Sunday, October 3, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 5.32: Ultimate Fearlessness

aasthaaya yogaM parigamya tattvaM
na traasam aagacchati mRtyu-kaale
aabaddha-varmaa su-dhanuH kRt'-aastro
jigiiShayaa shuura iv' aahava-sthaH

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

Staying with practice and fully committed to reality,

At the hour of death he is not afraid --

Like a warrior-hero standing in battle, clad in armour,

With good bow, skill in archery, and the will to win."

This is the kind of military metaphor, apparently befitting this style of epic Sanskrit poetry, which recurs through Saundarananda, and with which Canto 17 in particular is replete.

Notice that the final goal, at the final hour, is not here described by the Buddha as something (like for example the "enlightenment" that would later come to be glamorized in Chinese and Japanese Buddhist thought). The final goal is rather described as a bit of nothing, namely, absence of fear.

In writing this, I remember a memorable sting in the tail of 17.69, where Nanda describes the utmost quiet, to which he has come, as "like gaining, after famine, plentiful food."

The lesson I took from translating that particular verse -- along with the verses preceding it in which Ashvaghosha seemed to me to be confirming my idea that nirvana is not something but rather a lot of nothing -- is that whatever idea I might have about nirvana, the reality of nirvana is never that.

In light of that lesson, I have thought hard this morning about how to translate parigamya tattvam. The meaning of the phrase might literally be explained as going or walking (gam-ya) fully around or through (pari) the being (-tva) that (tat). At the same time, parigam means to get, attain or realize something. So parigamya tattvam might be translated as "realizing reality" -- but not by me, at least not today.

I wanted a phrase that was more suggestive of the practice of those ancestors who at the final moment did not (as I imagine their experience) get or realize something so much as they consciously gave up everything -- while using their bodies with such skill, and such clarity of intention, that they were able to breathe their last while standing or sitting upright.

EH Johnston:
By practising Yoga and arriving at the ultimate truth, a man remains unamazed in the hour of death, like a warrior who strives for victory in battle and who, girt with harness and having a good bow, is skilled in the use of arms.'

Linda Covill:
Just like the warrior wearing protective armor, armed with a good bow and skilled in weapons, standing ready for battle and hoping for victory, neither does the disciplined man who encompasses the truth fear the moment of death."

aasthaaya = abs. aa- √ sthaa: to stand or remain on or by ; to resort to ; to act according to , follow ; to undertake , perform , do , carry out , practise , use
yogam (acc. sg.): m. the act of yoking ; practise
parigamya = abs. pari- √ gam: to go round or about or through , circumambulate , surround , inclose ; to come to any state or condition , get , attain (acc.)
tattvam (acc. sg.): n. true or real state , truth , reality ; the being that

na: not
traasam (acc. sg.): m. fear , terror , anxiety
aagacchati = 3rd pers. sg. pres. aa- √ gam: to come, arrive ; to fall into (any state of mind)
mRtyu-kaale (loc. sg.): at the hour of death

aabaddha-varmaa (nom. sg. m.): his armour bound on
aabaddha: mfn. tied on , bound
varman: n. " envelope " , defensive armour , a coat of mail
su-dhanuH (nom. sg. m.): with a good bow
su-: (laudatory prefix) good
dhanu: m. a bow
kRt'-aastraH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who has exercised himself in throwing arrows or other weapons , skilled in archery
kRta: mfn. done , made , accomplished ; well done, good ; cultivated
astra: n. a missile weapon , bolt , arrow ; (also) the art of throwing missiles

jigiiShayaa = inst. sg. jigiiShaa: f. (from desid. ji) desire of obtaining ; desire of conquering or being victorious , military ambition
shuuraH (nom. sg.): m. a strong or mighty or valiant man , warrior , champion , hero
iva: like
aahava-sthaH (nom. sg. m.): standing in battle
aahava: m. challenge , provoking ; war , battle
stha: mfn. standing

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