Friday, April 30, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.23: A Historical Precedent

eka-pitror yathaa bhraatroH
raama ev' aabhavad gaargyo
vaasubhadro 'pi gautamaH

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

Just as, though they were brothers born of one father,

Because they had different gurus

Rama became a Gargya

And Vasubhadra a Gautama.

In this verse Ashvaghosha cites the historical precedent of the brothers Rama and Vasubhadra who gave up their original surname and adopted the surname of their respective gurus -- Rama becoming a Gargya and Vasubhadra (like the Buddha's ancestors) becoming a Gautama.

Is there any philosophical meaning to be found in such a historical reference? There might be, if you see history too as a kind of search for the truth -- the truth of what really happened.

There are those who form a view of what happened, and tend to want to hold onto that view, maybe seeking and finding evidence to support their view. There are those who desire to find out and understand what really happened, and on that basis are required constantly to see the shortcomings of their former view.

What really happened to cause my life, on at least a couple of occasions, to seem to become dislocated, like a train derailment? I don't know. What I do know is that my own view of personal events, and memory of personal events, tends to be faulty.

That being so, reference to objective historical events, and other people's view of them, has meaning.

It might be like using a staff well to walk up and down in the garden -- in which case it is not that one necessarily uses the staff to support one's weight, but rather it might be that information flows up as if from the ground into one's hand, feeding into one's overall sense of earth/sky/space.

EH Johnston:
Just as, though brothers and sons of the same father, Rama became a Gargya and Vasubhadra a Gautama through being pupils of different gurus.

Linda Covill:
just as Rama had become a Gargya and Vasubhadra a Gautama because of their attendance on different gurus, though the two were brothers and had the same father.

eka-pitroH (gen. dual): having the same father
eka: mfn. one, the same , one and the same
pitR: m. a father
yathaa: just as
bhraatroH (gen. dual): brothers

pRthag-guru-parigrahaat (abl.): because of having/serving different gurus
pRthag: ind. separately , differently
guru: guru, venerable person, teacher
parigraha: m. laying hold of on all sides , surrounding ; getting , attaining , acquisition , possession , property (ifc. " being possessed of or furnished with "); homage , reverence , grace , favour , help , assistance ; claim on , relation to , concern with (loc.)

raama: mfn. dark , dark-coloured , black ; Rama m. N. of various mythical personages, one being the supposed author of the Rg Veda.
eva: (emphatic)
abhavat: he became
gaargyaH (nom. sg. m.): a Gargya

vaasubhadraH (nom. sg.): m. Vasubhadra; N. of kRShNa
kRShNa: mfn. black , dark , dark-blue; wicked, evil; N. of one of the poets of the Rg Veda. (descended from aNgiras)
api: also
gautamaH (nom. sg.): a Gautama

Thursday, April 29, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.22: Becoming Gautama (Nominally)

teShaaM munir upaadhyaayo
gautamaH kapilo 'bhavat
guru-gotraad ataH kautsaas
te bhavanti sma gautamaaH

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

The sage Kapila Gautama

Became their preceptor;

And so from the guru's surname

Those Kautsas became Gautamas --

This explains how the Buddha's royal ancestors, whose original surname was Kautsa, came to be called Gautama: the tradition is that they took the surname from Kapila Gautama, the champion of asceticism in whose forest ashram they went to live.

We primarily desire to know how Shakyamuni became Shakyamuni, how Siddhartha became Siddhartha -- how Gautama Buddha became Gautama Buddha in the true sense.

To satisfy this desire, Ashvaghosha provides us in Canto 3 with his own description of how Gautama became Gautama. And Cantos 12 through 16 are Gautama's own description of the means-whereby a Gautama becomes a Gautama.

Before examining Gautama's becoming Gautama in real terms, however, Ashvaghosha, leaving no stone unturned, is presenting here in nominal terms a history of how the Gautamas became the Gautamas.

EH Johnston:
The seer, Kapila Gautama, became their preceptor ; hence, following their guru's gotra, they were turned from Kautsas into Gautamas ;

Linda Covill:
The sage Kapila Gautama became their guru, and because of their guru's clan, they who had been Kautsas became Gautamas,

teShaam (gen. pl.): of them
muniH (nom. sg.): m. sage
upaadhyaayaH (nom. sg.): m. a teacher , preceptor (who subsists by teaching a part of the veda or vedaaNgas , grammar &c ; he is distinguished from the aacaarya)

gautamaH (nom. sg. m.): Gautama
kapilaH (nom. sg. m.): Kapila
abhavat (3rd pers. sg. imperfect bhuu): he became

guru-gotraad (abl.): from the guru's family name
guru: m. any venerable or respectable person; m. a spiritual parent or preceptor
gotra: n. " family enclosed by the hurdle " , family , race , lineage , kin; family name ; name (in general)
ataH: ind. hence
kautsaaH (nom. pl.): Kautsas
kautsa: mfn. relating to kutsa
kutsa: m. N. of a RShi (called aarjuneya , author of several hymns of the RV. ; when attacked by the demon shuShNa , indra defended him and killed the demon ; but in other hymns, kutsa is represented as persecuted by indra) ; N. of a descendant of aNgiras (author of hymns of the RV) ;
lightning , thunderbolt ; pl. the descendants or the family of kutsa

te (nom. pl.): they
bhavanti (3rd pers. pl. bhuu): they became
sma: ind. a particle perhaps originally equivalent to " ever " , " always "
and later to " indeed " , " certainly " , " verily " , " surely " (it is often used pleonastically)
gautamaaH (nom. pl.): Gautamas

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.21: Intolerance & Integrity

maatR-shulkaad upagataaM
te shriyaM na viShehire
rarakShush ca pituH satyaM
yasmaac chishriyire vanaM

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

The royal authority that had come to him,
as his mother's bride-price,

They could not endure;

And yet they kept their father's promise,

In accordance with which
they had retreated to the forest.

The picture that Ashvaghosha is going to paint of the princes, as I see it, is a picture of human human beings, and not a one-sided picture.

So here is evidence, on the one hand, of their pride and intolerance, and on the other hand, of their integrity and loyalty.

EH Johnston:
They did not lay violent hands on the sovereignty which came to him as his mother's bride-price, but kept inviolate their father's promise, wherefore they had come to the forest.

Linda Covill:
The worthy princes, large-natured and wise, could not stomach the rank that had come to their unworthy, fickle-minded and foolish younger half-brother as his mother's dowry, and observing their father's vow, had retreated to the forest.

maatR-shulkaad (abl. sg.): the bride-price of his mother
maatR: mother
shulka: m. price; nuptial gift (orig. a price given to parents for the purchase of a bride , but in later times bestowed on the wife as her own property together with the profits of household labour , domestic utensils , ornaments &c ) , dower , dowry , marriage settlement
upagataam (acc. sg. f.): arrived

te (nom. pl.): they
shriyam = acc. sg. f. shrii: prosperity , welfare , good fortune , success , auspiciousness , wealth , treasure , riches , high rank , power , might , majesty , royal dignity
na: not
viShehire = 3rd pers. pl. perfect viShah: to conquer , subdue , overpower , be a match for (acc.) ; to be able to or capable of (inf.) ; to bear , withstand , resist ; to endure , suffer , put up with (acc. also with inf.)

rarakShuH = 3rd pers. pl. perfect: rakSh: to guard , watch , take care of , protect , save , preserve; to keep (a secret)
ca: and
pituH = abl./gen. pitR: m. father
satyam (acc. sg.): n. speaking the truth , sincerity , veracity ; n. a solemn asseveration , vow , promise , oath (satyaM cikiirShamaaNa, "wishing to fulfil one's promise or keep one's word")

yasmaat: ind. from which, because of which
shishriyire = 3rd pers. pl. perfect shri: to go to , approach , resort or have recourse to (for help or refuge) , tend towards (acc.)
vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.20: A Relative Problem

arha-ruupaa hy an-arhasya
mah"-aatmaanash cal'-aatmanaH
praajNaaH prajNaa-vimuktasya
bhraatRvyasya yaviiyasaH

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

For they were deserving where undeserving was he:

They were magnanimous where fickle was he:

They were bright where brainless was he:

Their younger half-brother.

According to EHJ, bhraatRvya (lit. father's brother's son) must mean 'half-brother' here, unless the versions of the story known to Ashvaghosha differed from the known ones.

Either way, the point is that the princes had a junior relative -- a half-brother or cousin -- who was less endowed than they were with virtues, like magnanimity and intelligence, that befit a prince or a king.

EH Johnston:
For, being worthy where their younger half-brother was unworthy, high-souled where he was pusillanimous, and wise where he was foolish,

Linda Covill:
The worthy princes, large-natured and wise, could not stomach the rank that had come to their unworthy, fickle-minded and foolish younger half-brother as his mother's dowry, and observing their father's vow, had retreated to the forest.

arha-ruupaaH (nom. pl.): worthy, deserving
arha: mfn. meriting , deserving , worthy of, having a claim or being entitled to (acc. or Inf. or in comp.)
ruupa: n. form, shape, figure (sometimes used after an adj. or p.p. to emphasize its meaning or almost redundantly)
hi: for
an-arhasya (gen. sg.): unworthy ; inadequate , unsuitable

mah"-aatmaanaH (nom. pl.): " high-souled " , magnanimous , having a great or noble nature , high-minded , noble ; highly gifted , exceedingly wise ; eminent , mighty , powerful , distinguished
mahat: great
aatman: m. self; essence , nature , character , peculiarity (often ifc.)
cal'-aatmanaH (gen. sg.): mfn. fickle-minded
cala: mfn. moving , trembling , shaking , loose ; unsteady , fluctuating , perishable ; disturbed , confused
aatman: m. self; essence , nature , character , peculiarity (often ifc.)

praajNaaH (nom. pl.): mfn. intellectual ; intelligent , wise , clever
prajNaa-vimuktasya (gen. sg.): devoid of wisdom
prajNaa: f. wisdom , intelligence , knowledge , discrimination , judgement
vimukta: mfn. set free , liberated (esp. from mundane existence) , freed or delivered or escaped from (abl. instr. , or ifc.)

bhraatRvyasya = gen. sg. bhraatRvya: m. a father's brother's son , cousin
yaviiyasaH = gen. sg. yaviiyas: mfn. (compar. of yuvan) younger ; m. a younger brother

Monday, April 26, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.19: Another Colour

siMh'-oraskaa mahaa-bhujaaH
paatraM shabdasya mahataH
shriyaaM ca vinayasya ca

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

Tall they were like golden columns,

Lion-chested, strong-armed,

Worthy of their great name

And insignia and upbringing.

