Saturday, February 5, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.10: Flattering a Fake Elephant

sadRsham yadi dharma-caariNaH
satataM praaNiShu maitra-cetasaH
adhRtau tad iyaM hit'-aiShi-taa
mayi te syaat karuN'-aatmanaH sataH

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"It is surely fitting for a dharma practitioner

Who is forever friendly-minded towards living beings,

That this benevolence
inherent in your compassionate good self

Might be shown to me in my inconstancy!

EHJ notes that he doubts whether his reading of this verse is correct. His original text has yad (not tad) in line 3. LC emended yad to tad, and I have followed this reading.

Seeking the irony in this verse, one does not have to look far, in light of the gist and title of Canto 8, strii-vighaataH, a tirade against those living beings known as women.

The irony, as I see it, is deliberately intended by Ashvaghosha, but not remotely suspected by the gormlessly grovelling Nanda.

In his rules of sitting-zen recommended to everybody (including monks and non-monks, Buddhists and non-Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews and the irreligious, beggars and investment bankers, strivers and scrounging layabouts) Zen Master Dogen cautions against getting familiar with the fake elephant and doubting the true dragon. The fake elephant is a metaphor for what is false, something other than the lifeblood. The true dragon is a metaphor for what is really real, the lifeblood itself.

In this verse, as I read it, Nanda is flattering a fake elephant, worshipping a false icon. His attitude is false, not real. At this stage of his journey, even though Nanda has met the Tathagata already, he has not met the true dragon yet.

So Ashvaghosha's Saundara-nanda contains, among many other treasures, the evidence that meeting the true dragon is by no means assured by meeting others, even if the other is the very Best of Teachers. Rather, the true dragon is met just in the samadhi of accepting and using the self.

EH Johnston:
' It does indeed befit one who practises the Law in his heart and has an ever benevolent mind towards living beings that you should display in your compassionate nature this kindness to me who am so lacking in steadfastness.

Linda Covill:
"If it is fitting in a dharma practitioner who is always well-disposed to living beings, then may this benevolence of yours, who are compassionate and good, be directed towards me in my wavering!

sadRsham (acc. sg. n.): conformable , suitable , fit , proper , right , worthy
yadi: ind. if , in case that [Observe that yadi may sometimes = " as sure as " (esp. in asseverations followed by Pot. with tad)]
dharma-caariNaH (gen. sg. m.): a dharma practitioner
caarin: mfn. moving ; acting , proceeding , doing , practising

satatam: ind. constantly , always , ever
praaNiShu (loc. pl.): m. a living or sentient being , living creature , animal or man
maitra-cetasaH (gen. sg. m): friendly-minded
maitra: mfn. (fr. mitra, friend, of which it is also the vRiddhi form in comp.) coming from or given by or belonging to a friend , friendly , amicable , benevolent , affectionate , kind
cetas: n. consciousness , intelligence , thinking soul , heart , mind

adhRtau (loc. sg.): f. want of firmness or fortitude ; laxity , absence of control or restraint
dhRti: f. holding ; firmness , constancy , resolution , will , command
tad: ind. then , at that time , in that case (correlative of yadi)
iyam (nom. sg. f.): this , this here , referring to something near the speaker
hit'-aiShi-taa (nom. sg.): f. well-wishing , desiring another's welfare
hita: n. (sg. or pl.) anything useful or salutary or suitable or proper , benefit , advantage , profit , service , good , welfare , good advice
eShin: mfn. (generally ifc.) going after , seeking , striving for , desiring
taa: f. abstract noun suffix

mayi (loc. sg.): to me
te (gen. sg.): of you
syaat = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be
karuN'-aatmanaH (gen. sg. m.): compassionate in nature
karuNa: mfn. compassionate
m. aatman: essence , nature , character , peculiarity (often ifc. e.g. karmaatman , &c )
sataH = gen. sg. m. pres. part. as: to be
sat: mfn. (pr. p. of as) real , actual , as any one or anything ought to be , true , good , right

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