Tuesday, July 6, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.27: Non-Buddhist Virtues (ctd.) -- Balanced Use of Eyes and Hands

sharair ashiishamac chatruun
guNair bandhuun ariiramat
randhrair n' aacuucudad bhRtyaan
karair n' aaapiipiDat prajaaH

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

He quietened his enemies, using arrows;

He gladdened his friends, using virtues;

His servants, when there were faults, he did not goad;

The offshoots who were his subjects he did not,
with doing hands, overtax.

The first two lines of this verse, as I read it, presage 17.11-12:
For just as, by laying out fortifications and laying down the rod of the law,/By banding with friends and disbanding foes,/A king gains hitherto ungained land,/That is the very policy towards practice of one who desires release. / Because, for a practitioner whose desire is release, / The mind is his fortress, the protocol on knowing his rod, / The virtues his friends, the faults his foes; / And liberation is the territory for which he strives.

So in line 1 enemies (shatruun) might mean, for example, fear, greed and hatred; and arrows (sharaiH) might mean arrows made from mindfulness (17.25), or arrows of kindness, contained in a quiver of constancy (17.39).

In line 2, friends (bandhuun) might simply mean human friends, who are gladdened in each other's presence, as in 3.35, or who are steadied by each other's virtues, as in 16.39 - 40: Nobody showed any hostility towards the other,/In fact they looked on others with positive warmth,/As mother, father, child or friend:/For each person saw in the other himself. (3.35) For he who knows suffering as it really is, / Who knows its starting and its stopping:/It is he who reaches peace by the noble path --/ Going along with friends in the good. /He who fully appreciates his illness, as the illness it is,/ Who sees the cause of the illness and its remedy: / It is he who wins, before long, freedom from disease -- / Attended by friends in the know. (16.39 - 40)

Again, a friend might be integrity, as per 13.28: For integrity, my friend, is the refuge:/ It is like a guide in the wilderness, / It is friend, kinsman, and protector,/It is wealth, and it is strength.

Going further, the fear, greed and hatred which are a practitioner's main enemies may also in a manner of speaking become his friends -- if, accepting the teaching that being wrong is the best friend a tile-polishing practitioner has got, he has his enemies stay around and gets to know them better, using virtues like mindfulness, kindness, constancy and integrity. This, as I read it, is the teaching implicit in 15.7: Witness troubles, such as acquisition, / Arising from the desires of men of desire, / And on that basis cut off at root those troubles / Which are akin to enemies, whose name is "friend."

To call an enemy like greed or anger "friend" is paradoxical, but that Ashvaghosha is at home with such unexpected turnarounds is further demonstrated in 15.38: A close relation proves to be an enemy;/A stranger proves to be a friend./By the different things they do,/Folk break and make affection.

In the final analysis, the Buddha lets Nanda know in Canto 16, a practitioner goes to live alone in the forest because there is something even more important to him than human friendship, and that is elimination of the faults: For just as a man afraid of thieves in the night / Would not open his door even to friends, / So does a wise man withhold consent equally / To the doing of anything bad or anything good that involves the faults. (16.79)

A practitioner's ultimate friend then is his chief ally in the battle against greed, anger and delusion, and that ally is the fourth dhyana... Then, because he had let go of ease and suffering,/And of working on the mind, already, / He realised the lucidity in which there is indifference and full awareness: / Thus, beyond suffering and ease, is the fourth stage of meditation./ Since in this there is neither ease nor suffering, / And the act of knowing abides here, being its own object, / Therefore utter lucidity through indifference and awareness / Is specified in the protocol for the fourth stage of meditation. / Consequently, relying on the fourth stage of meditation, / He made up his mind to win the worthy state, / Like a king joining forces with a strong and noble ally / And then aspiring to conquer unconquered lands.(17.54 - 56).

The difficulty in translating line 2 is that ariiramat is relevant to each of these understandings of what Ashvaghosha intends by friends. Ariiramat could mean he gladdened (human friends); or he caused (the enemies greed, anger and delusion whose real name is "friend") to stay around (so that he could get to know them); or he caused (the ultimate stillness of the fourth dhyana) to be still.

In line 3 servants (bhRtyaan) might mean, for example, ears and eyes. Faults, flaws or weaknesses (randhraiH) might be rooted in immature vestibular reflexes. He did not goad (n' aacuucudad) means he did not incite them to action. In other words, line 3, as I read it, means that he did not resort, in the presence of faulty sensory appreciation, to end-gaining.

In line 4 prajaaH , "offshoots," might mean those individual offshoots of the king's empire who were his tax-paying subjects, or prajaaH might mean those offshoots of the human organism, mainly in the upper limbs, that are prone to repetitive stress injury. Again, karaiH could mean "with taxes" or "by acts of doing" or "with hands." On first reading, karaiH might seem to mean "with taxes" but I think Ashvagosha's real intention is to negate acts of overdoing in which the tail is as if wagging the dog. To sit well in lotus is just to negate that kind of end-gaining behaviour which is done with doing hands.

