Tuesday, November 16, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.32: Sinking Down

saMdRshya bhartush ca vibhuuShaNaani
vaasaaMsi viiNaa-prabhRtiiMsh ca liilaaH
tamo vivesh' aabhinanaada c' occaiH
paNk'-aavatiirN" eva ca saMsasaada

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

Looking at her husband's ornaments, clothes,

And items of amusement like his guitar,

She entered a state of darkness; she raised a shriek,

And then, as if descending into a mire, sank down.

A contrast between up and down seems to be intended here, as Sundari's voice rises (in volume and/or in pitch?) while she herself sinks into what is termed in 13.47 daurmanasya "n. dejectedness, melancholy, despair."

As the Buddha explains to Nanda in that part of Canto 13, when some foolish thing calls to mind an absent lover, the foolish thing itself -- a cigarette that bears her lipstick's traces? an airline ticket to romantic places? -- is not to blame. The fault is rather in parikalpa-visheSha, "a particular kind of fixing."

So this verse can be understood as providing raw material that the Buddha will later exploit in Canto 13:

Nothing, then, is to be taken away / And nothing is to be added: / One must investigate the reality as it really is, /Whatever and however it is. / In your observing what is, like this, / Always in the territory of the senses, / There will be no foothold / For longing and dejection./ Longing, using cherished forms, / Smites the sensual masses: / A foe who has a friendly face, / She's fair of speech and foul of heart. / What is called dejectedness, conversely, / Is, in connection with an object, a contrary reaction / By going along with which, in one's ignorance, / One is smitten hereafter, and smitten here and now. / When, by getting and not getting his way, / A man is pained as if by cold or heat, / He finds no refuge; nor reaches higher good: / Hence the fluctuating sense-power of the masses. / And yet the power of the senses, though operative, / Need not become glued to an object, / So long as in the mind, with regard to that object, / No fixing goes on. / Where fuel and air co-exist, / Just as there a fire burns, / With an object and through fixing, / So a fire of affliction arises. / For by the unreal means of fixing / One is bound to an object; / Seeing that very same object / As it really is, one is set free. / On seeing one and the same form / This man is enamoured, that man disgusted; / Somebody else remains indifferent; / While yet another feels thereto a human warmth. / Thus, an object is not the cause / Of bondage or of liberation; / It is through a particular kind of fixing / That sticking occurs or does not.

(13.44 - 13.53)

The original meaning of parikalpa is fixing. In Buddhist contexts the word is generally understood as "illusion," or "imaginings." Hence parikalpa-visheSha, which I translated as "a particular kind of fixing," EHJ translated as "special imagination," and as LC translated as "specific imaginings."

Is Sundari's descent into the depths of despair prompted by mental illusions, in the form of the associations her mind forms with Nanda's old stuff? Or is it more to the point to say that she is stuck, as if in a mire, due a psycho-physical condition of fixing?

Whichever causal view is true, or even if both views are true, or more likely if neither are true, what is not in doubt is that Sundari is sinking into the depths of despair. And for the ladies in waiting who now surround her in the palace the immediate task is somehow or other, by hook or by crook, to halt that decline.

Last night, incidentally, I attended a meeting at the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies and was able to ask Prof. Richard Gombrich about the word nimitta, which I translated in Canto 16 as "stimulus" or "starting point," whereas EHJ and LC translated it as "subject of meditation." Prof. Gombrich strongly assured me that nimitta means object of meditation, as given by master to student, and suggested I might check out the uses of the word in canonical texts that pre-date Ashvaghosha. It was a useful suggestion, and I will do that, when I get round to it. But in the sitting-meditation tradition as I have received it, the sitting is the meditation and the meditation is the sitting, so some "object of meditation" like the sound OM or the image of some deity or a mandala, does not fit. Perhaps "target" would be a translation of nimitta that was both literal and not necessarily contrary to the tradition as received via Dogen -- insofar as the target is subordinate to sitting practice itself, and not like the tail that wags the dog. To be continued....

