Tuesday, May 18, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.41: Building on the Grounds of Fading Karma

tatas tat-pratilambhaac ca
pariNaamaac ca karmanaH
tasmin vaastuni vaastu-jNaaH
puram shriiman nyaveshayan

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

On the grounds of what they thus acquired,

And of the fading influence of their past karma,

They who knew building, at that site,

Founded a splendid city.

This verse, as I read it, suggests the foundation of Kapilavastu as the coming together of the two factors -- like subject and object, or mind and reality -- that always have to be present in order for anything momentously constructive to happen (albeit always in a twinkling, as we were reminded in 1.33).

For this translation, likewise, to amount to anything, it is necessary for me to understand truly the gist of what Ashvaghosha is endeavoring to convey, as if in an architect's blueprint. But not only that. It is also necessary for me to understand the objective rules, conventions and vocabulary of classical Sanskrit as Ashvaghosha wrote it -- rules that might be compared to building regs. And not only that. Day by day I have to continue to make an effort actually to do the translation, verse by verse, like building a city brick by brick. And that can only happen with the fading influence of the karma I have created in the past, by wrong actions done with body, speech and intention.

To express it negatively, if this translation never amounts to anything, the reason will be that
(a) I didn't truly understand what Ashvaghosha was saying, or
(b) my grasp of Sanskrit wasn't sufficient, or
(c) my bad karma got me before I got to the end of the project, or
(d) some combination of the above.

PariNaama in line 2 is ambiguous: it could mean ripenening/fruition of good karma, as EHJ and LC have translated it. That I have understood pariNaama to mean the fading out of bad karma reflects the perception that constructive projects tend to fail not primarily because of laziness in intentionally trying to create good karma; failures stem primarily from unintentional production of bad karma -- as a side-effect of end-gaining. Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

To relate this verse to the preceding verse, Ashvaghosha as I hear him is again hinting at a teaching in the Middle Way; namely, it is not enough to clarify that the ultimate goal for a follower of the Buddha is release. There has also to be in place a system, a mechanism, a method, a means-whereby. Clarity in regard to a goal without due attention to systems is a recipe for undesirable side-effects, which is precisely why FM Alexander criticized the end-gaining approach.

Thirty years ago at university, studying "Organizational Effectiveness," I wobbled between opting for a goals approach or a systems approach to effectiveness. It was a kind of philosophical mirror for the Dick Thrust vs Horace Wimp dichotomy that seemed to be at the centre of my being. Now it seems blindingly obvious that a balanced approach encompasses awareness of and attention to both goal and systems. But it was by no means obvious to me then, when I was looking for an answer one way or the other, off the middle way.

Master Dogen's Shobogenzo is full of quotations that are thought to be translations into Chinese from Nagarjuna. But none of those quotations from Nagarjuna appealed to me so much as the quotation of the Buddha's words in the last chapter of Shobogenzo, chap. 95, The Eight Great Human Truths. And though the original Sanskrit for that chapter appears to have been lost to the ravages of time, I am convinced that the original Sanskrit was the Sanskrit of Ashvaghosha. It was mainly the allure of that chapter that caused me to scour the internet for signs of the Sanskrit from which it originated. And that search led me almost instantly to Ashvaghosha -- thanks to the timely publication of the Clay Sanskrit Library editions of Saundarananda and Buddhacarita.

Nagarjuna's Song of the Middle Way, in my book, is only the lyrics to an original melody laid down by Ashvaghosha.

EH Johnston:
Then with the acquisition of that wealth and the ripening of their merit, they founded on that site a city which was majestic through their knowledge of townplanning.

Linda Covill:
Because of those treasure-troves and the fruition of their karma, they could now use their building acumen and erect a glorious city on that site.

tataH: ind. thence, from that, on that basis
tat-pratilambhaat: on the basis of that attainment/understanding/aquisition
tat: that ; with regard to that, thus
pratilambha: m. receiving , obtaining , finding , getting ; conceiving , understanding
prati- √ labh: to receive back , recover ; to obtain , gain , partake of (acc.) ; to get back i.e. get punished ; to learn , understand
ca: and

pariNaamaat (abl. sg.): m. change , alteration , transformation into (instr.) , development , evolution ; ripeness , maturity ; alteration of food , digestion ; withering , fading ; lapse (of time) ; decline (of age) , growing old
ca: and
karmanaH = gen. sg. karman: n. action, karma, former act as leading to inevitable results

tasmin (loc. sg.): that
vaastuni = loc. sg. vaastu: n. the site or foundation of a house , site , ground , building or dwelling-place , habitation , homestead , house
vaastu-jNaaH (nom. pl. m.): men familiar with building sites; builders, architects
vaastu: site, building
jNa: mfn. knowing , familiar with (chiefly in comp.)

puram (acc. sg.): n. a fortress , castle , city , town
shriimat (acc. sg. n.): mfn. beautiful , charming , lovely , pleasant , splendid , glorious
nyaveshayan = 3rd pers. pl. causitive imperfect ni- √ vish: to be founded (said of a town)

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