Sunday, October 17, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.2: Sundari's Breasts Revisited, Again

saa bhaartur abhyaagamana-pratiikShaa
gavaakSham aakramya payodharaabhyaaM
dvaar'-onmukhii harmya-talaal lalambe
mukhena tiryaN-nata-kuNDalena

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

Anticipating her husband's approach,

She leant forward,
her breasts invading the bulls-eye window,

As she looked out expectantly
from the palace roof towards the gateway,

With her earrings dangling down across her face.

Forgive me if I sound like a record has got stuck, as I keep on refuting the view that Saundarananda is a religious text, but why does Ashvaghosha return again to the topic of Sundari's bursting breasts, which despite her slim waist, Ashvaghosha seems to be describing as both firm and big -- an overall combination which must have been remarkable indeed in the days before plastic surgery?

Does the preoccupation with Sundari's magnificent boobs support LC's thesis that Ashvaghosha was "a convincing evangelist of Buddhism"?

I don't think so. I think that, like the famous cave-paintings of Ajanta, Ashvagosha's description of Sundari's magnficent "milk-givers" (payodhara -- the original source of sensory satisfaction not only for the stomach and gut but also for tactile and taste receptors in the mouth and tongue) might be intended pointedly and precisely to be irreligious.

This whole Canto can be understood as a study -- and not only a psychological study but also a physiological study, a psycho-physical study -- of what FM Alexander called "unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions." That being so, this Canto, along with the other seventeen, might have absolutely fuck all to do with religion. But it might have a lot to do with understanding the human condition.

Because the mirror principle never fails, I find LC's description of Ashvaghosha as an "evangelist of Buddhism" thoroughly objectionable.

The Buddha's teaching is not primarily about converting others to the Buddha's teaching; still less is it about being "a convincing evangelist" of some -ism -- though for too many years I behaved as though it was. The Buddha's teaching, as delivered to Nanda, is primarily a method for working, as an individual, on oneself.

On that basis, the 4th line, as I read it, is saying something about a universal constant in sitting practice on the surface of mother earth, namely, 1g. In the space of two cantos, Sundari has gone from bliss to despair. She is no longer her same old self. And yet her ear-rings do not seem to have noticed. Sundari's earrings continue to dangle now just as they did during love-play with Nanda, because, when it comes to human feelings, gravity could not care less.

LC speculates: "That he was both a kavi (poet) and a bhikShu (monk) must have been an enduring source of tension for Ashvaghosha, balancing the creative impulse with the Buddhist principles of restraint and disengagement."

But I say to Linda that unless you practise every day balancing yourself on the same round cushion as Ashvaghosha, with your legs crossed and your back lengthening and widening so that you can breathe fully and freely, you have no idea what your own words mean. Unless you understand what it means totally to give up the idea of restraint, and engage totally with gravity, you have no idea where Ashvaghosha is coming from.

The Buddha-Dharma, I say, is not a religion. But it is embodied in a method that has been transmitted. Unless you are part of that living transmission, to which Ashvaghosha himself totally belongs, you do not have any real basis to speculate on the dynamics of the buddha-ancestor's mind. And to be part of that living transmission, no ceremony of religious "initiation" is necessary, nor any "ordainment." What is totally necessary is to park your arse every day on a round black cushion.

EH Johnston:
Resting her breasts against the window in expectation of her lord's return, she leant out from the palace roof looking at the gateway, while her earrings dangled across her face.

Linda Covill:
In the expectation of her husband's return, she leant from the top of the palace to watch the gateway, her breasts touching the window and her earrings hanging across her face.

saa (nom. sg. f.): she
bhaartur (gen. sg.): m. husband
abhyaagamana-pratiikShaa (nom. sg. f.): anticipating his approach
abhyaagamana: approach, return
abhy-aa- √ gam: to come near, approach, visit
pratiikSha: mfn. looking forward to , waiting for , expectant of (ifc.)

gavaakSham (acc. sg.): m. " a bull's eye " , an air-hole , loop-hole , round window
aakramya = abs. aa- √ kram: to step or go near to ; to step or tread upon (acc.) ; to hold fast with the hands , seize ; to attack or invade
payodharaabhyaam = inst. dual. payo-dhara: m. " containing water or milk " , a cloud , a woman's breast

dvaar'-onmukhii (nom. sg. f.): looking expectantly towards the gateway
dvaara: n. door , gate , passage , entrance
unmukha: mfn. raising the face , looking up or at ; waiting for, expecting
harmya-talaat (abl. sg.): from the palace's flat roof
harmya: palace
tala: n. surface , level , flat roof (of a house)
lalambe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. lamb: to hang down , depend , dangle

mukhena (inst. sg.): n. face, mouth
tiryaN-nata-kuNDalena (inst. sg.): with ear-rings hanging down obliquely
tiryaNc: mfn. going or lying crosswise or transversely or obliquely , oblique , transverse ; moving tortuously ; meandering
nata: mfn. bent , bowed , curved , inclined , inclining ; deep, hanging down
kuNDala: n. ear-ring


Happi said...

Now this seems inappropriate. Granted its just my view. Might I suggest you revisit Shobogenzo Zuimonki? Some passage having to do with refraining from excesses comes to mind. Here't a handy link:


Happi said...

Strike that. This is better:
Now this is inappropriate. Might I suggest you revisit Shobogenzo Zuimonki? Some passage having to do with refraining from excesses comes to mind. Here't a handy link:


Mike Cross said...

The Buddha abandonned his ascetic companions to work alone on himself, and he recommended Nanda to go alone into the forest to work on himself.

Only Nanda could work on himself.
Only I can work on myself.
Only you can work on yourself.

Though I don't know you at all, I can tell you this as the general principle.

Speaking for myself, I thank you for your kind suggestion, but I am not a Zen Buddhist, and I do not belong to the church of Soto Zen.

Happi said...

Thank you for the obvious restraint shown in your response.

Its obvious because I've been following your blog for awhile. And so while you may not know me, I can't help but think I would like you as a friend.

I don't know about you, but I set a pretty high value on friends.

P.S. I'm pretty sure there's got to something about refraining from excess in the Shobogenzo somewhere, because they are Buddhas words as well.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Gisela,

My standards are not so high -- when I am well I feel like I'm friends with everybody! Beggars can't be choosers.

As a rule I restrict my facebook friends to people who I have actually met, but I'll break the rule for you if you like.

Our true enemies are greed, hatred, and faulty sensory appreciation, and the wise thing to do might be to befriend those three. But generally we are too busy trying to be right -- which is where false conceptions of "refraining from excesses" are prone to come in.

If you want to sell me a 2nd-hand view on "refraining from excesses," even if you are a friend, I am not buying.

Happi said...

I don't spend time on Facebook these days so don't see the point, but appreciate the offer. I wouldn't mind though if you stopped by my blog every once in awhile with a comment (or admonishment) on my stumbling efforts there. Even though we have to learn things for ourselves and though I'm not blogging for the fame and gain aspect of it, I've found the occasional comment boosts my morale.

On general principle, I don't believe in trying to sell anything to anybody. Sometimes it seems appropriate to state one's view because as human beings we have them.

Mike Cross said...

I'm not even a teeny bit interested in your views, Gisela, so I won't be visiting your blog.

Happi said...

Thanks for letting me know. I'll be posting there anyhow, should you ever change your mind.

Happi said...

My coming here today was a mistake. My apologies.

All the Best,


Mike Cross said...

This verse describes Sundari's expectatancy and the Canto includes Ashvaghosha's study of what happens when a woman's unconscious expectations are not met.

Ashvaghosha intends us to understand the true meaning of the later Cantos in light of such real study of mistake-prone human behaviour.

I would be grateful if you would stop stimulating me to waste my time responding to your lightweight comments. At the same time, I would like to encourage you to, please, carry on making your mistakes.