Tuesday, February 3, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 17.49: Sweet Melons, Bitter Gourds

priitiH paraa vastuni yatra yasya
viparyayaat tasya hi tatra duHkham
priitaav ataH prekSHya sa tatra doSHaan
priiti-kSHaye yogam upaaruroha

For when a man finds extreme joy in something,

Paradoxically, suffering for him is right there.

So seeing the pitfalls there, in joy,

He continued on an upward path
with practice directed beyond joy.

Line 1 describes a particular form of SUFFERING, which is great joy in something. In philosophy, the Monier-Williams dictionary tells us, vastu means the real, as opposed to a-vastu, that which does not really exist, the unreal. The distinction calls to mind Master Dogen's discussion of 'existence as' (U) and 'being without' (MU), the Buddha-nature. For Master Dogen the latter is the ultimate. For Ashvaghosha similarly, it may be that the ultimate goal towards which the Buddha has pointed Nanda is not so much something as a bit of nothing.

Line 2 identifies, as a CAUSE OF SUFFERING, the paradoxical tendency that all things have to turn into their opposite, and in particular the inexorable tendency that extreme joy has to turn into its opposite. In his commentary on suffering in the four abodes of mindfulness, Master Dogen writes of sweet melons turning into bitter gourds. Nanda’s former misery in being separated from his lovely sweetheart Sundari, described at length by Ashvaghosha in the earlier Cantos, and beatifully translated by Linda Covill, was a case in point of sweet melons turning.

Line 3 again relates to the virtuous circle of INHIBITION and awareness, awarness and INHIBITION -- i.e. seeing faults and not practising them, seeing pitfalls and avoiding them.

A more literal translation of Line 4 would be “He ascended to practice [directed] at ending of joy.” I think the point, though, is that Nanda was simply continuing on a PATH with heart, regardless of any joy and suffering it brought with it -- more in the spirit of a climber than in the spirit of a killjoy. For the same reason, I think the richest seam of gold in this verse might be buried in the final word: upaaruroha. In context, the word means entered on or undertook [yogic practice]. But its vital connotation, as I read it, is of the continuing upwardness of A PATH of non-buddha.

priitiH (nominative, singluar, feminine): joy
paraa (feminine): exceeding, extreme, superlative, highest, greatest, deepest
vastuni (locative, singular of vastu): in a thing
yatra (used to express locative of ya): in which case, wherein, wherever
yasya (genitive): of whom

viparyayaat (ablative of viparyaya): because of turning round, reversal, turning into its opposite
tasya (genitive; correlative of yasya): to/of/for him
hi: for [moved to previous line]
tatra: in that, there
duHkham: suffering, unsatisfactoriness

pritau (locative): in joy
ataH: therefore, from this, hence
prekSHya (absolutive of prekSH): on seeing; having seen, noticed, discerned, observed
sa: he
tatra: in that, there
doSHaan (accusative, plural): faults, defects, drawbacks, pitfalls

priiti: joy
kSHaye = locative, kSHaya: loss, waste, wane, diminution, destruction, decay, wasting or wearing away; abatement; end, termination
yogam = accusative, yoga: the act of yoking [body and mind]; practice, yogic practice; means, expedient, method
upaaruroha = perfect upaa + ruh: to ascend or go up to, mount, arrive at, reach

EH Johnston:
For by the law of opposites suffering is present in any matter in which the highest ecstasy is experienced by man; therefore seeing the defects ensuing at this stage from ecstasy, he entered on Yoga for its abolition.

Linda Covill:
For he who takes profound joy in anything will also find unsatisfactoriness in it, because of the possibility of its alteration; so noticing the flaws in joy, he undertook yogic practice to destroy joy.


Raymond said...


Interestingly enough, I came to your blog this morning to read your post about the precept of not stealing.

You see, I have been enjoying collecting things to decorate my home and more and more I am suffering from my own attachment to these objects. I want to free myself from them, but I am still attached.

The insight that joy and suffering are closely related hits the mark. The only question is whether I'll have the strength to release myself from this facet of Mara's grip. What are your thoughts on attachments to possessions, however trivial those possessions might be?


Mike Cross said...

Hi Raymond,

Not so much thoughts as reflections, but here goes:

In the 1920s and 30s EH Johnston was in Oxford, 20 miles from here, translating Ashvaghosha into English; and FM Alexander was in London, 35 miles from here, teaching people a means-whereby they might, in sitting, go against the habit of a lifetime.

Even though I was born in the treasure island, it took me nearly 35 years to begin to glimpse the treasure of Alexander's discoveries and nearly 50 years to begin to unearth Ashvaghosha's gold.

I was born in 1959, and in the not too distant future I am going to die.

All the best,



The F. Matthias Alexander Technique is "like unto a treasure hid in a field which, when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field." Note that he selleth all that he hath. He does not merely go without a television set or a holiday in France or, perhaps, a fur coat for his wife. He selleth all that he hath! And, while a proper use of the self is not the Kingdom of Heaven, it is practically an indispensable means of approaching it.

Patrick Macdonald, The Alexander Technique As I See It.