Friday, December 3, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.49: Coming to Earth

iti yuvati-janena saantvyamaanaa
hRta-hRdayaa ramaNena sundarii saa
dramiDam abhimukhii pur" eva rambhaa
kShitim agamat parivaarit" aapsarobhiH

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

saundaranande mahaa-kaavye
bhaaryaa-vilaapo naama ShaShThaH sargaH

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

And so Sundari, consoled by her young women

When her heart had been heisted away by her husband,

Came to earth, just as Rambha,
with her heart turned towards Dramida,

Did once upon a time, surrounded by fellow apsarases.

The 6th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda,
titled "A Wife's Lament."

Rambha was a prominent apsaras, or celestial nymph, who is also mentioned in 7.36. So I have added the word "fellow" in line 4 to clarify that Rambha herself was an apsaras -- just as Sundari herself was a young woman. I wanted to bring out the sense of solidarity and sisterhood, because I think one of the points implicit in this verse, and in this Canto, is that maybe the greatest consolation to a person who is stricken by grief is not to feel abandoned and alone in one's suffering -- as if left high and dry. One remembers the story of the grief-stricken mother whom the Buddha instructed to bring to him a mustard seed from the house of a family which had never suffered the premature death of a child.

So Rambha was an apsaras, and her face in some way was directed towards Dramida; but who or where Dramida was I do not know.

Dramida may be an alternative pronunciation of Dravida, one of ten sons sired by Krishna with his wife Jambavati.

Dravida was also the name of a kingdom in South India, and sometimes a name for the entire region of South India -- hence the label "Dravidian" given to a family of languages spoken in southern India and Sri Lanka.

Is the meaning that Rambha descended to earth with her heart turned towards Dramida as a lover? Or did she for some reason descend with her face turned towards the south? Since EHJ and LC opted for the former understanding, and their knowledge of Sanskrit literature is far deeper than mine, I have followed them.

Either way, the turning words in this verse, as I read it, are kShitim agamat. One way of reading this verse is that it makes a play on the double meaning of the word kShitim which means (1) house or palace, (2) the earth, so that the same phrase indicates (1) Sundari's descent from the palace roof to the palace proper, and (2) the descent of the apsaras Rambha from her celestial abode to earth. But there might also be a sense in which Ashvaghosha is describing Sundari coming to earth, as the undue excitement of her fear reflexes subsides.

This is a process that people who are interested in energy flows in the human body, or interested in the human body as an energy flow, often describe as becoming "grounded."

The idea of being "grounded," however is a dangerous one. People are prone to react to it, in the words of Alexander teacher Peggy Williams, by "trying with their heels to dig a hole for themselves in the ground."

Marjory Barlow used to say she didn't when standing have any problem getting the feet grounded. Gravity was always there to take care of that. The difficulty, as Marjory saw it, was directing oneself up.

Still, there is a sense, when undue excitement of fear reflexes and emotions abates, of nervous excitement and reddening abating around the neck, head, face, and chest, so that the vestibular system is less affected by internal noise, in which state there may be more chance of sensing a flow of direction from the ground up. It is, then, not a matter of coming down to earth, but of just coming to earth, in order to come up from earth.

To try to describe it in words inevitably invites trying to feel it out and do it, rather than to think or direct or allow it. Because our vestibular sense is so faulty, because our feeling of where up is so (to use Alexander's word) "debauched," the point is not to feel but to think one's whole body, from the ground up, up.

About 25 years ago, at a time when I felt I had come to earth with a bit of an eye-opening thud, I remarked to my Zen teacher that I could hardly believe how stupid I had been. "Human life is stupid," was his reply.

The Zen master then proceeded over the course of a quarter of a century to prove his own point very exactly in practice, embracing ever more tightly a pet reductionist view on the importance of the autonomic nervous system, while regarding the teaching of FM Alexander with suspicion, as if it were a threat to the purity of "true Buddhism." Somebody should make a play about it -- a play about a stupid frightened Zen master and his stupid frightened non-successor, either a tragedy or a comedy, I don't know which.

This Canto might not seem, on the surface, to have too much to do with Zen Buddhist practice. But it is very much concerned with stupid human life -- the course of which is all too easily unconsciously misdirected, in a downward direction, under the influence of unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions.

EH Johnston:
Thus Sundari, robbed of her heart by her lover and soothed by her maidens, went to her palace, just as Rambha of old, accompanied by the Apsarases, descended to earth seeking Dramida.

Linda Covill:
And being comforted in this way by her young attendants at the time when her heart was stolen away by her lover, Sundari went into her palace, just as Rambha was once tended by the apsarases when she came to earth yearning for Dramida.

iti: thus
yuvati-janena (inst. sg.): by the young women
yuvati: f. a girl , young woman
jana: m. people , subjects (the sg. used collectively)
saantvyamaanaa = nom. sg. f. passive pres. part. saantv: to console , comfort , soothe , conciliate , address kindly or gently

hRta-hRdayaa (nom. sg. f.): her heart having been taken away
hRta: mfn. taken , taken away , seized (often ibc. = " deprived or bereft of " , " having lost " , " -less ")
hRdaya: heart
ramaNena (inst. sg.): m. a lover , husband ; m. kaama-deva , the god of love
sundarii (nom. sg. f.): Sundari
saa (nom. sg. f.): she

dramiDam (acc. sg.): m. = (?) draviDa N. of a son of kRShNa
abhimukhii (nom. sg. f.): with the face directed towards , turned towards , facing (with acc. dat. gen. ; or ifc.)
puraa (ind.): before , formerly , of old
iva: like
rambhaa (nom. sg.): f. "sounding , roaring , lowing"; name of an apsaras -- see below

kShitim (acc. sg.): f. an abode , dwelling , habitation , house; f. the earth
agamat = 3rd pers. sg. aorist gam: to go
parivaaritaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. surrounded by
apsarobhiH (inst. pl.): f. the apsarases, " going in the waters or between the waters of the clouds " , a class of female divinities (sometimes called " nymphs " ; they inhabit the sky , but often visit the earth ; they are the wives of the gandharvas (q.v.) and have the faculty of changing their shapes at will ; they are fond of the water ; one of their number , rambhaa , is said to have been produced at the churning of the ocean).

saundara-nande mahaa-kaavye (loc.): in the epic poem Handsome Nanda
bhaaryaa-vilaapaH (nom. sg. m.): a wife's lament ; the sound of a wife's wailing
bhaaryaa: f. a wife
vilaapa: m. lamentation, wailing
vi- √ lap: to utter moaning sounds , wail , lament
naama: ind. by name
ShaShThaH sargaH (nom. sg. m.): 6th canto

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