Thursday, October 28, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.13: From What Cause?

eShyaamy an-aashyaana-visheShakaayaaM
tvay" iiti kRtvaa mayi taaM pratijNaam
kasmaan nu hetor dayita-pratijNaH
so' dya priyo me vitatha-pratijNaH

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

"He promised me: 'I'll be back

Before the paint on your face is dry';

From what cause would such a cherisher of promises

As my beloved is, be now a breaker of promises?

The questions Sundari asks herself in 6.13 - 6.19 thus begin reasonably enough, for in 4.37 Nanda did indeed promise Sundari evaM kariShyami, "I will" -- "I will do [as you have asked]."

Notice that Sundari does not respond to Nanda's breaking of his promise by instantly jumping to the wrong conclusion and reaching for the nearest weapon. Her first resort, on being wronged, is not to action but to reason. She asks herself kasmaan nu hetoH, "from what cause?"

Is this reasoned consideration of causality part of what Asvhaghosha means by saa strii-svabhaavena vicintya tat tad "considering various possibilities according to a woman's nature"?

From a feminist perspective it might be objectionable to discuss "a woman's nature." But dropping off feminism, what is it that Ashvaghosha calls strii sva-bhaava, "a woman's nature"?

In answer to this question, after 50 years of investigation, observing at close quarters mother, grandmothers, younger sister, girlfriends, wives, female teachers, female students, female colleagues, mothers of children with immature vestibular reflexes, women neighbours in Japan, England, and France and various other women, a woman's nature remains a mystery to me. A woman's nature belongs deep within the cloud I referred to yesterday, the cloud of a-vindamaana, "unknowing."

When I discussed this problem this morning with the mysterious being who I call my wife, who is both a woman and a teacher of the FM Alexander Technique, she said that she hoped that in Ashvaghosha's view every woman was an individual. My response was that of course every woman is an individual, irrespective of anybody's view, but Asvhaghosha's teaching, as I understand it, is just about giving up views -- including feminism and including individualism.

My tentative conclusion is that in Asvhaghosha's world there is such a thing as a woman's nature, but whatever view I might have on what it is, truly it is not that.

So here Asvhaghosha describes Sundari, having considered this and that in accordance with a woman's nature, asking herself why, from what cause, has Nanda broken his promise to her.

The answers Sundari comes up with, in her inability to know the truth (tattvam; 6.12) of what really happened to Nanda, seem to show a woman increasingly (in a phrase of FM Alexander's) "out of touch with her reason."

That being so, in verses 6.13 - 6.19, does Sundari's tendency to think just like a woman increase?

Or does Sundari's ability to think in accordance with a woman's nature diminish?

When I was working together with my teacher Gudo Nishijima on the translation of Master Dogen's Shobogenzo, his view was that there was one true interpretation of Dogen's words, and our aim was to hit that target.

An alternative view I have recently heard expressed with regard to Shakespeare's Hamlet is that there are as many Hamlets as there are actors who play the role.

I don't know, but it seems to me that many if not most verses of Saundarananda have a manifest surface meaning and a deeper hidden meaning buried below the surface, not to mentionn probable deeper layers of meaning that I don't yet know about -- the unknown unknowns in the cloud of unknowing.

On the surface then, Sundari's first question might be dismissed as just the emotional little lady beginning to turn things over in her mind, "in her feminine way."

But if we dig deeper, Sundari might here be asking a profound and pertinent question which is firmly rooted in causality: What in fact does cause a man who one thought to be a man of integrity to break a promise? Was it, for example, an end so important that it justified dubious means? Is the breaking of promises justified by the truth that you cannot make an omelette without cracking a few eggs?

My religious instinct 20 years ago would have been to grab the nearest Dharma-cakra and issue a war cry: "Yes, the Buddha's end justified any means!"

But when today I inhibit my instinctive response and thereby allow a space to accommodate a bit of thinking -- just like a woman -- then other answers are also possible.

EH Johnston:
'My lover promised that he would return before the paint was dry on me ; why then is he, usually so faithful in his word, so faithless to it to-day?

Linda Covill:
"He made me a promise that he would be back before my visheshaka dries. What reason could there possibly be for my dear husband to break his promise now, when his promises are so important to him?

eShyaami = 1st pers. sg. future i: to go; to return (in this sense only fut.)
an-aashyaana-visheShakaayaam (loc. sg. f.): before the face-paint is dry
an: not
aashyaana: mfn. dried up
visheShaka: painted mark; face-paint

tvayi (loc. sg.): on you
iti: "....," thus
kRtvaa = abs. kR: to make
mayi (loc. sg.): to me
taam (acc. sg. f): that [promise]
pratijNaam (acc. sg.): f. promise

kasmaat: ind. where from? whence? why? wherefore?
nu: ind. now, then
hetoH (gen. abl. sg.): m. cause, reason
dayita-pratijNaH (nom. sg. m.): being one for whom a promise is cherished
dayita: mfn. cherished , beloved , dear ; m. a husband , lover
pratijNaa: f. promise

saH (nom. sg. m.): he
adya: ind. today, now
priyaH (nom. sg.): mfn. beloved; m. lover, husband
me (gen. sg.): my, to me
vitatha-pratijNaH (nom. sg. m.): being one for whom a promise is untrue
vitatha: mfn. (fr. vi + tathaa , not so) untrue , false , incorrect , unreal , vain , futile
pratijNaa: f. promise

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