Thursday, October 21, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.6: The Sound of Barging About

ath' aatra kaa cit pramadaa sa-baaShpaaM
taaM duHkhitaaM draShTum an-iipsamaanaa
cakaara padbhyaaM sahasaa rudantii

- = - = = - - = - = =
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At this one of the women,

Not wishing to see Sundari in her tearful distress,

Stepped too loudly on the stairs from the penthouse

As she suddenly found herself weeping.

The woman in this verse is doing what the famously stern Alexander teacher Margaret Goldie called "barging about." "Barging about" in Margaret Goldie's lexicon of working on the self was opposed to "coming to quiet."

"Stop barging about!" Goldie taught, "and come to quiet."

Barging about basically goes on in the brain and nervous system. It does not necessarily manifest itself in sound -- it may manifest itself, for example, in the ignoble silence of fear paralysis. But when barging about does manifest itself in sound, the sound could be a jarringly tense voice, or it could be a banging door, or the sound of clumsy footsteps. These are the sounds of a person who is not yet operating on the plane that FM Alexander called "constructive conscious control of the individual."

In this verse as in the previous verse, Ashvaghosha describes a person's physical conduct and -- because body and mind are never body and mind -- leaves us to make our own inferences about the inner workings of the person's mind. Hence, as LC observes in an explanatory footnote to this verse: "unable to bear the sight of Sundari's sorrow, the maid intends to slip away quietly, but her own distress makes her inadvertently knock noisily against the stairs."

So the inference is that the maid's intention was to hide her own distress, but the emotion that the maid was trying to suppress spontaneously burst out, as suppressed emotion is ever wont to do, like air from an over-inflated tyre, in accordance with the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Suppression of emotion -- speaking again as something of a veteran in this practice -- does not belong to "coming to quiet." On the contrary, even if it practised in silence while sitting on a round black cushion, it always belongs squarely in the opposite camp of "barging about."

Below the plane of conscious control, we suppress our emotion and barge about because we believe something to be so important that the urgent end justifies any noisy old means. Whereas when we allow ourselves time and space to come back to quiet work on the self, on the contrary, the important thing is just not to barge about.

Because barging about and coming to quiet are opposite conceptions, just in the moment of working on the self (tatra), one has a choice. It can be an enormously difficult choice, like the choice that the Buddha forced Nanda to make, but it is a choice. Whereas if people do not know how as indivduals to work on themselves, then they have no choice but to go on barging about.

So I think the true importance of Saundarananda is not as a work of the literary imagination and still less a work of the religious imagination. It is truly important because it is an ancient blueprint for individual work on the self. So translating it well is an important undertaking -- but not such an urgent one that it warrants barging about.

EH Johnston:
On this one of the women, unable to bear the sight of her grief and tears, suddenly burst into weeping and drummed with her feet on the palace stairs.

Linda Covill:
One of her women, hating to see her so tearful and distressed, suddenly began to sob and banged her feet against the palace stairs.

atha: ind. now, and so, etc.
atra: ind. in this matter , in this respect, in this place, there, then
kaa cit (nom. sg. f.): someone, a certain woman
pramadaa (nom. sg.): f. a young and wanton woman , any woman
sa-baaShpaam (acc. sg. f.): mfn. tearful , weeping

taam (acc. sg. f.): her
duHkhitaam (acc. sg. f.): mfn. pained , distressed ; afflicted , unhappy
draShTum = inf. dRsh: to see , behold , look at , regard
an-iipsamaanaa (nom. sg. f. pres. part. desiderative an-√aap): not wishing to suffer
√aap: to reach , overtake , meet with , fall upon ; to undergo, suffer

praasaada-sopaana-tala-praNaadam (acc. sg. m.): a loud noise of feet on the stairs to the upper storey
praasaada: m. the top-story of a lofty building
sopaana: n. stairs , steps , a staircase ,
tala: mn. surface, level ; the sole (of the foot)
praNaada: m. a loud sound or noise (esp. expressive of approbation or delight)

cakaara = 3rd pers. sg. perfect kR: to do, make
padbhyaam (inst. dual): n. step, stride, the foot itself
sahasaa (inst. sg.): forcibly , vehemently , suddenly , quickly , precipitately , immediately , at once , unexpectedly , at random , fortuitously , in an unpremeditated manner , inconsiderately
sahas: n. strength , power , force
rudantii = nom. sg. f. pres. part. rud: to weep , cry , howl , roar , lament , wail

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