This might be where we truly come in.

Asceticism was a starting point in ancient India, but asceticism was never our original face. Neither the dismal grey of the thundercloud that hung over the ascetic's ashram, nor the gaudy cosmetic pigments with which the Indian sadhu traditionally painted himself, are our original colour.

I don't know about stardust, but originally, we are golden. (And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.)

Because gold does not easily tarnish, it naturally retains its lustre. So comparing the princes to golden columns suggests that they were healthy naturally, originally -- without any trace of the grey ash or gaudy pigments of the Indian holy man.

EH Johnston:
Tall they were like golden columns, lionchested, strong in the arm, distinguished for their great fame, majesty and good conduct.

Linda Covill:
They were tall like golden columns, lion-chested and strong-armed, potential vessels of wide fame, majesty and self-regulation.

suvarNa-stambha-varShmaaNaH (nom. pl.): being tall like golden columns
suvarNa: golden
stambha: m. a post , pillar , column
varShman: n. height , greatness , extent ; n. measure ; n. body ; n. a handsome form or auspicious appearance

siMh'-oraskaaH (nom. pl.): lion-chested
siMha: lion
uraska ifc. = uras, chest, breast

mahaa-bhujaaH (nom. pl.): strong-armed
mahat: mfn. great (in space , time , quantity or degree)
bhuja: m. the arm, the hand

paatram (acc. sg.) n. a drinking-vessel , goblet , bowl , cup , dish , pot , plate , utensil &c , any vessel or receptacle ; (met.) a capable or competent person , an adept in ; master of (gen.) , any one worthy of or fit for or abounding in (gen. loc. , inf. or comp.)
shabdasya (gen. sg.): m. sound , noise , voice , tone ; a name , appellation , title
mahataH (gen. sg. m.): great

shriyaam (gen. pl.): f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory ; prosperity , welfare , good fortune , success , auspiciousness , wealth , treasure , riches; high rank , power , might , majesty , royal dignity ; symbol or insignia of royalty
ca: and
vinayasya (gen. sg.): m. leading , guidance , training (esp. moral training) , education , discipline , control ; m. good breeding , propriety of conduct , decency , modesty , mildness ;
ca: and

Sunday, April 25, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.18: Here Comes the Sun

atha tejasvi-sadanaM
tapaH-kShetraM tam aashramaM
ke cid ikShvaakavo jagmuu
raaja-putraa vivatsavaH

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

Now, to that ashram, that seat of intensity,

That domain of austerity,

There came certain sons of Ikshvaku,

Royal princes, wishing to stay.

Kapila's ashram, we have heard, was as if overhung by a thundercloud. But from here the mood brightens up a bit.

When ascetics go camping in the woods in order to practice austerities, why are they always so bloody serious about it?

Because they stay in tents.

If the intense, austere and dour manner of the ascetics described hitherto was rooted in the serious, careful, spiritual ways of the Brahmin tradition, then the princes, as men of action, trained in the kshatriya ways of a warrior, will introduce a different flavour, another colour, a bit of human interest, a few rays of sunshine.

The princes belonged, Ashvaghosha tells us, to the House of Ikshvaku. Ikshvaku (lit. "Sugarcane") is known as the first king of the Ikshvaku dynasty and founder of the Solar Dynasty of kshatriyas.

EH Johnston:
One day there came to that hermitage, the seat of the brilliant one, the domain of austerities, certain princes, sons of Ikshvaku, desirious of dwelling there.

Linda Covill:
Now one day certain princes of Ikshvaku's lineage came to the ashram, desiring to live in that domain of austerity, the dwelling of those luminaries.

atha: [inceptive particle] now, and so,
tejasvi-sadanam (acc. sg.): the seat of the sharp
tejasvin: mfn. sharp (the eye) ; brilliant , splendid , bright , powerful , energetic ; violent ; inspiring respect , dignified , noble
tejas: n. (often pl.) the sharp edge (of a knife &c ) , point or top of a flame or ray , glow , glare , splendour , brilliance , light , fire ; clearness of the eyes
sadana: mfn. (from sad, to sit down, esp. at a sacrifice) causing to settle down or remain ; n. settling down , coming to rest ; n. a seat , dwelling , residence , house , home (often ifc. = " abiding or dwelling in ") ; n. the abode of sacrifice , sacrificial hall ; n. the abode of yama

tapaH-kShetram (acc. sg.): domain of ascetic practice
tapaH = in comp. for tapas: n. ascetic practice, ascetisim
kShetra: n. landed property , land , soil ; a field; department , sphere of action ; place of origin , place where anything is found
tam (acc. sg. m.): that
aashramam (acc. sg.): mn. ( √shram) , a hermitage , the abode of ascetics , the cell of a hermit or of retired saints or sages

ke cid (nom. pl. m.): some
ikShvaakavaH = nom. pl. m. ikShvaaku: name of a son of manu vaivasvata (father of kukShi and first king of the solar dynasty in ayodhyaa) ; a descendant of ikShvaaku (some Buddhists as well as the jainas derive their cakravartins and many of their arhats from ikShvaaku)
jagmuur (3rd pers. pl. perfect gam): they came

raaja-putraaH (nom. pl.): m. a king's son , prince
vivatsavaH (nom. pl. vivatsu, from desiderative vi-√vas): wishing to live there
vi-√vas: to change an abode , depart from (abl.); (with brahmacaryam) , to enter upon an apprenticeship , become a pupil ; to abide , dwell , live ; to pass , spend (time)

Saturday, April 24, 2010


shraamyanto munayo yatra
svargaay' odyukta-cetasaH
tapo-raageNa dharmasya
vilopam iva cakrire

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

There the toiling sages,

Hearts straining heavenward,

Seemed by their passion for asceticism

Almost to do dharma a mischief.

Heart straining heavenward (svargaay' odyukta-cetas) is a vivid description of a Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex in extension. But sitting in the supreme manner, allowing the neck to release, the head to go forward and up, the back to lengthen and widen, and the legs to release out of the pelvis... is not that.

EH Johnston:
There the sages, with minds aspiring to Paradise, strove so hard that they seemed by their very passion for austerities to destroy religion (which consists in passionlessness).

Linda Covill:
Here the sages, their minds straining heavenwards, so greatly exerted themselves that they seemed to do violence to dharma with their passion for asceticism.

shraamyantaH = nom. pl. pres. part. shram: to be or become weary or tired , be tired of doing anything ; to make effort , exert one's self (esp. in performing acts of austerity) , labour in vain
munayaH (nom. pl.): m. a saint , sage , seer , ascetic , monk , devotee , hermit (esp. one who has taken the vow of silence)
yatra: where

svargaaya (dative): towards heaven
udyukta-cetasaH (nom. pl): being of zealously active mind
udyukta: mfn. undergoing , undertaking ; prepared or ready for , zealously active , labouring for some desired end
cetas: n. consciousness , intelligence , thinking soul , heart , mind ; will

tapo-raageNa (insts. sg.): through the red taint of/passion for asceticism
tapas: n. ascetic practice, asceticism
raaga: m. the act of colouring or dyeing ; colour , hue , tint , dye , (esp.) red colour , redness ; inflammation ; any feeling or passion , (esp.) love , affection or sympathy for , vehement desire of , interest or joy or delight in (loc. or comp.)
dharmasya (gen. sg.): of/for/to the dharma

vilopam (acc. sg.): m. carrying off , taking away ; a break , interruption , disturbance , injury ; ruin , loss
vi- √ lup: to tear or break off or to pieces , wound , lacerate pull out or up ; to tear away , carry off , ravish , seize , rob , plunder ; to destroy , confound , ruin
iva: like, as it were , as if; in a certain manner , in some measure , a little , perhaps (in qualification or mitigation of a strong assertion); nearly , almost , about
cakrire = 3rd pers. pl. perfect kR: they did

Friday, April 23, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.16: Ascetics Set about Asceticism

nir-apekShaaH shariireShu
dharme yatra sva-buddhayaH
saMhRShTaa iva yatnena
taapasaas tepire tapaH

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

There, not caring about their own bodies,

But each with his own belief in dharma,

Seemingly bristling with zeal,

The ascetics set about ascetic practice of asceticism.

Again, this verse as I read it is phrased so as to permit a superficial laudatory interpretation. But what Ashvaghosha is saying here might be beyond praise and criticism: it might be more akin to Dogen's observation that flowers, irrespective of being loved, droop; and weeds, irrespective of being hated, flourish.

This verse goes a step further than observations that mountains are mountains, or that ascetics are ascetics. In the last line not only subject (ascetic) and object (asceticism) but also verb (be set on fire, burn with the heat of, torment oneself) are all from the same root, √ tap, to give out intense heat.

The ascetics set about ascetic practice of asceticism.

That is what ascetics always have done, always do, and always will do. It is like saying a bear shits in the woods.

It might be like saying, if such a phrase were possible in English, that a sitters sits sitting. Or a listener listens out for listening. Or a digger digs digging.

EH Johnston:
There the ascetics, following their own opinions in the matter of religion and regardless of their bodies, practised austerities as if overjoyed with their toil.

