Tuesday, April 13, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.6: The Charming & The Dismal

yaH sad" aabhra iv' aababhau

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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

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