barhyaa hy aashii-viShaa iva
- = = = - = = =
= = - - - = - =
- - = = - = = =
= = = = - = - -
Desires which are fleeting,
which are bringers of privation,
Which are flighty,
the causes of wagging to and fro,
And which are common,
Are to be dealt with like poisonous snakes,
For several reasons I have been finding it difficult to arrive at a satisfactory translation of this verse, whose meaning hinges largely on the ambiguous meaning in the fourth line of the verb barh, given in the dictionary as "to speak, hurt, give, cover, or shine," and translated by EHJ and LC as "kill" and "destroy."
Is the 2nd line rikta means hollow, idle, and also wagtail; and the word vyasana suggests the wobbling behaviour of a subconsciously controlled person in pursuit of his ends, and also means the wagging of a tail.Is this an intentional play on words? It could be. But I don't know if Ashvaghosha intended that or not.
In any event, in this verse, as I read it, the Buddha cannot be making a general statement that all desires are to be dealt with (still less killed or destroyed) like poisonous snakes.
If a person has a lifelong passion for the violin, or for the theatre, or for the sea, or for the beautiful game of football, or for studying military strategy, or for the Lotus Sutra, or for sitting-zen, or for the Buddha-robe, should that passion necessarily be treated as if it were a snake with poisoned fangs?
And what is an enlightened way to deal with poisonous snakes? The extreme end of the spectrum of human emotional reaction might be to endeavour to exterminate entire species of them. A more enlightened approach might be to understand them and on the basis of that understanding to seek an accommodation with them.
When I look back on fifty years of making one mistake after another, it is not that desire has been my enemy. Rather, my worst mistakes have followed from not being clear enough about what I really want. For example, it was clear to me in my 20s that it was Gudo Nishijima's desire that I should be his successor. But did I want that or not? Was that my desire or not? I wasn't clear about it, one way or the other. For another example, did I want to marry the girlfriend I was with at university? Yes and no. I wasn't clear whether I wanted to marry her or not -- until she started sleeping with my best friend, and then I knew I did. Against that kind of background, I am very happy now to have this strong and clear desire to dig out Ashvaghosha's gold. The stronger and clearer this desire is, the better my condition is, the more engaged I am with the fundamental.
There is a lot of fear in my country about appearing to be racist. And a lot of that fear originates, as I see it, in the amazing ability that Jewish opinion-formers seem to have to manipulate the media, so that woe betide any politician who says anything with even a hint in it of anti-semitism. Anti-anti-semitism, in contrast, is positively welcomed. On BBC Radio 4's Today Programme on Friday we had the chief rabbi of Poland assuring us of the anti-anti-semitic credentials of a Polish politician. From the viewpoint of this canto, racist semitism is just an idea to be givenup, racist anti-semitism is just an idea to given up, and anti-racist anti-anti-semitism is also just an idea to be given up. People who flock beneath the banner of anti-anti-semitism are united by what kind of desire? A desire to truly stand up for the individual? Or just a trendy variation of the common herd instinct?
There is groundswell of resentment among poor white people in Britain against what they see as policies that favour non-white minorities. In particular, as council houses have become scarcer, local councils have scrapped old rules that favoured applicants with a local connection in favour of a regime based on need, including poverty and the number of children. This change is perceived, probably accurately, to favour non-white immigrants. Since I married a Japanese and our sons were born in Japan, my own sons belong to a non-white immigrant minority -- so I am not prejudiced against non-white immigrants. But my own roots, on both sides of my family, are in white families who were dirt poor economically. My parents and grandparents, however, did not suffer from poverty of ambition. The worst kind of poverty we can suffer from, as I see it, might be poverty of ambition, poverty of desire.
The final teacing of the Buddha begins with the precepts to have small desire and be content. But small desire is never the same as no desire. When desire is strong, stable and clear, then in the words of John Bunyan's old hymn, fancies flee away. And the fleeing away of fancies is just the point of this canto.
For the passions should be killed like poisonous snakes, being impermanent, of their nature subject to loss, empty of real value, the causes of calamity and shared by many others (who may deprive you of them).
For the passions are impermanent, hollow, the cause of unhappiness; they are held in common with many other people, and by their very nature can be easily taken from you. Destroy them like poisonous snakes!
a-nityaaH = nom. pl. m. anitya: mfn. not everlasting, impermanent
moSha: m. (√muSh) a robber , thief , plunderer ; robbery , theft , stealing , plundering ; anything robbed or stolen , stolen property
√muSh: to steal , rob , plunder , carry off
dharmaaNaH = nom. pl. m. dharman: m. bearer , supporter , arranger; n. (esp. ifc.) nature , quality , characteristic mark or attribute
riktaaH = nom. pl. m. rikta: mfn emptied , empty , void; bared (as an arm) ; hollow , hollowed (as the hands) ; poor , indigent ; idle , worthless ; m. (in augury) N. of one of the four wagtails which serve for omens
vyasana: n. moving to and fro , wagging (of a tail); evil predicament or plight , disaster , accident , evil result , calamity , misfortune , ill-luck , distress , destruction , defeat , fall , ruin
hetavaH = nom. pl. hetu: m. cause
saadhaaraNaaH = nom. pl. m. saadhaaraNa: mfn. " having or resting on the same support or basis " , belonging or applicable to many or all , general , common to all , universal , common to (gen. dat. instr. with and without saha , or comp.)
kaamaaH = nom. pl. kaama: m. wish, desire, ambition etc.
barhyaaH = nom. pl. gerundive barh: to speak; to hurt ; to give or cover; to shine
[Apte] 1.to speak; 2.to give; 3.to cover; 4.to hurt; 5.to spread; 6.to be pre-eminent or excellent
aashii = aashis: f. a serpent's fang
viShaaH = nom. pl. viSha: n. (also m.) " anything active " , poison , venom , bane , anything actively pernicious RV. &c