Linda Covill:
Here the ascetics, disregarding their bodies and following their own understanding of dharma, distilled asceticism as though delighting in their labour.

nir-apekShaaH (nom. pl.): mf(A)n. regardless of. indifferent to , independent of (loc. or comp.) ; desireless , careless , indifferent , disinterested
shariireShu (loc. pl.): n. the body , bodily frame , solid parts of the body (pl. the bones) ; any solid body ; one's body i.e. one's own person

dharme (loc. sg.): dharma, law
yatra: ind. where
sva-buddhayaH (nom. pl.): own opinions
sva: own
buddhi: f. the power of forming and retaining conceptions and general notions , intelligence , reason , intellect , mind , discernment , judgement; understanding ; opinion, view, notion, idea

saMhRShTaaH (nom. pl.): mfn. bristling , shuddering ; one whose hair stands erect (with joy) ; thrilled , delighted , glad
iva: like, as if
yatnena (inst. yatna): " with effort " , " carefully " , " eagerly " , " strenuously "

taapasaaH (nom. pl.): m. an ascetic
tepire = 3rd pers. pl. perfect tap: to give out heat , be hot , shine (as the sun); to make hot or warm , heat , shine upon ; to consume or destroy by heat ; to suffer pain ; to torment one's self , undergo self-mortification , practise austerity (tapas)
tapaH (acc. sg.): n. heat, austerity, ascetic practice

Thursday, April 22, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.15 Not Losing Body & Life at Random

yatra sma miiyate brahma
kaish cit kaish cin na miiyate
kaale nimiiyate somo
na c' aa-kaale pramiiyate

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

There some prayed to Brahma;

None suffered the frustration of losing his way;

The soma, at the right moment, was measured out;

And nobody, at a random moment, came to naught.

The irony intended in this verse, as I read it, is reminiscent of Dogen's discussion in Shobogenzo of losing body and life.

In each line there is play on the ambiguity of miiyate, which is a passive form of two different roots: √mii (lose one's way, perish, come to nothing) and √ma (measure out, pray).

Line 2, as I read it, expresses the kind of certainty one sometimes sees among evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Muslims, zealous Buddhists, and the like.

The two standard examples in Shobogenzo of somebody, at a random moment, coming to naught, are Rei-un Shigon, who suddenly noticed the peach blossoms spreading out in the valley below him, and Kyogen Chikan, who when he was sweeping heard a pebble ping against a bamboo and suddenly woke up.

EH Johnston:
There some contemplated the Absolute; no one at all did hurt ; soma was measured out at the proper time ; and no one died untimely.

Linda Covill:
Here some contemplated God, none committed transgressions, soma juice was measured out at the right time and no one died at the wrong time.

yatra: ind. where, at which place
sma: [emphatic] " indeed " , " certainly " , " verily " , " surely "
miiyate = (1) 3rd pers. sg. passive mii: , to lessen , diminish , destroy (Pass. to perish , disappear , die) ; to lose one's way , go astray ; to transgress , violate , frustrate , change , alter
miiyate = (2) 3rd pers. sg. passive maa: to measure out; to pray
brahma = nom. sg. brahman: n. (lit. " growth " , " expansion " , " evolution " , " development " " swelling of the spirit or soul " , fr. √ bRh); pious effusion or utterance , outpouring of the heart in worshipping the gods , prayer ; n. (exceptionally treated as m.) the brahma or one self-existent impersonal Spirit , the one universal Soul (or one divine essence and source from which all created things emanate or with which they are identified and to which they return) , the Self-existent , the Absolute , the Eternal (not generally an object of worship but rather of meditation and-knowledge)

kaish cit (inst. pl.): by some
kaish cit (inst. pl.): by some
na: not
miiyate [as above] = 3rd. pers. sg. passive (1) mii or (2) maa

kaale: ind. loc. in time , seasonably
nimiiyate = 3rd. pers. sg. passive ni- √ma: , to measure , adjust
somaH (nom. sg.): m. (fr. √su) juice , extract , (esp.) the juice of the soma plant , (also) the soma plant itself (said to be the climbing plant Sarcostema Viminalis or Asclepias Acida , the stalks of which were pressed between stones by the priests , then sprinkled with water , and purified in a strainer ; whence the acid juice trinkled into jars or larger vessels ; after which it was mixed with clarified butter , flour &c , made to ferment , and then offered in libations to the gods ....

na: not
a-kaale: ind. loc. at a wrong or bad time
pramiiyate = (1) 3rd. pers. sg. passive pra- √mii: to frustrate , annul , destroy , annihilate ; to change , alter ; to neglect , transgress , infringe ; to miss , lose (one's way or time) , forget ; to cause to disappear , put out of sight ; to leave behind , outstrip , surmount , surpass (atmanepada or passive pra-miiyate) to come to naught , perish , die
pramiiyate = (2) 3rd. pers. sg. passive pra- √ maa: to measure , mete out , estimate ; to form , create , make ready , arrange ; to form a correct notion of (acc.) , understand , know

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.14: Being Almost Present

saMdigdhe 'py a-punar-bhaave
viruddheShv aagameShv api
pratyakShiNa iv' aakurvaMs
tapo yatra tapo-dhanaaH

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

Even in the face of precarious immunity to rebirth,

And notwithstanding inconsistencies
in their time-honoured texts,

There and then, as if seeing with their own eyes,

The great ascetics practised asceticism.

The key word in this verse might be iva in the 3rd line -- as if.

Again, Ashvaghosha is burying his attack on asceticism, so that on the surface the verse resembles praise for heroic practice, in the face of adversity, of epic ascetic heroes.

That these opening verses of Saundarananda are so heavy with irony causes me to reflect how heavy with irony is life itself. In particular I think of my old teacher Gudo Nishijima who exhausted himself preaching endlessly that Buddhism is realism but who, when I most needed him to be in tune with reality, when it came to the translation of Shobogenzo into English, was most hopelessly out of tune with reality. Jiblet, who conspicuously refused to worship a false idol but told the Zen Master the truth he needed to hear, will know what I mean.

In a similar way, to talk and write about being in the moment of the present, as if seeing with one's own eyes and hearing with one's whole body, is one thing. When the airplanes have stopped flying and the chain-saws have stopped whining so that there and then the eyes and ears can really open to the evening sunlight on the trees and the sound of spring birdsongs against the backdrop of the forest stream... that is a whole other thing. Or is it?

It relates in Alexander terms to the difference between arranging oneself, be the arrangement ever so subtle, and truly allowing. What I feel to have been true allowing often tends to turn out to have been a variation on the theme of self-arrangement.

Not my will be done, but thy will be done. Easy to say. Not easy to really mean.

In biblical terms, it might relate to the commandment not to worship false idols. It might relate to the story of Abraham saying "Here I am, Lord" -- and really meaning it.


Those three words really mean something; or, as in the case of the vinaya , the rules of discipline, as taught by ascetics and the like who are off the middle way, they mean very little, or nothing.

Again, it relates to what Dogen describes at the beginning of Fukan-zazengi as the slightest of gaps, which causes heaven and earth to be far removed.

"As if" (iva) in line 3 points softly but very exactly to the existence of such a gap.

EH Johnston:
Though their release from rebirth was open to doubt and their scriptures were contradictory, yet the ascetics there practised asceticism as if possessed of supernatural perception (of its result).

Linda Covill:
Here the ascetics practised ascetism as if they could see its effectiveness right in front of their eyes, even though their escape from further rebirth was uncertain and their scriptures inconsistent.

saMdigdhe = loc. sg. saMdigdha: mfn. (from saM-√dih) smeared over , besmeared or covered with (instr. or comp.) ; confused , confounded with , mistaken for (instr. or comp.) ; questioned , questionable ; precarious , doubtful , dubious , uncertain , unsettled , doubtful about , despairing of (comp.) ;riskful , dangerous , unsafe (as a ship); n. an ambiguous suggestion or expression
saM-√dih: to smear , besmear , cover ; to heap together ; A1 [atmane-pada] saM-digdhe, to be doubtful or uncertain (said of persons and things)
api: even, though
a-punar-bhaave (loc. sg. absolute): m. not-again-becoming ; m. not occurring again ; exemption from further transmigration , final beatitude
a-punar: ind. not again , only once
bhaava: m. ( √ bhuu) becoming , being , existing , occurring , appearance

viruddheShu = loc. pl. viruddha: mfn. opposed , hindered , restrained , arrested , kept back ; doubtful , uncertain , precarious , dangerous ; hostile , adverse , at variance or at enmity with (instr. gen. , or comp.) ; disagreeing (as food) ; contrary , repugnant , contrasted , reverse , inconsistent or incompatible with , excluded from (gen. instr. , or comp.)
aagameShu = loc. pl. absolute aagama: m. arrival, coming; m. reading , studying ; m. acquisition of knowledge , science ; m. a traditional doctrine or precept , collection of such doctrines , sacred work ; m. anything handed down and fixed by tradition (as the reading of a text or a record , title-deed , &c )
api: also, even, though

pratyakShiNaH = abl./gen. sg. pratyakShin: mfn. seeing with one's own eyes ; m. an eye-witness
praty-akSha: mfn. present before the eyes , visible , perceptible
prati: ind. before , in the presence of
akShi: n. (ifc. akSha is substituted) the eye
iva: like, as if
akurvan = 3rd pers plural imperfect kR: to do, practise

tapaH (acc. sg.): n. ascetic practice
yatra: ind. in or to which place , where; on which occasion , in which case , if , when
tapo-dhanaaH (nom. pl.): mfn. rich in religious austerities ; m. a great ascetic
tapas: austerities, ascetic practice
dhana: n. any valued object , (esp.) wealth , riches

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.13:The Strict Discipline of the Forest

api kShudra-mRgaa yatra
shaantaash ceruH samaM mRgaiH
sharaNyebhyas tapasvibhyo
vinayaM shikShitaa iva

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

Even animals down the forest food chain

Moved there in the same subdued manner as the stags,

As if from their ascetic protectors

They had learned the rules of discipline.

Badgers, foxes, bunny rabbits, and muntjac deer are tip-toeing through the ashram ever so quietly and carefully, looking like conscientious Zen practitioners or zealous devotees of the FM Alexander Technique.

Meanwhile, Ashvaghosha might be practically bursting with unbridled belly laughter.

Ashvaghosha -- poet or proselytizer? academics ask, never having seen him in a dream.

Ashvaghosha was a tiger in its natural element, at the very top of the food chain. He mauled ascetic stags for breakfast.

EH Johnston:
Even the beasts of prey roamed quietly there with the deer, as if they had studied the rules of the holy life under the ascetics with whom they had taken refuge.

Linda Covill:
Here even the smaller animals roamed peaceably alongside the deer, as though they had learned discipline from the ascetics who gave them shelter.

api: also, even
kShudra-mRgaaH (nom. pl. m.): small game, small deer, animals lower down the food chain
kShudra: mfn. minute , diminutive , tiny , very small , little , trifling ; mean , low , vile
mRga: m. (prob. " ranger " , " rover ") a forest animal or wild beast , game of any kind , (esp.) a deer , fawn , gazelle , antelope , stag , musk-deer
yatra: where

shaantaaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. pacified , tranquil , calm, undisturbed , inhibited ,
ceruH = 3rd pers. pl. perfect car: to move one's self , go , walk , move , stir , roam about
samam: ind. in like manner , alike , equally , similarly ; together with
mRgaiH (inst. pl.): the deer, stags

sharaNyebhyaH = abl. pl. sharaNya: mfn. affording shelter , yielding help or protection to (gen. or comp.); n. who or what affords protection or defence
tapasvibhyaH = abl. pl. tapasvin: mfn. practising austerities ; m. an ascetic

vinayam (acc. sg.): m. leading , guidance , training (esp. moral training) , education , discipline , control ; m. (with Buddhists) the rules of discipline for monks
shikShitaaH (nom pl. m.): mfn. mfn. learnt , studied , practised; taught , instructed or trained or exercised in (acc. loc. , or comp.)
√ shikSh: to learn , acquire knowledge , study , practise , learn from (abl.)
iva: like, as if

Monday, April 19, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.12: Big Hair, Puffy Rice, and Flowers

virejur hariNaa yatra
suptaa medhyaasu vediShu
sa-laajair maadhavii-puShpair
upahaaraaH kRtaa iva

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

The stags there, their manes beautifully braided,

On undefiled elevations fit to be sacrificial altars,

Seemed as if,
complete with puffy rice and madhavi flowers,

They had been prepared as religious offerings.

In this verse, which needs to be understood in conjunction with the further description of small and large deer in the next verse, I am not sure whether or not Ashvaghosha is continuing with the subtext of mocking the ascetics at Kapila's ashram. Assuming that he is, then given the double-meaning of the word supta, then I am not sure whether Ashvaghosha is comparing the ascetics to stags with shaggy manes or to sleeping fawns.

In conclusion, I may be wrong, but I think Ashvaghosha's intention might be to allude again, following on from the previous verse, to the traditional attitude of Indian ascetics and holy men who (sometimes in the name of non-vanity) pay so much attention to how they wear their hair.

This attitude of ascetic peacocks and stags could hardly be more different from the traditional attitude of a follower of the Buddha who simply shaves his head.

EH Johnston:
There the spotted deer, asleep in the enclosures sacred to worship, seemed as if made into offerings accompanied by madhavi flowers and puffed rice.

Linda Covill:
Here the deer slept in the sacrificial compounds, seemingly made into offerings along with dried rice and madhavi flowers.

virejuH = 3rd pers. pl. perfect of viraaj: to be illustrious or eminent , shine forth , shine out (abl.) , glitter ; to appear as (nom.)
hariNaaH (nom. pl.): m. a deer , antelope , fawn , stag
yatra: ind. where

suptaaH = nom. pl. m. supta: (1) mfn. (fr. su + ptaa) having beautiful braids of hair; (2) mfn. sleeping, asleep; fallen asleep , slept , sleeping , asleep ; lain down to sleep (but not fallen asleep) ; paralysed , numbed , insensible ; closed (as a flower) ; resting , inactive , dull , latent
medhyaasu (loc. pl. f.): mfn. (fr. medha) full of sap , vigorous , fresh , mighty , strong ; fit for a sacrifice or oblation ; free from blemish (as a victim) , clean , pure , not defiling (by contact or by being eaten)
vediShu = loc. pl. vedi: f. an elevated (or according to some excavated) piece of ground serving for a sacrificial altar (generally strewed with kusha grass , and having receptacles for the sacrificial fire ; it is more or less raised and of various shapes , but usually narrow in the middle , on which account the female waist is often compared to it)

sa-laajaiH: with accompaniments of fried rice
sa: (possessive suffix) along with, containing, accompanied by etc.
laaja: m. pl. fried or parched grain (esp. rice grain)
maadhavii-puShpaiH (inst. pl. m.): with madhavi flowers
maadhavii: " spring-flower " , Gaertnera Racemosa
puShpa: flower

upahaaraaH (nom. pl.): m. offerings , oblations ; complimentary gift , present (to a king or superior) ; food (distributed to guests &c )
upa- √ hR: to bring near , reach forth , proffer , offer , place before , give to taste (esp. food)
kRtaaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. done , made , accomplished , performed ; prepared , made ready
iva: like, as if

Sunday, April 18, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.11: Peacocks Screeching (No Lion's Roar)

agniinaaM huuyamaanaanaaM
shikhinaam kuujataam api
tiirthaanaaM c'aabhiShekeShu
shushruve yatra nisvanaH

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

The sound of the fires receiving offerings,

Of the peacocks with their crested heads
uttering their repetitive cry,

And of the sacred bathing places,
during ablutions,

Was all one heard there.

A peacock is a symbol of vanity -- of consciousness of how good I look in the eyes of others -- and of manifesting that consciousness in posing behaviour. Denunciation of vanity is the title of Saundarananda Canto 9.

In this verse, peacocks with crested heads seems to refer to peacocks both of the avian variety (as per LC's translation) and of the dreadlocked ascetic variety (as per EHJ's translation).

This youtube clip clearly shows the crested-head of a feathered peacock.

I was wrong in a previous post to refer to peacocks murmuring indistinctly. On further investigation, peacocks don't murmur indistinctly, they cry out loudly. Another youtube clip of a peacock is aptly titled "the most annoying sound in the world."

Ashvaghosha's description of the peacocks presages by a thousand years or so Dogen's description of the bullfrogs croaking all day:

"Those who chant endlessly are like frogs in a spring paddy field, croaking day and night. In the end it is all useless." (Shobogenzo chap. 1., Bendowa [27])

Sitting like a mountain, beyond vanity, his ear totally open, the Buddha who was called by Ashvaghosha the Best of Listeners must have had an unrivalled ear-voice connection. His voice in preaching the Dharma was known as the lion's roar. So crying of peacocks and croaking of bullfrogs are one thing. And the roaring of the lion who sat like a mountain is quite another thing. The implication of this verse, as I read it, is that the lion's roar at Kapila's ashram was notable for its absence.

EH Johnston:
The only sounds to be heard there were of oblations burning in the sacred fires, of muttering hermits with matted hair and of ablutions at the bathing-places.

Linda Covill:
Here one heard only the sound of fires receiving offerings, peacocks crying, and water splashing in the sacred bathing pools.

agniinaam (gen. pl.): f. fires
huuyamaanaanaam = gen. pl. pres. part. huu (to invoke) or hu (to sacrifice)
huu: (weak form of √hve) to call , call upon , summon , challenge , invoke
hu: to sacrifice (esp. pour butter into the fire) , offer or present an oblation (acc. or gen.) to (dat.) or in (loc.) , sacrifice to , worship or honour (acc.) with (instr.)

shikhinaam = gen. pl. shikhin: mfn. having a tuft or lock of hair on the top of the head; m. a peacock
kuujataam = gen. pl. pres. part. kuuj: to make any inarticulate or monotonous sound , utter a cry (as a bird) , coo (as a pigeon) , caw (as a crow) , warble , moan , groan , utter any indistinct sound
api: and, also, even, though

tiirthaanaaM (gen. pl.): sacred bathing-places [see 1.8]
ca: and
abhiShekeShu (loc. pl.): m. anointing , inaugurating or consecrating (by sprinkling water) , inauguration of a king , royal unction; the water or liquid used at an inauguration ; religious bathing , ablution
abhi: ind. (a prefix to verbs and nouns , expressing) to , towards , into , over , upon
seka: m. (fr. √ sich) pouring out , emission , effusion (as of the seminal fluid ; also " the fluid itself ") ; sprinkling , besprinkling , moistening or watering with (comp.) ; a shower-bath ; a libation , offering
shushruve (3rd pers. perfect shru): there was heard
yatra: ind. at which place, where, in which case
nisvanaH (nom. sg.): m. sound , noise , voice

Saturday, April 17, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.10: State of Grace or Waste of Space?

svasthaiH shaantair an-utsukaiH
aakiirNo 'pi tapo-bhRdbhiH
shuunya-shuunya iv' aabhavat

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

Ascetics satisfied with wild rice and fruit,

Self-abiding, inhibited, retiring,

Filled the ashram, and yet,

It was as if utterly empty.

Even though the ashram was crowded with ascetics practising austerities, the whole thing was shuunya-shuunya, empty, empty. Was it utterly devoid of noise and clutter? or utterly devoid of meaning?

Ashvaghosha's intention, as I read it, is again ironic, or at least ambiguous.

Thus the 2nd line, if it appeared at the end of Canto 17, could be a description of Nanda after his enlightenment -- well in himself (svastha), quieted (shaanta), not eagerly desirous of anything (anutsuka). Or it could be a description of ascetics who are self-obsessed / into themselves / up their own backside (svastha), inhibited in the Freudian sense (shaanta), and timid (anutsuka).

So again, on the surface, Ashvaghosha seems to praising everything about the ashram. But in reality Ashvaghosha is nodding and winking all the way. At least this is how I read the verse. Because, in order for practice in the ashram not be empty of true meaning, it would be necessary for somebody, far from being timid, to sit like a dragon that had found water, or to sit like a tiger before its mountain stronghold.

Since I find myself this fine April once more alone in France -- either fighting the good fight on solitary retreat or taking it easy on holiday, depending on how you look at it -- if this month, and if this comment, is to be anything other than utterly empty, the dragon or tiger in this particular ashram, even if it is only for one moment, had better be me.

State of grace or waste of space? In the end, I honestly don't know.

EH Johnston:
It seemed as if quite empty, though thronged with ascetics ; for they lived self-controlled and peaceful, free from yearnings and contented with a diet of wild rice and fruit.

Linda Covill:
The ashram seemed deserted, yet was crowded with ascetics, self-contained, calm and quite without avidity, content to live on wild rice and fruit.

niivaara-phala-saMtuShTaiH (inst. pl.): quite satisfied with wild rice and fruit
niivaara: m. wild rice
phala: fruit
saMtuShTa: mfn. quite satisfied or contented , well pleased or delighted with (instr. or comp.)

svasthaiH (inst. pl. m.): mfn. self-abiding , being in one's self (or " in the self " Sarvad. ), being in one's natural state , being one's self uninjured , unmolested , contented , doing well , sound, well , healthy
shaantaiH (inst. pl. m.): mfn. (fr. √sham) appeased , pacified , tranquil , calm , free from passions , undisturbed
an-utsukaiH (inst. pl. m.): mfn. not eager , calm , retiring ; moderate
utsuka: restless , uneasy , unquiet , anxious ; anxiously desirous , zealously active , striving or making exertions for any object

aakiirNaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. scattered ; overspread , filled , crowded , surrounded
api: though
tapo-bhRdbhiH (inst. pl.): m. ascetics
tapas: austerities
bhRt: mfn. bearing, undergoing (only ifc.)

shuunya-shuunyaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. thoroughly empty or vain (as a speech)
iva: like, as if
abhavat (3rd pers. imperfect bhuu): it was

Friday, April 16, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.9: Possession of a Means vs Ascetic End-gaining

sarvato vana-raajibhiH
shushubhe vavRdhe c' aiva
naraH saadhanavaan iva

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

With abundant fruits and flowers

Beautifying the forests all around it,

It shone and it flourished,

Like a man fully furnished with a means.

According to a note by EHJ, the later rhetoricians disapprove of the use of the word saadhanavaan because of its "indecorous suggestiveness."

Even if Ashvaghosha himself was mindful of the double-entendre, it might be a red herring. I think that what Ashvaghosha intends by saadhanavaan, being well-endowed with a means, is being in full possession of what Dogen, in the opening sentence of Shobogenzo, called
a subtle method which is supreme and natural/spontaneous.

Again, I think Ashvaghosha real intention is to counterpose the natural perfection of the ashram's natural setting, which is potentially totally favourable to practice of a true means-whereby, and the actual faultiness of Kapila's ascetic end-gaining.

The way I used to sit -- to be frank, the way I was taught to sit in Japan -- was not natural and spontaneous. If I claimed that my sitting these days was natural and spontaneous, I might be deluding myself, remaining tangled up in the five upper fetters. But what I do know for sure is that the way I used to sit -- pulling in the chin and the rest of it -- involved a lot of excess doing: it wasn't natural, it wasn't spontaneous, and nor was it even tending in the direction of natural being and spontaneity.

The direction "to tuck the chin in a little" can be understood as inhibition of the tonic labyrinthine reflex in extension, while the direction "to keep the neck bones straight," as a direction, can be understood as inhibition of the tonic labyrinthine reflex in flexion. So as directions, there may be truth in those directions. But if a person who has a dodgy vestibular system to begin with tries to implement those directions by direct intervention, or doing, the result is very far from spontaneous flow. The result is that the person tends over time to be held ever tighter in the grip of his immature tonic labyrinthine reflexes. Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

What is required for a person's sitting to tend in the right direction is a "non-doing" means -- a means of allowing the right thing to do itself, naturally, spontaneously. The FM Alexander Technique is just such a means. And there are very many instances of men and women who, when furnished with this means, do indeed begin to shine and flourish.

According to the dictionary, saadhana is both a means of enjoyment and a means of battle. So too is sitting-dhyana a means of both battle and enjoyment. There is no contradiction: the battle is with the self, against unconscious tendencies within the self; and the enjoyment is enjoyment of the whole self, and the whole of the battle.

Going further, saadhana also means an act of mastering, and establishment of a truth. Those definitions also fit.

So a lot might be included in "a means." But the gist of it, as I read it, is sitting-dhyana, divorced from end-gaining desires and tainted things.

EH Johnston:
With forest aisles abounding in fruit and flowers on all sides it was splendid and flourished like a man who has all things needful at his command.

Linda Covill:
With forest avenues all about, bursting with fruit and flowers, the ashram glowed and flourished like a prosperous man.

paryaapta-phala-puShpaabhiH (inst. pl. f.): with abundant fruit and flowers
paryaapta: obtained; full; extensive , spacious , large ; abundant , copious , many
phala: n. fruit
puShpa: n. a flower , blossom (ifc. f(aa))

sarvataH: ind. from all sides , in every direction , everywhere
vana-raajibhiH = inst. pl. f. vana-raaji: embellishing or beautifying a forest
vana-raajii: f. a row of trees , a long track of forest or a path in a forest;
f. a female slave belonging to vasu-deva
vana: n. a forest , wood , grove , thicket , quantity of lotuses or other plants growing in a thick cluster (but in older language also applied to a single tree)
raaji: f. a streak , line , row , range

shushubhe = 3rd pers. sg. perfect shubh: to beautify , embellish , adorn , beautify one's self; look beautiful or handsome , shine , be bright or splendid ; to prepare , make fit or ready , prepare one's self
vavRdhe = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vRdh: to increase , augment , strengthen , cause to prosper or thrive
ca: and
eva: [emphatic]

naraH (nom. sg.): m. a man
saadhanavaan (nom. sg. m.): mfn. furnished with proof or evidence ; endowed with means [of battle / enjoyment etc.]
saadhana: m. propitiation , worship , adoration ; n. the act of mastering , overpowering , subduing ; n. bringing about , carrying out , accomplishment , fulfilment , completion , perfection ; n. establishment of a truth , proof , argument , demonstration ; n. any means of effecting or accomplishing , any agent or instrument or implement or utensil or apparatus , an expedient , requisite for (gen. or comp.) ; n. means or materials of warfare , military forces ; n. conflict , battle ; n. means of correcting or punishing (as " a stick " , " rod " &c ); n. means of enjoyment , goods , commodities ; n. organ of generation (male or female)
vat: (possessive suffix) furnished with
iva: like

Thursday, April 15, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.8: Fluent Friends Bearing Lotuses

shucibhis tiirtha-saMkhyaataiH
paavanair bhaavanair api
bandhumaan iva yas tasthau
sarobhiH sa-saroruhaiH

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

Pure, esteemed for their sacred presence,

Edifying, and promoting happiness --

Like friends, were the lakes it stood among,

Fluent, and bearing lotuses.

The forest stream is a constant friend. It is always totally pure, having no agenda of its own. Its sacred healing presence is profoundly appreciated; it never breaches trust. Constantly burbling intuitive wisdom, it speaks, to a lengthened and widened ear, with the lengthened and widened tongue of non-Buddha. Flowing spontaneously in this non-Buddhist world, it never falters in its speech. It comes constantly bearing lotuses.

When the Sung poet called in Japanese So Toba (1036 - 1101) sang that the voices of the river-valley are the Buddha's wide and long tongue, his voice, in my book, was just a faint and distant echo of the non-poet Ashvaghosha.

Not only in this verse, but throughout the whole work, EHJ totally failed to do justice to Ashvaghosha's words and intention. So too did LC fail. And so too am I failing. But it is an effort worth failing in.

EH Johnston:
It was, as it were, surrounded by friends who were pure, recognised as objects of veneration, holy and promoters of others' welfare, in the shape of lotus ponds, clear, purifying, salubrious and famed as places of pilgrimage.

Linda Covill:
The ashram stood, as though with kinsfolk, amid lotus lakes famed as sacred bathing places, clear, pure and wholesome.

shucibhiH (inst. pl.): clear , clean , pure (lit. and fig.)
tiirtha-saMkhyaataiH: considered to be a sacred bathing place (lit.); esteemed as a venerable person (fig.)
tiirtha: a passage , way , road , ford , stairs for landing or for descent into a river , bathing-place , place of pilgrimage on the banks of sacred streams , piece of water; an object of veneration , sacred object ; a worthy person
saMkhyaata: mfn. reckoned up , enumerated , numbered , counted , measured ; estimated by ; considered (» comp.)
saM- √ khyaa: to reckon or count , up , sum up , enumerate , calculate

paavanaiH (inst. pl.): (from √ puu) purifying , purificatory ; pure , holy ; living on wind
√ puu: to make clean or clear or pure or bright , cleanse , purify , purge , clarify , illustrate , illume (with kr/atum or maniiShaam , " to enlighten the understanding " ; with hiraNyam , " to wash gold ")
bhaavanaiH (inst. pl.): promoting or effecting any welfare
api: also

bandhumaan (nom. sg. m.): mfn. surrounded by relations
bandhu: m. connection , relation; a kinsman ; a friend
mat: (possessive suffix)
iva: like, as if
yaH (nom. sg. m.): which
tasthau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect sthaa: to stand

sarobhiH = inst. pl. saras: n. " anything flowing or fluid " , a lake , large sheet of water , pond , pool ; speech
sa-saroruhaiH (inst. pl.): having lotuses
sa: (possessive prefix) with, having
saro-ruha: n. " lake-growing " , a lotus

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.7: Nice Soil, Shame about the Make-Up

mRdubhiH saikataiH snighdhaiH
bhuumi-bhaagair a-saMkiirNaiH
s' aaNgaraaga iv' aabhavat

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

With soft, sandy, and smooth soil,

Made yellowish white by a covering of kesara blossoms,

And divided into areas, with no commingling,

The ashram was as if body-painted
with cosmetic pigments.

Kesara flowers as defined by the Monier-Williams dictionary appear to be tree blossoms -- viz:
Rottleria tinctoria

Mimusops elengi
Mesua ferrea

To what is Ashvaghosha comparing Kapila's ashram and why?

He is comparing the ashram to a body which is covered with cosmetic body paint.

Why? Again, is Ashvaghosha simply exercising his poet's metaphorical muscles in order to describe how lovely the ashram looked? Or is there again a subtext in which Ashvaghosha is counterposing the ancient view on purity of Brahminism/asceticism with the Buddha's teaching of abandonment of views?

I am no expert on architecture or garden design, but I know that a Japanese Zen garden looks very different from, for example, a shinto shrine to Japanese nationalism, or a Roman monument, or one of the thumping great edifices that were favoured in Nazi Germany, or one of those terrible great "peace" walls that divides communities in Belfast or in Israel/Palestine. In a Japanese Zen garden stark dividing lines are not much in evidence. One of the design concepts I remember writing about in a past life as a copy-editor in Japan is shakkei, or "borrowed view," in which a feature of the garden reflects the greater landscape behind, to add to the sense of the garden as a microcosm of a greater whole.

Kapila's ashram, in contrasts, was devoid of such commingling of elements. It was a-saMkiirNa, which means without commingling, not adulterated, not polluted -- or not born of a mixed marriage.

I think that what Ashvaghosha might be suggesting is that ancient Indian culture was conspicuously coloured, or tainted, by concepts of racial purity and pollution thereof -- concepts which would later be picked up by the self-hating Austro-German of Jewish descent Adolf Hitler, who adopted the ancient Indian symbol of the swastika as his symbol. This ancient prejudice was in marked contrast with the attitude of the Buddha who observed no racial or class dividing lines and discriminated only between the four categories of his followers, namely male and female beggars who had left home, plus lay men and lay women.

Ancient Brahminical concepts around non-contamination seem doggedly to have persisted in Indian societies. Having been maintained for thousands of years, they may seem to the unquestioning to be natural. But those concepts around caste purity are not natural. They are no more natural than the old testament myth of a chosen people. They are no more natural than rectangular flower beds in a forest neatly separated out from each other in a jagged-edged geometric design. They are a human artifice.

What was Ashvaghosha's intention? I think his intention was a tree of life growing spontaneously in all directions, and not any kind of apartheid, horticultural or otherwise.

Doubtless it was not safe in Ashvaghosha's day overtly to make a statement, with political implications, against the prevailing system of apartheid. Is it safe today to make such a statement?

EH Johnston:
With its ground which was soft, sandy, smooth, yellowish with a carpet of kesara flowers and unpolluted, it appeared as if covered with body-paint, consisting of unadulterated earthy particles in soft greasy grains and yellowish with a sprinkling of saffron.

Linda Covill:
With portions of its grounds soft, sandy, smooth or carpeted with yellow kesara flowers, it was like a body anointed with unguents.

mRdubhiH (inst. pl.): soft
saikataiH (inst. pl.): sandy
snighdhaiH (inst. pl.): sticky , viscous or viscid , glutinous , unctuous , slippery , smooth; glossy

kesar'-aastara-paaNDubhiH (inst. pl.): made yellow by a covering of kesara flowers
kesara: m. the plants Rottleria tinctoria , Mimusops Elengi , and Mesua ferrea ; n. the flower of those plants
astara: m. covering ; a coverlet , blanket , carpet
paaNDu: mfn. yellowish white , white , pale, jaundiced; m. pale or yellowish white colour

bhuumi-bhaagaiH (inst. pl): soil-plots
bhuumi: f. the earth , soil , ground ; (pl. divisions of the world) a territory, country , district ; the part or personification (played by an actor) ; (metaph.) a step , degree , stage; extent , limit
bhaaga: m. a part , portion , share , allotment , inheritance; a part (as opp. to any whole) ; part i.e. place , spot , region , side
a: (negative prefix) not
saMkiirNaiH (inst. pl.): mfn. poured together , mixed , commingled &c; mingled , confused , disordered , adulterated , polluted , impure ; born of a mixed marriage ;
saM- √ kRR: to mix or pour together , commingle ; to pour out , bestow liberally or abundantly

sa (nom. sg. m.): it
aNga-raagaH (nom. sg.): m. application of unguents or cosmetics to the body (especially after bathing); scented cosmetic
aNga: m. a limb of the body, the body ;
raaga: m. the act of colouring or dyeing ; colour , hue , tint , dye , (esp.) red colour , redness ; inflammation ; any feeling or passion
iva: like, as if
abhavat: it was

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.6: The Charming & The Dismal

yaH sad" aabhra iv' aababhau

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

Wooded with charming shrubs and trees

And abounding with lush, soft grass,

It was so thick with sacrificial smoke

That it constantly resembled a raincloud.

In the next series of verses, as I read it, Ashvaghosha's descriptions of nature are uniformly and unequivocally affirmative, whereas his descriptions of human behaviour following the norms of brahminical or kshatriya traditions are always ambiguous. Behind these latter descriptions, as I read them, Ashvaghosha is seditiously nodding and winking.

Thus, the present verse can be read simply as a poetic description of how lovely Kapila's ashram was. Alternatively, abhra (raincloud or thundercloud), with its connotation of dismal and foreboding weather, might be understood as suggesting that the auspicious site on a bright slope of the Himalayas was somewhat wasted on a champion of dismal austerities like Kapila.

The word vitaana in line 3 seems to mean "the great quantity [of smoke]." But, as you can see from the dictionary definitions below, vitaana can also mean, literally "out of tune," i.e. off-colour, sad, dejected, dismal. So in this choice of word too, Ashvaghosha's intention may have been secretly subversive.

The original soundscape of the forest where I now am is incredibly peaceful and healing, naturally detoxifying. But the times when I am truly able to open my whole ear and listen to it are not long. Sometimes I am too sleepy or my mind is too busy. Sometimes some human being comes along with a chain-saw and sets off an auditory Moro reflex, along with all the old gubbins that surrounds it. In that case the dark cloudedness of my mind temporarily becomes part of the problem -- the problem of unconsciously misguided human behaviour, being "out of tune" (vitaanena) with nature.

Ashvaghosha's words, in contrast, are constantly part of the solution.

Ashvaghosha clarified in Saundarananda a time-honoured teaching of the middle way which is very accurate and subtle, as opposed to the kind of wild and gross unconscious behaviour which is held in the grip of a raw Moro reflex.

Much as I hate the chain-saw, it reminds me how weak I am to noise. The whining saw helps me to see more clearly that at the root of much suffering in the world is rawness of the Moro reflex, stimulated primarily through the ear. The Moro reflex doesn't have to be stimulated grossly through the auditory or vestibular channels, by a loud noise or the fear of falling; it can be stimulated more subtly by the hint of an anxious thought, or by the trace of an end-gaining idea -- a dismal idea, for example, like asceticism.

EH Johnston:
It had groves of lovely shrubs and trees and smooth soft lawns, and with its canopy of smoke from the oblations it ever looked like a cloud.

Linda Covill:
It was a place of lush and springy grass, sweetly wooded with creepers and trees, seeming cloud-like in its permanent veil of sacrificial smoke.

caaru-viirut-taru-vanaH (nom. sg. m.): wooded with pleasing low shrubs and trees
caaru: pleasing , lovely , beautiful
viirudh: a plant , herb (esp. a creeping plant or a low shrub)
taru: tree
vana: a forest , wood , grove , thicket

prasnigdha: mfn. ( √ snih) very oily or greasy ; very soft or tender
mRdu: soft , delicate , tender
shaadvalaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. abounding in fresh or green grass , grassy , verdant , green ; n. sg. and pl. ( L. also m. ; ifc. f(aa)) a place abounding in young grass , grassy spot , turf

havis: n. an oblation or burnt offering , anything offered as an oblation with fire (as clarified butter , milk , Some , grain
dhuuma: m. smoke , vapour , mist
vitaanena = inst. sg. vitaana: (1) mfn. " out of tune " , dejected , sad ; empty ; dull , stupid ; wicked , abandoned
(2) mn. extension , great extent or quantity , mass , heap , plenty , abundance; manifoldness, variety; an oblation , sacrifice ; the separate arrangement of the three sacred fires or the separate fires themselves
vi- √ tan: to spread out or through or over , cover , pervade , fill

yaH (nom. sg. m.): which
sadaa: ind. always , ever , every time , continually , perpetually
abhraH = nom. sg. m. abhra: n. (sometimes spelt abbhra , according to the derivation ab-bhra , " water-bearer") (rarely m.) cloud , thunder-cloud , rainy weather
iva: like
aababhau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect aa√ bhaa: to irradiate , outshine , illumine ; to appear , become visible or apparent ; to look like

Monday, April 12, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.5: Always Looking on the Bright Side?

tasya vistiirNa-tapasaH
paarshve himavataH shubhe
kShetraM c'-aayatanaM c'aiva
tapasaam aashramo 'bhavat

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

He who was steeped in asceticism,

Had, on a bright slope of the Himalayas,

For the practice of austerities,

His site and his very seat, his ashram:

The key word in this verse, repeated in lines 1 and 4, is tapas, whose original meaning is what is hot and which means by extension what hurts, in particular, ascetic practice.

The point of ascetic practice is that it should hurt, it should be painful, and this is a mind-set that the Buddha's teaching invites us to drop off.

The mind-set that practice should not hurt, that is should not be painful, is the opposite mind-set that the Buddha's teaching also invites us to drop off -- as the Buddha will later explain in detail in Cantos 15 and 16.

But our starting point in this opening series of verses has been a description of the first of many -isms that are to be dropped off, and that is asceticism.

EH Johnston:
For the practice of his long-enduring austerities he had on an auspicious slope of the Himalayas his hermitage, the domain and temple of asceticism.

Linda Covill:
On the bright slopes of the Himalayas this sage of extensive austerities had his ashram, the domain and abode of asceticism.

tasya (gen. sg.): of him
vistiirNa-tapasaH (gen. sg.): studded with ascetic practice
vistiirNa: mfn. strewn or covered or studded with (instr. or comp); spread out , expanded , broad , large , great , copious , numerous ; extensive , long (as a tale)
tapas: n. warmth , heat (paNca tamaMsi , the 5 fires to which a devotee exposes himself in the hot season , viz. 4 fires lighted in the four quarters and the sun burning from above ) ; pain , suffering ; religious austerity , bodily mortification , penance , severe meditation
paarshve (loc. sg.): n. the side, flank
himavataH = gen. sg. m. himavat: mfn. having frost or snow , snowy , frosty , icy , snow-clad ; exposing one's self to coldness or enduring it; m. a snowy mountain ; the Himaalaya
shubhe (loc. sg n.): mfn. splendid , bright , beautiful , handsome ; pleasant , agreeable , suitable; auspicious, good

kShetram (nom. sg.): n. landed property , land , soil ; a field ; a place , region , country ; a house ; department , sphere of action ; place of origin , place where anything is found ; a sacred spot or district , place of pilgrimage (as Benares &c) an enclosed plot of ground
ca: and
aayatana (nom. sg.): n. resting-place , support , seat , place , home , house , abode ; the place of the sacred fire, an altar ; a sanctuary, a plot of ground , the site of a house ; (with Buddhists) the five senses and manas (considered as the inner seats or aayatanas) and the qualities perceived by the above (the outer aayatanas) .
ca: and
eva: [emphatic]

tapasaam (gen. pl.): n. austerities, ascetic practices
aashramaH (nom. sg.): m. ( √shram) , a hermitage , the abode of ascetics , the cell of a hermit or of retired saints or sages
√shram: to be or become weary or tired ; to make effort, exert oneself
abhavat (3rd pers. sg. imperfect bhuu): there was [of him]; he had

Sunday, April 11, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.4: High-mindedness & Excellence in Religious Thought

maah'-aatmyaad diirgha-tapaso
yo dvitiiya iv' aabhavat
tRtiiya iva yash c'aabhuut
kaavy-aaNgirasayor dhiyaa

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

In high-mindedness,

He was like a second Dirgha-tapas;

And he was like a third in the mould

Of Kavya and Angiras, in religious thought.

These opening verses of Saundarananda require much deeper digging than I realised they required on first reading them.

This verse might be read simply as praise of Kapila's magnanimity and wisdom, but I don't read it like that.

Dirgha-tapas means "Long Suffering of Asceticism." Kavya and Angirasa may be taken as representative examples of religious thinkers -- poem-writers, hymn-composers and the like.

Can religious thought be useful to a person suffering under the influence of an auditory Moro reflex which is being stimulated by a source of unremitting external noise -- like a chain saw, or like a gun firing artillery shells?

When soldiers in WWI were suffering from shell shock, how much use to them was a Christian chaplain? How far in relieving their suffering could "Thy will be done" go?

The essence of religious thought might be Thy will be done. Seeing these words written by the graves of young men at war cemeteries in Northern France, I tend to be moved to tears.

So maybe there is a place for magnanimity and religious thought, but I rather read Ashvaghosha's expressions of high-mindedness and striving to be excellent in religious thought as expressing tendencies that I despise, primarily in myself -- as tendencies to be opposed in the battle against Mara.

Mara is said to quake on seeing even the outline of someone sitting cross-legged in balanced stillness.

Does Mara quake in the face of some high-minded ascetic's excellence in religious thought? In conclusion, I think not.

EH Johnston:
Who was the peer of Dirghatapas in magnanimity, the equal of Kavya and the son of Angiras in sagacity.

Linda Covill:
He was like a second Dirgha-tapas in high-mindedness, a third to Kavya and the son of Angiras in wisdom.

maah'-aatmyaad (abl. sg.): n. (fr. mahaatman) magnanimity , highmindedness
mahaatman: " high-souled " , magnanimous , having a great or noble nature , high-minded , noble ; highly gifted , exceedingly wise ; eminent , mighty , powerful , distinguished
diirghatapasaH = gen. sg. m. diirghatapas: mfn. performing long penances ; m. N. of several RShis
diirgha: mfn. long (in space and time)
tapas: n. austerity, ascetic practice

yaH (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
dvitiiyaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. second; m. companion , fellow (friend or foe); m. the 2nd in a family (i.e. a son)
iva: like
abhavat: he was

tRtiiyaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. third
iva: like
yaH (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
ca: and
abhuut (3rd pers. sg. aorist bhu): he was

kaavy-aaNgirasayoH (gen. dual): of Kavya and Angirasa
kaavya: mfn. (fr. kavi) , endowed with the qualities of a sage or poet , descended or coming from a sage ; m. a patronymic of ushanas
Ushanas: N. of an ancient sage with the patronymic kaavya (in later times identified with shukra , the teacher of the asuras , who presides over the planet Venus)
aNgirasa: m. an enemy of viShNu in his incarnation of parashuraama (= aNgiras ?)
aNgiras: m. N. of a RShi , author of the hymns of the Rg Veda, of a code of laws , and of a treatise on astronomy (he is considered as one of the seven RShis of the first ; the Vedic hymns , the manes of haviShmat , and mankind itself are styled his offspring. In astronomy he is the planet Jupiter , and a star in Ursa Major)
aNgirasas: m. pl. descendants of aGgiras or of agni (mostly personifications of luminous objects)
dhiyaa = inst. sg. dhii: f. thought , (esp.) religious thought , reflection , meditation , devotion , prayer ; understanding , intelligence , wisdom ; knowledge , science , art

Saturday, April 10, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.3: Milking Ambiguity

haviHShu yash ca sv'-aatm'-aarthaM
gaam adhukShad vasiShTha-vat
tapaH-shiShTeShu [ca] shiShyeShu
gaam adhukShad vasiShTha-vat

- = - = = = = =
= - = = - = - -
- = = = - [-] = = -
= - = = - = - -

For self-serving offerings

He milked a cow, like Vasistha;

While among the disciples he schooled in asceticism

He milked a cow, like Vasistha.

This verse is not easy to understand, and not easy to translate. I read it as an ironic negation of asceticism which might also include an indirect negation of Brahmanism.

EHJ notes that go , which originally means cow, has no less than nine meanings, including cow, earth (as the milk-cow of kings), and voice/speech. If Ashvaghosha's intention was to alert us to the ambiguity of his meaning, he couldn't have chosen a word more apt than go.

In this verse Ashvaghosha likens the ascetic sage Kapila to Vasistha. Who was Vasistha? To begin with, he was the mythical owner of a mythical cow -- "the cow of plenty."

In that light, how should we understand offerings that were sv'-aatm'-aartham -- "for self-own sake"? Were they offerings made just for the sake of offering itself, without any agenda? Or were they offerings that Kapila made selfishly for his own sake?

Was it that, because Vasistha already had everything he desired, he was able to make offerings just for their own sake, without the desire to get something further in return? In light of the teaching of Shobogenzo chap. 87, for example, such an assumption that Vasistha might be free of any personal agenda, is a very big assumption.

Still, Ashvaghosha's original Sanskrit as I read it leaves open either interpretation -- sva could refer either to the offerer himself, or to the act of offering itself. We need a phrase in English that preserves the two possibilities of "offerings for the sake of offering itself" and "offerings for the sake of his own selfish self." "Self-serving offerings" is the best so far that I could come up with.

The Monier-Williams dictionary further informs us that Vasishta was a stereotypical representative of Brahmanical rank - the Indian upper class. With this in mind I think that milking a cow in the 4th line means draining the goodness out of an exploitable resource -- whether the exploitable resource is a cow, or whether the exploitable resource is the earth as the milk-cow of kings, or whether the exploitable resource is a class of human beings who Brahmins expect to do their dirty work.

In conclusion, then, what Ashvaghosha is describing in this verse, as I read it, is how a teacher whose teaching is off the middle way -- whether his original motives are pure or impure -- inevitably ends up milking the goodness right out of his disciples.

A teacher of asceticism drains the goodness out of his disciples in the same way that a bad dairy farmer drains all the energy out of a cow, or in the same way that a bad arable farmer draws the goodness right out of the earth, or in the same way that a bad king over-exploits his lands, or in the same way that upper classes of human being everywhere have tended through history to find ways of exploiting working classes of human being.

Kapila, as a champion of asceticism, could never be anything but such a teacher.

EH Johnston:
Who milked libations from his cow for his own sake, just as a king milks the earth for his own purposes, and milked speech in the midst of his disciples trained in asceticism, just as Vasistha milked his cow,

Linda Covill:
He milked his cow for sacrificial milk, like Vasishtha, and like him too milked speech for his disciples, trained in asceticism.

haviHShu = loc. pl. havis: offering
[haviHShu is the original reading in EHJ's Sanskrit text, based on the palmleaf manuscript; later when he came to do the English translation, EHJ changed the reading to haviiMShi, as nearer to the paper manuscript and as giving the double accusative that duh, to milk, often takes]
haviiMShi = acc. pl. havis: n. an oblation or burnt offering , anything offered as an oblation with fire (as clarified butter , milk , Some , grain ; haviSh √ kR , " to prepare an oblation " , " make into an oblation ")
yaH (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
ca: and
sv'-aatm'-aartham: for his own sake, for its own sake
sv'aatman: m. one's own self , one's self (= reflexive pron.)
artha: mn. aim , purpose (very often artham ifc. or with gen. " for the sake of , on account of , in behalf of , for ")
aatmaartham: ind. for the sake of one's self

gaam = acc. sg. f. go: f. a cow; " anything coming from or belonging to an ox or cow " , milk (generally pl.) , flesh, skin , hide , leather , strap of leather , bow-string , sinew; (pl.) " the herds of the sky " , the stars ; f. the earth (as the milk-cow of kings); f. speech; f. voice , note (fr. √ gai)
adhukShat = 3rd pers. sg. aorist duh: to milk (a cow or an udder) ; to milk or squeeze out , extract (milk , soma e.g. any good thing) ; draw anything out of another thing (with 2 acc.)
vasiShTha-vat (nom. sg. m.): like Vasishtha
vasiShTha: m. " the most wealthy " , N. of a celebrated Vedic RShi or sage (owner of the " cow of plenty " , called nandinii , offspring of surabhi , which by granting all desires made him , as his name implies , master of every vasu or desirable object ; he was the typical representative of Brahmanical rank , and the legends of his conflict with vishvaa-mitra , who raised himself from the kingly or kShatriya to the Brahmanical class , were probably founded on the actual struggles which took place between the Brahmans and kShatriyas ; a great many hymns of the Rig Veda are ascribed to these two great rivals .... other legends make him one of the 7 patriarchal sages regarded as forming the Great Bear)

tapaH-shiShTeShu (loc. pl. m.): schooled in ascetic practice
tapas: ascetic practice
shiShTa: mfn. taught , directed , ordered , commanded (applied to persons and things)
shiShyeShu = loc. pl. shiShya: m. a pupil , scholar , disciple

gaam = acc. sg. go: f. a cow; f. the earth (as the milk-cow of kings); f. speech; f. voice , note (fr. √ gai)
adhukShat = 3rd pers. sg. aorist duh: to milk (a cow or an udder) ; to milk or squeeze out , extract (milk , soma e.g. any good thing) ; draw anything out of another thing (with 2 acc.)
vasiShTha-vat (nom. sg. m.): like Vasishtha

Friday, April 9, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.2: Taking Blazing Ascetism to the Extreme

ashishriyad yaH satataM
diiptaM kaashyapa-vat tapaH
aashishraaya ca tad-vRddhau
siddhiM kaashyapa-vat paraam

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

He beat down ceaselessly,

Like Kashyapa the sun, on blazing asceticism;

And in the promotion thereof he pushed himself on,

Like Kashyapa the sage, to extreme achievement.

The pun on the name Kashyapa might be the harbinger of further double-meaning in this canto.

Running through Ashvaghosha's description in this canto of the asceticism of ancient sages, there is not only an ambivalence but also I think, at least in places, a deliberate irony.

So in this verse, on the surface, Ashvaghosha's words sound somewhat affirmative towards the burning zeal of the ascetic sage Kapila, who Ashvaghosha even compares to the Buddha's mythical master Kashyapa. (In the transmission of the Buddha-Dharma the ancient sage Kashyapa is revered as the 6th of the 7th ancient Buddhas, of whom the 7th and last was Shakyamuni Buddha himself.)

At the same time, however, the final word of the verse (paraam ) can be read as suggesting practice taken to an extreme -- as opposed to the alternative interpretation of practice that has gone to the far shore of conscious control in the middle way.

Similarly, in the background to several verses of this canto, one senses that Ashvaghosha might be nodding and winking.

In 1.11, for example, Ashvaghosha describes in Kapila's ashram "the peacocks with their tufted crests murmuring indistinctly."

Was Ashvaghosha just exercising his poetic sentiments in describing a peaceful scene? Or was he having a quiet dig at the vanity of those strutting peacocks who, from ancient days through to the present, have matted their hair into dreadlocks?

For two years between the ages of 26 and 28, when many a young man is still in strutting peacock mode, I sat in full lotus for no less than five hours every day without fail. Even though my head was shaved, there was a marked tendency in that practice towards extreme achievement (siddhim paraam) and this tendency was primarily due, I see in retrospect, to the influence of an immature tonic labyrinthine reflex.

So to answer my own question with regard to the 2nd line of 1.11, I think that line is not a simple description of a peaceful scene but that it is suffused with underlying irony. Similarly, in this verse too, I intuit an irreverent undertone, and have translated the verse accordingly.

By siddhim paraam, how could Ashvaghosha mean "highest perfection" or "highest success"? How could blazing asceticism be a means of achieving the highest perfection and highest success which, as we have been examining in Canto 17, is a bit of nothing (or a lot of something) which follows from cutting the five upper fetters?

No, siddhim paraam, in my book, means extreme achievement -- nothing for a follower of the Buddha's teaching to be proud of.

EH Johnston:
Who continuously practised glorious austerities just as the sun continually fives forth blazing heat; and attained in their progress the highest perfection like Kashyapa,

Linda Covill:
as ceaselessly fixed on burning asceticism as Kashyapa, he achieved the highest success through its development.

ashishriyad = 3rd pers. sg. aorist shri: to cause to lean or rest on , lay on or in , fix on , fasten to , direct or turn towards , (esp.) spread or diffuse (light or radiance or beauty) over (loc.); to lean on , rest on , recline against (acc.); to go to , approach , resort or have recourse to (for help or refuge) , tend towards (acc.); abide in or on (acc. loc. or adv.);
yaH (nom. sg. m.): who
satatam: ind. constantly , always , ever

diiptam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. blazing , flaming , hot , shining , bright , brilliant , splendid
kaashyapa-vat (nom. sg. m.): like Kashyapa, like the sun
kaashyapa: a patronym from kashyapa; N. of aruNa (the sun)
kashyapa: mfn. having black teeth ; m. name of an ancient sage (a descendant of mariici and author of several hymns of the Rg-veda; he is one of the seven great RShis ; he is supposed by some to be a personification of races inhabiting the Caucasus , the Caspian , Kasmir , &c)
tapaH = acc. sg tapas: n. ascetic practice

aashishraaya = 3rd pers. sg, perfect aa- √shri: to affix ; to apply anything ; to join; to adhere , rest on ; to betake one's self to , resort to ; to depend on ; to choose , prefer ; to be subject to , keep in mind ; to seek refuge in , enter , inhabit
ca: and
tad-vRddhau (loc. sg.): in its increase
tad: that [ascetic practice], its
vRddhi: f. growth , increase , augmentation , rise , advancement , extension , welfare , prosperity , success , fortune , happiness

siddhim (acc. sg.): f. accomplishment , performance , fulfilment , complete attainment (of any object) , success ; supreme felicity , bliss , beatitude , complete sanctification (by penance &c ) , final emancipation , perfection ; the acquisition of supernatural powers by magical means or the supposed faculty so acquired ; any unusual skill or faculty or capability (often in comp.)
kaashyapa-vat: like Kashyapa
paraam (acc. sg. f.): far , distant , remote (in space) , opposite , ulterior , farther than , beyond , on the other or farther side of , extreme

Thursday, April 8, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.1: An Ascetic Bearer of a Hindu Dharma

gautamaH kapilo naama
munir dharma-bhRtaaM varaH
babhuuva tapasi shraantaH
kaakShiivan iva gautamaH

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

A sage named Kapila Gautama,

Most excellent among upholders of dharma,

Was as strenuous in ascetic practice

As was Kakshivat Gautama.

In Canto 17, Ashvaghosha has described not only how Nanda realised the full awareness and supreme indifference which is the fourth stage of sitting-dhyana, but also how he cut the five upper fetters, and thus experienced Nirvana, as a bit of nothing.

But the bit of nothing did not come out of nothing, from nowhere: it had its roots in the city of Kapila-vastu, built on the site where the ancient champion of asceticism Kapila had his ashram; and it had its origins in the royal ancestry of the Shakya clan, traceable back to King Ikshvaku. So the first two cantos of Saundarananda, heavy going though they may be for those of us who are not yet enthused by ancient Indian history, paint this backdrop for us -- the first canto is a depiction of Kapila-vastu, the second is a depiction of Nanda's father, the Shakya King.

In the mythology of ancient India, evidently, ascetic practice was held in high regard, and Kakshivat Gautama was known as an ancient exemplar of such practice.

Probably that is all we need to know about Kakshivat Gautama -- that he was an ancient exemplar of all-out ascetic practice. He is apparently mentioned in the the Maha-bharata (2.21), in a description of the Kingdom of Magadha:

It was here [in the hermitage of Gautama] that the illustrious Gautama of rigid vows begat on the Sudra woman Ausinari (the daughter of Usinara) Kakshivat and other celebrated sons...

EH Johnston:
There was a seer, supreme among the upholders of the religous Law, Kapila Gautama by name, strenuous in asceticism like Kakshivat Gautama.

Linda Covill:
The sage Kapila Gautama was a great upholder of dharma. As rigorously ascetic as Kakshivat Gautama,

gautamaH (nom. sg m.): Gautama
kapilaH (nom. sg. m.): Kapila; mfn. " monkey-coloured " , brown , tawny , reddish ; red-haired
naama: ind. (acc. of naaman) by name i.e. named , called

muniH (nom. sg.): m. a saint , sage , seer , ascetic , monk , devotee , hermit (esp. one who has taken the vow of silence)
dharma-bhRtaam = gen. pl. dharma-bhRt: m. " law-supporter " , N. of princes and other men
dharma: law, duty, practice, etc.
bhRt: mfn. bearing , carrying , bringing , procuring , possessing , wearing , having , nourishing , supporting , maintaining (only ifc.)
varaH (nom. sg.. m.): mfn. (v/ara) " select " , choicest , valuable , precious , best , most excellent or eminent among (gen. loc. abl. , or comp.) or for (gen.)

babhuuva (3rd pers. sg. perfect bhuu): he was
tapasi = loc. sg. tapas: n. warmth , heat ; pain , suffering ; religious austerity , bodily mortification , penance , severe meditation
shraantaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. wearied , fatigued , tired , exhausted ; hungry ; calmed , tranquil (= shaanta)

kaakShiivan (nom. sg. m.): Kakshivat
iva: like
gautamaH (nom. sg m.): Gautama

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


oM namo buddhaaya

= - = = = -

Om! Homage to the Awakened!

Translating a text like Saundarananda requires the translator to do a lot of work. But the essential job of translation is not a job of doing; it is a job of listening. The task is, to the best of one's ability, to listen to the voice of Buddha, primarily by sitting in the listening posture of Buddha. The word "OM", as I hear it, is a kind of invitation to wake up the whole body-mind and listen with the whole body-mind to the sound of the whole body-mind resonating...


Om! Homage to a phrase that frees,
Like "letting go", of pain and ease.
Om! Homage to the birds and bees.
Om! Homage to the grass and trees.

Because the birds and bees are the Awakened, they sing and buzz the Dharma. And because the grass and trees are the Awakened, the grass and trees are just a Sangha -- a true and great, all-encompassing, non-Buddhist Sangha.

Om! Homage to the Awakened!

EH Johnston:
OM! Hail to the Buddha!

Linda Covill:
Homage to the Buddha!

om: ind. a word of solemn affirmation and respectful assent; it is placed at the commencement of most Hindu works , and as a sacred exclamation may be uttered [but not so as to be heard by ears profane] at the beginning and end of a reading of the vedas or previously to any prayer ; it is also regarded as a particle of auspicious salutation [Hail!] ; om appears first in the upaniShads as a mystic monosyllable , and is there set forth as the object of profound religious meditation , the highest spiritual efficacy being attributed not only to the whole word but also to the three sounds a , u , m , of which it consists ; in later times om is the mystic name for the Hindu triad , and represents the union of the three gods; (Buddhists place om at the beginning of their vidyaa ShaDhakSharii or mystical formulary in six syllables [viz. om maNi padme huuM]
namas: n. bow , obeisance , reverential salutation, homage
buddhaaya = dat. sg. buddha: mfn. awakened , awake ; m. a wise or learned man , sage ; m. (with Buddhists) a fully enlightened man who has achieved perfect knowledge of the truth and thereby is liberated from all existence and before his own attainment of nirvaaNa reveals the method of obtaining it , (esp.) the principal buddha of the present age (born at kapila-vastu about the year 500 B.C)