Thursday, December 2, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.48: An Ochre Robe With No Buddhist Stink

syaad atra n' aasau kula-sattva-yogaat
kaaShaayam aadaaya vihaasyat' iiti
an-aatman" aadaaya gRh'-onmukhasya
punar vimoktuM ka iv' aasti doShaH

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

Some might say that,
having put on an ochre robe,

He will not give it up,
due to his combination of ancestry and character.

But he put it on unwillingly,
looking forward to going home:

Where is the fault in taking it off again?"

The usual Japanese word for a traditional robe is KESA, which represents the word used here in line 2, kaaShaaya, a brown-red garment, or ochre robe.

This is the first time the word appears in Saundarananda and there seems to me to be something very skillful in Ashvaghosha's introduction of it in this way, through the mouth of a warm and down-to-earth woman.

The skillfulness has to do with the indirectness of approach, and the total absence of anything like a religious fanfare of trumpets.

In Japan, following Dogen, people treat the kaaShaaya with great reverence, generally referring to it with the honorific prefix "O." So they tend not to speak of a KESA (the Japanese word approximating the Sanskrit kaaShaaya) but rather an O-KESA.

There is not anything intrinsically wrong with honouring a material thing, a traditional object; the wrongness comes in our deluded reactions to what we think of as an important religious object, and, equally, in the tendency to revere form over function.

A kaaShaaya can all too easily become an instrument of trying to be right, whereas a truer function for it might be to help create a space in which it is safe to be wrong.

Last night I watched Prof. Brian Cox deliver the Royal Television Society Lecture, in which he addressed the challenges in bringing science to television. Sometimes I notice in the Alexander world, including me, a tendency to take refuge in accumulation of scientific knowledge -- for example, knowledge about primitive reflexes and the vestibular system -- as a substitute for truly scientific work in the laboratory of oneself. This is something Marjory Barlow cautioned against.

No less than scientists who investigate the external world, we are required in this work on the self constantly to falsify views which experiment or experience have shown to be wrong. So, in short, it is necessary to be prepared to be wrong. To be prepared to be wrong, indeed, is the golden key.

An ochre robe, if we have religious delusions about it, can be an obstacle to such work. Alternatively, if we don't have religious delusions about it, it can help to create a space within which it is safe to investigate the wrongness of all views.

EH Johnston:
It may be argued that, having taken the mendicant's robe, he will not abandon it because high birth and resolution are combined in him ; but what can there be wrong in leaving it again, when he took it against his will, thinking only of returning home ? '

Linda Covill:
One might think that the combination of his noble birth and strength of character would not permit him to relinquish the ochre robe once he had put it on; but he put it on unwillingly, hoping for home, so what's wrong with giving it up again?"

syaat = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be
atra: ind. in this matter , in this respect ; in this place , here at this time , there , then.
na: not
asau (nom. sg.): that over there
kula-sattva-yogaat (abl. sg.): because of the combination of his noble ancestry and strength of character
kula: n. a noble or eminent family or race
sattva: n. true essence , nature , disposition of mind , character ; vital breath , life , consciousness , strength of character , strength , firmness , energy , resolution , courage , self-command , good sense , wisdom , magnanimity
yoga: m. yoking, union, combination

kaaShaayam (acc. sg.): n. a brown-red cloth or garment ; mfn. (fr. kaShaya) , brown-red , dyed of a reddish colour
kaShaya: mfn. red , dull red , yellowish red (as the garment of a Buddhist bhikShu)
aadaaya = abs. aa- √ daa: " to give to one's self " , take , accept , receive ; to put on (clothes)
vihaasyati = 3rd pers. sg. future vi- √ haa: to leave behind , relinquish , quit , abandon ; to give up, cast off
iti: "....," thus

an: not
aatmanaa (inst. sg.): the self , abstract individual [e.g. aatmanaa akarot , " he did it himself "]
aadaaya = abs. aa- √ daa: to put on
gRh'-onmukhasya (gen. sg.): his face looking up at home
gRha: house, home
unmukha: mfn. raising the face , looking up or at ; waiting for , expecting

punar: ind. again
vimoktum = inf. vi- √ muc: to unloose ; to take off (clothes , ornaments &c)
kaH (nom. sg. m.): (interrogative pronoun) who? which? what??
iva: like, as it were ; iva is connected vaguely , and somewhat pleonastically , with an interrogative pronoun or adverb (e.g. kim iva , what? katham iva , how could that possibly be? kve*va , where , I should like to know?) . In the pada texts of the Rig , yajur , and atharva-veda , and by native grammarians , iva is considered to be enclitic , and therefore compounded with the word after which it stands
asti: there is
doShaH (nom. sg.): m. a fault


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

Outside of a text-book I'd not yet come across an example of the 'genitive absolute', which Egenes (Introduction to Sanskrit Part 2) describes as the "genitive of disrespect"; an action taken in spite of another action or situation.

Do you agree that gRh'-onmukhasya -

"But he put it on unwillingly, (even though) looking forward to going home."

- is an example of what the grammarians call a genitive absolute?

And thanks again for your work. It's a daily treat having this great thing slowly unfold,

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for pointing this out, Malcolm.

I feel I am being gradually taught Sanskrit grammar by the best possible teacher of it, and that is Ashvaghosha himself. But it is also a big help having a friend in the know such as yourself.

And I am with you in enjoying it as a daily treat, having this great thing slowly unfold -- like a great big cauliflower.

Thanks as always for listening.


jiblet said...

I don't know that I'd describe myself as someone "in the know", Mike. But that phrase does seem to fit with what I understand the genitive absolute to be.

I wonder if Karttikeya or another more experienced sanskritist is following?