Friday, May 21, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.44: Determined Praying

tasthuShaH ShaTsu karmasu
shaantaye vRddhaye c' aiva
yatra vipraan ajiijapan

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

Brahmins versed in the Vedas and Vedangas,

And engaged in the six occupations,

They caused to pray there,

For peace and for prosperity.

The key to this and the next verse, as I read them, is the relatively obscure causitive aorist form ajiijapan which means in the first instance "caused to pray" (from the root jap) and in the second instance "caused to win" (from the root ji).

In this verse, Ashvaghosha is telling us, the Shakya princes caused the Brahmins to pray.

If the axiom is true that there are no idle verses in Ashvaghosha's writings, what is Ashvaghosha really saying? I think he is saying something about political hegemony and the caste system, and also something about individual religious freedom as a myth versus socio-economic determinism as a reality.

This verse might be asking the question, for example: "If separation of church and state is the rule, who made that rule?"

The Wikipedia entry on Classical Hindu Law tells us that the six occupations of a Brahman are teaching and studying the Vedas; offering and officiating at sacrifices; and giving and accepting gifts.

Table 1 of this Wikipedia entry is tellingly titled "Dharmas of the Castes, showing the subordinate place of political rulership."

The entry states that: Classical Hindu law in practice originates from community, not a state polity. In this way, particular groups of society began to gain influence in the creation and administration of law. Primary corporate groups, Kingships, and Brahmins, were the factions which conveyed Hindu jurisprudence in practice. Corporate groups were responsible for legislating law through the conception of social norms; kingships were responsible for the administration of punishment and the worldly Hindu system; and Brahmins were responsible for ritual, penance, and the maintenance of a spiritual Hindu system.

So the Hindu argument seems to be that political rulership, or kingship, is subordinate to the dharma of the caste system. And Ashvaghosha seems to be exactly contradicting this Hindu apology for the caste system. The truth as Ashvaghosha is describing it is not that the Shakya princes subordinated themselves to an a priori spiritual system maintained by the Brahmins, but rather that the Brahmins sang to a tune laid down by their political rulers, the Shakya princes.

One easily tends to assume that religious activities such as ritual prayer and penitent chanting are autonomous actions. But if we take what Ashvaghosha is saying here at face value, noting in particular the use of the causitive ajiijapan, then he is literally saying that the Brahmins were not acting autonomously in their praying and chanting. He is saying that the founding fathers of Kapilavastu, the Shakya princes, caused the Brahmins to engage in what might seem to the unexamined eye like freely willed religious behaviour.

So again a verse that doesn't seem on first reading to be particularly relevant to my life as a Brit in the 21st century, when I sleep on it, asks a serious question about freedom and about fooling oneself.

This verse has caused me, too early in a sleepless morning for comfort, to ask myself: Am I pulling my own strings? Am I allowing my strings to be pulled? In the latter case, who or what am I allowing to be my puppet master?

My old teacher once said to me in all sincerity, "There is no me in me. There is only Dharma in me." It was an impressive statement.

We tend to believe in ideas, fables, fantasies about ourself and our place in the world. And when those stories turn out not to have been true, we grieve.

At secondary school I was one of a group of six friends who formed a fairly solid gang. Recently one of those six got married and the gang duly reconvened, except for yours truly, who was not invited. Ouch. Granted, I probably would not have wanted to go. But when my old friend, to his credit, told me straight, "We had to draw the line somewhere" it was a bit of a rude awakening. Until that time I hadn't quite seen myself, Billy No Mates, on the other side of the line.

Much of the time I seem to believe in a story in which I am the hero, heroically pulling his own strings, who will be respected and maybe even loved by others for his heroic efforts. It is a story about seeking and upholding the truth... and yet when the truth unexpectedly confronts me, like the real dragon, something doesn't like it. Maybe this is what Rumi had in mind when he wrote of “The feeling of joy when sudden disappointment comes.”

Is it a feeling of joy that political rulers can cause one to have?

I don't think so.

EH Johnston:
There they caused the Brahmans, learned in the Vedas and Vedangas and engaged in the six occupations (alone permissible to Brahmans), to repeat the formulae for tranquillity and prosperity.

Linda Covill:
Here they had brahmins, learned in the Vedas and Vedangas and engaged in the six permitted occupations, recite prayers for peace and prosperity.

veda: m. (fr. √vid) knowledge , true or sacred knowledge or lore , knowledge of ritual ; N. of certain celebrated works which constitute the basis of the first period of the Hindu religion (these works were primarily three , viz. 1. the Rig-veda , 2. the yajur-veda , 3. the saama-veda ; these three works are sometimes called collectively trayii , " the triple vidyaa " or " threefold knowledge " , but the Rig-veda is really the only original work of the three , and much the most ancient [the oldest of its hymns being assigned by some who rely on certain astronomical calculations to a period between 4000 and 2500 B.C. , before the settlement of the Aryans in India ; and by others who adopt a different reckoning to a period between 1400 and 1000 B.C. , when the Aryans had settled down in the Panjab])
vedaaNga: n. " a limb (for preserving the body) of the veda " , N. of certain works or classes of works regarded as auxiliary to and even in some sense as part of the veda
viduShaH = acc. pl. m. vidvas: mfn. knowing , understanding , learned , intelligent , wise , mindful of , familiar with , skilled in (acc. loc. , or comp.); m. a wise man , sage , seer

tasthuShaH = acc. pl. m. tasthivas: mfn. (perfect participle of √1. sthaa) one who has stood , standing , remaining , continuing in , being on or in (loc.); occupied with , engaged in (loc.)
ShaTsu (loc. pl. n.): six
karmasu (loc. pl.): n. act , action , performance , business ; office , special duty , occupation

shaantaye = dat. sg. shaanti: f. tranquillity , peace , quiet , peace or calmness of mind
vRddhaye = dat. sg. vRddhi: f. growth , increase , augmentation , rise , advancement , extension , welfare , prosperity
ca: and
eva: [emphatic]

yatra: ind. at which place
vipraan = acc. pl. m. vipra: mfn. stirred or excited (inwardly) , inspired , wise; learned (esp. in theology) ; a sage , seer , singer, poet , learned theologian ; a Brahman ; a priest , domestic priest
√vip: to tremble , shake , shiver , vibrate , quiver , be stirred
ajiijapan = 3rd pers. pl. causative aorist jap: to utter in a low voice , whisper , mutter (esp. prayers or incantations) ; to pray to any one (acc.) in a low voice ; to invoke or call upon in a low voice : Intens. jaJjapyate , to whisper repeatedly (implying blame )

No comments: