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


Harry said...

Very interesting, Mike.

I must look into that Michel Thomas chap. There's a strong whiff of truth in what he says.



Mike Cross said...

Thanks Harry. I think the truth is only one, and there isn't any verse where Ashvaghosha isn't trying to express it....

Besides the recordings of Michel Thomas teaching, there is a well-written biography of Michel Thomas called "The Test of Courage" which I enjoyed reading.