kaantaarasya yath" aadhvagau
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And just as two travellers
In order to cross a wilderness
Might feed upon the flesh of a child,
Though grievously pained to do so,
as its mother and father,
With respect to the struggle to cross over from the instinctive to the conscious plane of self-control, Marjory Barlow used to say, "This work is the most serious thing in the world, but you mustn't take it seriously."
Here the Buddha seems to encourage us also to realise it the other way round, as if to say: "This work of not taking oneself too seriously, you should realise, is really the most serious thing in the world."
In the same vein, here is a quote from Patrick Macdonald's book, The Alexander Technique As I See It:
The F. Matthias Alexander Technique is "like unto a treasure hid in a field, the 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.
The original comparison of the Kingdom of Heaven to a treasure hid in a field appears in the New Testament of the Christian bible (Matthew 13.34).
Whether or not one believes in the Kingdom of Heaven, what Patrick Macdonald is saying seems very relevant to the present themes of Canto 12 (confidence in a higher good), Canto 13 (practice of integrity), and Canto 14 (stepping out into the unknown).
This verse, as I read it, says something about the determination that is needed to get across, without counting the cost, when one steps out into the wilderness.
More than that, the metaphor as I understand it is particularly powerful because it is not only about getting myself across. Though the mother has failed to get across the baby that she bore, she can still desire to get the the other across. And so she might say to the other, for a start, "Don't worry about the rights and wrongs, but eat."
This verse, as I read it, has got nothing whatever to do with vegetarianism, Mahayana Buddhism, or any other kind of -ism. I read it as a record of the original teaching of Gautama the Buddha.
As parents on a journey, grievous though they would find it, would eat the flesh of their children to enable them to cross the desert,
In violent desperation parents on a journey might eat the flesh of their child to survive the wilderness;
samatikramaNa = action noun from sam-ati-√kram: to go or pass by entirely , cross or step over ; to step out of
artham: for the purpose of
kaantaarasya (gen.): mn. a large wood , forest , wilderness , waste
yathaa: just as
adhvagau (nom. dual of adhvaga): two travellers
putra: son, child
maaMsaani = acc. pl. of maaMsa: n. sg. and pl. flesh , meat
khaadetaam = 2nd pers. dual, optative of khaad: to chew , bite , eat , devour , feed , prey upon
dampatii (nom. dual of dampati): " the two masters " , husband and wife
bhRsha: ibc. strongly , violently , vehemently , excessively , greatly , very much
duHkitau (nom. dual of duHkita): mfn. pained , distressed ; afflicted , unhappy