Saturday, January 8, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 7.35: Another Ascetic Brahman Bites the Dust

brahma'-rShi-bhaav'-aartham apaasya raajyaM
bheje vanaM yo viShayeShv an-aasthaH
sa gaadhi-jash c' aapahRto ghRtaacyaa
samaa dash" aikaM divasaM viveda

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And the son of Gadhin who,
in order to become 'the Brahman Seer,'

Renounced his kingdom,
having lost interest in sensual objects,
and retired to the forest:

He was captivated by the nymph Ghrtachi,

Reckoning ten years with her as a single day.

The son of Gadhin is Vishva-mitra, 'Friend of All.'

The legend is that Vishva-mitra was born into the warrior caste of kshatriyas but after a requisite number of years of ascetic self-denial he eventually gained the epithet 'Brahman Seer.' He gained the epithet either from his erstwhile brahmin rival and owner of the cow of plenty Vasistha (see 1.3), or from Lord Brahma himself, depending on which version of the myth one goes with. In any event, the gaining of the epithet 'Brahman Seer' signified Vishva-mitra's purported elevation from the kshatriya into the brahmin caste.

This picture is a representation of Vishva-mitra being seduced by the celestial nymph Meneka, with whom Vishva-mitra fathered Shakuntala. Shakuntala was the mother of the mythical founding emperor of India, Bharata (see 1.26). Whether Ghrtachi and Meneka are two names for one nymph, or whether Vishva-mitra suffered the misfortune of being seduced by more than one celestial nymph, I have not been able to ascertain.

What has all this Brahmanical legend got to do with the one great matter which is embodied by the practice of just sitting?

A straight answer might be: absolutely bugger all.

And that might be Ashvaghosha's implicit point.

What was Bodhidharma's intention in coming from the west? Bodhidharma's compassion for the people of the eastern lands of China, Japan, etc. might be one side of the story. The other side might have been a desire to get the hell away from the consciousness of class or caste, and the belief in the value of asceticism, which seems to have been so deeply ingrained in the ancient Indian consciousness.

The Chinese master Joshu, when asked what was Bodhidharma's intention in coming from the west, replied "The tree growing in the garden."

There is a tree growing outside the window of the room where I sit in the morning. It is a small pear tree that I planted more than ten years ago, and if I raise my eyes I can see it when I am sitting.

What that pear tree is, I don't know -- any more than I know what Bodhidharma's intention was. What Bodhidharma's intention was, again, I don't know -- any more than I know what the pear tree in the garden is.

But I know (at least I am fairly sure) that the kind of thinking Nanda is engaging in now, stimulating negative thoughts in himself by reference to the ascetic heroes of ancient Brahmanical legend... is not it.

Some idiot who wrote the blurb on the dust jacket of Patrick Olivelle's translation of Buddhacarita, opines as follows: "A creative artist of the highest order, Ashva-ghosha's aim is not pure entertainment but deep instruction. His mission is to present the Buddha's teaching as itself the culmination of the Brahmanical tradition."

One of the ways to refute such a view might be to pay close attention to Ashvaghosha's use of the word tapas which means austerity, ascetism, or ascetic practice -- practice which in 'the Brahmanical tradition' is supposed to involve painful self-denial -- and to be clear in one's mind whether Ashvaghosha is affirming tapas or not. Where he seems that he might be affirming ascetic practice, is he in fact indirectly or ironically negating it?

Ashvaghosha's use of the word tapas , ascetic practice, can be contrasted with his use of the word yoga, which means practice itself, with a connotation of using oneself more or less consciously in an integrated way.

What is Ashvaghosha's mission? I think it might have to do with pointing away from tapas and towards the true meaning of yoga. But (unlike the idiot who declares that Ashvaghosha's mission is to present the Buddha's teaching as the culmination of the Brahmanical tradition) I shouldn't presume to know.

EH Johnston:
The son of Gadhin, who threw away a kingdom to become a Brahman seer and went to the forest, indifferent to material things, was captivated by Ghrtaci and deemed ten years with her but a single day.

Linda Covill:
And the son of Gadhin, who had no care for sensory experience, rejected his kingdom and retired to the forest to become a brahmin sage; but he became smitten, reckoning ten years with Ghritachi as a single day.

brahma'-rShi-bhaav'-aartham (acc. sg. n.): for the purpose of becoming 'the Brahman Seer
brahman: n. the class of men who are the repositories and communicators of sacred knowledge , the Brahmanical caste as a body (rarely an individual Brahman)
RShi: m. a singer of sacred hymns , an inspired poet or sage ; seer of the Vedic hymns
bhaava: m. becoming, being
artha: aim, purpose; ifc. for the sake of
apaasya = abs. apa √as) , to fling away , throw away or off , discard , to scare , drive away ; to leave behind ; to take no notice of , disregard.
raajyam (acc. sg.): n. kingdom , country , realm

bheje = 3rd pers. sg. perfect bhaj: to turn or resort to
vanam (acc. sg.): n. the forest
yaH (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
viShayeShu (loc. pl.): m. sense object ; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
an-aasthaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. indifferent

sa (nom. sg. m.) he
gaadhi-jaH (nom. sg. m.): the son of Gadhin
gaadhin: m. (= gaathin) N. of vishvaa-mitra's father (king of kaanyakubja)
vishvaa-mitra: m. (prob.) " friend of all " , N. of a celebrated RiShi or Sage ( he was at first a functionary , together with vasiShTha , of su-daas , king of the tRitsus ; seeing vasiShTha preferred by the king , he went over to the bharatas , but could not prevent their being defeated by su-daas , although he caused the waters of the rivers vipaash and shutudrii to retire and so give the bharatas free passage RV. iii , 33 ; he was born as a kShatriya , deriving his lineage from an ancestor of kushika , named puruu-ravas , of the lunar race of kings , and himself sovereign of kanyaa-kubja or Kanoj ; his fame rests chiefly on his contests with the great Brahman vasiShTha , and his success in elevating himself, though a kShatriya , to the rank of a Brahman » Manu vii , 42 : the raamaayaNa , which makes him a companion and counsellor of the young raama-chandra , records [i , 51-65] how vishvaa-mitra , on his accession to the throne , visited vasiShTha's hermitage , and seeing there the cow of plenty, offered him untold treasures in exchange for it , but being refused , prepared to take it by force ; a long contest ensued between the king and the saint [symbolical of the struggles between the kShatriya and Brahmanical classes] , which ended in the defeat of vishvaa-mitra , whose vexation was such that , in order to become a Brahman and thus conquer his rival , he devoted himself to intense austerities [during which he was seduced by the nymph menakaa and had by her a daughter , shakuntalaa] , gradually increasing the rigour of his mortification through thousands of years , till he successively earned the titles of raajarShi , RShi , maharShi , and finally brahmarShi ; he is supposed to be the author of nearly the whole of the Rg Veda)
ja: m. a son of (in comp.)
ca: and
apahRtaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. taken away , carried off , stolen , &c
apa- √ hR: to snatch away , carry off , plunder ;

to remove , throw away ; (also) to captivate
ghRtaacyaa = inst. sg. ghRtaacii: f. abounding in ghee , filled with ghee , sprinkling ghee , shining with ghee ; the sacrificial ladle (with which the ghee is taken up , poured out , &c ) ; N. of an apsaras (loved by vishvaa-mitra)
ghRtaa: ghee
aa- √ ci: to accumulate, cover with

samaaH (acc. pl.): f. a year
dasha (acc.): ten
ekam (acc. sg. m.): one
divasam (acc. sg.): m. a day
viveda = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vid: to know, consider as

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