Monday, January 10, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 7.37: And Many Snakes Bite the Dust

pramadvaraayaam ca ruruH priyaayaaM
bhujaNgamen' aapahRt-endriyaayaaM
saMdRshya saMdRshya jaghaana sarpaan
hriyaM na roSheNa tapo rarakSha

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And Ruru, after his beloved Pramadvara

Had been robbed of her senses by a snake,

Killed snakes wherever he saw them:

He failed, in his fury,
to maintain his reserve or his ascetic practice.

The Monier Williams dictionary says that Ruru was the son of the Seer Pramati and the nymph Ghritachi (see 7.35).

This wikipedia entry on Saint Ruru says that Pramadvara was the daughter of the seer Vishravas, and the nymph Menaka.

This means, with reference to the question I posed in 7.35, that either Ghritachi and Menaka were two different nymphs, or that Ruru and Pramadvara had the same mother so that Ruru married his half-sister.

Either way, what Ashvaghosha is doing here, as I hear him, is using ironic humour to expose flaws in Brahmanistic belief in the value of ascetic practice (tapas). But, as in Canto 1, Ashvaghosha is doing so with such skill and indirectness that even the most enthusiastic fan of Brahmanism might not notice.

Maybe there is a lesson for us who are appalled by the Islaamist mobs who think it is OK to assassinate someone like the late governor of Punjab province Salmaan Taseer for being a "blasphemer." Maybe the lesson we can take from Ashvaghosha's example is to reach, as our weapon of choice in combating religious dogmatism, for dry humour.

It seems totally obvious to me from Ashvaghosha's writings, for example in Canto 3 of Saundarananda, that the Buddha abandoned asceticism as a false view and ascetic practice as a false path. Far from being the culmination of the ascetic Brahmanical tradition, yoga as the Buddha teaches its practice to Nanda represents something totally different from that tradition -- a fact, it might be argued, that is represented by our shaving of our heads.

But if you disagree with me, you horrible person of heretical views, I promise not to send the Spanish Inquisition or any other kind of hit-squad out to force you to change your mind, or else die. I promise not even to condemn you as a non-Buddhist. But I reserve the right to chuckle at your adherence to a view that makes no sense, or to a practice that fails the pragmatic litmus test -- because it is not true and therefore, like Ruru's ascetic pratice, cannot be maintained.

EH Johnston:
And when Ruru's mistress, Pramadvara, was robbed of her senses by a serpent, he killed all serpents wherever he saw them and in his wrath failed to preserve his self-respect or to continue his austerities.

Linda Covill:
When his lover Pramadvara lost her senses because of a snake, Ruru killed all snakes whenever he saw them and in his anger maintained neither his reserve not his ascetic practices.

pramadvaraayaam (loc. sg. f.): mfn. inattentive, careless; f. N. of the wife of ruru and mother of shunaka
pra- √ mad: to be careless or negligent , to be indifferent to or heedless
ca: and
ruruH (nom. sg.): m. a species of antelope; m. N. of a son of the RShi pramati by the apsaras ghRtaachii
priyaayaam (loc. sg.): f. mistress, wife, lover

bhujaNgamena (inst. sg.): m. (fr. bhujam ind. p. of √bhuj, to bend + gama, going) a serpent , snake
apahRt-endriyaayaam (loc. sg. f.): robbed of the power of her senses
apahRta: mfn. taken away , carried off , stolen , &c
apa- √ hR: to snatch away, carry off; to captivate
indriya: n. bodily power , power of the senses

saMdRshya = abs. saM- √ dRsh: to see together or at the same time ; to see well or completely , behold , view , perceive , observe , consider
saMdRshya (ibid.)
jaghaana = 3rd perfect han: to strike, to smite , slay , hit , kill , mar , destroy
sarpaan (acc. pl.): m. a snake , serpent , serpent-demon

hriyam (acc. sg.): f. shame , modesty , shyness , timidity
na: not
roSheNa (inst. sg.): m. anger , rage , wrath , passion , fury
tapaH (acc. sg.): n. ascetic practice
rarakSha = 3rd pers. sg. perfect rakSh: , to guard , watch , take care of , protect , save , preserve

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