sattvaany abhiShvaNga-vashaani dRShTvaa
svajaatiShu priiti-paraaNy atiiva
tair eva doShair iti taani viddhi
See sentient beings in the grip of attachment,
Dead set on pleasure among their own kind;
And, from their habitual practice of faults,
Observe them presenting with those very faults.
Line 1 describes the SUFFERING of emotional enslavement.
Line 2, as I read it, is less about the perils of taking pleasure and more about the perils of lacking the will to be free. In other words, the problem discussed in this line is that of MOTIVATION. Priiti, meaning pleasure or joy, pops up several times in Ashvaghosha's descriptions of realisation of the four dhyaana, and especially in the earlier stages of that process. So Ashvaghosha is no killjoy. The distinction to be made is between (a) setting one's sights on freedom, in which case, if one is skillful, pleasure is liable to be part of the scenery; and (b) accepting pleasure as one's chief object, in which case one not only sacrifices freedom at the altar of the pleasure principle, but one also buckles oneself securely into the swing of samsaric suffering. So whereas (a) the pursuit of freedom (if one is skillful) is blessed by experience of pleasure, at a certain level, as a criterion; (b) direct pursuit of pleasure as one's chief object invariably tends towards attachment and suffering.
Pleasure svajaatiShu, "among one's own kind," may have been intended to carry a connotation of pleasure from human sexual contact, in which case the line might have been translated as "Being too devoted to the pleasures of kindred flesh." But if we actually look around us, as the Buddha is recommending Nanda to do, gross sensualists, being motivated primarily by the desire for sexual gratification, are not much in evidence. But what we do observe is many people like sheep who are indeed primarily motivated, in diverse ways, by the pleasure principle. The main motivation of many people does indeed seem to be the desire to be pleasurably rewarded, through being shown the love, appreciation and respect not only of sexual partners but also of other family members, professional peers, and other flocks/groups to which they regard themselves as belonging. That desire for positive reinforcement from the approval of others might be manifested, for example, in the support of a particular football team, in the purchase of a particular brand of training shoes or mobile phone, or even, on a subtler level, the writing of a popular book.
Line 3 expresses the rightful object of INHIBITION, which is habitual patterns. Insofar as this verse does point to attachment to pleasures of the flesh as a source of suffering, the target of INHIBITION, or suppression, in that case, is not sexual desire itself, but rather the practice of the habits that are typically observable around sexual desire -- on the positive side are the kind of celebration of sexual greed discernible in a hip-hop video, along with young lovers' over-exuberant expectations of their partners, and other habits of romantic thinking, et cetera; on the negative side, instances of bitter disappointment, jealous rage, et cetera, are not difficult to find. Understood like this, as a process targeted at habits, INHIBITION is not a tool of repression (as is generally indicated when psychologists talk of sexual inhibitions): INHIBITION is rather a key to freedom (as was indicated by FM Alexander when he spoke of inhibition of endgaining ideas and endgaining habits). Freedom, as Alexander said, "involves carrying out an activity against the habits of life."
Line 4 is the punch-line, expressing the truth that the faults which we have practised in the past have left us in the present with an unconscious tendency towards those same faults. And such an unconscious tendency can never be eradicated, however hard and long a person practises, through unconscious practice. Hence the indispensability of finding a conscious PATH. But even having found such a path, it is still a very long way to Tiperary, because a conscious path is always so difficult to practice.
While in the process of writing this comment, I had to go and pick up my wife's car from a local garage. I came back complaining about the attitude of the guy manning the service reception desk. "You are such a grumpy man!" my wife remarked. Maybe so, but I was not a grumpy child. People have reliably told me that I was not a grumpy child. So I haven't always been this grumpy. No, it has taken me a lifetime of unskillful, unconscious practice to become as grumpy as this.
sattvaani = accusative, plural of sattva: a living or sentient being, creature
abhiShvaNga: intense attachment or affection to
vashaani = accusative, plural vasha: will, wish, desire; authority, power, control, dominion; (at the end of compounds) by command of, by force of, on account of
dRShTvaa = absolutive from dRsh: to see
svajaatiShu = locative, svajaati: one's own kind
jaati: birth; form of existence fixed by birth; kind, species
priiti: any pleasurable sensation , pleasure , joy
paraani = accusative, plural of paraa: (at end of compounds) having as the chief object , given up to , occupied with , engrossed in
atiiva: exceedingly , very; excessively
abhyaasa: the act of adding anything; reduplication; repetition; repeated or permanent exercise , discipline , use , habit , custom
yogaat = ablative of yoga: employment , use , application , performance; partaking of; engagement in
upapaadita: effected , accomplished , performed , done; given , delivered , presented ; proved , demonstrated; treated medically
upa-√ pad: to take place , come forth , be produced , appear , occur , happen
taiH (instrumental, plural): with those
eva: very same
doShaiH = instrumental, plural of doSha: fault
taani (accusative, plural): them, those [living beings]
viddhi = imperative of vid: know, understand, perceive; notice, observe; experience, feel
Seeing all beings to be under the spell of attachment and excessively given to taking pleasure in their particular types, know that they are brought to birth again accompanied by the same vices in consequence of their habitual practice of them (in their previous births).
Having seen that living beings are ruled by attachment, entirely engrossed in pleasure-seeking among their own kind, know that because of their engagement in these habits they will be reborn with those very faults.