Thursday, February 12, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA Canto 16: Exposition of the Noble Truths


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
satya: truth
vyaakhyaanaH: explaining, exposition

EH Johnston:
Exposition of the Noble Truths

Linda Covill:
Explanation of the Noble Truths


Dirk said...

Often reading rarely posting.
Need to say thank you for putting forth the effort.

I do not always grasp it all(definitely not your doing; definitely my lack of an education beyond high school).

Interestingly now I am re-reading these posts, and I constantly looking for the 4 bits, suffering, cause of, inhibition, and path in the writing.

By looking I mean realizing it, despite my self. A lot of this you have pointed out and broke down in the post and comments and should be quite clear for all (even the thick, such as myself)

Many thanks!

Mike Cross said...

Many thanks to you, Dirk.

I think lack of education beyond high school is in no way any kind of obstacle to real understanding of what Ashvaghosha is endeavoring to convey.

On the contrary, higher education might be a very real obstacle, making it difficult for some of us to get beyond the first realisation.

Master Dogen says in Fukan-zazengi: Don't discuss JOCHI KAGU (higher intelligence or lower stupidity); and don't choose RIJIN DONSHA (clever man or dope).

Thanks again for staying with it.

All the best,