Exposition of the Noble Truths.
Following on from the previous canto, Canto 16 begins in the style of a direct quotation of the Buddha's instructions to Nanda.
What we are getting here, then, is Ashvaghosha recording, in Sanskrit words of his own choosing, the understanding that had been transmitted to him, through only twelve generations in India, of the fundamental meaning of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths.
A few weeks ago I spoke on the phone to Will Tuladhar-Douglas of the Scottish Centre for Himalayan Research, who expressed to me the reassuring view, which struck me not only as reassuring but also as true, that it is natural and inevitable at this point in the history of the worldwide spread of the Buddha's teaching that there should be a lot of confused jostling.
Amid this confusion, an increasing number of people might benefit from looking to Canto 16 of Saundarananda as a kind of gold standard of the Buddha-Dharma. So I hope I will be able over the next few months, following in the footsteps of EH Johnston and Linda Colvill, to contribute something further to the opening up of this canto.
As a student of vestibular dysfunction, I know both professionally and from my own experience how harsh the suffering is of being lost, confused, disoriented. So, like a sea-sick person gratefully tottering back onto dry land, I feel grateful to Ashvaghosha himself, to the Nepalese kings who took pains to preserve and copy the manuscript of Saundarananda, to EH Johnston to whom the manuscript from Nepal was entrusted, and to the Oxford pandits like Monier Monier-Williams and AA Macdonell (whom Johnston called his guru), all of whom laid such stout foundations for the work of Sanskrit-English translation. In more recent years, the digitization of the Monier-Williams dictionary has been a tremendous boon, making the work of translation much easier. And I am especially grateful for the existence of the recent translations by Patrick Olivelle and Linda Covill, done for the Clay Sanskrit Library under the auspices of Richard Gombrich. Finding those translations I was indeed like the deprived person described in 17.43, finding something of great value.
aarya: noble, aryan
vyaakhyaanaH: explaining, exposition
Exposition of the Noble Truths
Explanation of the Noble Truths