Monday, May 31, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.54: Of Kapilavastu & Kata

vaasa-vRkShaM guNavataaM
aashrayaM sharaN-aiShiNaaM
aanartaM kRta-shaastraaNaaM
aalaanaM baahu-shaalinaaM

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

It was a homing tree for high flyers,

A refuge for those seeking a place of rest,

An arena for those skilled in scientific endeavour,

And a tethering post for the mighty.

The four elements of this verse mirror the four elements of the previous verse, having to do with goals, energy, learning, and realisation by the greatly accomplished of great accomplishment.

baahu-shaalin in line 4, according to a note by EHJ, means "[a man] of mighty arm" or "[an elephant] of mighty trunk."

This line, along with the rest of the verse, again makes real sense to me only if Ashvaghosha's covert intention is to liken the greatness of Kapilavastu to the greatness of what is called in Japanese kata, "forms," foremost and most basic of which is za-zen, the sitting-dhyana of the Buddha and Bodhidharma, and latterly Dogen. Guidance towards the true practice of that is just what we are digging for here.

A kata is a fixed form but in tethering himself to it an incredibly strong bloke finds the freedom of simply existing in space. And to have witnessed the devotion of such a powerful person to a traditional kata is, now I come to reflect on it, very useful experience to bring to daily work of translating a venerable ancient text. The text, like the kata, might have many more applications than I, in my presently unenlightened state, am aware of.

For audio-visual evidence of what it looks and sounds like when a mighty man finds freedom by tethering himself to a traditional kata, check out some of the You Tube clips on Morio Higaonna, from Way of the Warrior, filmed by the BBC in Okinawa just at the time I visited there to meet and train under Higaonna Sensei in April 1982. In 1986, in my single-minded stupidity, I made a decision to give up the kata of Okinawan Go-ju Ryu in order to concentrate on the kata of sitting-dhyana. But now when I see what my old friend and kata-teacher Paul Enfield has been doing in the intervening 24 years, especially in the way of teaching the kata to youngsters, I can't help wondering.... well, to put it positively, I take my hat off to Paul.

Kapilavastu was long ago reduced to rubble and its golden age can never be resurrected. But in Ashvaghosha's description of Kapilavastu, if we are diligent enough in excavating it, might be pointers to a new golden age of kata.

EH Johnston:
It was the roosting-tree of the virtuous, the resort of the distressed, the stage for learned disputants and the picketing ground for men of might.

Linda Covill:
It was a homing-tree for the virtuous, a refuge for the vulnerable, an arena for the learned and a tethering-post for the strong.

vaasa-vRkSham (acc. sg.): home tree
vaasa: m. (fr. √vas) staying , remaining (esp. " overnight ") , abiding , dwelling , residence , abode , habitation
vRkSha: tree
guNavataam = gen. pl. m./n. guNavat: mfn. endowed with good qualities or virtues or merits or excellences , excellent , perfect

aashrayam (acc. sg.): m. that to which anything is annexed or with which anything is closely connected or on which anything depends or rests ; seat , resting-place ; dwelling , asylum , place of refuge , shelter
sharaN-aiShiNaam (gen. pl. m.): those seeking refuge, asylum-seekers
sharaNa: n. shelter , place of shelter or refuge or rest , hut , house , habitation , abode , lair (of an animal) , home , asylum
eShin: mfn. (generally ifc.) going after , seeking , striving for , desiring

aanartam (acc. sg.): m. dancing-room , dancing academy ; a stage , theatre
aa- √nRt: to dance towards , hasten near , jump near
kRta-shaastraaNaam (gen. pl. m./f.): those accomplished in scripture/science
kRta: mfn. done , made , accomplished , performed
shaastra: n. an order , command , precept , rule ; teaching , instruction , direction , advice , good counsel; a body of teaching (in general) , scripture , science

aalaanam (acc. sg.): n. the post to which an elephant is tied ; the rope that ties him ; a fetter , tie , rope or string ; binding , tying
baahu-shaalinaam (gen. pl. m.): men possessed of a strong arm (= 'men of might' and 'elephants' [EHJ])
baahu: the arm , (esp.) the fore-arm , the arm between the elbow and the wrist
shaalin: (ifc.) possessing , abounding in , full of , possessed of , amply provided or furnished with , conversant with , distinguished for

Sunday, May 30, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.53: Four Aspects -- of What or Who?

saMnidhaanam iv' aarthaanaaM
aadhaanam iva tejasaaM
niketam iva vidyaanaaM
saMketam iva saMpadaam

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

Like a place where goals converge,

Where vital energies are focused,

Where learning activities are housed,

And where achievements come together,

In this verse, as I read it, in terms of goals, energies, and learning activities; and as a coming together of disparate elements, Ashvaghosha not only portrays Kapilavastu as an ideal city that was; he also expresses the integrated condition in which he is -- the state of sitting-buddha.

In describing Kapilavastu as an ideal city, Ashvaghosha might be outlining the essential secrets of success of any enterprise. But what do I really know about that? A couple of weeks ago, I drew the attention of an old friend with whom I studied "Organisational Effectiveness" at university, to what I had written on this blog on the subject of a middle way between the goals and systems approaches. My friend intimated in response that he didn't have much time any more for such abstract consideration of what might make an organisation effective, having spent the last 30 years working with real organisations! (And very successfully, too.)

Having devoted my own last 30 years mainly to sitting, I may be on safer ground explaining why this verse, as I read it, is another covert expression of sitting-buddha.

From a goals approach, various aims of life -- health, for instance, or greater self-knowledge, or devotion to a Way, or enjoyment of a hobby -- are all catered to by the one act of sitting-dhyana. So in this sense sitting-dhyana is like a place where goals converge.

From a systems approach, a human being is energies. And in sitting upright well, those energies stop being dissipated. So in this sense sitting-dhyana is like a place where vital energies are concentrated or focused.

Thirdly, sitting-dhyana is, according to the Buddha-ancestors, the learning of a backward step -- a backward step to a simpler state of being, to an original state that existed, for example, before the dualism of goals vs energy/systems was ever considered. In endeavouring to take that backward step, we make many mistakes. Guided by faulty sensory appreciation, we take many wrong turns. But as a result of these missteps, we gradually learn what NOT TO DO. We make a friend of "No, not that!" And so we gradually learn what is the right direction -- not that we learn how to do the right thing, but we learn the wisdom of allowing the right thing to do itself. In this sense, sitting-dhyana is like a place where learning activities are housed.

Going back to Kapilavastu for a moment, the city as Ashvaghosha portrays it represented in its golden age the successful gaining of many and various ends in in the political, military, and economic spheres, as well as accomplishments and achievements in religion and the arts. The secret knowledge obtained by the Shakya princes, we are told in 1.40 was Sufficient for full enjoyment / Of dharma, wealth, and pleasure. But description of the ultimate coming together of all Kapilavastu's achievements, the real culmination of all accomplishments, awaits us in Canto 3, where Shakyamuni sits in the supreme manner under the bodhi tree. In this sense, the city of Kapilavastu is like a place where some achievements come together, but the practice of sitting-dhyana is just the place where all achievements come together.

On a technical point, the genitive plural of sampad (success, perfection) is given as sampaadaam, whereas EHJ's original text has sampadaam.

EH Johnston:
It was, so to speak, a 'thesaurus' of wealth, an abode of the sciences, a rendezvous of the perfections ; and the sacred fires of courage were tended there.

Linda Covill:
It was like a storehouse of wealth, like a repository of brilliance, like a temple of the sciences, like a meeting-place of the accomplishments.

saMnidhaanam (acc. sg.): n. (from saM-ni- √dhaa) juxtaposition , nearness , vicinity , presence ; placing down , depositing ; place of deposit , receptacle , gathering-place , rallying-point
saM-ni- √dhaa: to put or place down near together , put down near or into , deposit in (loc.) , place or put upon , direct towards; to place together , collect , pile up
iva: like
arthaanaam = gen. pl. artha: m. aim, purpose, meaning, value ; substance , wealth , property , opulence , money

aadhaanam (acc. sg.): n. . (from aa- √dhaa) putting near or upon , depositing , placing ; the place in which anything is deposited or rests
aa- √dhaa: to place on , put down , deposit , put ; to impregnate , instil
iva: like
tejasaam = gen. pl. 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 ; the bright appearance of the human body (in health) , beauty ; fiery energy , ardour , vital power , spirit , efficacy , essence

niketam (acc. sg.): m. (from ni + √cit ? ) a mark , sign ; house, habitation ; seat of one of the constituent elements of the body; a bee-hive ; a stage in the religious life of a Brahman ; state of being
iva: like
vidyaanaam = gen. pl. vidyaa: f. knowledge , science , learning , scholarship , philosophy
saMketam (acc. sg.): m. (from saM- √cit) agreement , compact , stipulation , assignation with (gen. , esp. with a lover) , engagement , appointment ; (acc. with √ kR " to make an agreement or appointment " or " appoint a place of meeting with any person ")
saM- √chit: to observe together , survey , notice ; to agree together , be unanimous
iva: like
sampaadaam = gen. pl. sampad: f. success , accomplishment , completion , fulfilment , perfection

Saturday, May 29, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.52: A City in Balance and with Spirit

a-saMkiirNam an-aakulaM

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

Crowded with elephants, horses, and chariots,

The city was not congested and not disordered;

Material wealth was not hidden from the needy,

But learning and spirit ran secret and deep.

The accusative singular neuter subject of this and the next three verses is tat puram (that city) in 1.55.

The sense of order already conveyed in 1.48 is underlined in this verse in which Ashvaghosha further conveys a sense of antagonistic balance by opposing in the first two lines

saMkiirNam (crowded)
a-saMkiirNam (not congested; see also 1.7);

and by opposing in the second two lines

a-niguuDha (not hidden, not squirreled away)
niguuDha (hidden, secret, running deep).

Antagonistic balance is what FM Alexander was getting at with his directions to let the head go FORWARD and UP (because too much forward and the head goes down, while too much up and the head pulls back), to let the back LENGTHEN and WIDEN.

Just at the moment when the stimulus comes that might put us wrong, can we deal with that stimulus in such a way that the back continues to be full (saMkiirNa) of lengthening without becoming congested (asaMkiirNa) by stiffening and narrowing?

Can we sit in lotus, for example, carving out a few feet of solitude for ourself in space, to let the back lengthen and widen?

Speaking for myself, if the stimulus is to sit in lotus amid the quiet circumstances of the forest, then, Yes, on good days I generally can allow my back to lengthen and widen, while sending my legs out from an expanded pelvis. On a good day I am thus enabled to explore the foothills of the 2nd dhyana, born of balanced stillness.

But if the stimulus is a loud noise that seems suddenly to violate my nervous system, the answer generally is, No I can't cope at all. In this state, I seem unable to get any kind of foothold on any uphill path.

Yesterday while doing the washing up, I carelessly knocked over a chopping board that was draining against the kitchen wall; the falling chopping block knocked a plate onto the floor which shattered with a loud and piercing sound. Briefly I was in the grip of tremendous emotion which felt like rage but truly, upon reflection, was fear. It might have been a momentary glimpse into the enigmatic world of the autistic child.

This inability to filter out a noisy stimulus is a weakness in me, the cause of imbalance. A countervailing strength, if there is one, is that I may be more aware than I used to be that the imbalance has its original roots in vestibular dysfunction, and particularly in an auditory Moro reflex.

Life that is full and yet not congested or disordered, whether we are talking civic life or individual life, is balanced. In countries recently in the news as far apart as Greece in the west, and Pakistan and Thailand in the east, a certain lack of order seems to be associated with the efforts of more privileged citizens to concentrate resources in their own hands. The rich everywhere squirrel their resources away from the needy, letting the burden of taxation fall primarily on the poor man. So Greek youths riot; the heads of poor Pakistani households kill themselves in desperation, or else they turn to Taliban leaders who, in their turn, start concentrating resources in their own hands; and disaffected Thais join the red-shirt movement. If such unrest, stemming from widening inequality, spreads to China, then we all may be in very big trouble. Is there a political solution to this kind of problem? I don't know. Politics is not my area. I am more interested in balance and imbalance, primarily in myself. And all kinds of imbalance, in the final analysis, seem to me always to come back to the faulty working of the vestibular system of an individual human being.

Perhaps the implicit message of the last two lines is to observe that the more balanced we are, the less interested we are likely to be in squirreling away material resources and the more interested in inner resourcefulness.

Speaking of inner resourcefulness, and spirit, today Britain is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the evacuation of its troops from Dunkirk, following what Winston Churchill, looking the bugger squarely in the eye, called "a collosal military disaster." My Alexander head of training, the late Ray Evans, looked back on that time, for all its privations, as the best of times -- because "we were all pulling together." The last two lines seem to be saying that, even more valuable than economic prosperity, if we could get it back, might be a bit of Britain's old Dunkirk spirit.

EH Johnston:
The city was crowded with elephants, horses and chariots, yet it was not polluted or disorderly. Wealth was not kept back from those in need there and it harboured learning and manly vigour.

Linda Covill:
The city itself was crowded with elephants, horses and chariots, yet it was not in confusion nor disorder. Its wealth lay open to the needy, while learning and courage were closely tended.

hasty-ashva-ratha-saMkiirNam (acc. sg. n.): crowded with elephants, horses, and chariots
hastin: mfn. having hands , clever or dexterous with the hands ; (with mRga , " the animal with a hands i.e. with a trunk " , an elephant ); having (or sitting on) an elephant ; m. an elephant
ashva: horse
ratha: m. " goer " , a chariot , car , esp. a two-wheeled war-chariot, any vehicle or equipage or carriage , waggon , cart
saMkiirNa: mfn. poured together , mixed , commingled &c ; crowded with , full of (comp.) ; mingled , confused , disordered , adulterated , polluted , impure ; born of a mixed marriage ; mixed , miscellaneous , of various kinds , manifold

a-saMkiirNam (acc. sg. n.): not crowded, not congested
an-aakulam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. not beset ; not confused , unperplexed , calm , consistent , regular.
aakula: mfn. confounded , confused , agitated , flurried ; confused (in order) , disordered ; filled , full , overburdened with (instr. or generally in comp.) , eagerly occupied

a-niguuDh'-aarthi-vibhavam (acc. sg. n.): with wealth not being hidden from the needy
a-niguuDha: mfn. not concealed, unhidden, open
guuDha: mfn. covered , hidden , concealed , invisible , secret , private; disguised
√guh: cover , conceal , hide , keep secret
aarthin: one who wants or desires anything; a beggar , petitioner , suitor
vibhava: mfn. powerful , rich; m. being everywhere , omnipresence; m. development ; m. power , might , greatness , exalted position; wealth , money , property , fortune ; m. luxury , anything sumptuary or superfluous

niguuDha-jNaana-pauruSham (acc. sg. n.): with its knowledge and human spirit hidden
niguuDha: mfn. concealed , hidden , secret , obscure (lit. and fig.)
jNaana: n. knowing , becoming acquainted with , knowledge , (esp.) the higher knowledge
pauruSha: a man , male , human being ; person ; a friend ; the personal and animating principle in men and other beings , the soul or spirit

Friday, May 28, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.51: Structures of the First Rank Physically Go Up

mano-jNaaH shriimatiiH praShThiiH
pathiSh' uupavaneShu ca
sabhaaH kuupavatiish c' aiva
samantaat pratyatiShThipan

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

Rest-houses of the first rank,
welcoming and splendid,

On the roads and in the woods,

Complete even with wells,

They caused to go up on all sides.

Should pratyatiShThipan in line 4 be understood as causative (they caused to go up; they caused to be erected) or not causative (they put up; they erected)?

I would prefer it if pratyatiShThipan could be understood as causative. But that kind of preference or partiality is the cause of much human error, and if I have made such an error I might have to write a long ERRATA at the review stage of this Canto. It may be that, in interpreting all the 3rd person plural aorist forms from 1.44 as causative, I jumped to the wrong conclusion. I am grateful to jiblet, in comments to yesterday's post, for raising the doubt in my mind. For the time being, however, doubt remains doubt -- I don't even know for sure that I got it wrong.

Any way up, line 1 has to do with people's subjective valuation; line 2 relates to geographical location; line 3 has a practical orientation; and line 4 as I would like to read it is suggestive of sitting-zen itself, in which something causes everything to go up.

Just now in Thought for the Day on Radio 4's Today Programme, because people regard today as a special "Buddhist" day, they rolled out a Buddhist to explain why Buddhists today celebrate the Buddha's enlightenment. Obviously an educated and intelligent bloke, with some grasp of psychology, the speaker didn't do such a bad job. But I felt something missing. And that something which is missing from Buddhist psychologists, but which is present in Ashvaghosha, has to do with what is expressed in this verse, as I read it, in line 4.

The Buddha's enlightenment, as I dig for it, is grounded in sitting in the middle way between two opposite responses to gravity, these responses being rooted in primitive vestibular reflexes.

Today, for me, there is no special celebration of enlightened Buddha. There is, as there is every single day, four times a day, just renewed effort to allow sitting-buddha. It is an effort, in other words, to allow something to go up, not only psychologically but on all sides.

EH Johnston:
And all round on the roads and in the groves they set up rest-houses, charming, fine, splendid and provided with wells.

Linda Covill:
On the surrounding roads and in the woods they established splendid first-rate lodges, most welcome, complete even with wells.

mano-jNaaH (acc. pl. f.): mfn. agreeable to the mind , pleasing , lovely , beautiful , charming
shriimatiiH (acc. pl. f.): mfn. beautiful , charming , lovely , pleasant , splendid , glorious ; possessed of fortune , fortunate , auspicious , wealthy , prosperous , eminent , illustrious , venerable (used , like shrii , as a prefix before the names of eminent persons and celebrated works and sometimes corrupted into shriimant) , of high rank or dignity ; decorated with the insignia of royalty (as a king)
praShThiiH (acc. pl. f.) mfn. ( √ sthaa) standing in front , foremost , principal , best , chief

pathiShu = loc. pl. pathin: a way , path , road , course
upavaneShu = loc. pl. upavana: n. a small forest or wood , grove , garden; a planted forest
ca: and

sabhaaH = acc. pl. sabhaa: a place for public meetings , large assembly-room or hall , palace , court of a king or of justice , council-chamber , gambling-house &c ; a house for lodging and accommodating travellers ; an eating-house
kuupavatiiH (acc. pl. f.): with wells
kuupa: m. a hole, a pit well
vant: (possessive suffix)
ca: and
eva: [emphatic]

samantaat: ind. on all sides , all around
pratyatiShThipan = 3rd pers. pl. aorist pratishthaa: to put down , place upon , introduce into (loc) ; to set up , erect (as an image) ; to establish in , appoint to (loc.) ; to fix , found , prop , support , maintain

Thursday, May 27, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.50: Digging for Lotuses, In All Directions

shivaaH puShkariniish c' aiva
n' aajNayaa cetan"-otkarShaad
dikShu sarvaasv aciikhanan

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

And lovely lotus pools

Of finest quality water,

Not at anybody's behest,
but because of being uplifted,

They had dug in all directions.

Lovely lotus pools are a nice idea, but they can never become a reality without water, whose qualities as a substance supporting life might be unsurpassed by any substance. Furthermore, although Ashvaghosha seems to be giving all the credit to the Shakya bosses, the ultimate fact remained that some poor bugger had to pick up his spade and do the digging.

Apropos finest quality water, on arriving in France in a somewhat fatigued and dehydrated state, I wrote the following ...

The gold I dig out, in a dream,

Is not what others think.

Now burbling of the forest stream

Sounds wet enough to drink.

If the main point of yesterday's verse was to portray the Shakya dictators as benevolent dictators, today's verse can be regarded as providing further clarification of the same -- the 3rd line clarifies what genuine or spontaneous benevolence is; and the 3rd and 4th line together underline the point that nobody was pulling the strings of the Shakya bosses, but they were pulling the strings (again via the causative aorist form) of the guys doing the digging.

Looking at the 4th line on its own, "digging commanded in all directions" might be taken just as a description of sitting-buddha, having carved out of space a bit of solitude, enjoying that solitude... and yet not being satisfied with that level of practice and so regressing on and digging deeper towards...

the greater joy of balanced stillness, but not attaching to that joy, and so regressing on and digging deeper towards...

ultimate ease, and not being satisfied with this experience of complete ease but rather seeing a fault in it, and so regressing on and digging deeper towards...

total indifference and full awareness...

at which stage, even having dug down this deep, the five upper fetters, which are bound up with superiority and which tie a practitioner to the first person, might still remain to be cut...

EH Johnston:
Without order from anyone but only because of their exceeding wisdom, they dug in all directions pleasant lotusponds filled with water of pre-eminent virtue.

Linda Covill:
They had lovely lotus pools dug in every quarter, with water of the finest quality, not because they were asked to, but because they were noble-minded.

shivaaH (acc. pl. f.): auspicious , propitious , gracious , favourable , benign , kind , benevolent , friendly
puShkariniiH (acc. pl.): f. a lotus pool , any pool or pond
ca: and
eva: [emphatic]

param'-aagrya-guN'-aambhasaH (gen./abl. sg.): of/from water of the highest quality
parama: mfn. (superl. of para) most distant , furthest, best
agrya: mfn. foremost , topmost , principal , best
guNa: m. quality
ambhas: n. water

na: not
aajNayaa = inst. sg. aajNaa: f. order , command ; authority , unlimited power
cetan"-otkarShaad (abl. sg.): because of upward-pulling consciousness
cetanaa: f. consciousness , understanding , sense , intelligence
utkarSha: mfn. superior , eminent ; m. pulling upwards, m. excellence , eminence
ud: up, upwards
karSha: the act of drawing , dragging

dikShu = loc. pl. dish: f. quarter or region pointed at , direction
sarvaasu (loc. pl. f.): all
aciikhanan = 3rd per. pl. [causitive?] aorist khan: to dig

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.49: Benevolent Dictatorship

yatra te hRShTa-manasaH
shriimanty udyaana-saMjNaani
yasho-dhaamaany aciikaran

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

There with glad hearts,

Desiring to bring joy to the citizens,

They commissioned what we call 'gardens' --

Glorious abodes of beauty.

The main point of this verse, as I read it, is to demonstrate that though the Shakya princes were dictators, they had the redeeming quality of benevolence. They were benevolent dictators.

This redeeming benevolence, or altruism, or compassion -- the genuine, natural, glad-hearted desire to benefit others, call it what you will -- is the quality that seemed to redeem Kapila when his attention became directed from up his own ascetic practice and out towards the young princes who arrived at his ashram.

My maternal grandmother used to have a stone bird bath with engraved on it GOD IS IN THE GARDEN. I don't know about that. When it comes to God, I am a non-believer. But I come back to the garden for redemption. As I see it, and especially when I sit in it, the garden is the great redeemer...

I am weak but though art mighty;
Hold me in thy powerful hand!

Garden, mirror of nature, glorious abode of beauty, great redeemer... What's in a name?

What's in a name? asked Juliet, that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.

If you ask me, there is a lot in name. For example, how can "seated meditation" be the same as "sitting-meditation"? If you ask me, if Tom, Dick or Harry calls the one great matter "seated meditation," as if it were two great matters, then Tom, Dick and Harry's sitting-meditation has yet to become sitting-meditation, in which case Tom, Dick and Harry have yet to become Tom, Dick and Harry.

I don't believe in seated meditation, and don't believe in God. But I come back to sitting-meditation, in a quiet garden by the forest, and am redeemed by something great. It makes the heart glad and re-kindles the desire to share the enjoyment with others.

EH Johnston:
There with joyful hearts, anxious to gratify the citizens, they made magnificent abodes of fame known as gardens.

Linda Covill:
To please the citizens, the princes gladly commissioned magnificent fame-winning sites and designated them as public gardens.

yatra: ind. at which place
te (nom. pl. m.): they
hRShTa-manasaH (nom. pl. m.): with
hRShTa: mfn. thrilling with rapture , rejoiced , pleased , glad , merry ; bristling , erect , standing on end (said of the hairs of the body)
manas: mind

paura-priiti-cikiirShayaa (inst. sg.): with the intention of giving pleasure to the citizens
paura: m. a townsman , citizen
priiti: f. any pleasurable sensation , pleasure , joy , gladness , satisfaction
cikiirShaa: f. intention or desire to make or do or perform (generally ifc.)

shriimanti = acc. pl. n. shriimat: mfn. beautiful , charming , lovely , pleasant , splendid , glorious
udyaana-saMjNaani (acc. pl. n.): named "gardens"
udyaana: n. a park , garden , royal garden
saMjNa = ifc. for saM-jNaa: a name , appellation , title , technical term (ifc. = " called , named ")

yasho-dhaamaani (acc. pl. n.): abodes of renown / beauty
yashas: n. beautiful appearance , beauty , splendour , worth ; honour , glory , fame , renown
dhaaman: n. dwelling-place , house , abode , domain (esp. seat of the gods)
aciikaran = 3rd pers. pl. aorist kR: to do, make ; to cultivate ; to commision

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.48: Like a Well-Ordered Orchestra

vasumadbhir a-vibhraantair
alaM-vidyair a-vismitaiH
yad babhaase naraiH kiirNaM
mandaraH kinnarair iva

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

Thronged by men who were wealthy but not wanton,

Cultured but not conceited,

The city seemed like Mt. Mandara,

Thronged by ensembles of kinnaras.

The kinnara virtues that Ashvaghosha has in mind are probably those identified by EHJ, namely, possession of jewels, diligence in hiking the mountain, being skilled especially in the musical arts, and having charming smiles.

The picture of Kapila-vastu that is being formed, at least as I envision it, bears an increasingly strong resemblence to a modern gated community. Due to the particular historical circumstances that Ashvaghosha has been outlining, the Buddha was able to enjoy a privileged and sheltered upbringing within the walls of a special city whose development was not all higgedly-piggedly but was rather carefully centrally planned -- just like a modern gated community.

Otherwise, does this verse relate directly to the actual practice of sitting-zen itself?

Being wealthy without being wanton might be like allowing the head to release forward without pulling the head down.

Being cultured without being conceited might be like allowing the back to lengthen without making the back arch and narrow.

Incidentally, this post is late because I got the overnight ferry and cycled 70-odd miles before getting to the computer and publishing it -- there is life in the old dog, yet. (Hope the ticker holds up through the night and these do not turn out to be famous last words.)

EH Johnston:
The city, in being thronged with men who were wealthy, well-ordered, learned and without arrogance, resembled Mandara which is thronged with Kinnaras who are possessed of jewels, wander on the mountain, are skilled in the arts (of song &c.) and have charming smiles.

Linda Covill:
Crowded with wealthy, orderly, knowledgeable and modest citizens, the city seemed like Mandara filled with kinnaras.

vasumadbhiH = inst. pl. vasumat: mfn. having or possessing or containing treasures , wealthy , rich
a-vibhraantaiH = inst. pl. a-vibhraanta: mfn. not distorted , firm (as the eye-brows)
vibhraanta: mfn. wandered or wandering about &c; rolling or ogling (as the eyes); spread abroad (as fame) ; confused , bewildered
vi- √ bhram : to wander or roam or fly about , roll , hover , whirl ; to reel , quiver , shake ; to fall into disorder or confusion , be disarranged or bewildered

alaM-vidyaiH = inst. pl. alaM-vidya: knowledgeable, learned, well informed
alam: ind. enough , sufficient , adequate , equal to , competent , able
vidya = vidyaa (ifc.)
vidyaa: f. knowledge , science , learning (cf. kRta-vidya : mfn. well informed , learned)
a-vismitaiH = inst. pl. a-vismita: mfn. not proud
vismita: mfn. amazed , surprised , perplexed ; proud , arrogant

yad: which
babhaase = 3rd. pers. sg. perfect bhaas: to appear (" as " or " like " nom. or instr. of an abstract noun)
naraiH = inst. pl. nara: man, person
kiirNam (nom. sg.): mfn. filled with , full of (instr.)

mandaraH (nom. sg.): m. a pearl chain consisting of 8 or 16 strings ; m. N. of a sacred mountain (the residence of various deities ; it served the gods and asuras for a churning-stick at the churning of the ocean for the recovery of the amRta and thirteen other precious things lost during the deluge); m. heaven (= svarga ; cf. meru)
kinnaraiH = inst. pl. kiM-nara: m. " what sort of man? " a mythical being with a human figure and the head of a horse (or with a horse's body and the head of a man ; originally perhaps a kind of monkey ; in later times (like the naras) reckoned among the gandharvas or celestial choristers , and celebrated as musicians )
iva: like

Monday, May 24, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.47: Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual

vyastais tais tair guNair yuktaan
karmasu pratiruupeShu
sacivaaMs taan nyayuuyujan

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

Individuals possessed of particular strong points

Such as thinking, talking, and taking steps,

They installed in corresponding offices

As counsellors and ministers.

Again the main verb nyayuuyujan is a causitive aorist form -- the princes caused or compelled the counsellors and ministers to take office.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual is the title of FM Alexander's second book. Using that title as the title of this post is ironic insofar as in FM's title the Individual is the 1st person singular self, whereas the Shakya princes were evidently very much into command, control and coercion of other individuals -- depending on what particular merits those individuals brought to the table.

The three elements in line 2, as I read it, correspond to thinking the thought, talking the talk, and walking the walk.

In Japan I was encouraged not to think the thought but just to walk the walk. Back in England training as an Alexander teacher I was encouraged not just to walk the walk, but first to think the thought. In the middle way, I hope, and certainly arising out of conflict caused by the above dichotomy, are these verses, these madhyama-kaarikaa -- though Ashvaghosha himself didn't call them that. Ashvaghosha's teaching, as far as I know, wasn't explictly recognized as madhyama-kaarikaa, Verses in the Middle, during his own lifetime. Even today people discuss whether Ashvaghosha's verses in the middle are poetry or religious prosletyzing.

A final point that might be made about this verse is that, just as the white watchtowers of Kapila-vastu seemed to borrow a bit of the grandeur of snow-capped Himalayan peaks in the distance, this verse seems to presage an immensely important teaching of the Buddha delivered in Canto 16:

Having given due consideration to the time and place

As well as to the extent and method of one's practice,

One should, reflecting on one's own strength and weakness,

Persist in an effort that is not inconsistent with them.

What the Buddha is pointing to is just Constructive Conscious Control of the 1st person singular Individual; in other words, The Balanced Stillness of Accepting and Using the Self -- or, in short, The Use of the Self.

EH Johnston:
They appointed ministers according to their possession of the various qualities, such as wisdom of counsel, eloquence and courage, to corresponding offices.

Linda Covill:
They appointed counsellors to suitable posts according to their various merits, such as wisdom, eloquence and courage.

vyastaiH = inst. pl. m. vyasta: mfn. cut in pieces ; severed , separated , divided , distinct ; multiplied , various , manifold
tais taiH = inst. pl. m. tad tad: this and that , various , different; respective
guNaiH (inst. pl.): m. subdivision , species , kind (e.g. gandhasya guNaaH , the different kinds of smell) ; the 6 subdivisions of action for a king in foreign politics (viz. peace , war , march , halt , stratagem , and recourse to the protection of a mightier king) a quality , peculiarity , attribute or property ; good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
yuktaan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. yoked or joined or fastened or attached or harnessed to (loc. or instr.); furnished or endowed or filled or supplied or provided with , accompanied by , possessed of (instr. or comp.)

mati-vaag-vikram'-aadibhiH (inst. pl.): judgement, eloquence, valour, et cetera ; thinking the thought, talking the talk, walking the walk, et cetera
mati: f. thought , design , intention , resolution , determination , inclination; the mind , perception , understanding , intelligence , sense , judgement
vaac: f. (fr. √ vac) speech , voice , talk , language
vikrama: m. a step , stride , pace ; going , proceeding , walking , motion , gait; valour , courage , heroism , power , strength
vi- √ kram: to step beyond or aside , move away ; to move on , walk , go , advance ; to show valour or prowess , attack , assail , fight
aadi: ifc. beginning with , et caetera , and so on

karmasu = loc. pl. karman: n. act , action , performance , business ; office, occupation
pratiruupeShu = loc. pl. pratiruupa: mfn. like , similar , corresponding , suitable , proper , fit

sacivaan (acc. pl.): m. an associate , companion , friend, esp. a king's friend or attendant , counsellor , minister
taan (acc. pl. m.): those
nyayuuyujan = 3rd pers. pl. causitive aorist ni- √ yuj: to bind on , tie or fasten to (loc.); to enjoin , order , command , coerce , impel , appoint , instal (double acc.) , trust or charge with

Sunday, May 23, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.46: Wealthy & Worthy Householders, Settled in a Gated Community

sa-lajjaan diirgha-darshinaH
arhato 'tiShThipan yatra
shuuraan dakShaan kuTumbinaH

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

Householders of character and means,

Modest, far-sighted,

Worthy, stout and able,

They caused to settle there.

The main point of this verse, as I read it, is indicated by the repeated use, in atiShThipan in line 3, of the 3rd person plural causitive aorist -- they [the princes] caused [priests, soldiers, householders] to [pray, win, settle]. Again, the point seems to be that activity was directed from the top by the founders and benevolent dictators of Kapilavastu, the Shakya princes.

In line 1 the householders who the princes caused to settle in Kapilavastu are described as dhana-sampanna, moneyed, endowed with wealth, men of means. One gets the sense of somewhere like a modern gated community, which fits in with what we know of the historical background to the Buddha's early life.

A connection might be intended between two elements of line 2, sa-lajja (having shame [with regard to the past]) and diirgha-darshin (being far-sighted, looking to the future). In that sense, line 2 seems to me to presage the beginning of Canto 12, where the negative emotion of shame is instrumental in causing Nanda to want to turn over a new leaf.

EH Johnston:
There they settled on honourable terms their fellow-clansmen, who were endowed with good conduct and wealth and were self-respecting, circumspect, courageous and active.

Linda Covill:
Here they settled respectable householders of wealth and good character, who were modest, far-sighted, brave and industrious.

caaritra-dhana-sampannaan (acc. pl. m.) furnished with good conduct and wealth
caaritra: n. good conduct , good character , reputation
dhana: n. any valued object , (esp.) wealth , riches , (movable) property , money , treasure , gift
sampanna: mfn. fallen or turned out well , accomplished , effected , perfect , excellent (ifc. or with loc. = " perfectly acquainted or conversant with "); endowed or furnished with , possessed of (instr. or comp.)
sam- √ pad: to fall or happen well , turn out well , succeed , prosper , accrue to (dat. or gen.)

sa-lajjaan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. feeling shame or modesty , bashful , embarrassed
diirgha-darshinaH (acc. pl. m.): far-seeing
diirgha: mfn. long (in space and time)
darshin: mfn. ifc. seeing , looking at , observing , examining , finding

arhataH (acc. pl. m.): mfn. deserving ; worthy , venerable , respectable
atiShThipan (3rd person plural causitive aorist sthaa): they caused to stand , they settled;
yatra: ind. at which place

shuuraan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. strong , powerful , valiant , heroic , brave
dakShaan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. able , fit , adroit , expert , clever , dexterous , industrious , intelligent
kuTumbinaH = acc. pl. kuTumbin: m. a householder ; a member of a family , any one (also a servant) belonging to a family ; a peasant

Saturday, May 22, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.45: Real Power, Sovereign Power

tad-bhuumer abhiyoktRRNaaM
prayuktaan vinivRttaye
yatra svena prabhaavena
bhRtya-daNDaan ajiijapan

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

The professional soldiers they employed there

To repel assailants from their territory

They caused, by their sovereign power,

To be victorious in battle.

EHJ notes that in Indian political science prabhaava (as in line 3) is defined as the strength derived from a king's treasury and army.

The phrase "by their sovereign power" (svena prabhaavena), as I read it, underlines the point I was trying to make yesterday; i.e., that Ashvaghosha is pointedly not portraying the history of Kapilavastu as a random jumble of dependently-originated reactions to an a priori caste system and other ancient Indian circumstances. Rather, Ashvaghosha is portraying the Shakya princes as the prime movers in the founding of a city-state, as the big beasts at the top of a food chain. Brahmins and kshatriyas are like the monkey to the Shakya princes' organ-grinder. In their prayer and in their combat, the brahmin priests and kshatriya warriors are like puppets and hired hands, without sovereignty over themselves. It is the Shakya princes who are pulling the strings.

Does this verse relate in any way to the one great matter? Yes, I think it does, very much so. Because just as in the course of human history all men are not equal, so too, in the business of sitting, a certain hierarchy is at work.

Use of the head, neck and back, as FM Alexander strove to clarify and to demonstrate, is the primary thing.

Again, a great exponent and teacher of traditional Okinawan hard-soft karate-do named Morio Higaonna used to speak of "karate power." By karate power, Higaonna Sensei did not mean only the power of the external musculature. He meant primarily power in the belly, in the heart, in the brain, and up the spine.

About 25 years ago in a very cold karate dojo in Kiyose near Tokyo, Higaonna Sensei pointed laughingly at my purple toes and said, Mike! Chi no meguri ga warui ne? "Mike, your blood circulation is poor, isn't it?" The Master's words stuck in my mind, because I couldn't see why he found it so funny. It was only several years later, after marrying my Japanese wife, that I got the joke. Having poor circulation (chi no meguri ga warui) is a colloquial expression for being slow on the uptake.

This week I have been cycling up hills every day in preparation to cycle next week to my dojo in France -- my wife will drop me off at the overnight ferry in Portsmouth, and all being well I will spend the next day cycling the 70 miles or so through the French countryside, using a dry bag stuffed with clothes as an impromptu zafu along the way. I notice my body responding favourably to the physical challenge of cycling up hills, like when I am working long hours out in the garden in France. Maybe finally I am beginning to get Higaonna Sensei's point about what true power is, which is not only muscular power, and still less political power.

So for me this morning these words of Ashvaghosha in line 3 of today's verse, svena prabhaavena, "by sovereign power," have been what is called in Dogen's Shobogenzo ICHI-TEN-GO, "words of total transformation" or "a turning word."

svena prabhaavena might be a word or two that invites you, even if your name is Billy No Mates, to sit by your own sovereign power as king of the Universe.

EH Johnston:
There by their regal might they led to victory their military forces which were employed only in repelling assailants of that land (and not in aggression).

Linda Covill:
Here by their own authority they raised a victorious army of soldiers, drafted to turn back invaders from their land.

tad-bhuumeH (gen./abl. sg.): of/from that territory
tad: that
bhuumi: f. the earth , soil , ground ; a territory. country
abhiyoktRRNaam = gen. pl. abhi-yoktR: mfn. assailing , attacking; m. an enemy

prayuktaan = acc. pl. m. prayukta: mfn. yoked , harnessed ; directed , thrown ;urged , ordered , bidden ; used , employed
vinivRttaye = dat. sg. vinivRtti: f. cessation , coming to an end; omission , discontinuance
vi-ni- √ vRt : to turn back , return ; to turn away , desist or cease from (abl.) ; to cease , end , disappear

yatra: ind. at which place
svena (inst. sg.): by their own
prabhaavena = inst. sg. prabhaava: m. might , power , majesty , dignity , strength , efficacy

bhRtya-daNDaan (acc. pl.): professional military forces
bhRtya: mfn. to be nourished or maintained ; m. one who is to be maintained , a dependent , servant (also the servant of a king , a minister); f. support , maintenance , wages &c (= bhRti)
bhRti: f. bearing , carrying , bringing , fetching ; support , maintenance , nourishment , food ; hire , wages or service for wages
daNDaan = acc. pl. daNDa: m. a stick , staff , rod , pole , cudgel , club ; embodied power , army
ajiijapan = 3rd pers. pl. causitive aorist ji: to win or acquire (by conquest or in gambling) , conquer (in battle) ; to expel from (abl.) ; to be victorious , gain the upper hand

Friday, May 21, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.44: Determined Praying

tasthuShaH ShaTsu karmasu
shaantaye vRddhaye c' aiva
yatra vipraan ajiijapan

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

Brahmins versed in the Vedas and Vedangas,

And engaged in the six occupations,

They caused to pray there,

For peace and for prosperity.

The key to this and the next verse, as I read them, is the relatively obscure causitive aorist form ajiijapan which means in the first instance "caused to pray" (from the root jap) and in the second instance "caused to win" (from the root ji).

In this verse, Ashvaghosha is telling us, the Shakya princes caused the Brahmins to pray.

