Friday, July 9, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.30: Non-Buddhist Virtues (ctd.) -- Connecting with Roots, Energizing Shoots

apaprathat pitRRMsh c' aiva
sat-putra-sadRshair guNaiH
salilen' eva c' aambhodo
vRtten' aajihladat prajaaH

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Using virtues that befitted a good son,

He caused his ancestors, again,
to disseminate their light;

And, like a raincloud using rain,

He enlivened his offshoots, his subjects, using conduct.

One of several themes that recur in this Canto is the king's virtues as a good or dutiful son mediating between the past ancestors (pitRRn) to whom he is subject and the present offshoots (prajaaH) who are subject to him.


Wishing to tread the dutiful path of dharma / Trodden by previous kings, / Bearing his kingship like a call to total dedication, / He emulated the forefathers through his conduct. / Due to his good governance, / And under his protection, his subjects rested at ease, / Free from anxiety, / As if in a father's lap. [2.6 - 2.7]

He knew, through intelligence and education, / What was fitting, both in here and out there; / He guarded, with constancy and directed energy, / Both his senses and his subjects. [2.15]

Because of his virtues, he continually grew; / In his joy at the success of friends, he kept growing; / In the stream of forebears long since grown old, again he kept going.../ But go he did not, on a blameworthy path. / 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. [2.26 - 27]

It remains an open question exactly what Ashvagosha intends to convey, on superficial and deeper levels, by the words pitRRn and prajaaH, but as I sit in lotus and as far as possible allow the verse to translate itself, I feel that Ashvaghosha intends to convey some sense of a transmission of light, or of energy of consciousness, from past to present, and from core to periphery.

The various meanings of prajaa include procreation or propagation, and the after-growth of plants: prajaa seems to carry a somewhat organic connotation which I have tried to convey in 2.27 and in today's verse with the word "offshoots."

In the 1st line of today's verse apaprathat also carries a variety of meanings -- including spread fame abroad, glorify, and give light to -- and so how one translates apaprathat depends to a large extent on how one conceives the ancestors who are the object of the verb.

If we are talking about the Buddha-ancestors, my guess is that they might prefer, even above fame and glory, to have their light disclosed and disseminated.

Digging deeper for further layers of meaning of pitRRn, Ashvaghosha might have had in mind that physiological and biological functions in the present derive from our ancient human and pre-human ancestry. So at the level of individual work on the self, the king might be taken as a symbol of a central agency mediating between the ancient core of the human self and fresh offshoots at the periphery. Included in the ancient core might be the heritage that we share with fish of a bony head and spine; together with the primitive vestibular reflexes which have been evolving for around 400 million years to guide that head and spine in the desired direction (originally mainly the direction of smaller fish, aka dinner). Fresh offshoots might include the peripheral nerves stretching out towards fingertips now poised for tapping at a computer keyboard.

Among many possible ways to disclose and disseminate the light of the ancestors, the essential and best way of honouring one's ancestral heritage, while at the same time invigorating or energizing one's own offshoots, might be to work, as an individual, on oneself.

For that reason, today's verse, especially read in conjunction with 2.29, reminded me of the closing words of the annual F.M. Alexander memorial lecture given by Marjory Barlow on 9 November 1965 at The Medical Society of London.

There is no end to work on oneself -- here we are all in the same boat. When Alexander was nearly 80 years old he said to me, "I never stop working on myself -- I dare not." He knew that the only limits to this kind of development are those which we impose on ourselves. He continued to teach to within five days of the end, at the age of 86 and then, having refused all drugs which might deprive him of it, he achieved the rare distinction of being present at his own death. Tonight we have remembered him -- but the memorial that would please him best is that we should do his work.

I regret what a slave to unconscious reaction I continue to be. I am not much of an advert for Marjory's teaching. But I am continuing, in steps, to work on it. And as I continue with this work, I am increasingly convinced that Ashvaghosha and FM Alexander were, if not singing from the same hymn sheet, then at least working from the same blueprint -- in which conscious conduct indirectly causes the whole body, from ancestral core to remotest offshoots, to be informed with the energy of thought direction.

Wishing to energize to my fingertips, while sitting in lotus before eating breakfast and going to the Alexander teacher-training school where I work on Fridays, I join hands and bow, as far as possible not unconsciously. It is Alexander work on the self, in the direction of constructive conscious control of the individual. Equally it is Ashvaghosha's teaching -- vRttena, using conduct. Though it is simple, it is never easy, and I mainly fail in it. But there is no contradiction in it, between the ancient truth of the Buddha-ancestors and the still relatively fresh teaching of FM Alexander who, as is mentioned in Marjory's talk, re-discovered the secret of Zen for our time.

EH Johnston:
He spread abroad his ancestors' renown by the virtues suitable to a good son and he gladdened his subjects by his conduct, like a cloud gladdening them with rain.

Linda Covill:
He glorified his ancestors with virtues that befit a true son; and like a cloud with its rain, he gladdened his subjects with his conduct.

apaprathat = 3rd pers. sg. causitive aorist prath: to spread , extend , increase ; to spread abroad , proclaim , celebrate ; to unfold , disclose , reveal , show ; to extend over i.e. shine upon , give light to (acc.)
prath: to spread , extend (intrans. ; P. trans. and intrans.) , become larger or wider , increase ; to spread abroad (as a name , rumour &c ) , become known or celebrated ; to come to light , appear , arise
pitRRn (acc. pl.): m. the fathers , forefathers , ancestors , (esp.) the deceased ancestors (they are of 2 classes , viz. the deceased father , grandfathers and great-grandfathers of any partic. person , and the progenitors of mankind generally)
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)

sat-putra-sadRshaiH (inst. pl.): befitting a virtuous son
sat-putra: m. a good or virtuous son ; a son who performs all the prescribed rites in honour of his ancestors
sadRsh: fit , proper , just , right
gunaiH (inst. pl.): m. virtues

salilena (inst. sg.): n. flood , surge , waves; water; rain; mfn. flowing , surging , fluctuating , unsteady
iva: like
ca: and
ambho-daH (nom. sg.): m. ('water-giver') a cloud
ambho = in com. for ambhas: water
da: giving

vRttena (inst. sg.): conduct
ajihladat = 3rd pers. sg. causitive aorist hlaad: to refresh , gladden , exhilarate , delight
hlaad: to be glad or refreshed , rejoice ; to sound , shout (for joy)
prajaaH (acc. pl.): f. procreation , propagation , birth; offspring , children , family , race , posterity , descendants , after-growth (of plants)

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