Monday, September 27, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 5.20: ... On the Way to the Vihara

tato munis taM priya-maalya-haaraM
vasanta-maasena kRt'-aabhihaaraM
ninaaya bhagna-pramadaa-vihaaraM
vidyaa-vihaar'-aabhimataM vihaaraM

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Then the Sage led him,
lover of garlands of pearls and flowers,

Whom the month of Spring, Love's friend,
had appropriated,

To a playground
where women were a broken amusement --

To the vihara,
beloved as a pleasure-ground of learning.

A poetic device Ashvaghosha has used here, which is difficult or impossible to mirror in translation, is the three variations on the root √hR (to carry away) which appear in the words haara (garland), abhihaara (appropriated), and the three instances of vihaara (playground, pleasure-ground, vihara).

Sometimes it seems easier to be miserable -- particularly after one has said or done something stupid, again. Really to be cheerful, as opposed to putting on a cheerful face, can seem a prospect as daunting as climbing a mountain on an empty stomach.

Reasons to be cheerful?

Jesus died for us on the cross... but, whoopee!, his dead body got up and walked again in a process called "resurrection." No, that is not a true or real cause for celebration. That America and Britain were led into war at the beginning of the 21st century by political leaders who believe in such fantastic nonsense is nothing to be cheerful about.

No, the vihara to which the Buddha led Nanda was called vihaara, which originally means walking for pleasure, not because it was a place of religious celebration but rather, Ashvaghosha seems to be suggesting here, because it was a place where followers of the Buddha were free to have fun learning how to be.

The first words I ever heard Marjory Barlow say were at a talk she gave in Birmingham in 1995. "Shall I tell you something?" Marjory began. "This work is supposed to be fun!"

Marjory often told the story of how the students on FM Alexander's first training course used to turn up with glum, serious faces, mindful of the momentous importance for human civilization of the teaching that FM was transmitting to them. FM would send them all off for a walk around the block saying "You are no use to me like that. Go on and cheer up!"

When I started biking down to London for regular lessons with Marjory, she impressed on me, in her very indirect way, that nobody has ever get anywhere striving to spread the Buddha's teachings at the expense of their own happiness. Rather, Marjory told me, if a person is truly happy in himself, happiness tends to radiate out from him to others, as if in ripples. I cannot resist contrasting Marjory's advice with that of Gudo Nishijima who erred on the side of reassuring me that "Your suffering has meaning for all people in the world." Mmmm.... So far I haven't noticed.

Marjory's advice prompted me nearly ten years ago now to go to France and find a half-acre plot by the forest -- an excellent place to walk up and down for pleasure, learning what Dogen called the backward step of turning one's light and letting it shine -- EKO HENSHO NO TAIHO.

Now I sought out Gudo Nishijima, for my sins, as I sought out Marjory Barlow. Neither of those two teachers sought me out. I went to them. Neither of them claims that their teaching is religious. But in his attitude and his own behaviour, in the nearly 30 years since I first met him, Gudo Nishijima, seems to me to have behaved in the manner of a Japanese religious patriarch. When I listened to the words coming out of his mouth, he was telling me that Buddhism is not a religion. But he has spent his life behaving as if "true Buddhism" were a religion that was going to "save all people in the world." Clearly, to abandon the view that the Buddha's teaching is a religion, and thus to be freed to roam in one's vihara,is not only a matter of understanding with one's intellect that the Buddha's teaching is not a religion... Such abandonment may be more akin to going out for a stroll, and thereby cheering oneself up.

If I die tomorrow I will die knowing for sure that I have made too many mistakes, while not knowing at all whether I have done anything the slightest bit meaningful in the world. Any way up, I certainly won't regret one or two good moments that I have spent walking up and down, and sitting, in a forest vihara.

EH Johnston:
Then the Seer led him, who had suffered the assaults of the season of spring and to whom garlands and strings of pearls were dear, to the monastery, famed as the pleasureground of knowledge, in which pleasure in women was destroyed.

Linda Covill:
He had been so fond of garlands and necklaces, he had been assailed by the spring months! Now the sage led him to the monastery, which was considered the recreation ground of knowledge, and where pleasure in women was inoperative.

tataH: ind. then
muniH (nom. sg. m.): the Sage
tam (acc. sg. m.) him
priya-maalya-haaram (acc. sg. m.): fond of garlands of flowers and pearls
priya: fond of attached or devoted to (ibc. e.g. priya-devana , " fond of playing ")
maalya: n. a wreath , garland , chaplet ; flower
haara: mfn. (from √ hR, to bear, carry) bearing , carrying , carrying away , stealing (e.g. kShiira-haara , " stealing milk ") ; m. a carrier , porter ; m. a garland of pearls , necklace (accord. to some , one of 108 or 64 strings)

vasanta-maasena (inst. sg.): by the month of Spring (Kamadeva's friend)
vasanta: m. " brilliant (season) " , spring (comprising accord. to some , the months caitra and vaishaakha or from the middle of March to that of May ; often personified and considered as a friend or attendant of kaamadeva , the god of love)
maasa: m. moon, month
kRt'-aabhihaaram (acc. sg. m.): brought near, seized, assailed
kRta: mfn. done, made
abhihaara: m. bringing near ; robbing , seizing anything (in the owner's presence)
abhi √ hR: to bring , offer ; to assail , attack

ninaaya = 3rd pers. sg. perfect nii: to lead
bhagna-pramadaa-vihaaram (acc. sg. m.): going for pleasure among women being broken
bhagna: mfn. broken (lit. and fig.) , shattered , split , torn , defeated , checked , frustrated , disturbed , disappointed (sometimes forming the first instead of the second part of a comp.)
pramadaa: f. (of pramada) a young and wanton woman , any woman
pramada: m. joy , pleasure , delight ; mfn. wanton , dissolute
vihaara: m. walking for pleasure or amusement , wandering , roaming; sport , play , pastime , diversion , enjoyment , pleasure (" in " or " with " comp. ; ifc. also = taking delight in) ; a place of recreation , pleasure-ground ; (with Buddhists) a monastery or temple (originally a hall where the monks met or walked about ; afterwards these halls were used as temples) ;
vi- √ hR: to put asunder , keep apart , separate , open ; to disperse (clouds) ; to move on , walk ; to spend or pass (time) ; to roam , wander through (acc.) ; (esp.) to walk or roam about for pleasure , divert one's self

vidyaa-vihaar'-aabhimatam (acc. sg. m.): loved as the pleasure-ground of learning
vidyaa: f. knowledge , learning
vihaara: m. recreation ground ; grounds of a temple
abhimata: mfn. longed for , wished , desired ; loved , dear ; allowed ; supposed , imagined
vihaaram (acc. sg.): m. recreation ground ; grounds of a temple

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