EH Johnston:
And seeing her lord's ornaments, clothes, vina, and other diversions, she entered the dark house of grief and wailed aloud and sank down as if fallen into a bog.

For the vina cf Kaama Sutra, according to which the other diversions would include painting materials and a copy of the latest poem.

Linda Covill:
Beholding her husband's ornaments and clothes, and his items of amusement such as his vina, she entered a state of darkness, howling loudly, and collapsing as though sinking into the mire.

saMdRshya = abs. saM- √ dRsh: , to see together or at the same time; to see well or completely , behold , view , perceive , observe
bhartuH (gen. sg.): of her husband
ca: and
vibhuuShaNaani (acc. pl.): n. decoration , ornament

vaasaaMsi (acc. pl.): n. cloth , clothes , dress , a garment
viiNaa-prabhRtiim (acc. pl. f.): beginning with a lute
viiNaa: f, the viiNaa or Indian lute (an instrument of the guitar kind , supposed to have been invented by naarada q.v. , usually having seven wires or strings raised upon nineteen frets or supports fixed on a long rounded board , towards the ends of which are two large gourds ; its compass is said to be two octaves , but it has many varieties according to the number of strings &c )
prabhRti: f. beginning , commencement (ifc. = " commencing with " or " et caetera ")
ca: and
liilaaH (acc. pl.): f. play , sport , diversion , amusement , pastime

tamaH (acc. sg.): n. darkness , gloom
vivesha = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vish: to enter , enter in or settle down on , go into
abhinanaada = 3rd pers. sg. perfect abhi- √ nad: to sound towards ; to sound, raise a noise
ca: and
uccaiH: ind. high, loud, powerfully
ucca: mfn. high , lofty , elevated ; high-sounding , loud

paNk'-aavatiirNaa (nom. sg. f.): descending into the mire
paNka: mn. mud , mire
avatiirNa: mfn. alighted , descended
ava- √ tRR: to descend into (loc. or acc.) , alight
iva: like, as if
ca: and
saMsasaada = 3rd pers. sg. perfect saM- √ sad: to sit down together; to sink down, collapse , be discouraged or distressed


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

Very interesting, what Prof. Gombrich told you. I'll be keeping an eye out for your further thoughts re nimitta. Did the prof give you any hints as to which canonical texts might clarify Ashvaghosha's use of the word?

Mike Cross said...

Hi jiblet,

I think the prof.'s suggestion was that I get a CD-rom of the Pali Canon and search through that.

Originally Prof. Gombrich seemed to refer to a Sanskrit text that post-dated Ashvaghosha -- I couldn't catch the name, mainly because I suffer from 'cocktail party deafness' (not being able to occlude background noise). When I objected to referring to a text that post-dated Ashvaghosha, the suggestion was that I search through the Pali Canon.

If Asvhaghosha discussed meditation anywhere it is Canto 17, in which he doesn't refer to nimitta. Where the Buddha refers to nimitta, in Canto 16, it seems to me to be not so much in the context of sitting-meditation as in the context of regulating one's state in everyday life.

Thus, "When the mind is agitated by the fault of malice,/ Loving-kindness should be practised, towards oneself;" (16.62) often means to me to go and have a lie down and practise inhibition, or curl up and listen to the radio.

A 'garnering' stimulus might be something one is looking forward to, something that cheers one up to think about it, and in that sense it could be called an object -- though not an object of meditation. Again, some kind of voice work like reciting a favourite text or singing a rousing song might be a garnering stimulus, something that lifts one's spirits.

For the time being, Prof. Gombrich's input notwithstanding, stimulus and starting point remain my favoured translations.

Thanks as always for listening...

jiblet said...

Thanks for the reply, Mike.

Whether I believe I'm hearing what Ashvaghosha is saying, or what the Buddha is saying, or what Mike Cross is saying, I guess the only useful thing I can do is to listen to what I'm hearing...