Monday, May 31, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.54: Of Kapilavastu & Kata

vaasa-vRkShaM guNavataaM
aashrayaM sharaN-aiShiNaaM
aanartaM kRta-shaastraaNaaM
aalaanaM baahu-shaalinaaM

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

It was a homing tree for high flyers,

A refuge for those seeking a place of rest,

An arena for those skilled in scientific endeavour,

And a tethering post for the mighty.

The four elements of this verse mirror the four elements of the previous verse, having to do with goals, energy, learning, and realisation by the greatly accomplished of great accomplishment.

baahu-shaalin in line 4, according to a note by EHJ, means "[a man] of mighty arm" or "[an elephant] of mighty trunk."

This line, along with the rest of the verse, again makes real sense to me only if Ashvaghosha's covert intention is to liken the greatness of Kapilavastu to the greatness of what is called in Japanese kata, "forms," foremost and most basic of which is za-zen, the sitting-dhyana of the Buddha and Bodhidharma, and latterly Dogen. Guidance towards the true practice of that is just what we are digging for here.

A kata is a fixed form but in tethering himself to it an incredibly strong bloke finds the freedom of simply existing in space. And to have witnessed the devotion of such a powerful person to a traditional kata is, now I come to reflect on it, very useful experience to bring to daily work of translating a venerable ancient text. The text, like the kata, might have many more applications than I, in my presently unenlightened state, am aware of.

For audio-visual evidence of what it looks and sounds like when a mighty man finds freedom by tethering himself to a traditional kata, check out some of the You Tube clips on Morio Higaonna, from Way of the Warrior, filmed by the BBC in Okinawa just at the time I visited there to meet and train under Higaonna Sensei in April 1982. In 1986, in my single-minded stupidity, I made a decision to give up the kata of Okinawan Go-ju Ryu in order to concentrate on the kata of sitting-dhyana. But now when I see what my old friend and kata-teacher Paul Enfield has been doing in the intervening 24 years, especially in the way of teaching the kata to youngsters, I can't help wondering.... well, to put it positively, I take my hat off to Paul.

Kapilavastu was long ago reduced to rubble and its golden age can never be resurrected. But in Ashvaghosha's description of Kapilavastu, if we are diligent enough in excavating it, might be pointers to a new golden age of kata.

EH Johnston:
It was the roosting-tree of the virtuous, the resort of the distressed, the stage for learned disputants and the picketing ground for men of might.

Linda Covill:
It was a homing-tree for the virtuous, a refuge for the vulnerable, an arena for the learned and a tethering-post for the strong.

vaasa-vRkSham (acc. sg.): home tree
vaasa: m. (fr. √vas) staying , remaining (esp. " overnight ") , abiding , dwelling , residence , abode , habitation
vRkSha: tree
guNavataam = gen. pl. m./n. guNavat: mfn. endowed with good qualities or virtues or merits or excellences , excellent , perfect

aashrayam (acc. sg.): m. that to which anything is annexed or with which anything is closely connected or on which anything depends or rests ; seat , resting-place ; dwelling , asylum , place of refuge , shelter
sharaN-aiShiNaam (gen. pl. m.): those seeking refuge, asylum-seekers
sharaNa: n. shelter , place of shelter or refuge or rest , hut , house , habitation , abode , lair (of an animal) , home , asylum
eShin: mfn. (generally ifc.) going after , seeking , striving for , desiring

aanartam (acc. sg.): m. dancing-room , dancing academy ; a stage , theatre
aa- √nRt: to dance towards , hasten near , jump near
kRta-shaastraaNaam (gen. pl. m./f.): those accomplished in scripture/science
kRta: mfn. done , made , accomplished , performed
shaastra: n. an order , command , precept , rule ; teaching , instruction , direction , advice , good counsel; a body of teaching (in general) , scripture , science

aalaanam (acc. sg.): n. the post to which an elephant is tied ; the rope that ties him ; a fetter , tie , rope or string ; binding , tying
baahu-shaalinaam (gen. pl. m.): men possessed of a strong arm (= 'men of might' and 'elephants' [EHJ])
baahu: the arm , (esp.) the fore-arm , the arm between the elbow and the wrist
shaalin: (ifc.) possessing , abounding in , full of , possessed of , amply provided or furnished with , conversant with , distinguished for


Happi said...

Hello from Antai-ji Mike! Conveyed greetings to Muho-san for you (& apologized for the poor quality of the messenger, saying I didn't think you were aware). I'm sure the experience is different here than elsewhere in Japan, but by coincidence we do have a 19 yr old over-achiever here. He's a sweet and enthusiastic guy. Five day sesshin coming up! Thanks for your continuing efforts. - Gisela

Mike Cross said...

Hi Gisela,

Well done for getting there.

About the five-day "sesshin," you might ask Muho-san from me where the word "sesshin" came from, and if he thinks it is a term that is worth preserving?

My old Alexander head of training, Ray Evans, used to ask "Why do we do what we do? And why do we say what we say?"

Some things that in Japan are thought of as traditions are not truly traditions, but Japanese affectations or embellishments.

All the best,