Friday, July 23, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.44: Non-Buddhist Virtues (ctd.) -- A Man of Balance, Mindful of A Non-Verbal Dharma

ten' aapaayi yathaa-kalpaM
somash ca yasha eva ca
vedash c' aamnaayi satataM
ved'-okto dharma eva ca

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

He drank and guarded, as prescribed,

The soma and his honour;

And he was constantly mindful of the vedas

As well as the dharma proclaimed in the vedas.

As the final verse in the long series of 44 verses ostensibly praising the virtues of the non-Buddhist king, this verse can be assumed to have buried in it centrally important meaning. Let us dig.

As a starting point, I think that in the first half of this verse, the pun on the root √paa, which means to drink when its object is the soma juice and to guard when its object is honour, might be intended to suggest something double-sided -- like the dual function of the autonomic nervous system, or like the functions of inhibition and excitation in the central nervous system.

Again, while yathaa-kalpam generally means "according to the rule," a second meaning of kalpa is "one of two sides of an argument." Is there a hint in yatha-kalpam that Ashvaghosha was playing with the idea of balancing opposites -- as opposites are balanced in a man who is able not only to enjoy a cool drink on a hot moonlit night, but also, when occasion demands, to mobilize energy vigorously?

The second half of the verse is the final link in a long chain of verses in this Canto that, in one way or another, have praised the king's dutiful devotion to a non-Buddhist dharma. The impression conveyed is that among many great virtues of the king, his being constantly mindful of his dharma itself -- and not only its verbal documentation in a book of knowledge -- is the virtue that deserves to have the last word accorded to it.

In his original Sanskrit text EHJ gives the third line as vedash c' aamn' aapi satataM, and in a footnote cites as an alternative vedash c' aamnaayi satataM. LC goes with the latter reading, which is from the paper manuscript, as opposed to the palm leaf manuscript upon which EHJ's text is primarily based.

Such technical issues of translation can't be avoided, but focusing on them too much, with a scholar's mind, carries with it the risk of getting bogged down in minutiae and forgetting that Ashvaghosha is a buddha-ancestor for whom the paramount thing is the Buddha's dharma of liberation. And what that means, for a start, is placing one's backside on a round black cushion.

So in this verse, as I read it, Ashvaghosha is indirectly reminding me, even in reading verses that are ostensibly about a non-Buddhist king serving his non-Buddhist dharma, to be mindful of my own non-buddha dharma.

It is 32 years since I first took a formal bow in a karate-do dojo, 28 years since I began daily practice of sitting-dhyana, and 16 years since I got into Alexander work. If I have learnt anything it is that the dharma worth pursuing is not the dharma of trying to be right, and it is not the dharma of getting the body out that is described in Fukan-zazengi: it is the dharma of getting the body out on my own round cushion.

I would like to emphasize, primarily for my own benefit, because I am easily prone to forget, the very large gulf that exists between the dharma of trying to be right and the dharma of getting the body out. There is no middle way between them. If a little bit of trying to be right creeps in, the dharma of getting the body out is well and truly ... erm... let's say scuppered.

So this, as I read it, is the real point of this verse -- to remind the reader or the listener, indirectly, perhaps below the level of his conscious mind, not only to mind the words about dharma but also to mind the dharma that the words are proclaiming. And what Ashvaghosha's words are proclaiming is not the religious dharma proclaimed in the vedas, not the regimented professional dharma of the Japanese Soto Sect and its foreign affiliates, not the philosophical dharma of true Buddhism proclaimed by Gudo Nishijima...

No, I sit on a zafu, and after a while begin to say "Not that!" and thus begins the dharma of getting this body out of the area bounded by the seriously faulty sensory appreciation of one real individual.

My tentative conclusion then, is that today's verse presages the very last verse of Saundarananda, which translates something like this:

Seeing, in general, that the world has as its paramount object
the enjoyment of sensual pleasures, and is repelled by liberation,

I, for whom liberation is paramount,
have here in the guise of poetry told the truth of what is.

Being aware of that,
take from this work that which pertains to peace,
and not to idle pleasure.

It is dust born from original elements, inevitably,
that yields serviceable gold.

EH Johnston:
He drank soma according to the ritual and guarded his fame as was fitting ; and he continually repeated the Vedas and observed the law laid down in them.

Linda Covill:
He drank soma juice in conformity with ritual and took care of his good name, with constant recall of the Vedas and also of the dharma as directed by the Vedas.

tena (inst. sg.): by him
apaayi = 3rd pers. sg. aorist passive paa: (1) to drink; (2) to watch, keep, preserve
yathaa-kalpam: ind. in accordance with the sacred precept / prescription; as prescribed; as each of two opposing sides (?)
yathaa: ind. as ; according to what is right , properly , correctly
kalpa: m. a sacred precept , law , rule , ordinance (= vidhi , nyaaya) , manner of acting , proceeding , practice (esp. that prescribed by the vedas) ; m. one of two cases , one side of an argument , an alternative; m. (in medic.) treatment of the sick , manner of curing ; m. the art of preparing medicine , pharmacy ; m. the doctrine of poisons and antidotes

somaH (nom. sg.): m. the soma juice
ca: and
yashaH (nom. sg.): n. beautiful appearance ; honour , glory , fame , renown
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and

vedaH (nom. sg. m.): m. (fr. √1. vid) knowledge , true or sacred knowledge or lore , knowledge of ritual ; the vedas
ca: and
aamnaayi = 3rd pers. sg. aorist passive aa-√mnaa: to utter , mention , allege ; to cite , quote ; to commit to memory , hand down in sacred texts ; to celebrate
satatam: ind. constantly , always , ever

ved'-oktaH (nom. sg. m.): said in the vedas
veda: m. knowledge; the vedas
ukta: mfn. (p.p. of √ vac) , uttered , said , spoken
dharmaH (nom. sg.): m. dharma, what is laid down, the law, etc.
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and

No comments: