Sunday, January 25, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.42: All Trace of Redness Gone

iti muditam an-aamayaM nir-aapat
Kuru-Raghu-Puuru-pur'-opamaM puraM tat
abhavad a-bhaya-daishike maha"-rSau
viharati tatra shivaaya viita-raage

iti Saundaranande mahaa-kaavye Tathaagata-varNano naama tRtiiyaH sargaH

Thus, glad to be free from disease and calamity,

That city stood as safe as the cities
of Kuru, Raghu and Puru,

With the great seer serving as its guide to peace --

Roaming free,
in the moment,
for the welfare of others,
without passion.

End of the 3rd Canto of the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled 'A Depiction of the Realised One.'

Line 1:
I think this line is an expression of Nirvana. In that case, what kind of Nirvana does Ashvaghosha have in mind? When I first went to Japan, my friend in karate-do, Nigel, who worked in Tokyo as a male model, used to get me in free at a nightclub called Nirvana. I had to pose, somewhat unbelievably, as the latest arrival at his modelling agency. Food and drinks were free in Nirvana and beautiful young women were in abundance -- picture the Carlsberg advertisement portraying ‘the best nightclub in the world.’ To tell the truth, however, despite Nigel’s best efforts, I did not really enjoy my time in Nirvana. I don’t know whether my love-sickness was stronger than Nanda’s; or maybe Nigel’s model friends were on a lower level of beauty than the apsarases who caught Nanda’s eye (“a group of ravishingly beautiful celestial nymphs” to borrow LC’s phrase). Still, what the nightclub purported to be, with the name Nirvana, was a kind of luxurious paradise for the senses. But this is probably not how Ashvaghosha saw Nirvana. I think Ashvaghosha here might be pointing to a much more modest and stoic conception of Nirvana, a conception of Nirvana rooted not in fantasy but in the reality of SUFFERING. In that case, the meaning of muditam is not so much ecstatic joy but more a state of quiet gladness in which, despite the ever-presence in the world of SUFFERING, a person can at least be grateful for small mercies -- such as temporary reprieve from pestilence and foreign invasions.

Line 2:
Kuru, Raghu and Puru do not necessarily have to be understood as ideal cities like the legendary lost city of Atlantis. On the contrary, it might be that Ashvaghosha wished to refer to historical examples of actual civilizations that had thrived in ancient India, guided by Aryan principles and protected within fortified city walls. According to this entry in Wikipedia, Kuru was indeed the name of an Indo-Aryan tribe and of their kingdom. In the first line, Ashvaghosha has pointed to a not overly ambitious civic aim -- the aim of a relatively clean living and safe civilization, with a good system for water supply and sewage disposal, and an effective strategy for self-defence. This line, I think, represents his intention, in the manner of a good scientist, to test out the validity of his idea, with reference to HISTORICAL EVIDENCE.

Line 3:
A-bhaya, translated for short as “peace,” literally means absence or removal of fear. A-bhaya means, in other words, a state, or a process, of INHIBITION of the fear reflexes.

Line 4:
This line, as I read it, is the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of Gautama Buddha, who demonstrated A MEANS-WHEREBY for inhibiting the root of suffering. The line brings together four strands already covered in this Canto, namely:

(1) The sense of Gautama roaming freely (expressed again by the verb vihR), liberated from the grim determination and rigidity of the man who is enslaved by his own idea of gaining some end.

(2) The sense of him really being there (expressed again by tatra), not worrying about past failures or ends to be gained in future, but rather attending skillfully in the here and now to a process, such as his own walking or his own breathing or his own sitting.

(3) The sense of him teaching inhibition -- as codified in the precepts -- of those end-gaining impulses that cause one person to inflict suffering on another and to feel hostility towards the other.

(4) The sense of his complete suppression of the infantile panic reflex, which, when the idea of gaining an end comes into an immature person’s consciousness, is liable to set in motion the wheels of grasping, anger, and sensory delusion.

As a blushing teenager I was often held in Mara’s ruddy grip. And still, at nearly 50, I am very liable to have rushes of blood. So the significance is not lost on me of Ashvaghosha’s decision to close this Canto with a word from the root raj, which means to colour up or redden.

iti: thus
mudita: delighted, joyful, glad
aamaya: sickness, disease
an-aamaya: free from disease, healthy
aapad: misfortune, calamity, distress
nir-aapat: without calamity, free from disaster

Kuru: name of city
Raghu: name of city
Puuru: name of city
pura: fortress, castle, city, town
upama: uppermost; (in compounds) resembling, like, equal
puram = nominative, singular of pura: city, town
tat = nominative, singular, neuter of sa: that

abhavat = imperfect, bhuu: to be, serve as
a-bhaya: absence or removal of fear, peace, safety, security
daishike = locative, daishika: knowing a place, a guide; showing, directing
mahaa (in compounds for mahat): great
RSHau (locative of RSHi): with the sage.... -ing (locative absolute construction)

viharati (3rd person singular, present of vi + hRi): abides, roams freely, fares well
tatra: there
shivaaya (dative of shiva): for the happiness, for the welfare
viita: gone away, departed, disappeared, vanished, lost (in the beginning of compounds = free or exempt from , without , -less)
raaga: colour, dye, taint, (esp.) red colour, redness; any feeling or passion
viita-raage = locative (part of the locative absolute construction of the previous line?), viita-raga: free of passion

iti: thus
Saundaranande (locative): Handsome Nanda
mahaa-kaavye (locative): among the great poem
Tathaagata: ‘thus come’; the realised one
varNanaH (nominative, singular): depiction, description
naama: by name, named
tRtiiya: the third
sargaH (nominative, singular): draught of air, gust of wind, stream, dart, shot, effort, section, chapter, canto (especially in an epic poem)

EH Johnston:
Thus the city was joyful and free from epidemic or disaster, like the city of Kuru, of Raghu or of Puru, with the great passion-free Seer dwelling there for their happiness as their guide to safety.

Linda Covill:
So with the great dispassionate sage living there, pointing it to safety for its own good, the city rejoiced, free from disease or calamity, like the cities of Kuru, Raghu or Puru.

End of Canto 3: A Description of the Realized One

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