If the axiom is true that there are no idle verses in Ashvaghosha's writings, what is Ashvaghosha really saying? I think he is saying something about political hegemony and the caste system, and also something about individual religious freedom as a myth versus socio-economic determinism as a reality.

This verse might be asking the question, for example: "If separation of church and state is the rule, who made that rule?"

The Wikipedia entry on Classical Hindu Law tells us that the six occupations of a Brahman are teaching and studying the Vedas; offering and officiating at sacrifices; and giving and accepting gifts.

Table 1 of this Wikipedia entry is tellingly titled "Dharmas of the Castes, showing the subordinate place of political rulership."

The entry states that: Classical Hindu law in practice originates from community, not a state polity. In this way, particular groups of society began to gain influence in the creation and administration of law. Primary corporate groups, Kingships, and Brahmins, were the factions which conveyed Hindu jurisprudence in practice. Corporate groups were responsible for legislating law through the conception of social norms; kingships were responsible for the administration of punishment and the worldly Hindu system; and Brahmins were responsible for ritual, penance, and the maintenance of a spiritual Hindu system.

So the Hindu argument seems to be that political rulership, or kingship, is subordinate to the dharma of the caste system. And Ashvaghosha seems to be exactly contradicting this Hindu apology for the caste system. The truth as Ashvaghosha is describing it is not that the Shakya princes subordinated themselves to an a priori spiritual system maintained by the Brahmins, but rather that the Brahmins sang to a tune laid down by their political rulers, the Shakya princes.

One easily tends to assume that religious activities such as ritual prayer and penitent chanting are autonomous actions. But if we take what Ashvaghosha is saying here at face value, noting in particular the use of the causitive ajiijapan, then he is literally saying that the Brahmins were not acting autonomously in their praying and chanting. He is saying that the founding fathers of Kapilavastu, the Shakya princes, caused the Brahmins to engage in what might seem to the unexamined eye like freely willed religious behaviour.

So again a verse that doesn't seem on first reading to be particularly relevant to my life as a Brit in the 21st century, when I sleep on it, asks a serious question about freedom and about fooling oneself.

This verse has caused me, too early in a sleepless morning for comfort, to ask myself: Am I pulling my own strings? Am I allowing my strings to be pulled? In the latter case, who or what am I allowing to be my puppet master?

My old teacher once said to me in all sincerity, "There is no me in me. There is only Dharma in me." It was an impressive statement.

We tend to believe in ideas, fables, fantasies about ourself and our place in the world. And when those stories turn out not to have been true, we grieve.

At secondary school I was one of a group of six friends who formed a fairly solid gang. Recently one of those six got married and the gang duly reconvened, except for yours truly, who was not invited. Ouch. Granted, I probably would not have wanted to go. But when my old friend, to his credit, told me straight, "We had to draw the line somewhere" it was a bit of a rude awakening. Until that time I hadn't quite seen myself, Billy No Mates, on the other side of the line.

Much of the time I seem to believe in a story in which I am the hero, heroically pulling his own strings, who will be respected and maybe even loved by others for his heroic efforts. It is a story about seeking and upholding the truth... and yet when the truth unexpectedly confronts me, like the real dragon, something doesn't like it. Maybe this is what Rumi had in mind when he wrote of “The feeling of joy when sudden disappointment comes.”

Is it a feeling of joy that political rulers can cause one to have?

I don't think so.

EH Johnston:
There they caused the Brahmans, learned in the Vedas and Vedangas and engaged in the six occupations (alone permissible to Brahmans), to repeat the formulae for tranquillity and prosperity.

Linda Covill:
Here they had brahmins, learned in the Vedas and Vedangas and engaged in the six permitted occupations, recite prayers for peace and prosperity.

veda: m. (fr. √vid) knowledge , true or sacred knowledge or lore , knowledge of ritual ; N. of certain celebrated works which constitute the basis of the first period of the Hindu religion (these works were primarily three , viz. 1. the Rig-veda , 2. the yajur-veda , 3. the saama-veda ; these three works are sometimes called collectively trayii , " the triple vidyaa " or " threefold knowledge " , but the Rig-veda is really the only original work of the three , and much the most ancient [the oldest of its hymns being assigned by some who rely on certain astronomical calculations to a period between 4000 and 2500 B.C. , before the settlement of the Aryans in India ; and by others who adopt a different reckoning to a period between 1400 and 1000 B.C. , when the Aryans had settled down in the Panjab])
vedaaNga: n. " a limb (for preserving the body) of the veda " , N. of certain works or classes of works regarded as auxiliary to and even in some sense as part of the veda
viduShaH = acc. pl. m. vidvas: mfn. knowing , understanding , learned , intelligent , wise , mindful of , familiar with , skilled in (acc. loc. , or comp.); m. a wise man , sage , seer

tasthuShaH = acc. pl. m. tasthivas: mfn. (perfect participle of √1. sthaa) one who has stood , standing , remaining , continuing in , being on or in (loc.); occupied with , engaged in (loc.)
ShaTsu (loc. pl. n.): six
karmasu (loc. pl.): n. act , action , performance , business ; office , special duty , occupation

shaantaye = dat. sg. shaanti: f. tranquillity , peace , quiet , peace or calmness of mind
vRddhaye = dat. sg. vRddhi: f. growth , increase , augmentation , rise , advancement , extension , welfare , prosperity
ca: and
eva: [emphatic]

yatra: ind. at which place
vipraan = acc. pl. m. vipra: mfn. stirred or excited (inwardly) , inspired , wise; learned (esp. in theology) ; a sage , seer , singer, poet , learned theologian ; a Brahman ; a priest , domestic priest
√vip: to tremble , shake , shiver , vibrate , quiver , be stirred
ajiijapan = 3rd pers. pl. causative aorist jap: to utter in a low voice , whisper , mutter (esp. prayers or incantations) ; to pray to any one (acc.) in a low voice ; to invoke or call upon in a low voice : Intens. jaJjapyate , to whisper repeatedly (implying blame )

Thursday, May 20, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.43: Holding the Mirror Up to Nature (II)

kukShiM himagirer iva

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

With its fine frontage of white watchtowers,

And a well-apportioned central market

Overlooked by crescents of large houses,

It was like a Himalayan valley.

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this
special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature:
for any thing so o'erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose
end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the
mirror up to nature...

Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2

Through Hamlet, Shakespeare is saying something to the actor about how to act -- about how the actor in acting is to hold up a mirror to, without overstepping the modesty of, nature.

The Sitting of buddha also holds up a mirror to nature, without contrivances like the ascetic practices and cosmetic face paints of the Indian spiritual performer, who seems to wish to overstep nature's modesty.

The Sitting of buddha is a manifestation of conscious human effort; it is not an instinctive activity like eating or shitting that evolution has prepared us to do unthinkingly. If, however, I overdo the effort to sit upright, stiffening and holding the breath in the process, then like the spiritual shaman/showman, I diverge from the true purpose of Sitting buddha.

If my uprightness is such that I sit too proudly, as if apart from nature, like a Roman or Nazi monument, that is not it. Sittting buddha holds up the mirror to nature, not like that, but more in the style of a Zen garden, where a large rock may be placed in such a way as to mirror a mountain in the background.

This is what Ashvaghosha is suggesting in this verse, as I read it. The white watchtowers on the great ramparts of ancient Kapilavastu were holding up a mirror to, and borrowing a bit of the grandeur of, the snow-capped Himalayan peaks in the far distance.

The sitting-zen practitioner Rachelle Sherwood recently drew my attention to the above artwork, and other pictures like it, in which she seems to me to be endeavouring to hold the mirror up to that which, in sitting, the practitioner digs himself a cave... namely,...


EH Johnston:
Having a fair front of white upper storeys and well laid out bazaars, and encompassed by a row of palaces, like a valley of the Himalayas having fine peaks like white watchtowers and manifold interior wealth and encompassed by uplands like palaces.

Linda Covill:
It had a fine frontage of white watch-towers and a well laid out center of shops surrounded by crescents of mansions, like a Himalayan valley.

paaNDur'-aaTTaala-sumukham (acc. sg. n.): with a fine frontage of white watchtowers
paaNDura: mfn. whitish , white , pale , yellow
aTTaala: m. a watchtower
su-mukha: mfn. having a good or beautiful mouth , fair-faced , handsome; mfn. having a good entrance

suvibhakt'-aantar'-aapaNam (acc. sg. n.): with a well laid out market in the centre
su-vibhakta: mfn. well separated or distributed ; well proportioned , symmetrical
vibhakta: mfn. divided ; isolated , secluded ; divided into regular parts , harmonious , symmetrical
antara: mfn. being in the interior
aapaNa: m. a market , a shop

harmya-maala-parikShiptam (acc. sg. n.): surrounded by a garland of mansions
harmya: n. a large house , palace , mansion , any house or large building or residence of a wealthy person ; a stronghold , prison
maala: n. a forest or wood near a village ; a wreath , garland.
parikShipta: mfn. thrown , thrown about , scattered , surrounded , overspread

kukShi: m. the belly , a valley
himagireH = gen. sg. himagiri: m. the himaalaya mountain
hima: m. cold , frost
giri: m. mountain
iva: like

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.42: A Mirror Held Up to Nature

girivrajam iv' aaparaM

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

It had a moat as broad as a river,

A main street that straightened and curved,

And great ramparts rising like mountains,

As if it were another Giri-vraja.

The real meaning of this Canto thus far, as I read it, has to do with the fundamental teachings of the Middle Way and cause & effect. But the official title of the Canto is kapilavaastu-varNanaH, "A Portrayal of Kapilavastu." So the next twenty verses to the end of the Canto are giving us what it says on the tin -- not so much an objective description of Kapilavastu as Ashvaghosha's portrayal, or artistic impression, of a city that had its golden age several hundred years before his time.

In this initial overview of the city, Ashvaghosha compares it to Giri-vraja, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Magadha. The city, which is also mentioned in 3.15 as a place the enlightened Buddha frequented, is located in a valley surrounded by five rocky hills; hence the name Giri-vraja, or "Mountain-Fenced." It was also known in Sanskrit as Raaja-gRha, "King's House," which is thought to be the derivation of the name of the city of Rajgir in the modern Indian state of Bihar.

