Wednesday, October 27, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.12: Thinking -- Just Like a Woman

saa strii-svabhaavena vicintya tat tad
dRShT'-aanuraage 'bhimukhe 'pi patyau
dharm'-aashrite tattvam a-vindamaanaa
saMkalpya tat tad vilalaapa tat tat

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

She considered various possibilities,
in accordance with a woman's nature;

Then, failing to see the truth
that her husband had taken refuge in the Dharma,

While obviously still in love with
and oriented towards her,

She constructed various scenarios
and uttered various laments:

Ah, you take just like a woman.
You make love just like a woman.
You fake just like a woman...

If those lyrics were translated from English into Sanskrit, strii svabhaavena, maybe with the addition of an emphatic eva, might be just the phrase to express "just like a woman."

"just like a woman"
strii sva-bhaaven' aiva

Yes, I like that. That sounds good -- to stupid male ears.

Sadly, though, having consulted my wife on the matter, and reflected further, I have to accept that "just like a woman" wouldn't quite be a true translation of Ashvaghosha's Sanskrit. If the first line were translated, "She imagined this and that, just like a woman," it would sound as if Ashvaghohsa were expressing the kind of exasperation towards womankind which Bob Dylan was clearly feeling, and which the monk in Canto 8 strii-vighaataH ("Striking a Blow against Women" or "Women as an Impediment") evidently felt. But it might be wrong to ascribe such exasperation to Ashvaghosha here. Ashvaghosha, on the contrary, may well be pointing to the tendency to be circumspect, to consider various options, as a virtue that women are more likely than testosterone-driven men to exhibit.

EHJ's "in her feminine way," sounds as patronising as men of EHJ's day were wont to be towards 'the weaker sex.' LC's "from a woman's perspective" almost seems designed not to offend, but the Sanskrit ending -ena is indicative more of how than of from.

Should I be afraid of blundering with my size 11 boots into the minefield of sexual politics? Not likely. If any feminist, be they predonominantly male or female, is offended by what I write, then it is his or her own fault for attaching to an -ism.

So, neither because I wish to offend feminists, nor because I wish not to offend feminists, but as a result of struggling to dig out what Ashvaghosha's original intention really was, I have provisionally settled for "in accordance with a woman's nature."

vicintya (considering, imagining) in line 1 is from the root √cint (to think) as is cintaa (anxious thought, worry; 6.10).

The next seven verses, then, are verbal representations of the kind of anxious thoughts that Sundari in her suspicious state was thinking, and the kind of scenarios that she was imagining.

This verse with which Ashvaghosha introduces Sundari's thoughts is easily understood as presenting Sundari, and women's thinking in general, in an unflattering light. But as usual on digging deeper, another possibility emerges.

The less one end-gains and the more one stops and thinks, the more possibilities emerge. This might be just Ashvaghosha's point. It is a point that was taught to me with unrivalled clarity, I might add, by an old woman.

Thinking like a woman, who created various scenarios and expressed in various ways the sorrow of suffering? Only Sundari? Or the poet himself? Or the poet herself?

When I prepared this comment yesterday, I wrote in a jokey way about fearing to trade in the minefield of sexual politics. But, truly speaking, who gives a fuck about sexual politics? The very real problem is that there seem to be in every verse deeper layers of meaning about which I am ignornant -- the unknown unknowns in a cloud of unknowing.

In this situation, what is there that I really know? What knowing can I come back to? I know that trying to become more conscious on the basis of unconscious habits, is folly. I know that stereotypical male habits of thought are not it. And neither are stereotypical female habits of thought. But as a man, it seems to me that practice has called upon me, at least at times, to think more like a woman.

Extremely difficult practice, what Ashvaghosha and the Buddha called yoga, has to do with yoking or integrating the conscious and unconscious aspects of our being. Those who are conscious of being women sometimes fail to acknowledge their unconscious male side. Those who are conscious of being men sometimes struggle to integrate their unconscious female side -- look at poor old Gavin Henson, former Welsh rugby international and British Lion, struggling to show some emotion on Strictly Come Dancing.

When hurt, such a bloke tends to hide the fact that he has been hurt -- a habit nurtured in battle -- and bottle up his sorrow. For a bloke like that, to sit in full lotus for five, six, seven or eight hours a day might be relatively easy, if he has a mind to do so. But to find a voice with which freely to utter the moaning sounds (vi- √ lap) of suffering, might be extremely difficult.

Ashvaghosha obviously overcame that difficulty, constructing various scenarios by which to express the sorrow of suffering.

This ramble is going on too long, but a final possibility to consider, like a woman, relates to the fact that though Sundari is understood to be the object of attachment and orientation in line 3, no object is actually specified. And pati in line 2 (from the root √pat, to be the master) means not only husband but also master, possessor. So a question that arises out of the cloud of unknowing is: if Sundari is understood to be the feminine aspect of Ashvaghosha, or of everyman, who is pati, the master who takes refuge in the Dharma even in spite of continuing attachment? And why does the real truth of this fact go unseen?

EH Johnston:
Turning everything over in her feminine way, the real state of affairs never occurred to her that, although her husband's affection for her was well proved and although he was still devoted to her, he had turned to the Law ; and imagining all sorts of things she uttered many lamentations :--

Linda Covill:
She considered the matter from a woman's perspective, and failed to perceive the truth, that her husband, though demonstrably passionate and attuned to her, had taken refuge in the dharma. Imagining all sorts of things, she lamented in various ways:

saa (nom. sg. f. ): she
strii-svabhaavena (inst. sg.): according to a woman's nature / way of thinking/feeling
strii: f. woman
sva-bhaava: m. native place; own condition or state of being , natural state or constitution , innate or inherent disposition , nature , impulse , spontaneity
bhaava: state , condition , rank ; manner of being , nature , temperament ; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling , sentiment , opinion , disposition ;
vicintya = abs. vi- √ cint: to perceive , discern , observe ; to think of , reflect upon , ponder , consider , regard , mind , care for ; to fancy, imagine
tat tat (acc. sg. n.): this and that, various things

dRShT'-aanuraage (loc. abs.): obviously attached
dRShTa: mfn. visible , apparent
anuraaga: m. attachment , affection , love , passion ; red colour
abhimukhe (loc. abs.): mfn. with the face directed towards , turned towards , facing
api: though
patyau (loc. abs.): husband
√pat: to be master , reign , rule , govern , control , own , possess

dharm'-aashrite (loc. abs.): taken refuge in the dharma
dharma: m. dharma, the truth, the law, the teaching
aashrita: mfn. attaching one's self to , joining ; having recourse to , resorting to as a retreat or asylum , seeking refuge or shelter from
tattvam (acc. sg.): n. true or real state , truth , reality
a (negative prefix): not
vindamaanaa = nom. sg. f. pres. part vid: to know , understand , perceive , learn , become or be acquainted with , be conscious of , have a correct notion of (with acc.); to mind , notice

saMkalpya = abs. saM- √klRp: to be brought about , come into existence ; to be in order or ready ; to wish for ; to produce , create ; to determine , fix , settle ; (with or without manasaa) , to will , purpose , resolve , intend , aim at , strive after , to imagine , fancy , take for , consider as (acc. with iva)
√klRp: to be well ordered or regulated , be well managed , succeed ; to produce , cause , effect , create (with acc.) ; to fix, settle
tat tat (acc. sg. n.): this and that, various things
vilalaapa = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vi- √ lap: to utter moaning sounds , wail , lament , bewail
tat tat (acc. sg. n.): this and that, various things

No comments: