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

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