iti tri-vegaM tri-jhaShaM tri-viicam
ek-aambhasaM paNca-rayaM dvi-kuulaM
dvi-graaham aShTaaNgavataa plavena
duHkh'-aarNavaM dus-taram uttataara
- = - = = - - = - = -
= = - = = - - = - = =
= = - = = - - = - = -
= = - = = - - = - = -
Thus he overcame three surges,
three sharks, three swells,
The unity of water, five currents, two shores,
And two crocodiles: in his eight-piece raft,
He crossed a hard-to-cross ocean of suffering.
The eight-piece raft symbolizes the noble eightfold path of integrity, balance and wisdom, which is a means-whereby every follower of the Buddha may deal with many and various stimuli that are liable to trigger faults -- whether the problem be visible on the surface like a big wave, or waiting below the surface like a submerged shark or crocodile.
What is meant by three and three and three, and one and five and two, is not to be found in the scholar's first port of call, the Buddhist dictionary. Rather, a clue to Ashvaghosha's intention might be found in the opening sentence of Shobogenzo chap. 42 Tsuki, The Moon:
The round realization of moons is not only three and three before and not only three and three after.
The footnote to the Nishijima & Cross translation adds: "Three and three before, three and three after" suggests random concrete facts as opposed to general abstractions.
So your particular sharks are your sharks, and my specific crocodiles are my crocodiles. At the same time, water, when roundly realized like a full moon, is always water. And when it comes to the difficulty of inhibiting habitual reaction to a stimulus that puts us wrong, we are, as Marjory Barlow used to say, all in the same boat.
One thing I can report from my own experience, is that if I sit for long enough with legs fully crossed, my knees and hips invariably become two sharp-toothed crocodiles.
So with the eightfold boat he crossed over the ocean of suffering, so difficult to pass over, which has three currents, three fishes, three waves, one water, five streams, two banks and two crocodiles.
Thus with his eightfold boat he crossed the hard-to-cross ocean of suffering, which has three streams, three fish, three waves, one body of water, five streams, two shores and two crocodiles.
vega (acc. sg.): . (fr. √ vij) violent agitation , shock , jerk; m. a stream , flood , current (of water , tears &c )
√ vij: to move with a quick darting motion , speed , heave (said of waves)
jhaSham (acc. sg.): m. a large fish ; a fish
tri-viicam (acc. sg. m.): three waves
viica = viici: m. a wave , ripple
ek'-aambhasam = acc. sg. ek'-aambhas (?)
eka: one, a single
ambhas: n. water
rayam (acc. sg.): m. ( √ rii) the stream of a river , current
kuulam (acc. sg.): n. a shore , bank; a pond or pool
graaham (acc. sg.): m. a rapacious animal living in fresh or sea water , any large fish or marine animal (crocodile , shark , serpent , Gangetic alligator , water elephant , or hippopotamus)
aShTaaNgavataa = inst. sg. aShTaaNgavat: having eight parts
aNga: limb, component part
-vat: possessive suffix
plavena = inst. sg. plava: mn. raft , boat , small ship
duHk'-aarNavam (acc. sg.): the foaming sea of suffering
duHkha: suffering, hardship
arNava: mfn. agitated , foaming , restless; m. a wave , flood ; m. the foaming sea
dus-taram (acc. sg. m.): mfn. difficult to be passed or overcome , unconquerable , invincible
uttataara = 3rd pers. perfect ut-tRR: (ud- √tRR) to pass out of (especially jalaat , water); to pass over ; to cross (a river , with acc.) ; to vanquish