Wednesday, July 28, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.49: Divine Virtues of the Non-Buddhist Queen -- A Bit of Nothing

tasya devii nR-devasya
maayaa naama tad aabhavat
maay" eva divi devataa

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

That man-god at that time had a goddess,

A queen whose name was Maya;

She was as devoid of anger, darkness
and the maya which is deceit

As was the Maya among gods in heaven.

How devoid of anger, darkness and deceit was the Maya among gods in heaven?

The first answer that springs to mind is: totally devoid -- either because of the virtue attributed to Goddess Maya, aka Durgaa, "the inaccessible goddess," wife of Shiva, famed for her ability not to become angry in spiritual battles; or because neither Maya as a goddess nor maya as deceit has ever really existed, among gods in heaven, at all.

Either way, this verse seems to be praising the Buddha's mother not for the presence of something in her but for the absence of something; namely, anger, darkness and deceit. So this seems to be one of many verses in Saundarananda that sings the praises of a bit of nothing.

That is the main way this verse, as I read it, is relevant to us who sit: because it reminds us that the fundamental point of just sitting is not to be like the monk of the fourth dhyana who, having successfully said no to the first, second, and third stages of sitting-meditation, neglected to progress (or regress) further and cut the upper fetter of pride. Today's verse reminds us that the ultimate point of sitting is not to get something we can be proud of, but to get rid of everything and experience a bit of nothing.

A secondary issue, raised by three appearances of god-related words, viz. devii (goddess, queen), nR-deva (man-god, king) and devataa (Goddess / among the gods), is the general question of how to deal with gods.

Ashvagosha's attitude to the Tushita gods is probably more liberal, tolerant, and permissive than my own attitude would tend to be.

But this verse causes me to reflect that no god in the history of humanity has ever done anybody any harm. It is the reactions of people like me to the idea of a god that do the harm.

Gods in heaven do not have faults, living beings down here on earth do. And that may be why being a bodhisattva (bodhisattvaH), and working to cross over living beings, inevitably entails, again and again and again, coming down to earth (kShitiM vrajan).

Human beings here on earth, out of self-conceit and self-deceit, are ever prone to make statements like "There is no me in me. There is only Dharma in me"; or like "That and that Alexander teacher had their blind spots. [Whereas I do not seem to have a blind spot]."

In the end, whether a goddess named Maya exists in heaven, or whether the deceit/illusion called maya exists in heaven, I do not know. I strongly suspect not. I strongly suspect that the whole idea of gods in heaven is nothing but a human deceit. In the end, what do any of us truly know about gods in heaven? But what is not in doubt is that human beings here on earth lie to ourselves.

If Ashvaghosha is, as he seems to be, portraying the Buddha's mother as free from that tendency, then he is portraying her as a very rare person indeed.

EH Johnston:
That godlike king had at that time a queen named Maya, who like the goddess Maya in Heaven was devoid of the vices of anger, ignorance and deceit.

Linda Covill:
The king had at that time a queen named Maya, free from anger, mental darkness and duplicity, like the goddess Maya in heaven.

tasya (gen. sg. m.): of him, of that [king]
devii (nom. sg.): f. a female deity , goddess ; queen , princess lady (the consecrated wife or daughter of a king , but also any woman of high rank)
nR-devasya = gen. sg. nR-deva: m. " man-god " , a king

maayaa (nom. sg.): f. art , wisdom , extraordinary or supernatural power (only in the earlier language); f. illusion , unreality , deception , fraud , trick , sorcery , witchcraft, magic; an unreal or illusory image , phantom , apparition ; N. of the mother of gautama buddha ; duplicity (with Buddhists one of the 24 minor evil passions)
naama: ind. by name
tad: ind. there, then, at that time
aabhavat = 3rd pers. sg. perfect bhuu: to be, have

viita-krodha-tamo-maayaa (nom. sg. f.): free of anger, darkness and trickery
viita: mfn. gone away , departed , disappeared , vanished , lost (often ibc. = free or exempt from , without , -less)
krodha: m. anger , wrath , passion
tamas: n. darkness , gloom; mental darkness , ignorance
maayaa: f. illusion, deceit, trickery

maayaa (nom. sg.): f. Illusion personified (sometimes identified with durgaa -- daughter of himavat and wife of shiva)
iva: like
divi = loc. sg. div: f. heaven, the sky
devataa (nom. sg.): f. godhead , divinity (abstr. & concr.) ; image of a deity , idol ; ind. with divinity i.e. with a god (gods) or among the gods

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