Tuesday, February 15, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.20: A Striver's Compassion?

avashaH khalu kaama-muurchayaa
priyayaa shyena-bhayaad vinaa-kRtaH
na dhRtiM samupaiti na hriyaM
karuNaM jiivati jiiva-jiivakaH

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

Truly, a pheasant separated from its mate
through fear of a hawk,

And so stupefied by desire as to be helpless,

Lacks resolve and lacks reserve:

The poor beggar is living a pitiful life.

As with dvi-jaH ("twice-born") in the previous verse, two meanings of jiiva-jiivakaH may be relevant here: namely, a particular species of bird, and what the dictionary defines as "a Buddhist ascetic." "A Buddhist ascetic"? Truly, what a pitiful concept that is!

The metaphor in today's verse may be nearer the mark as a representation of Nanda's state, but what is the striver's motivation in expressing it: true compassion, or just contempt?

As a general principle, it may be true that a striver who tries to be right, who prioritizes propriety, is always prone to be contemptuous of others who fail to meet the high standards that the striver is striving to meet. (I write this as one who is not immune from the tendency in question.)

So it may be that Ashvaghosha is writing on the basis of awareness of this general principle. Or it may be that Ashvaghosha is basing the character of the striver upon a particular individual, a monk of his own day, who he knew well. As a Chinese Zen master once observed, "Foreigners beards are red." And at the same time, as far as that Chinese master was concerned, a guy with a red beard was a foreigner. (The master's point was to affirm both deductive and inductive reasoning.)

In this verse, the striver speaks of Nanda's lack of humility, modesty or reserve (hrii). But who actually is the one who lacks humility, modesty or reserve? Why does a striver strive?

To sit in lotus on a round cushion directing the head forward and up and the legs forward and away so that the back lengthens and widens is, as Dogen describes it, originally the noblest of actions -- nobler even than the nobility of Gautama Buddha's nobility. Originally there is nothing pitiful about it, and no struggle or striving need be involved. It only becomes a struggle when I am in the way, bringing to the act of sitting some idea, like asceticism, or failing to transcend my own faulty sensory appreciation.

So when Dogen signed his name as SHAMON DOGEN, taking SHAMON from the Sanskrit shramaNa, striver, it was as I understand it a mark of humility, modesty or reserve. Being the struggler or striver is sometimes undeniable, but it is nothing to be proud of. It is no basis for calling others pitiful.

EH Johnston:
Verily a francolin partridge finds no satisfaction or self-respect and lives miserably in the helpless infatuation of his love, when separated from his mate by fear of the hawk !

Linda Covill:
Here is a pheasant in a helpless swoon of lust when separated from its mate through fear of a hawk, living in wretchedness and attaining neither resolution nor modesty!

avashaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. unsubmissive to another's will , independent , unrestrained , free ; not having one's own free will , doing something against one's desire or unwillingly
khalu: ind. (as a particle of asseveration) indeed , verily , certainly , truly
kaama-muurchayaa (inst. sg. f.): in a swoon of love
kaama: desire, love
muurchaa: f. fainting , a swoon , stupor ; mental stupefaction , infatuation , delusion , hallucination

priyayaa (inst. sg.): f. beloved ; the female of an animal
shyena-bhayaat (abl. sg.): through fear of the hawk
shyena: m. a hawk , falcon , eagle , any bird of prey
bhaya: n. fear
vinaa-kRtaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. " made without " , deprived or bereft of , separated from (inst.)

na: not
dhRtim (acc. sg.): f. holding ; firmness , constancy , resolution , will , command ; satisfaction
samupaiti = 3rd pers. sg. sam-upa- √i: to come together , meet ; to attain , incur , partake of
na: not
hriyam = acc. sg. hrii: f. shame , modesty , shyness , timidity

karuNam: ind. mournfully , woefully , pitifully , in distress
jiivati = 3rd pers. sg. jiiv: to live
jiiva-jiivakaH (nom. sg.): m. a kind of pheasant ; a Buddhist or Jain ascetic
jiiva: mfn. living ;
jiivaka: mfn. living ; ifc. long living , for whom long life is desired ; m. livelihood ; m. a beggar

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