Sunday, December 13, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.50: Neither Enthusiasm Nor Iconoclasm

duHkhaM sarvatra sarvasya
vartate sarvadaa yadaa
chanda-raagam ataH saumya
loka-citreShu maa kRthaaH

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

While suffering, everywhere and for everyone,

Continues at every moment.

You are not to enthuse, my friend,

Over the world's shimmering images.

This and the next verse seem to form a bridge between negation of two kinds of worldly mirage: the idea (from 15.42) of happiness abiding at some place, and the idea (up to 15.63) of life carrying on happily ever after.

A shimmering worldly image that springs readily to mind at the moment is the Tiger Woods brand, for so many years an object of global enthusiasm. If viewers mistook the image for a real person -- in the manner of my senile great granny nodding sweetly to the newsreader on TV -- and now feel let down, whose fault is that? If we turn a human being like Tiger Woods into an icon, an immortal, a god, and then feel either outraged or thrilled when he proves prone to suffer like the rest of us, that tells us nothing about Tiger Woods but it tells us something about us who prefer to use celebrities as a mirror, rather than turning our light around and looking honestly at our own stupid selves.

People in India in the Buddha's time had their pantheon of immortals, with Indra in the centre; and we in our time have our own immortals, clustered (if Saturday night viewing is anything to go by) around the mighty Cheryl Cole, of Girls Aloud fame. The gleaming white smiles of stars like Cheryl and her mentor Simon Cowell may seem to sparkle with celebrity immortality, but truly it is only cosmetic dentistry.

Is the Buddha, then, advocating the smashing of icons -- as Mao advocated in the cultural revolution in China, or as Pol Pot advocated in Cambodia? No, definitely not. The Buddha's teaching is that we should look in here and stop enthusing over images, not that we should go out there and smash them up.

When I turn my light around and look honestly at my own stupid self, I cannot deny a certain iconoclastic tendency that, unless inhibited, could easily lead me to reach, like Mrs Woods, for a 3-iron. But Cheryl Cole, when all is said and done, is evidently quite a sweet individual. Who in the end wouldn't wish her well?

EH Johnston:
Since suffering is the lot of everyone everywhere at all times, do not, my friend, hanker after the glittering objects of the world.

Linda Covill:
Dear friend, since suffering operates in everybody everywhere, and at all times, do not set your passion or your will on the bright things of this world.

duHkham (nom. sg.): n. suffering
sarvatra: ind. everywhere
sarvasya (gen.): of all

vartate = 3rd pers. sg. vRt: to turn , turn round , revolve , roll; take place , occur; to be , live , exist , be found ; to continue ; to hold good , continue in force
sarvadaa: ind. always , at all times
yadaa: ind. when, whenever

chanda-raagam (acc. sg.): redness from liking; passion from pleasure in; enthusiasm
chanda: m. pleasure , delight , appetite , liking , predilection , desire , will
raaga: m. colour, redness, any feeling or passion , (esp.) love
atas (correlative of yadaa): ind. from this, hence
saumya (voc.): my friend

loka: world
citreShu = loc. pl. citra: n. anything bright or coloured which strikes the eyes ; n. a brilliant ornament , ornament; n. a bright or extraordinary appearance , wonder ; n. a picture , sketch , delineation ; n. a forest of variegated appearance
maa: a particle of prohibition or negation
kRthaaH = 2nd pers. sg. injunctive kR: to do, make

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