Friday, January 28, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.2: A Striver's Straight Talk

kim idaM mukham ashru-durdinaM
hRdaya-sthaM vivRNoti te tamaH
dhRtim ehi niyaccha vikriyaaM
na hi baaShpash ca shamash ca shobhate

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"Why this tear-clouded face

That reveals a darkness in your heart?

Come back to constancy, restrain your emotion,

For tears and tranquillity do not go well together.

The ambiguity inherent in calling somebody "a striver" makes it difficult to decide, for the moment, whether Ashvaghosha is presenting these words as words of wisdom, or not.

Insofar as "a striver" means a diligent practitioner who knows constancy as the original state of practice, dhRtim ehi "come back to constancy," might be an encouragement to recognize what should be recognized.

Insofar as "a striver" means one who tends to try hard, to end-gain, rather than to calmly apply a means-whereby principle, dhRtim ehi, "get a grip!" might be a directive to do directly what cannot be done directly.

Leaving this ambiguity as it is for the moment, a parallel may at least be drawn between this striver and the august and eloquent lady-in-waiting who addressed Sundari from 6.38 (There was one there among them, however,/ The eldest in years, a highly regarded woman gifted with eloquence, / Who held Sundari from behind in a firm embrace / And, wiping away her tears, spoke these words: / "Grief ill becomes you, the wife of a royal seer, / When your husband has taken refuge in the dharma... Why at a time for rejoicing do you, in a state of consternation, weep?"). Both of these characters, however excellent and well-intentioned their words were, failed the pragmatic test of truth: their efforts didn't work. Even if they weren't afraid of cracking a few eggs, they ultimately failed to make an omelette.

The ambiguity inherent in the term shramaNa, "striver," thus brings the mind back to the wider question, which runs through Saundarananda, of ends and means.

The truth that one cannot make an omelette without cracking eggs is cited in support of the principle that "the end justifies the means" -- which might be called the end-gainer's charter. People say "you can't make an omelette without cracking a few eggs," when they think that a certain end which they wish to gain justifies means which might have undesirable side effects, or collateral damage.

Hearing on the radio a few days ago about a continuing debate in Britain regarding the merits of building of a memorial to the 55,573 men of Bomber Command who lost their lives in World War II, caused me to reflect that a doyen of Alexander work named Walter Carrington flew during WWII in bombing raids over Europe. It is difficult for us to imagine the mind-set that everybody, including eminent Alexander teachers, had at a time of total war.

The brand of end-gaining called tapas, painful ascetic practice, is like cracking eggs for the sake of it -- cracking eggs that cannot lead to the making of an omelette. That kind of end-gaining attitude, clearly, is not wise, since it does not lead to the realization of the purported end.

But is it fair to say that, when it came to separating Nanda from Sundari, and leading him away like a newly captured elephant, the Buddha himself was like an omelette-maker who was not afraid of cracking a few eggs?

EH Johnston:
'Surely the tear-clouds on your face reveal the darkness of ignorance in your heart. Master yourself, restrain your emotion, for tears and holy peace do not go together.

Linda Covill:
"Why this face clouded with tears, which reveal the dark ignorance abiding in your heart? Steady yourself, control your agitation, for tears and tranquillity do not sit well together.

kim: ind. what? how? whence? wherefore? why?
idam (nom. sg. n.): this
mukham (nom. sg.): n. face
ashru-durdinam (nom. sg. n.): clouded with tears
ashru: n. a tear
dur-dina: mfn. cloudy , rainy , dark
dur: badly , hardly ; slight , inferior &c
dina: a day

hRdaya-stham (acc. sg. n.): in your heart
hRdaya: n. the heart
stha: mfn. standing , staying , abiding , being situated in
vivRNoti = 3rd pers. sg. pres. vi- √ vR: to uncover , spread out , open , display , show , reveal , manifest
te (gen. sg.): in/of you
tamaH (acc. sg.): n. darkness, gloom ; mental darkness, ignorance

dhRtim (acc. sg.): f. holding; firmness , constancy
ehi = 2nd pers. imperative aa- √i: , to come near or towards , go near , approach ; (with and without punar) to come back , come again to ; to reach , attain , enter , come into (a state or position)
niyaccha = 2nd pers. imperative ni- √ yam: to stop (trans.) , hold back ; to hold in , keep down , restrain , control , govern , regulate (as breath , the voice , the organs of sense &c ) ; to suppress or conceal (one's nature)
vikriyaam (acc. sg.): f. transformation , change , modification , altered or unnatural condition ; change for the worse , deterioration , disfigurement , deformity ; ailment , indisposition , affection ; perturbation , agitation , perplexity

na: not
hi: for
baaShpaH (nom. sg.): m. a tear , tears
ca: and
shamaH (nom. sg.): m. tranquillity , calmness , rest , equanimity , quietude or quietism , absence of passion , abstraction from eternal objects through intense meditation ; peace
ca: and
shobhate = 3rd pers. sg. shubh: to beautify , embellish , adorn; (with na) to look bad , have a bad appearance , appear to disadvantage

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