Thursday, May 6, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.29: A Line of Drops vs Unbroken Flow

yaa patet kalashaad asmaad
a-kShayya-salilaan mahiim
dhaaraa taam an-atikramya
maam anveta yathaa-kramaM

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

"There will fall to earth from this flowing jug,

Whose flowing is unbreakable,

A line of drops: Do not overstep this mark,

As in step you follow me."

This verse could be very difficult to understand and it could be very easy to understand, depending on whether one's instrument of choice is a common spade or a magic broomstick.

To understand this verse one has to sit on Ashvaghosha's sitting-cushion and see through Ashvaghosha's eyes which is more truly wondrous and more truly miraculous:

The Harry-Potter-esque fantasy of a wizard flying in the sky with a jar of inexhaustible water?

Or the fact that light can be a wave or a particle, depending on how one looks at it? Or the fact that we experience our existence as a continuum, and at the same time, sometimes, we experience it as a moment that is totally cut off from past and future?

When the buddhas of the three times are described as all vigorously turning the wheel of Dharma inside a silica atom, is that an expression of somebody's fantastic idea, or is it just an expression of the mysterious but universal and constant tendency that energy has, to spread out?

In this verse, as I read it, the sage Kapila, having forgotten himself and gone up, is not only giving the princes a practical direction but is also allowing some philosophical truths of the forest to spontaneously express themselves through him.

In the first line, for example, there might be the truth of water tending to flow downwards, following the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Again, in the words kalashaad asmaad a-kShayya-salilaat, "from this jug which is unbreakable flowing," might be concealed the truth of relativity, wherein water can be experienced to be as hard as concrete, and baked clay can be understood to be molecules ceaselessly whizzing about.

Going further, there might be a truth to be honoured in everyday practice, in dealing with discrete things, like drops of water, or moments of time, that seem to flow in a continuum. The sage might accidentally be expressing a philosophical truth, or standard, that in the building of foundations (or, say, in the sewing of a buddha-robe) is not to be neglected or transgressed.

The truth in question might be the truth of . . . .

This moment.
This moment.
This moment.
This moment.

This building brick.
This building brick.
This building brick.
This building brick.

This stitch.
This stitch.
This stitch.
This stitch.

This is a truth that permeates Japanese society, some say due to the influence of Zen Master Dogen. I witnessed it in Gudo Nishijima, who always struck me as a genius at living in the moment of the present. I witness it in the work ethic of my wife. I witnessed it under Japanese teachers of traditional karate-do, who tend to be very fond of the saying: Mo ichi do.

One more time. One more rep.

Just one more time.

When we are truly able to listen, we honour this truth. We neglect it, transgress it, overstep it, and pass through it in vain, by worrying about a past mistake, or by end-gaining for a future result.

EH Johnston:
'Follow me step by step without passing beyond the line of the drops which fall to the earth from this jar whose water is inexhaustible.'

Linda Covill:
"Follow me in due order, and do not pass beyond the boundary marked out by the drops which will fall to earth from this vessel of inexhaustible water."

yaa (nom. sg. f.): [the stream of water] which
patet = 3rd pers. sg. optative pat: to fly , soar , rush on ; to fall down; to occur , come to pass , happen
kalashaat (abl. sg.): m. jar, jug
asmaat (abl. sg. m.): this

a-kShayya-salilaat (abl. sg. m.): flowing without diminishment, flowing unbroken
a-kShayya: mfn. undecaying
kShayya: mfn. (anything) that can be destroyed or removed
kShi: to be diminished , decrease , wane (as the moon) , waste away , perish
salila: mfn. flowing , surging , fluctuating , unsteady; n. flood , surge , waves; n. (also pl.) water ; rainwater, rain ; eye-water, tears
mahiim (acc. sg.): f. " the great world " , the earth (in later language also = ground , soil , land , country)

dhaaraa (nom. sg.): f. stream or current of water; flood , gush , jet , drop (of any liquid) , shower , rain ; continuous line or series ; margin ; the rim of a wheel
taam (acc. sg. f.): that
an: (negative prefix) not
atikramya = abs. ati-√kram: to step or go beyond or over or across ; to pass , cross ; to pass time ; to surpass , excel , overcome ; to pass by , neglect ; to overstep , transgress , violate ; to pass on or away ; to step out ; to part from , lose

maam (acc. sg.): me
anveta = 2nd pers. pl . imperative anve: to come after , to follow as an adherent or attendant
yathaa-kramam: ind. according to order , in due succession , successively , respectively.

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