Saturday, July 10, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.31: Non-Buddhist Virtues (ctd.) -- Serving the Non-Buddha Dharma

daanair ajasra-vipulaiH
somaM vipraan asuuShavat
raaja-dharma-sthitatvaac ca
kaale sasyam asuuShavat

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

With inexhaustible and great acts of giving,

He caused the brahmins to press out their soma;

And by devotedly carrying out his duty, kingly dharma,

He caused corn, at the right moment, to ripen.

First up, this verse causes us to reflect on the truth of giving, traditionally said in the house of Buddha to be of thee kinds: giving of material things, giving of Buddha-Dharma, and giving of confidence.

Ajasra-vipula (inexhaustible and great) in line 1, as I read it, expresses the truth of free giving. When a gift is given freely it is not subject to any obstruction but is unhindered; it is limitless, and not only in terms of time.

So the greatness of the king's gift to the brahmins lay partly in his attitude of free giving, his not expecting anything ever in return. But there is more to it than that. There is also the fact that the king gave the brahmins the very thing that brahmins needed to be brahmins, which was the material means to extract and imbibe the soma juice. The principle, here, in other words is that a great gift is not only subjective but it joins subject and object, giver and receiver.

The king's gift to the Brahmans might be contrasted, for example, with Homer Simpson's celebrated birthday gift to his wife Marge of a beautiful bowling ball with HS engraved into it.

For another example, this translation is being made freely available but it will never amount to much of a gift if nobody wants to use it.

The causitive aorist asuuShavat which appears in lines 2 and 4 seems to be derived from two roots with broadly opposite meanings -- √su, to press out, and √shvi, to swell. Maybe Ashvaghosha's intention, again, is to alert the reader to the ambiguity of his meaning.

Thus, while on the surface line 3 describes the devotion of a non-Buddhist king to a non-Buddhist dharma, what Ashvaghosha as I hear him is really alluding to is a buddha-ancestors sole devotion to the one great matter of which Dogen writes in Shobogenzo chap. 72, Zanmai-o-zanmai, The Samadhi that is King of Samadhis. In that chapter Dogen sets down the principle that the one and only duty, or dharma, of a buddha-ancestor is to maintain the Buddha-Dharma as the Buddha-Dharma, by sitting upright with right foot on left thigh and left foot on right thigh.

The word sasyam in line 4, again, has both a literal and figurative meaning: it means not only corn but also virtue or merit. So the second half of the verse can be read as affirming the principle that one who devotes himself dutifully to the one great matter of the Buddha-Dharma causes, in due course, the desired effect to be felt. But Ashvaghosha's message is not delivered in such preachy, goody-goody or abstract terms. So he paints a picture of intoxicating soma juice being pressed out and heads of corn growing fat.

EH Johnston:
With gifts continuous and great he caused the Brahmans to press soma and by holding fast to the golden rule of kingship he caused the crops to grow in due season.

Linda Covill:
The brahmins pressed soma juice because of his continuous generous patronage; and the corn came to seasonable harvest because of his adherence to his royal dharma.

daanaiH = inst. pl. daana: n. the act of giving, donation, gift
ajasra-vipulaiH (inst. pl.): ceaseless and great
ajasra: mfn. ( √ jas) , not to be obstructed , perpetual
√ jas: to be exhausted or starved
vipula: mfn. large , extensive , wide , great , thick , long (also of time) , abundant , numerous

somam (acc. sg.): m. (fr. √3. su) juice , extract , (esp.) the juice of the soma plant , (also) the soma plant itself (said to be the climbing plant Sarcostema Viminalis or Asclepias Acida , the stalks [aMshu] of which were pressed between stones [adri] by the priests , then sprinkled with water , and purified in a strainer [pavitra] ; whence the acid juice trinkled into jars [kalasha] or larger vessels [droNa] ; after which it was mixed with clarified butter , flour &c , made to ferment , and then offered in libations to the gods)

vipraan (acc. pl.): m. a sage , seer , singer, poet , learned theologian ; a Brahman ; a priest; mfn. stirred or excited (inwardly) , inspired , wise
asuuShavat = 3rd pers. sg. causitive aorist (1) √su: to press out , extract (esp. the juice from the soma plant for libations); to distil , prepare (wine , spirits &c ); (2) √shvi: to swell , grow , increase

raaja-dharma-sthitatvaat (abl. sg.): because of his standing firm in his kingly duty/dharma
raajan: m king
dharma: duty, dharma, law, etc.
sthita: mfn. standing ; standing firm ; engaged in , occupied with , intent upon , engrossed by , devoted or addicted to (loc. or comp.) , performing , protecting ; abiding by , conforming to , following (loc.); adhering to or keeping with (loc.); n. staying , remaining , abiding ; ; n. perseverance on the right path
-tvam: (neuter abstract noun suffix)
ca: and

kaale (loc. sg.): on time, at the proper season
sasyam (acc. sg.): n. corn , grain , fruit , a crop of corn ; n. virtue , merit
asuuShavat = 3rd pers. sg. causitive aorist shvi: to swell , grow , increase

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