indriyoragair mano-bila-shayaiH spRhaa-viShaiH
sham-aagadaad Rte na daShTam asti yac cikitset
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Coiling in sensual enjoyment,
for eyes they have selfish views;
Their many heads are heedlessness
and their flickering tongues excitement:
The snaky senses lurk in mind-pits,
their venom eager desire,
And when they bite there is no cure,
save the antidote of cessation.
In however many hundred years there were between the time of the Buddha Gautama and the time of the Buddha's 12th-generation descendant Ashvaghosha, the Buddha's verbal teachings were preserved firstly through an oral tradition; then at some point those verbal teachings were written down in Sanskrit by anonymous scribes. A Sanskrit text of the Saddharma-puNDariika-suutra (Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the True Dharma) discovered in 1931 at Gilgit in Kashmir is estimated to have been copied in the fifth or sixth century, but there is no record of the name of the person who originally transcribed the text (much less copied it). The idea, presumably, was that the Sutra consisted of the golden words of the Buddha himself, and the name of the person who wrote those words down in Sanskrit form was of no consequence.
Some time around the first century, however, an individual by the name of Ashvaghosha wrote, and took individual responsibility for, the two Sanskrit epic poems Buddhacarita (The Buddha's Career) and Saundarananda (Handsome Nanda). EH Johnston stated in his 1928 preface to the Sanskrit text of Saundarananda, "It is a mistake for the scholar of Buddhism to ignore the Saundarananda, as has been the case in the past. It is the earliest Buddhist work by a writer whose name is known to us."
Never mind about the scholar of Buddhism. It might be a mistake for any spade-wielding miner who wishes to dig out the original truth of Buddha to ignore the Saundarananda. Because Ashvaghosha was much more than an acclaimed Sanskrit poet.
Still, Johnston's point, and it was a true one, was that "it is desirable to establish the text of the poem so far as possible."
Though it is better preserved than that of the Buddhacarita, there is no Tibetan translation to help in its correction and the most careful scrutiny of the manuscript is called for... The purpose of the present edition [Johnston's publication of the Sanskrit text] is twofold, to give a complete description of the material available in the manuscript, so as to facilitate further work by others on the text, and to provide a good a text as possible. There are only two known manuscripts of the Saundarananda, both in the Library of H.H. the Maharaja of Nepal, who most generously allowed me the loan of them. The earlier... dates from about 1165 AD and consists of thirty-five long palm leaves, in a clear and good handwriting, with six lines of writing on each side divided into three sections. The manuscript has been so badly eaten into by white ants that in the middle of each leaf usually some three lines of writing, occasionally as many as five, are missing, though the damage at the ends is less and sometimes ni. Leaf 34 has one end missing, holding about one-sixth of the text, and leaf 35 is a mere fragment.... The leaf manuscript (L) is undoubtedly a very good manuscript and has an excellent text. It has, however, been a good deal altered, apparently by different hands at different times, and not always for the better.... The other manuscript, which I call the paper manuscript (P), is a paper manuscript of 73 leaves, placed by H.P. Shastri in the eighteenth century. The slovenliness of the handwriting is only too true an index of the carelessness and inaccuracy of the copyist, but, as it is our only authority for a good third of the text, it is no waste of labour to record its many mistakes. It has at least the virtue that the copyist was content to make nonsense instead of substituting his own conjectures. It has also been a good deal corrected and omissions have been supplied several times in entirely different hands; but the correctness of the additions where they can be checked with L shows them to have been taken from another manuscript, and not to be mere conjections.... To produce a perfect text from such material is impossible... I must admit that there are only too many passages in which the text I have adopted or the explanation I have given is only tentative... Though the text is not perfect, it has been less tampered with than that of the Buddhacarita, possibly as the less popular poem. Only three verses (11.56, 11.57 and 13.55) are obvious interpolations as against a dozen at least in that portion of the Buddhacarita which is extant in Sanskrit.
Johnston decided to omit 13.55 from his main Sanskrit text in devanagari script. Johnston includes the romanized version, however, in a footnote to his Sanskrit text:
This verse, whose metre does not seem to occur elsewhere, is so obviously spurious that I have withdrawn it from the text. It runs as follows:
indriyaoragair manobilashayaiH spRhaaviShaiH
shamaagadaad Rte na daShTam asti yac cikitset
Subsequently, in his footnotes to his English translation, Johnston adds:
This verse, which I consider spurious, runs as follows:
Nothing except the antidote of tranquility can cure the bite of the snakes of the senses, whose coils are the enjoyments of the passions, whose eyes are the beliefs in self, with the many heads of heedlessness, the flickering tongues of raptures and the poison of longings, and who lurk in the lairs of the mind.
LC follows EHJ in skipping 13.55, noting that "Johnston does not supply the text for this verse as he considers it spurious."
For me, whether or not Ashvaghosha himself wrote it, 13.55 seems to drive home the point made in 13.54, reminding me what I need constantly to be reminded of: that if our worst evil is the habit of fixing upon an object, then the kind of effort required in practising integrity is not primarily an effort to do; rather, it is primarily an effort NOT to do. It is effort of a higher order. It is primarily an effort of cessation.
kaama: desire, longing, love, sensuality
bhoga: (1) m. (from √bhuj) any winding or curve , coil (of a serpent); the expanded hood of a snake ; a snake ; the body
(2) m. ( from √bhuj) enjoyment , eating , feeding on
√bhuj: to bend, curve ; to enjoy, enjoy a meal, eat
kaama-bhoga: m. pl. gratification of desires , sensual gratification
bhogavadbhir = inst. pl. (agreeing with indriya-oragaiH in line 3) of bhogavat: (1) mfn. furnished with windings or curves or rings , ringed , coiled (as a serpent); furnished with a hood ; a serpent ; (2) mfn. furnished with enjoyments , having or offering enjoyments , delightful , happy , prosperous
dRShTi: f. seeing, view; sight , the faculty of seeing ; the mind's eye ; eye ; the pupil of the eye
dRShTibhiH = inst. pl. of dRShTi: f. eye
pramaada: m . intoxication ; madness , insanity ; negligence
naika: mfn. not one , more than one , various , manifold , numerous , many
muurdhabhiH = inst. pl. of muurdhan: m. the forehead , head in general , skull , (fig.) the highest or first part of anything , top , point
praharSha: erection of the hair , extreme joy , thrill of delight , rapture
lola: mf(A)n. moving hither and thither , shaking , rolling , tossing , dangling , swinging , agitated , unsteady , restless
jihvaiH = inst. pl. of jihva: m. the tongue
indriya: sense, power of sense
uragaiH = inst. pl. of uraga: m. snake, serpent
bila: n. a cave , hole , pit
shayaiH = inst. pl. of shaya: mfn. lying , sleeping , resting , abiding
spRhaa: f. eager desire , desire , covetousness , envy , longing
viShaiH = inst. pl. of viSha: n. poison , venom
shama: m. tranquillity , calmness , rest , equanimity , quietude ; pacification , allayment , alleviation , cessation , extinction
agadaad = abl. of agada: m. a medicine , drug , (especially) antidote
Rte: ind. under pain of , with the exclusion of , excepting , besides , without , unless (with abl.)
daShTa: mfn. bitten, stung
asti: there is
cikitset = 3rd. pers. optative (?) from cit: to treat medically, to cure