aShTaa-padam iv' aalikhya
taan uvaaca muniH sthitvaa
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He set out a plan like a chessboard,
Like an eightfold plan, revealed by signs;
Then the sage, standing still, spoke thus
To those offspring of the guardians of the earth:
Lines that seem at first to offer least in the way of profound philosophical meaning often turn out, on digging, to have the deepest hidden meaning.
The burying of meaning in this way is made easily possible by the multiplicity of meanings that are attached to so many Sanskrit words.
In the 1st line of this verse, for example, ashTaa-padam iva seems most obviously to mean a grid like a chess-board on which each line has eight squares. But originally ashTaa-pada means not only a chess-board but anything else that has eight stages or eight legs -- like a spider, or like a cunning eightfold web in which the spider Ashvaghosha would love to entangle the unwary listener.
The 2nd line of this verse, again, nimittaiH surabhii-kRtam, looks like a poetic turn of phrase -- "fragranced by signs," or "made lovely by milestones." But in addition to the primary meaning of "scented," the dictionary tells us, surabhii-kRta has a second meaning of "divulged."
Besides the grid of a town plan, then, what other eight-legged thing might the cunning spider Ashvaghosha have in mind, as being divulged by signs?
What we are digging for here, following signs, is only the true meaning of what the Buddha intended by his eightfold scheme of praajNa (intuitive wisdom -- in thinking, seeing, and initative), shiila (integrity -- in use of voice, use of body, and livelihood), and samaadhi (full awareness, balanced stillness).
Nobody can tell us directly what the Buddha really intended by this eightfold plan; but along the way, if we behave ourselves, we may read some signs. These signs, it seems to me, generally come in the form of negative feedback ...
No, that wasn't it.
No, this isn't it.
No, it is not that.
The noble eightfold plan of the Buddha might be like a chessboard because each of the eight is furnished with the eight. So initiative, for example, is furnished not only with initiative itself but also with thinking and seeing straight; and with proper use of voice and body, and with a good livelihood; and with full awareness, and with balanced stillness.
A positive sign of such initiative might be what you are reading now-- at least insofar as nobody asked me to do this work, and sure as hell nobody is paying me to do it. If what you are reading now is not a sign of initiative itself, I don't know what else it is.
After laying out a space like a chessboard which was beautified by boundary marks, the seer stood still and said to the princes: --
The sage mapped out the area like a checkered board made yet lovelier by these happy marks, then stood still and said to the princes:
aShTaa-padam (acc. sg.): m. " having eight legs " , a spider ; mn. a kind of chequered cloth or board for drafts , dice , &c ; (also) a chess-board on which each line has 8 squares or 64 in all
aalikhya = abs. aa- √ likh: to delineate by scratches ; to mark , draw , write , delineate , paint
nimittaiH = inst. pl. nimitta: n. (possibly connected with ni-√maa, to measure , adjust) a butt , mark , target ; sign , omen ; cause , motive , ground , reason
surabhii-kRtam = acc. sg. m. past part surabhii- √ kR: to render fragrant , fill with fragrancy ; to divulge
surabhi: mfn. (prob. fr. su + √ rabh = " affecting pleasantly ") sweet-smelling , fragrant ; charming , pleasing , lovely ; famous , celebrated ; best , excellent ; good ; friendly , a friend
kRta: mfn. made
taan (acc. pl. m.): to them
uvaaca = 3rd pers. sg. perfect: to speak, say
muniH (nom. sg. m.): sage
sthitvaa = abs. sthaa: to stand , stand firmly , station one's self
bhuumi-paala-sutaan (acc. pl. m.): descendants of earth-guardians, princes
paala: m. a guard, protector; protector of the earth , king, prince
suta: m. a son , child , offspring
idam (acc. sg. n.): this