Monday, January 24, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 7.51: No Wheat, Just Chaff

shaalv'-aadhipo hi sa-suto' pi tath" aambariiSho
raamo' ndha eva sa ca saaMkRti-rantidevaH
ciiraaNy apaasya dadhire punar aMshukaani
chittvaa jaTaash ca kutilaa mukaTaani babhruH

= = - = - - - = - - = - = =
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For the Shalva king, along with his son;
and likewise Ambarisha

And Rama and Andha, and Rantideva son of Samkriti

Cast off their rags
and clothed themselves again in fine fabrics;

They cut off their twisted dreadlocks and put on crowns.

In Canto 17 Ashvaghosha describes sitting-zen as characterized by indifference and full awareness. But before that it is characterized by supreme ease. And before that it is characterized by profound joy. But before all of this, there is freedom from desires and tainted things.

Before enjoyment of daily bread, in other words, there has to be grinding of flour, and before that there has to be sorting out of wheat from chaff. And this sorting out of chaff requires us to know what chaff is.

The Shalva king was a noted enemy of Vishnu, whose pseudonyms include "Shalva's enemy." Ambarisha was a royal seer (raajarShi), as presumably were Rama and Andha.

The salient point about Rantideva might be that he spent his riches in performing grand sacrifices and the blood which issued from the bodies of the slaughtered victims was changed into a river called charmaN-vatii "furnished with hides" or (according to Wikipedia) "the river on whose banks leather is dried." It is the modern River Chambal.

Ranti-deva might have been a right royal hero in the field of animal sacrifice, but as such he was hardly a sparkling role model for the true, untainted practice of yoga for the sake of yoga.

Nanda's mind at this stage of his journey seems to be filled with irrelevancies. What have either tattered rags or fine fabrics got to do with the Buddha-robe? What has the wearing either of dreadlocks or of royal diadems got to do with the practice of shaving the head?

Why has it been necessary for us in this Canto, for the sake of so little wheat, to sift through so much chaff?

One answer might be that, in bequeathing to us the words he bequeathed to us, and explicitly asking us (in the closing words of the poem), to sort the wheat from the chaff, Ashvaghosha was conscious that the Buddha's wheat is truly beyond our ability to know it. But ancient Indian chaff we can know. And in this Canto we have got to know it, through Nanda's eyes which are both sympathetic to 'the Brahmanical tradition' and as yet deluded with regard to the Buddha's teaching.

As one begins to understand what Ashvaghosha was really up to, one can only marvel at the skilfulness and indirectness of his approach -- so different from the provocative style of less enlightened latter day champions of non-end-gaining.

What is the method to practice the yoga that the Buddha describes to Nanda in Canto 16? I do not know. But one thing has emerged clearly from these opening cantos: the yoga of the Buddha is not the kind of ascetic practice that, in 'the Brahmanical tradition' was called tapas.

EH Johnston:
For instance, the king of the Shalvas with his son, Ambarisha, Rama Andha, and Antideva the Sankrti, putting off the hermits' apparel, resumed the ordinary garb of the world and, cutting off the twisted braids, wore the regal tiara again.

Linda Covill:
For the king of the Shalvas, and his son, likewise Ambarisha, Rama, Andha and Ranti-deva son of Sankriti discarded the bark cloth of an ascetic and put on fine muslim again, and cutting off their matted locks bore the diadem once more.

shaalv'-aadhipaH (nom. sg. m.): the king of the Shalvas
shaalva: m. pl. N. of a people ; m. sg. a king of the shaalvas (mentioned among the enemies of viShNu ; cf. shaalv'aari below)
shaalv'aari: m. " enemy of shaalva " , N. of viShNu
adhipa: m. a ruler , commander , regent , king
hi: for
sa-sutaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having a son , together with sons or children
api: also
tathaa: ind. likewise
ambariiShaH (nom. sg. m.): m. a frying pan; m. the sun ; m. name of a raajarShi (son of the king Vrishagir , and composer of the hymns RV. i , 100 and ix , 98) RV. i , 100 , 17, of a descendant of manu vaivasvata and son of naabhaaga (celebrated for his devotion to viShNu) of a raajarShi (descendant of sagara and ancestor of dasharatha)

raamaH (nom. sg.): m. N. of various mythical personages
andhaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. blind; m. pl. N. of a people
eva (emphatic)
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
ca: and
saaMkRti-rantidevaH (nom. sg. m.): Rantideva, son of Sankriti
saaMkRti: m. (fr. saM-kRti) patr. of a sage (son of vishvaamitra and founder of the vaiyaaghrapadya family)
rantideva: m. name of a king of the lunar race (son of saMkRti ; he spent his riches in performing grand sacrifices and the blood which issued from the bodies of the slaughtered victims was changed into a river called charmaN-vatii)

ciiraaNi (acc. pl.): n. a strip , long narrow piece of bark or of cloth , rag , tatter , clothes ; the dress of a Buddhist monk
apaasya = abs. apa + √as: to fling away , throw away or off , discard ; to leave behind
dadhire = 3rd pers. pl. perfect dhaa: to put , place ; to wear, put on (clothes)
punar: ind. again
aMshukaani (acc. pl.): n. fine or white cloth , muslin

chittvaa = abs. chid: to cut off
jaTaaH (acc. pl.): f. the hair twisted together (as worn by ascetics , by shiva , and persons in mourning)
ca: and
kutilaaH (acc. pl. f.): mfn. bent , crooked , curved , round , running in curved lines , crisped , curled
mukaTaani (acc. pl. n.): mn. a tiara , diadem , crown
babhruH = 3rd pers. pl. perfect bhR: to bear

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