The main point of this verse, as I read it, is that the Shakya princes by conscious human effort, on the grounds of secrets learned through real life experience, and on the grounds of karma, built a city that paralleled the natural grandeur of Girivraja.

Here again, then, a verse that at first sight does not appear to be saying anything about sitting-meditation, when one looks into it, might be saying everything.

EH Johnston:
With a moat as broad as a river, with a straight and magnificent main street and with ramparts almost as big as mountains like another Girivraja.

Linda Covill:
It had a moat as broad as a river, wide boulevards which straightened and curved and, as if it were another Giri-vraja, ramparts so great as to almost serve as mountains.

sarid-vistiirNa-parikham (acc. sg. n.): with river-broad moat
sarit: f. a river , stream
vistiirNa: mfn. spread out , expanded , broad , large
parikhaa: f. (from pari- √ khan, to dig round , dig up) a moat , ditch , trench or fosse round a town or fort (also applied to the sea surrounding the earth)

spaShT'-aaNcita-mahaa-patham (acc. sg. m.): with straight/curved main street
spaShTa: mfn. clearly perceived or discerned , distinctly visible , distinct , clear , evident , plain , intelligible ; straight (opp. to " crooked ") ; real , true , correct
aNcita: mfn. bent , curved , curled , arched , handsome
mahaa-patha m. a principal road , high street (in a city)

shaila: a rock , crag , hill , mountain
kalpa: m. (ifc.) having the manner or form of anything , similar to , resembling , like but with a degree of inferiority , almost
mahat: great
vapra: mn. a rampart , earthwork , mound , hillock , mud wall , earth or bank raised as a wall or buttress or as the foundation of a building ; the gate of a fortified city

girivrajam (acc. sg. m.): m. " mountain-fenced " N. of the capital of magadha
giri: m. mountain
vraja: m. a fold , stall , cow-pen , cattle-shed , enclosure or station of herdsmen ; m. a herd , flock , swarm , troop , host , multitude
iva: like
aparam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. other, another

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.41: Building on the Grounds of Fading Karma

tatas tat-pratilambhaac ca
pariNaamaac ca karmanaH
tasmin vaastuni vaastu-jNaaH
puram shriiman nyaveshayan

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

On the grounds of what they thus acquired,

And of the fading influence of their past karma,

They who knew building, at that site,

Founded a splendid city.

This verse, as I read it, suggests the foundation of Kapilavastu as the coming together of the two factors -- like subject and object, or mind and reality -- that always have to be present in order for anything momentously constructive to happen (albeit always in a twinkling, as we were reminded in 1.33).

For this translation, likewise, to amount to anything, it is necessary for me to understand truly the gist of what Ashvaghosha is endeavoring to convey, as if in an architect's blueprint. But not only that. It is also necessary for me to understand the objective rules, conventions and vocabulary of classical Sanskrit as Ashvaghosha wrote it -- rules that might be compared to building regs. And not only that. Day by day I have to continue to make an effort actually to do the translation, verse by verse, like building a city brick by brick. And that can only happen with the fading influence of the karma I have created in the past, by wrong actions done with body, speech and intention.

To express it negatively, if this translation never amounts to anything, the reason will be that
(a) I didn't truly understand what Ashvaghosha was saying, or
(b) my grasp of Sanskrit wasn't sufficient, or
(c) my bad karma got me before I got to the end of the project, or
(d) some combination of the above.

PariNaama in line 2 is ambiguous: it could mean ripenening/fruition of good karma, as EHJ and LC have translated it. That I have understood pariNaama to mean the fading out of bad karma reflects the perception that constructive projects tend to fail not primarily because of laziness in intentionally trying to create good karma; failures stem primarily from unintentional production of bad karma -- as a side-effect of end-gaining. Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

To relate this verse to the preceding verse, Ashvaghosha as I hear him is again hinting at a teaching in the Middle Way; namely, it is not enough to clarify that the ultimate goal for a follower of the Buddha is release. There has also to be in place a system, a mechanism, a method, a means-whereby. Clarity in regard to a goal without due attention to systems is a recipe for undesirable side-effects, which is precisely why FM Alexander criticized the end-gaining approach.

Thirty years ago at university, studying "Organizational Effectiveness," I wobbled between opting for a goals approach or a systems approach to effectiveness. It was a kind of philosophical mirror for the Dick Thrust vs Horace Wimp dichotomy that seemed to be at the centre of my being. Now it seems blindingly obvious that a balanced approach encompasses awareness of and attention to both goal and systems. But it was by no means obvious to me then, when I was looking for an answer one way or the other, off the middle way.

Master Dogen's Shobogenzo is full of quotations that are thought to be translations into Chinese from Nagarjuna. But none of those quotations from Nagarjuna appealed to me so much as the quotation of the Buddha's words in the last chapter of Shobogenzo, chap. 95, The Eight Great Human Truths. And though the original Sanskrit for that chapter appears to have been lost to the ravages of time, I am convinced that the original Sanskrit was the Sanskrit of Ashvaghosha. It was mainly the allure of that chapter that caused me to scour the internet for signs of the Sanskrit from which it originated. And that search led me almost instantly to Ashvaghosha -- thanks to the timely publication of the Clay Sanskrit Library editions of Saundarananda and Buddhacarita.

Nagarjuna's Song of the Middle Way, in my book, is only the lyrics to an original melody laid down by Ashvaghosha.

EH Johnston:
Then with the acquisition of that wealth and the ripening of their merit, they founded on that site a city which was majestic through their knowledge of townplanning.

Linda Covill:
Because of those treasure-troves and the fruition of their karma, they could now use their building acumen and erect a glorious city on that site.

tataH: ind. thence, from that, on that basis
tat-pratilambhaat: on the basis of that attainment/understanding/aquisition
tat: that ; with regard to that, thus
pratilambha: m. receiving , obtaining , finding , getting ; conceiving , understanding
prati- √ labh: to receive back , recover ; to obtain , gain , partake of (acc.) ; to get back i.e. get punished ; to learn , understand
ca: and

pariNaamaat (abl. sg.): m. change , alteration , transformation into (instr.) , development , evolution ; ripeness , maturity ; alteration of food , digestion ; withering , fading ; lapse (of time) ; decline (of age) , growing old
ca: and
karmanaH = gen. sg. karman: n. action, karma, former act as leading to inevitable results

tasmin (loc. sg.): that
vaastuni = loc. sg. vaastu: n. the site or foundation of a house , site , ground , building or dwelling-place , habitation , homestead , house
vaastu-jNaaH (nom. pl. m.): men familiar with building sites; builders, architects
vaastu: site, building
jNa: mfn. knowing , familiar with (chiefly in comp.)

puram (acc. sg.): n. a fortress , castle , city , town
shriimat (acc. sg. n.): mfn. beautiful , charming , lovely , pleasant , splendid , glorious
nyaveshayan = 3rd pers. pl. causitive imperfect ni- √ vish: to be founded (said of a town)

Monday, May 17, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.40: Was Three out of Four Sufficient?

alaM dharm'-aartha-kaamaanaaM
nikhilaanaam avaaptaye
nidhayo n' aika-vidhayo
bhuurayas te gat'-aarayaH

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

Sufficient for full enjoyment

Of dharma, wealth, and pleasure;

Abundant; and of many kinds:

These were treasures beyond an enemy's reach.

These treasures, in other words, were not material treasures but were rather secrets of how to live a meaningful life -- at least as meaning was understood in India before the time of the Buddha's enlightenment.

Dharma, wealth, and pleasure are three of the four puruShaartha, or aims of human existence (puruSha = human being; artha = aim, purpose, meaning) originally discussed in Book 12 of the Mahabharata (12.161).

The four aims in Sanskrit are:
dharma: discharge of duty or religious observance
artha: acquirement of wealth
kaama: pleasure
mokSha: liberation or release.

The significance of Ashvaghosha here omitting to mention mokSha, release, is underlined by what he writes about release in the penultimate verse of Saundarananda:

This work is pregnant with the purpose of release [mokSha]:
it is for cessation, not for titillation;

It is fashioned out of the medicine of poetry
for the purpose of capturing an audience
whose minds are on other things.

That I have handled in it matters other than liberation [mokSha],
following the conventions of a poem,

Is through asking myself how I might make it palatable,
like bitter medicine mixed with something sweet.

The implicit point in today's verse, then, is that although the princes learned valuable lessons of life, the secrets that were thus revealed to them were sufficient only for attainment of three of the four goals, and not sufficient for attainment of the ultimate goal that the Buddha would later set himself, namely mokSha, which means liberation, setting loose, coming undone, being released from.... what?

For a start, it might mean being released from attachments to dharma, wealth, and pleasure.

EH Johnston:
These treasures were of many kinds and abundant, ample for the complete attainment of the objects of religion, wealth and pleasure, and not subject to the loss at the hands of foes.

Linda Covill:
abundant treasures of all kinds, arousing no enmity, and enough to fulfill the goals of dharma, wealth and pleasure.

alam: ind. enough , sufficient , adequate
dharm'-aartha-kaamaanaam (gen. pl.): for dharma, wealth, pleasure
dharma: m. dharma; virtue , morality , religion , religious merit , good works; (in comp = dharman)
dharman: n. law , rule , duty
artha: mn. aim, purpose ; substance , wealth , property , opulence , money
kaama: m. wish , desire , longing ; love , affection , object of desire or of love or of pleasure ; pleasure , enjoyment ; love , especially sexual love or sensuality

nikhilaanaam (gen. pl.): mfn. complete , all , whole , entire
ni: (prefixed to nouns, has meaning of negation or privation)
khila: n. " a space not filled up , gap "
avaaptaye = dat. sg. avaapta: mfn. attained or reached; obtained , got

nidhayaH = nom. pl. nidhi: m. a store , hoard , treasure
n' aika-vidhayaH (nom. pl. m.): of many kinds, manifold, various

bhuurayaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. much , many , abundant , frequent , numerous , great , important , strong , mighty
te (nom. pl. m.): they
gat'-aarayaH (nom. pl. m.): beyond enmity, come forth from enemies
gata: mfn. gone, departed; come , come forth from (in comp. or abl.)
ari: m. an enemy

Sunday, May 16, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.39: Karma of Growth, Self-Discovery & Learning

atha te puNya-karmaaNaH
tatra taj-jNair upaakhyaataan
avaapur mahato nidhiin

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

By and by, being of good conduct,

They arrived at a prosperous maturity

In which they obtained the great treasures

That are disclosed through acts of knowing them.

