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

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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.)

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