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.)

1 comment:

Mike Cross said...

Paper manuscript originally shows not trāṇa but vāṇa, arrow.