This verse seems on the surface to be concerned with material wealth, discussing as it does vrddhi, whose meanings include prosperity, fortune, material gain, profit, and mahato nidhiin, which suggests a great hoard of treasures.

But on deeper investigation, how can Ashvaghosha's seemingly materialistic intention be anything other than ironic?

In reality, what kind of prosperity (vrddhi) do merit-making actions result in?

According to a certain line of thought, "Make merit by buying my Buddhist trinket, and you will have good luck in the lottery."
[P.S Publication of this post elicited a Google Ad declaring: "Amulets and charms for love, money, and more. Absolutely guaranteed!"]

But if meritorious action results like that in material wealth, then what kind of monk was Master Joshu in whose dojo there was no smell of incense, but only the smell of burning cow dung?

No, vRddhi in line 2, as I read it, really means not material prosperity but personal growth. The point is that, because of building up good karma, the princes were able to develop successfully into mature human beings.

Similarly, nidhiin in line 4, as I read it, does not mean material riches. It might instead mean secret riches that are inherent in a human life, waiting for a person to claim them through acts of self-discovery. Buried treasures like these, as described in the following verse, are the sort of secret riches that no enemy can steal or destroy.

Here in the 21st century, what kind of buried treasures might still exist like this, waiting for a child or young person to claim them simply through acts of knowing?

At the most primitive level, the tonic neck reflexes might be one example, or the cross pattern movements that clumsy children have yet to make their own, through acts of self-discovery like going on hands and knees.

At later stages of development, examples that spring to mind are learning to ride a bike, or finding out what it is like to kiss a girl, to drive a car, to spend the night with a lover, to travel abroad on your own, to ski down a mountain, to swim like a fish, and so on.

Again, the phrase taj-jNaiH, "through knowing," makes me think of the teaching methods of the great language teacher Michel Thomas, who used to tell his pupils not to try to memorize anything. He rather got them to relax as he revealed to them the secret workings of French, Spanish, and so on. The stress of trying to memorize things is not necessary, Michel Thomas taught, because "What you know, you won't forget."

Finally, I can't help thinking that great hoards of buried treasure is just what we are digging up here, without necessarily using a spade.

EH Johnston:
In time, through their store of merit, prosperity came to them and they obtained great treasures there, which were pointed out to them by the learned in such matters.

Linda Covill:
Then, their actions being meritorious, and upon the attainment of their maturity, they located great treasures at the site upon the advice of those in the know,

atha: ind. now, then, in time
te (nom. pl. m.): they
puNya-karmaaNaH = nom. pl. m. puNya-karman: mfn. acting right , virtuous , pious
puNya: mfn. auspicious , propitious , fair , pleasant , good , right , virtuous , meritorious , pure , holy , sacred ; n. the good or right , virtue , purity , good work , meritorious act , moral or religious merit
karman: n. action (frequently ifc. , the first member of the compound being either the person who performs the action [e.g. vaNik-k°] or the person or thing for or towards whom the action is performed [e.g. raaja-k°] or a specification of the action [e.g. priiti-k°, an act of friendship or love])

pratyupasthita-vRddhayaH (nom. pl.): having arrived at growth
pratyupasthita: mfn. come near to (acc.) , approached , arrived ; standing or being in (loc. or comp.); happened , occurred
vRddhi: f. growth , increase , augmentation , rise , advancement , extension , welfare , prosperity , success , fortune , happiness ; prolongation (of life) ; gain , profit ; profit from lending money &c , usury , interest

tatra: ind. in that place , there , therein,
taj-jNaiH (inst. pl.): through acts of knowing them, through discovering them
tad: that
jNa: knowing
upaakhyaataan (acc. pl. m.): declared to be, called
upa: ind. (a preposition or prefix to verbs and nouns , expressing) towards , near to etc...
aakhyaata: mfn. said , told , declared , made known ; called
aa-: (prefix) near to, towards
khyaata: mfn. named , called , denominated

avaapur = 3rd pers. pl. avaap: to reach , attain , obtain , gain , get
mahataH = acc. pl. m. mahat: great
nidhiin = acc. pl. nidhi: m. setting down or serving up (food , &c ) ; a place for deposits or storing up , a receptacle (esp. apaaM nidhi , receptacle of waters , the ocean ); a store , hoard , treasure
ni- √ dhaa: to put or lay down , deposit , lay up , preserve

Saturday, May 15, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.38: Throwing A Right Royal Hissy Fit

tatas tad aashrama-sthaanaM
shuunyaM taiH shuunya-cetasaH
pashyanto manyunaa taptaa
vyaalaa iva nishashvasuH

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

Then seeing the ashram without ascetics, desolate,

The princes were desolate in their hearts.

In their indignation, red with anger,

They hissed like snakes.

The self-assertive, self-important attitude of the posh warriors is the dialectic opposite of the passive attitude of the wimpish ascetics. But both attitudes, when we look deeply into what fear is, when we look deeply into the two sides of fear, are rooted in fear.

So again in this verse as I read it, while ostensibly recounting the foundation myth of Kapilavastu as an ancient legend, Ashvaghosha is really expressing timeless truth about the Middle Way and about the human condition -- because throwing a hissy fit is very human behaviour. It might be shameful behaviour or it might be comical behaviour, but throwing a hissy fit, as an emotional reaction to a disappointed expectation or assumption, is distinctly human behaviour.

When I was at university in Sheffield at the end of the 1970s I became acutely aware of what seemed to be two people living in this one body -- Dick Thrust and Horace Wimp, I called them. As I dig now for Ashvaghosha's golden meaning I am reminded of those red and white imposters -- Dick all flushed and puffed up full of himself, and poor shy retiring Horace all pallid and wan.

It was against that background that I was attracted to traditional Goju-Ryu karate-do, with a hard-soft philosophy that was thought by some Goju-Ryu teachers to have been introduced into China by Master Bodhidharma. (Incidentally, I happened to be in Okinawa when the BBC were there filming for the TV series, The Way of the Warrior, from which this clip is taken.)

I am also reminded of a quote from FM Alexander that used to occupy pride of place on the webpage of the Middle Way Re-education Centre:

"It is owing to this habit of rushing from one extreme to another -- a habit which, as I have pointed out, seems to go hand in hand with subconscious guidance and direction -- to this tendency, that is, to take the narrow and treacherous sidetracks instead of the great, broad, midway path, that our plan of civilization has proved a comparative failure."

EH Johnston:
Then the princes, seeing that hermitage empty of ascetics and with their own minds empty (with grief), were overwhelmed with sorrow and sighed like serpents hissing with rage.

Linda Covill:
When the princes saw the ashram empty of ascetics, their hearts were empty too. In their warm grief they hissed like snakes.

tataH: ind. then, thence
tad: that
aashrama-sthaanam (acc. sg.): the site of the ashram ; the ashram's state
aashrama: ashram
sthaana: n. state , condition (ifc. = " being in the state of "); place of standing or staying , any place , spot , locality , abode , dwelling , house , site ; an open place in a town , plain , square ; a holy place

shuunyam (acc. sg.): mfn. empty, void, deserted ; void of , free from , destitute of (instr. or comp.)
taiH (inst. pl.): them, those [ascetics]
shuunya-cetasaH (nom. pl. m.): with their hearts empty
shuunya: empty
cetas: n. consciousness , intelligence , thinking soul , heart , mind

pashyantaH = nom. pl. pres. part. pash: to see, behold , look at , observe , perceive , notice
manyunaa = inst. sg. manyu: m. spirit , mind , mood , mettle (as of horses) ; high spirit or temper , ardour , zeal , passion ; rage , fury , wrath , anger , indignation
taptaaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. heated , inflamed , hot , made red-hot , refined (gold &c ) , fused , melted , molten ; inflamed with anger , incensed

vyaalaaH (nom. pl.): snakes
iva: like
nishashvasuH = 3rd pers. pl. ni- √ shvas : to draw in the breath , inspire ; to hiss , snort &c

Friday, May 14, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.37: Withdrawing, Like Frightened Hermits

taan dRShTvaa prakRtiM yaataan
vRddhaan vyaaghra-shishuun iva
taapasaas tad vanaM hitvaa
himavantaM siShevire

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

Seeing their natural character emerge

As those lads grew, like tiger cubs,

The ascetics abandoned that forest

And retreated to the Himalayas.

What kind of response was this -- laudable, laughable, or lamentable?

Was it laudable? Was it a decision to move on peaceably that emerged out of the balanced stillness of a golden body?

Was it laughable? Did the ascetics head for the hills in a blaze of red panic?

Was it lamentable? Was their retreat a manifestation of passivity born predominantly from the pallor of a fear paralysis response?

The reason I ask these questions and the reason, at least to some extent, I understand them, comes from experience of this life of mine in which I have sometimes been a golden boy, while also making not infrequent excursions into the hellish realms of white and red fear.

I can be sitting outside by the forest at France in a golden glow at one moment. The next moment I can be practically torn apart in a conflict between, on one side, the desire to curl up and die, and on the other side homicidal rage. It only takes the sound of a chainsaw. And from such instantaneous juxtaposition of states, I always learn something new about fear; at the same time, I understand afresh why Marjory Barlow used to say, "Being wrong is the best friend you have got in this work." Because this work has to do with understanding the human condition, and the human condition has a lot to do with fear.

So, to answer my own questions, the ascetics decision to up sticks and head for the Himalayas appeals both to my sense of humour and to my sense of pity. I think their response was both laughable and lamentable -- it contained elements of both panic and fear paralysis, in an unresolved conflict with each other.

The general point is that passive behaviour may look peaceful, but unless it emerges out of the balanced stillness of samadhi, it is not truly peaceful. And nowhere in this Canto, as I read it, does Ashvaghosha intend to indicate that there is anything for us to emulate in the behaviour of the ascetics below Kapila. An ascetic's self-mortified body, out of which the goodness is constantly milked by ascetic practice, can never be the golden body of Buddha.

EH Johnston:
The hermits, seeing their natural character emerge as they grew up, as in tiger cubs, left that forest and retired to the Himalayas.

Linda Covill:
The ascetics noticed that in growing up the princes had reverted to nature, like young tigers, and so they abandoned the forest and retreated to the Himalayas.

taan (acc. pl. m.): them
dRShTvaa = abs. dRsh: to see
prakRtim (acc. sg.): f. " making or placing before or at first " , the original or natural form or condition of anything , original or primary substance
yaataan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. gone to , come or fallen into (acc.)

vRddhaan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. grown , become larger or longer or stronger , increased , augmented , great , large
vyaaghra-shishuun (acc. pl.): m. tiger cubs
vyaaghra: tiger
shishu: m. a child , infant , the young of any animal
iva: like

taapasaaH (nom. pl.): m. the ascetics
tad (acc. sg.): that
vanam (acc. sg.): forest
hitvaa = abs. haa: to leave, abandon

himavantam (acc. sg.): m. a snowy mountain ; m. the himaalaya
siShevire = 3rd pers. pl. perfect sev: to remain or stay at , live in , frequent , haunt , inhabit , resort to (acc.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.36: Facing Fear, like Bharata

jijNaasamaanaa naageShu
kaushalaM shvaapadeShu ca
anucakrur vana-sthasya
dauShmanter deva-karmaNaH

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

Wishing to test their mettle

Among the elephants and big cats,

They emulated the god-like deeds

Of the forest-dwelling son of Dushyanta.

This verse draws a parallel between the intrepid exploits of the Shakya princes who were the biological ancestors of the Buddha and the intrepid exploits of Bharata, the legendary founder of the Indian nation -- the same intrepid Bharata mentioned in 1.26, the son of King Dushyanta and his forsaken queen Shakuntala.

Bharata's exploits were originally celebrated in the Maha-bharata, whose title means "the great tale of the dynasty that Bharata founded;" the great Sanskrit poet and dramatist Kalidasa, as Shakespeare did with ancient legends from Greece and Rome, later turned the ancient legend into a play, called The Recognition of Shakuntala.

Whereas the Maha-bharata pre-dates Ashvaghosha by many centuries, Kalidasa's play The Recognition of Shakuntala was written probably a century or two after Ashvaghosha's time -- in the 3rd or 4th century CE. But since Kalidasa's play is available to hand in an excellent edition published by the Clay Sanskrit Library (translated by Somadeva Vasudeva), I will quote from there the relevant part (from Act Seven):

OFFSTAGE: Don't! Don't misbehave! Lion, how you show your character.

KING DUSHYANTA: (listening) This is no place for misdemeanor. Who can it be that metes out justice? (his gaze traces the sound, acts surprise) Oh! It is a boy not young in strength of character, being restrained by two female ascetics.

Striking a baby lion with his hand,
he drags it along,
its mane dishevelled by rough handling,
half finished drinking from its mother's breast.

(Enter a boy, engaged as described, being restrained by two female ascetics.)

BOY: Open your jaws! Hey, open your jaws, lion! I want to count your teeth.

FIRST ASCETIC: Bad boy! Why are you hurting the animals who are no different than children to us? Your vehemence is increasing. Rightly the sages call you Sarva-damana [sarva = all; damana = taming , subduing , overpowering]

KING: (pondering) Why should my heart take to this boy as if he were my own? (pondering) It must be that my childlessness makes me fond of children.

SECOND ASCETIC: That lioness will pounce on you if you will not release her son.

BOY: (smiling) Oh, I'm terrified! (Bites his lip.)

KING: (amazed)
This child seems to me a seed
of great brilliance,
like fire in its spark-state,
waiting for fuel.

Judging from this account, the young Bharata seems to me to be an exemplar not so much of hunting skill as sheer brass balls. So I think today's verse is saying something about the attitude of the adventurous young princes, who may be taken as representative of adolescent young men everywhere, towards fear.

What, then, is Ashvaghosha saying, or suggesting, about fear?

A superficial understanding of the Middle Way is that on one side of it there is ascetic self-denial, and on the other side is self-indulgent hedonism. But if one thinks more profoundly and fundamentally about the human condition, at the root of suffering is a conflict between two kinds of fear, white and red -- fear paralysis and panic.

Going further, there are two opposing attitudes, based on these two kinds of fear, to fear itself. One is to withdraw from it, to some kind of refuge like a monastery or an ashram or a laboratory or a library. The other is to seek it out, to look the bugger in the eye, on a sports field or in a boxing ring or martial arts dojo or half-way up a rock face or in an encounter with wild predators.

Every parent and every adult stands to be redeemed, like Kapila, from self-centredness, through the natural concern we all share for the healthy development of babies, children, and adolescents. If this concern is to be translated into constructive action -- particularly in dealing with delinquent sons of absent fathers -- one of the first things for us to understand, it seems to me, is the dual nature of fear.

So this verse, as I read it, and in the following verse, Ashvaghosha is saying something profound about both sides of the middle way.

EH Johnston:
They tested their skill on elephants and other wild beasts in rivalry of the godlike deeds of the son of Dushyanta, when he lived in the forest.

Linda Covill:
they sought to prove their hunting skills among elephants and wild beasts, in imitation of the godlike deeds of the son of Dushyanta when he lived in the forest.

jijNaasamaanaaH (nom. pl. desiderative pres. part. jNaa): wishing to know or become acquainted with or learn , investigate , examine
naageShu (loc. pl.): among elephants

kaushalam (acc. sg.): n. (from kushala) well-being , welfare , good fortune , prosperity ; skilfulness , cleverness , experience
kushala: mfn. well , healthy , in good condition , prosperous ; fit for , competent , able , skilful , clever
shvaapadeShu (loc. pl.): m. n. a beast of prey , wild beast ; a tiger
ca: and

anucakruH = 3rd pers. pl. perfect anu- √ kR: to do afterwards , to follow in doing ; to imitate , copy
vana-sthasya (gen. sg.): living in the forest
vana: forest
stha: (ifc.) standing , staying , abiding , being situated in

dauShmanteH = gen. sg. dauShmanti: wrong reading for dauShyanta
dauShyanta: mf(I)n. relating to duShyanta ; m. N. of a mixed caste
duShyanta: N. of a prince of the lunar race (descendant of puru , husband of shakuntalaa and father of bharata)
deva-karmaNaH (acc. pl. m.): godlike deeds
deva: mfn. divine; m. deity, god
karman: n. act , action , performance , business

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.35: ... The Lads Go Hunting


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With leather bindings protecting their fingers

And bows in their hands.

Their great quivers were bursting with arrows,

Their feathers preened and set.

This verse as I read it suggests that, by the word babhramuH ("they roamed about") in the previous verse, Ashvaghosha was referring in particular to hunting trips.

That the princes went hunting, in the literal sense, meant that they set out with the intention of killing creatures of the forest with their bows and arrows. But Ashvaghosha alludes to this deadly intent only very indirectly. His point as I take it is not to preach any kind of preachy message against hunting. His point is rather to describe how, when released from Kapila's strict ascetic prohibitions, the princes naturally veered to the other side of the middle way, giving free reign to an ancient instinctive impulse, in the manner of a wild elephant.

To gratify a strong unconscious impulse, which had most likely been suppressed during their time under Kapila, the princes went out hunting -- though the quarry is not specified.

What is it like for an adolescent lad to go hunting with a quiver bursting with arrows?

Never having gone in for archery, possibly I am not qualified to say. Circumstances for a lad in ancient India, in many respects, must have been very different from the Birmingham of the 1970s where I roved, in all seriousness, with muscles pumped up by weight-training, long hair rigorously washed and parted, wearing platform shoes and baggies -- all fragranced by the great smell of Brut.

Line 4 may contain a play on the word vaasasaH, which means both the garments that clothe a person and the feathers that clothe an arrow.

In the end, if I have got the point of this verse, if I have been able to listen to what is being related, over the centuries, straight from the horse's mouth, then it is mainly through investigating what FM Alexander meant by allowing the head to go FORWARD and UP.

Anybody who can read a book can understand the Buddha's teaching of the middle way intellectually, but the only way really to understand it is to sit on a cushion in the supreme manner, without the head being pulled backward in a bracing/stiffening reaction, and without the head being dropped down under the weight of a body collapsing into a slump.

It really is the simplest thing in the world, but to keep this practice going -- notwithstanding the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to -- is very, very difficult.

One of the reasons it is so difficult is that our sensory appreciation in the matter of the upward direction is prone to be very unreliable. This is a fact which FM Alexander saw with unrivalled clarity, and a fact which the Buddha will later pick up in Canto 13, "Thwarting the Power of the Senses through Practice of Integrity."

EH Johnston:
With leather guards protecting their fingers, with bows in their hands, with mighty quivers bursting with missiles and with arrows adjusted,

Linda Covill:
With their great quivers bristling with arrows, their fingers protected by leather straps, their bows extended in their hands and the arrows drawn back,

baddha-godh"-aaNgulii-traaNaaH (nom. pl. m.): fingers protected by bound leather chord
baddha: mfn. bound , tied , fixed , fastened ; girt with ; clenched (as the fist)
godhaa: f. a sinew ; a chord ; a leathern fence wound round the left arm to prevent injury from a bow-string
aNgulii: finger
traaNa: mfn. protected

hasta-viShThita-kaarmukaaH (nom. pl. m.): bows in hand
hasta: hand
viShThita: mfn. standing or being on or in (loc. or comp.)
kaarmuka: bow

shar'-aadhmaata-mahaa-tuuNaaH (nom. pl. m.): with great quivers inflated with arrows
shara: m. (fr. √ shrii " to rend " or " destroy ") a sort of reed or grass , Saccharum Sara (used for arrows) ; an arrow , shaft
aadhmaata: mfn. inflated , blown , puffed up
mahat: great
tuuNa: m. " bearer " ( √ tul) , a quiver
√ tul: to lift up , raise ; to determine the weight of anything by lifting it up , weigh

vyaayat'-aabaddha-vaasasaH (nom. pl. m.): arrow-feathers drawn apart and joined on ; clothes preened and fastened
vyaayata: mfn. drawn asunder , separated ; opened , expanded ; long , wide , distant , far (» comp.) ; hard , firm , strong
aabaddha: mfn. tied on , bound ; joined ; fixed
abaddha: mfn. unbound , unrestrained , at liberty
vaasas: n. cloth , clothes , dress , a garment; the " clothing " or feathers of an arrow (only ifc.)