Tuesday, September 28, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 5.21: Kindly Putting a Hand On

diinaM mahaa-kaaruNikas tatas taM
dRShTvaa muhuurtaM karuNaayamaanaH
kareNa cakr'-aaNka-talena muurdhni
pasparsha c'aiv' edam uvaaca c'ainaM

= = - = = - - = - = =
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= = - = = - - = - = -?

Then the greatly compassionate one,

Watching him in his moment of misery and pitying him,

Put a hand, with wheel-marked palm, on his head

And spoke to him thus:

Accepting EHJ's proposition that there is no redundancy in Ashvaghosha's writing, so that every word has meaning, why did he include the word muhuurtam in line 2?

I think muhuurtam suggests the Buddha's insight into impermanence. So seeing Nanda's misery, the Buddha pitied him, but at the same time the Buddha was confident that the misery he was inflicting on Nanda would be a passing phase.

What can I say, not as one with wheel-marked palms, about putting a hand on another person's head?

One thing I can say with confidence is something that has been taught and demonstrated to me by teachers of the FM Alexander Technique:

To put a hand on a person's head can be a very powerful means, if it is done well, of facilitating and speeding up that person's learning process.

And in this verse cakr-aaNka-tala, "wheel-marked palm," can be understood as a kind of hallmark of all things being done well, cakra, "wheel" meaning the eight-spoked wheel of Dharma described in 3.11: And so the wheel of Dharma -- whose hub is uprightness, / Whose rim is constancy, determination, and balanced stillness, / And whose spokes are the rules of discipline -- / The seer turned, in an assembly there, for the welfare of the world.

In this light it might be significant that, as Ashvaghosha relates this episode, before the Buddha even opens his mouth to speak to Nanda he communicates something (or a bit of nothing) through the touch of his hand. He communicates something of his upright, balanced, disciplined self through a hand on which that balanced use of the self has left a kind of not necessarily visible blueprint or insignia.

EH Johnston:
Then the Compassionate One, considering his wretchedness for a moment and pitying him, caressed his head with His hand, the palm of which bore the wheelmark, and spoke to him thus :--

Linda Covill:
The greatly compassionate one saw his distress in an instant, and pitied him. He laid his hand with its wheel-marked palm on Nanda's head and said:

diinam (acc. sg.): mfn. depressed , afflicted , timid , sad ; miserable , wretched ; n. distress , wretchedness
mahaa-kaaruNikaH (nom. sg. m.): the greatly compassionate one
tataH: ind. then
tam (acc. sg. m.): him

dRShTvaa = abs. dRsh: to see , behold , look at , regard , consider; to see with the mind , learn , understand
muhuurtam (acc. sg. n.): a moment , instant , any short space of time
karuNaayamaanaH = nom. sg. m. karuNaaya: to be compassionate , pity

kareNa (inst. sg.): m. "the doer"; hand
cakr'-aaNka-talena (inst. sg.): with wheel-marked palm
cakra: n. wheel, circle
aNka: m. a hook ; a curved line ; a numerical figure , cipher , a figure or mark branded on an animal , &c ; any mark , line , stroke , ornament , stigma
tala: mn. surface ; the palm (of the hand)
muurdhni = loc. sg. muurdhan: m. the forehead , head in general

pasparsha = 3rd pers. sg. perfect spRsh: to touch , feel with the hand , lay the hand on (acc. or loc.) , graze , stroke
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
idam = nom./acc. sg. n. ayam: this one
uvaaca = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vac: to speak, say
ca: and
enam (acc. sg. m.): this , that , (this pronoun is enclitic and cannot begin a sentence ; it is generally used alone , so that enam puruSham , " that man " , would be very unusual if not incorrect)

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