Thursday, October 7, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 5.40: Straying in the Wasteland (Like Buddhist Studies)

shive kathaM te pathi n' aarurukShaa
aaropyamaaNasya tam eva maargaM
bhraShTasya saarthaad iva saarthikasya

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

How can you be so devoted to the wasteland of samsara

And so devoid of desire to take the auspicious path

When you have been set on that very path?

You are like a desert trader straying from his caravan.

This verse belongs to what LC identifies as the "travelling for trade metaphor" in her book A Metaphorical Study of Saundarananda.

When the book first became available last year I began the process of ordering a copy but was not willing to pay what I regarded as an exorbitant price for postage and packing that was being asked by the bookseller in India. But now the book has become available via Wisdom Books (see link on the right), from whom I bought a copy that arrived yesterday.

In LC's preface she writes:
"Given that the Saundarananda is a remarkable product of the literary and religious imagination, it is quite surprising that this is the first book-length study of the poem published in English."

I totally agree with the second half of Linda's statement. It is truly amazing that in the seventy-odd years since EH Johnston's groundbreaking efforts so little attention has been paid to Ashvoghosha relative to, say, Nagarjuna and Dogen.

Where I differ from Linda, where I totally reject her view, is when she writes, "That he was both a kavi (poet) and bhikShu (monk) must have been an enduring source of tension for Ashvaghosha, balancing the creative impulse with the Buddhist principles of restraint and disengagement. We cannot know for certain if Ashvaghosha was a very good bhikShu, but he was undoubtedly a great poet and a convincing evangelist of Buddhism."

To me, Saundarananda is a product neither of the literary nor of the religious imagination, and Ashvaghosha is neither a literary figure nor a religious one. Ashvaghosha is a buddha-ancestor. Therefore, so far as I remember that this work in progress is just me serving him, a buddha-ancestor, then I am totally without doubt about this work -- which is a greatly redeeming practice and experience. And on the basis of this practice and experience, I understand -- to be frank, I know with my whole body-mind -- that Ashvaghosha himself was also like that. There was no literary vs religious conflict.

LC's book is based on a doctoral thesis, "Metaphors for Conversion in Ashvagosha's Saundarananda," which was accepted by the University of Oxford in 2006. So Linda (or should I say Dr. Covill?) submitted a thesis, a view, and Oxford accepted it. That is how it is in the world of Buddhist studies. But Ashvaghosha belongs in that world no more than a fire-breathing dragon belongs in a brown paper bag.

From neither monk nor poet, a bow to Ashvaghosha and to all the buddha-ancestors who taught the true Dharma as the giving up of all views.

EH Johnston:
How can you be so devoted to the wilderness of the cycle of existence and not wish to take the holy way when your feet have been set in that very road? You are like a traveller separated from his caravan, who does not wish to take the right road, even when set on it.

Linda Covill:
How can you be so fixated with the wasteland of samsara that you have no urge to venture upon the good path, even when you have been set on that very path? You are like a merchant who has wandered from his caravan!

saMsaara-kaantaara-paraayaNasya (gen. sg. m.): whoolly devoted to the wasteland which is the cycle of unconscious reaction
saMsaara: m. going or wandering through ; passing through a succession of states , circuit of mundane existence
kaantaara: mn. a large wood , forest , wilderness , waste
paraa-yaNa: n. final end or aim , last resort or refuge , principal object , chief matter ; (ifc.) making anything one's chief object , wholly devoted or destined to , engaged in , intent upon

shive (loc. sg.): mfn. auspicious , propitious , gracious , favourable , benign ; happy, fortunate
katham: ind. how?
te (gen. sg.): in/of you
pathi = loc. sg. pathin: m. a way , path , road
na: not
aarurukShaa (from desid. aa- √ ruh ) desire to venture upon
aa- √ ruh : to ascend ; to venture upon , undertake ; causative, ropayati, to plant, place , deposit , fasten)

aaropyamaaNasya (gen. sg. m. passive causative pres. part. aa- √ ruh): one who has been planted / set on
tam eva maargam (acc. sg. m.): that very road

bhraShTasya = gen. sg. braShTa: mfn. fallen , dropped , fallen down or from or off (abl.): strayed or separated from
√bhraMsh: to fall , drop ; to be separated from or deprived of , lose (abl.); to swerve or deviate from , abandon (abl.)
saarthaat = abl. sg. saartha: m. a travelling company of traders or pilgrims , caravan ; mfn. having an object or business
iva: like
saarthikasya = gen. sg. saarthika: m. a companion on a journey , merchant , trader

No comments: