Tuesday, June 1, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.55: The Readiness Is All

samaajair utsavair daayaiH
kriyaa-vidhibhir eva ca
alaMcakrur alaM-viiryaas
te jagad-dhaama tat puraM

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

By means of meetings, festivals, and acts of giving,

And by means of traditional observances,

The heroes brought to a glorious readiness

That city, the light of the world.

In line 3 of this verse, as at the end of 1.30, the meaning of alaM-kR, as I read it, is not so much to adorn, and still less to embellish (insofar as embellish carries the connotation of doing something superfluous); the stronger meaning, as I understand it, is the first definition given in the dictionary: to make ready or prepare. For, as Shakespeare's Hamlet said, when facing the prospect of his own imminent demise:

If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.
(Hamlet, scene II.)

In Shobogenzo chap. 79, Ango, Master Dogen describes at length and in painstaking detail a long list of courtesies, ceremonies and observances that practitioners are to go through before getting down to the essential work of a 90-day retreat, which is digging out a cave for oneself in space and sitting in it. This verse reminds me of that chapter of Shobogenzo -- which, because of an unreformed tendency towards impatience, I found a relatively tiresome one to translate.

By kriyaa-vidhi in line 2, what kind of rites, ritual actions, or traditional practices was Ashvaghosha referring to? One that springs to mind is the tradition that a seeker of truth should go forth into the life of the wandering mendicant. Another is the old yoga tradition of sitting in the lotus posture. Those traditions existed in ancient Kapilavastu before the Buddha's time, and the Buddha, having chosen the environs of Kapilavastu as his birthplace, followed those traditions.

What is the point of this verse for us now who sit in lotus in the modern world? Might we expect, because of this traditional observance, to meet Buddha? Should we expect, by means of this traditional observance, to become Buddha?

No, whether facing our own assured demise or considering the unforeseeable prospect of enlightenment, the point might be, in maintaining this traditional observance, that the readiness is all.

EH Johnston:
Those heroes adorned that city, the wonder of the world, with assemblies, feasts, gifts, and religious ceremonies.

Linda Covill:
The heroes embellished that city, the glory of the world, with assemblies, festivals, patronage and rites;

samaajaiH (inst. pl.): m. a meeting , assembly , congregation ; congress , conclave , society , company, association , collection ; a convivial meeting , party , club
utsavaiH (inst. pl.): a festival , jubilee ; joy , gladness , merriment
daayaiH (inst. pl.): m. gift , present , donation ; m. gift at the ceremony of initiation

kriyaa-vidhibhiH (inst. pl.): rites, ritual actions, traditional practices
kriyaa: f. doing, act, action; a religious rite or ceremony , sacrificial act , sacrifice
vidhi: m. any act or action , performance , accomplishment , contrivance , work , business (ifc. often pleonastically)
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and

alaMcakrur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect alaM-√ kR: to make ready , prepare ; to decorate , ornament
alaM-viiryaaH (nom. pl. m.): men of enough valour; heroes
alam: ind. enough
viirya: n. manliness , valour , strength , power , energy ; heroism , heroic deed ; manly vigour , virility

te (nom. pl.): those
jagad-dhaama (acc. sg. n.): light of the world, wonder of the world
jagat: n. the world , esp. this world , earth
dhaaman: n. dwelling-place , house , abode , domain ; favourite thing or person , delight , pleasure ; effect , power , strength , majesty , glory , splendour , light
tat (acc. sg. n.): that
puram (acc. sg.): n. a fortress , castle , city , town

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