The translation of a verse like today's verse thus becomes complicated, because somebody here has got an Alexandrian agenda. And I am more and more convinced that the person with the Alexandrian agenda is not only me. Ashvaghosha as I hear him is pointing obliquely to exactly the same discoveries that FM Alexander independently made, many centuries later, about how natural functioning of the human organism is compromised by the kind of end-gaining behaviour in which the tail wags the dog.

So a more elegant and readily understandable translation of the fourth line would be:

He did not oppress his subjects with taxes.

But if I translated the 4th line like that, I am afraid it would not preserve the ambiguity that I am convinced Ashvaghosha originally intended.

Did the buddha-ancestor Ashvaghosha originally give a hoot about how an ancient king raised revenue from his subjects? I don't think so. I think the real point is to understand what the king and his subjects, as the central and subordinate agencies in a hierarchical system, symbolize. And real understanding of that real point comes from only one thing, which is sitting in lotus and directing the head in the direction that FM Alexander described as "forward" and "up."

EH Johnston:
With his arrows he kept enemies quiet, with his virtues he rejoiced his kinsfolk : he did not spur his servants on by their weak points or distress his subjects with taxes.

Linda Covill:
He subdued his enemies with his arrows, and gladdened his kinsmen with his merits; he did not goad his servants by referring to their weaknesses, nor did he oppress his subjects with taxes.

sharaiH (inst. pl): m. arrows
ashiishamat = 3rd pers. sg. aorist causative √sham: to appease , allay , alleviate , pacify , calm , soothe , settle ; to put to an end or to death , kill , slay , destroy , remove , extinguish. suppress ; to conquer, subdue
√sham: to toil at , fatigue or exert one's self (esp. in performing ritual acts); to become tired; to cease
shatruun (acc. pl.): m. " overthrower " , an enemy , foe , rival , a hostile king (esp. a neighbouring king as a natural enemy)

guNaiH (inst. pl.): virtues, merits, good qualities
bandhuun (acc. pl.): m. relations, relatives, associates, kinsfolk, friends
ariiramat = 3rd pers. sg. aorist causitive √ ram: to cause to stay , stop , set at rest
√ ram: to gladden , delight , please , caress , enjoy carnally

randhraiH (inst. pl.): n. rarely m. (prob. fr. √ rad) a slit , split , opening , aperture , hole , chasm , fissure , cavity (nine openings are reckoned in the human body); a defect , fault , flaw , imperfection , weak part
na: not
acuucudat = 3rd pers. sg. aorist causitive √cud: to sharpen , whet ; to impel , incite , cause to move quickly , accelerate ; to inspire , excite , animate ; to request , petition , ask , urge on , press or importune with a request ; to criticize
√cud: to impel , incite , animate ; to bring or offer quickly (as the soma)
bhRtyaan (acc. pl.): m. one who is to be maintained , a dependent , servant (also the servant of a king , a minister)

karaiH = inst. pl. kara:
1. m. the act of doing , making etc; " the doer" , the hand ; an elephant's trunk; the claws of a crab
2. m. a ray of light , sunbeam , moonbeam; royal revenue , toll , tax , tribute , duty
na: not
apiipiDat = 3rd pers. sg. aorist causitive √ piiD: to press , squeeze ; to hurt , harm , injure , oppress , pain , vex , to beleaguer (a city) ; to break (a vow) ; to neglect (one's family)
prajaaH (acc. pl.): f. procreation , propagation , birth ; offspring , children , family , race , posterity , descendants , after-growth (of plants); people , subjects (of a prince)


Ian Cross said...

I hope there's someone reading the blog who really grasps the significance of your translation. Do you think about this? It must be hard not to. Have you contacted anyone scholarly about the translation? If anything happened to you, what would happen to it?

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Ian!

I'm not very good at weighing the relative significance of things -- an inability related to vestibular dysfunction, I fear.

This morning I was looking through the virtues listed from 2.1 to 2.44 to see if I could discern a pattern -- for example, a progression through four phases. I didn't notice so much a pattern as a tangle of recurring themes, one of which is non-end-gaining. So 2.17, 2.19, 2.25 and 2.27, as I read them, are all written in defiance of the end-gaining tendency.

You know the principle as well as I do, but it is worth coming back to again and again. I think that's what Ashvaghosha did in verse 2.17, 2.19, 2.25 and 2.27... and then again in 2.40.

I would love it if I could get to the end of all 18 Cantos and have a sense of completion that I never had with the Shobogenzo translation. But any anxiety I feel about that is only the end-gaining mind asserting itself...

Thanks for listening...