Line 4 features again the verb vihR, which Ashvaghosha seems to like, especially in fourth lines. The word evokes the free, wandering life of one who is following in the Buddha’s footsteps, going along A PATH. Faring well, in the context of this verse, might mean going without the heavy baggage of too many assets. Even more to the point, it might mean going without the burden of any liabilities.

vavRte (from vRt, turn): been busy, occupied with, caught up in
atra: here, to here, in this regard, in/to this time,
yaH (nominative, singular): [anybody....] who
api: even
viSHameSHu = locative, plural of viSHama: unevenness, oddness, pit, difficulty, distress, misfortune, incongruity

vibhava: power, might, exalted position; wealth, money; luxury; destruction (of the world)
sadRsheSHu = locative, plural of sadRsha: like, resembling, similar to
kash cana (instrumental, denoting the agent of a passive construction): anybody .... [who]

tyaaga: letting go, giving up, free giving
vinaya: leading, guidance, training, discipline; the rules of discipline for monks
niyama: restraining, restriction, rule, precept
abhirataH (nominative, singular): pleased or contented with; engaged in

vijahaara = past of vi + hR: to disport oneself, wander, roam freely
saH (nominative, singular): he
api: also
na: not
cacaala = past of cal: to turn away from, swerve, deviate from
sat: true, good, right
pathaat (ablative of patha): from the path

EH Johnston:
Whoever even had been occupied there solely with the objects of the senses, which are equivalent to destruction, now lived taking a delight in almsgiving, the Rule and abstinence, and never swerved from the right path.

Linda Covill:
Even those who had been preoccupied with harmful things, such as luxury, now spent their time content with charitable giving and the rules of the Vinaya, and never swerved from the right path.

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