Sunday, January 9, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 7.36: And Another Tainted Seer Bites the Dust

tath" aiva kandarpa-shar'-aabhimRShTo
rambhaaM prati sthuula-shiraa mumuurcha
yaH kaama-roSh'-aatmatay" aan-apekShaH
shashaapa taam a-pratigRhyamaaNaH

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

So too, when hit by Love's arrow,

Did Sthula-shiras, 'Thick Head,'
lose his senses over Rambha.

He with his libidinous and wrathful nature was reckless:

When she refused him he cursed her.

mumuurcha in line 2 originally means thickened or got bigger, and so a play on the name Sthula-shiras, "Thick/Big Head," may be intended: 'Thick Head' got thicker, or 'Big Head' got bigger.

Rambha is the exceptionally beautiful apsaras, or celestial nymph, mentioned in the last verse of the previous canto: 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. (6.49)

So we can guess what kind of love Love's arrow stimulated in old Thick Head -- love of the conditional and non-Platonic variety ("I love you, Ramba. I love you so much. We were made for each other... What? You don't want me?... Then to hell with you!")

Is the Buddha's teaching rightly seen as the culmination of this kind of 'Brahmanical tradition'? I think not.

When I embarked on the present series of verses, a question mark seemed for me to hang over this long list of ascetic failures. The question was Why is this list so long? What is Ashvaghosha driving at? Why is it necessary for me to become familiar with this mythical cast of ancient Indian characters?

To my own satisfaction at least, that question has been answered.

Patrick Olivelle's introduction to his translation of Buddha-carita contains, for example, the following:

"Even though Ashvaghosha sought to present Buddhism as an integral part of Brahmanism, the reality was that there was an ongoing debate between the two traditions."

In light of the present series of verses, we can know that the first part of Prof. Olivelle's sentence could not be more wrong. (So ploughing through these verses may have been worth the effort after all.)

If what Ashvaghosha wrote is read not with the agenda of the Indophile Buddhist scholar whose duty it is to forward some clever and original thesis, but rather with the eye of dropping off one's own views and opinions, then Saundaranda can never be read as any kind of affirmation of Brahmanism.

Ashvaghosha never sought to present the Buddha's teaching as an integral part of Brahmanism. It might rather be that he sought to expose ascetic end-gaining (which appears to be central to Brahmanism), as tainted (malina).

As a Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Religions, Patrick Olivelle has got a good way with words, but his argument seems to me to be evidence that a person who does not devote his whole body and mind to following the Buddha's teaching, primarily through the true yoga of sitting practice, is easily liable to miss the real point of the Buddha's teaching.

The story of Saundarananda is the story of Nanda's fall from grace and his subsequent redemption after the joint efforts of the Buddha and Ananda cause Nanda to realize the folly of tainted ways. It is the story of his abandonment of the tainted Brahmanist conception behind ascetic practice (tapas) and his redemption through true practice (yoga). It is, in the first instance, a description of how taintedness (malina) makes handsome Nanda ugly.

That is why one really needs to read the whole story before one can understand the series of verses in Canto 17 that specifically relate to the method of sitting-meditation. Those verses begin as follows:

Free from desires and tainted things,

Containing ideas and containing thoughts,

Born of solitude and possessed of joy and ease,

Is the first stage of meditation, which he then entered. (17.42)

The real meaning of this verse can never be understood by a scholar of so-called 'Buddhist studies' whose understanding is tainted by a scholar's agenda. Only by dropping off a scholar's agenda can a scholar begin to understand it.

What I am writing now is just thoughts that arose in the first stage of sitting meditation, as I enjoyed it this quiet Sunday morning. Those thoughts were like waves creating ripples on the surface of a river bearing along calm, clear water. If I had been a better man, I might have decided to let them go. But I failed to do so, and so here are those thoughts -- and some others to boot!

EH Johnston:
So too at the prick of Kandarpa's arrows Sthulashiras became infatuated with Rambha and, when not accepted by her, cursed her in the recklessness of his passionate and wrathful nature.

Linda Covill:
So too did Sthula-shiras, when touched by Kandarpa's dart, lose his senses over Rambha. She refused him and, impetuous in his characteristic lust and fury, he put a curse on her.

tathaa: ind. in like manner
eva: (emphatic)
kandarpa-shar'-aabhimRShTaH (nom. sg. m.): hit by Love's arrow
kandarpa: m. (etym. doubtful ; according to some fr. kaM-darpa , " inflamer even of a god " , or " of great wantonness ") , N. of kaama (god of love) , love , lust
shara: arrow
abhi-mRShTa: mfn. touched, struck (as by a weapon)
abhi- √ mRsh: to touch , come in contact with

rambhaam (acc. sg.): f. name of a celebrated apsaras (wife of nala-kuubara and carried off by raavaNa ; sometimes regarded as a form of lakShmi and as the most beautiful woman of indra's paradise)
prati: towards
sthuulashiraa (nom. sg.): m." large-headed " , N. of a RShi
sthuula: mfn. large , thick , stout , massive , bulky , big , huge
shiras: n. the head
mumuurcha = 3rd pers. sg. perfect murch: to become solid , thicken , congeal , assume shape or substance or consistency , expand , increase , grow , become or be vehement or intense or strong ; to grow stiff or rigid , faint , swoon , become senseless or stupid or unconscious

yaH (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
kaama-roSh'-aatmatayaa (inst. sg. f.): because of his lustful and angry nature
kaama: desire, love (esp. sexual love)
roSha: m. anger , rage , wrath , passion , fury
aatma-taa: f. essence , nature
an-apekShaH: mfn. regardless , careless ; indifferent
an: (negative prefix)
apekSh: (from apa + √iikSh) to look away , to look round ; to have some design ; to have regard to , to respect ; to look for , wait for

shashaapa = 3rd pers. sg. perfect shap: to curse
taam (acc. sg. f.): her
a: (negative prefix) not
pratigRhyamaaNaH = nom. sg. m. passive pres. part. prati- √ grah: to accept , to receive (as a friend)

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