Thursday, November 26, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.33: Birds of a Feather

vihagaanaaM yathaa saayaM
tatra tatra samaagamaH
jaatau jaatau tath" aashleSho
janasya sva-janasya ca

- - = = - = = =
= - = - - = - =
= = = = - = = =
- = = - - = - -

Just as birds in the evening

Flock together at many separate locations,

So is the mingling over many generations

Of one's own and other people.

That birds of a feather flock together is not merely an idea: it is an empirical truth -- like the conspicuous gaggling together of Chinese students on a British university campus.

I think also of starlings, who used sometimes to come together in two big conifers in our front garden, before flying off to their night-time roost.

As a metaphor, that birds of a feather flock together might be used to justify a racist idea behind a system of apartheid or, equally, to justify the self-righteous 'humanist' idea under which banner convene a group united by their opposition to racism. (Or indeed sectarianism in any form?)

But in this verse, as I read it, birds of a feather flocking together is not cited in support of any political idea, one way or the other. It is cited in order to highlight a fact, reflection on which might help one individual practitioner, working on himself or herself, to drop off his or her idea.

Ideas can quickly win a mass following, and thereby change the world -- most likely for the worse. But giving up an idea is a different kettle of fish. What I am doing now is endeavoring to clarify, for a potential internet audience of millions (as opposed to the actual daily audience runnning on a good day into dozens), the Buddha's idea in regard to giving up an idea. But that is not the same as the effort that I make (or fail to make) on the round cushion, which is individual work to liberate sitting from all my ideas about it.

EH Johnston:
As at eventide birds collect some here, some there, so is the relation of kinsman and stranger from birth to birth.

Linda Covill:
Stranger and kinsman embrace each other, some in this birth, some in that, just as birds flock together in the evenings, sometimes here and sometimes there.

vihagaanaam = gen. pl. vihaga: m. " sky-goer " , a bird
yathaa: just as
saayam: ind. in the evening , at eventide

tatra tatra: in that and that place , here and there , everywhere
samaagamaH = nom. sg. samaagama (from sam-aa-√gam): m. coming together

jaatau = loc. jaati: f. birth , production ; re-birth ; the form of existence (as man , animal , &c ) fixed by birth
jaatau = loc. jaati: f. birth
tathaa: so, likewise
aashleShaH = nom. sg. aashleSha (from aa-√shliSh, to cling to, embrace): m. intimate connection , contact ; slight contact ; embracing , embrace ; entwining ; adherence , clinging to

janasya = gen. sg. jana: m. a person, any person
sva-janasya = gen. sva-jana: m. a person of one's own family
ca: and

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