Tuesday, August 10, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.62: Shining in the Middle

tayoH sat-putrayor madhye
shaakya-raajo raraaja saH
madhya-desha iva vyakto

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Being in the middle, with regard to those two true sons,

The Shakya king reigned resplendent,

Like the middle region, adorned

By the Himalaya and Pariyatra mountains.

If you were interested in this verse only insofar as it relates to the one great matter of sitting, would that make you biased? Or might it be a manifestation of your being truly in your middle, with head going forward and up, out of a torso that is lengthening and widening?

"It is a question of selection," a Zen master said to me, in rather a decisive tone, during a "Buddhist lecture" in English circa October 1983. Then after another 45 minutes of sitting before his subsequent lecture in Japanese, he came up to me, having evidently had second thoughts, and added words to the effect that, even if it were a question of selection, there was nothing to prevent me making a phone-call. But I was already quite happy with the idea that it was a question of selection. "The problem does not affect my balance so much," I concluded, with a confidence that proved in subsequent months and years to be utterly false. During that 45 minutes of sitting, I had felt that I was so strong in my middle, centred, balanced, and so clearly on the side of right, that nothing could bother me... but my feeling was totally unreliable.

Sometimes it is a question of selection -- a question not of seeking a middle way but of giving up the idea of a middle way and making a decision one way or another. And sometimes it is not a question of deciding anything but a question of truly remaining undecided, neutral, in the middle -- which is not the same thing as feeling oneself to be in the middle.

So, in line 1 of this verse, as I read it, madhye, "in the middle," means primarily that the king was truly in the middle of himself.

According to one traditional interpretation, following the Brahmins' prediction of the birth of a prince who would bring honour through wealth or through dharma (2.51), King Shuddhodhana tried to ensure that Gautama would excel in the worldly rather than the philosophical sphere. But Ashvaghosha's portrayal of the king, in this canto and particularly in this verse, seems to contradict the notion of any such bias in King Shuddhodhana.

To convey the sense of the King being thus unbiased, neutral, in the middle, Ashvaghosha compares the King to what?

He uses the metaphor of a middle region between two great mountain ranges. Why?

The geographical background is that the Himalayas lie to the north while the Pariyatra is another name for the Vindhya mountains that lie to the south of the Ganges basin.

So what was it about the region of the Ganges basin that lent itself to comparison with the King?

Having struggled with this question for a while, I think that Ashvaghosha's intention might be that, while the Himalayas are even more magnificent than the Vindhyas, both ranges are momentously and magnificently mountainous, whereas in the middle region between the two ranges mountains might be conspicuous by their absence.

This kind of makes sense to me as a father of two good sons -- insofar as whenever I have truly been a father, being a father has not been about me being a father, but has rather been all about the boys. When a captain of a sports team truly captains the team, or when the leader of any group truly leads the group, the same principle may apply -- i.e. the principle of it not being all about me.

In conclusion, then, this verse can be read as presaging not only the description in Canto 17 of Nanda's experience of the detachment and indifference of 3rd and 4th dhyanas, but also his subsequent cutting of the upper fetters such as an overly high regard for oneself.

EH Johnston:
The king of the Shakyas shone between those two good sons of his, like the Middle Country displayed between the Himalayas and the Pariyatra.

Linda Covill:
Between his two good sons the king of the Shakyas stood resplendent like the middle country between the Himalayas and the Vindhya mountains.

tayoH (gen./loc dual): those two
sat-putrayoH (gen./loc dual): true sons, good sons
madhye = loc. sg. madhya: mfn. middle (used like medius e.g. madhye samudre , " in the midst of the sea ") ; standing between two , impartial , neutral

shaakya-raajaH (nom. sg. m.): the Shakya King
raraaja = 3rd pers. sg. perfect raaj: to reign , be king or chief , rule over ; to be illustrious or resplendent , shine
saH (nom. sg. m.): he

madhya-deshaH (nom. sg. m.): m. middle region , middle space , the central or middle part of anything ; the middle of the body , waist ; the midland country (lying between the himaalayas on the north , the vindhya mountains on the south , vinashana on the west , prayaaga on the east , and comprising the modern provinces of Allahabad , Agra , Delhi , Oude &c )
iva: like
vyaktaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. adorned , embellished , beautiful ; caused to appear , manifested , apparent , visible , evident

himavat-paaripaatrayoH (gen. dual): the Himalaya and Pariyatra ranges
himavat: mfn. having frost or snow ; m. a snowy mountain ; m. the himaalaya
paariyaatra: m. N. of the western vindhya range
[NB EJH's original text has paripaatrayoH; in a footnote to his English translation he adds that pariyaatrayoH is preferable.]

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