Thursday, February 17, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.22: Excellent Words

iti manmatha-shoka-karShitaM
tam anudhyaaya muhur niriikShya ca
shramaNaH sa hit'-aabhikaaNkShayaa
guNavad vaakyam uvaaca vipriyaM

- - = - - = - = - =
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So saying, the striver contemplated him for a while,

Beholding him torn up by the sorrows of love,

And, striving to be of benefit,

The striver spoke, disagreeably, excellent words:

Setting out on the translation of this Canto, I expressed a doubt about the meaning of guNa-vat in line 4 of this verse. In what sense was Ashvaghosha describing the striver's words as endowed with good quality, excellent, perfect? In the course of translating the last twenty-two verses that doubt, at least in my own mind, has evaporated.

On the surface Ashvaghosha is inviting the unwary reader to think that the striver was, to coin a phrase, "one of the good guys." But hints as to Ashvaghosha's real intention, as I read it, are contained in phrases such as hit'-aabhikaaNkShyaa in line 3, which means "with the longing to be of benefit" but with a connotation of a certain pushiness or eagerness. It seems to me that the striver, as Ashvaghosha is portraying him, is straining to do good.

In common with well-intentioned individuals everywhere, the striver appears to be primarily interested in doing good. Whereas if he came back to the original teaching of Gautama Buddha, or maybe if he had come across the teaching of FM Alexander, the striver might be primarily interested in stopping the wrong inner patterns that his own striving sets off.

Hearing that the Buddha sat like the king of mountains, the stupid among us, in which category I include myself, are liable to strive to sit like a mountain -- bringing to this effort all the abstract knowledge we have accumulated in our brain on such matters as primitive reflexes, Alexander Technique, listening work, Dogen's instructions for sitting-zen, the Buddha's teaching of four noble truths, the flow of chi in Chinese medicine, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Striving thus tends to tie us to what we already know -- mainly a faulty sense of where up is, a rubbish heap of bright ideas, and wrong inner patterns of use. Whereas the whole point of sitting like a mountain might be that a mountain never strives to be a mountain and never strives to be anything other than a mountain. A mountain never disturbs itself by failing to accept itself totally as a mountain.

So Buddha sitting like a mountain is not teaching that we strivers should strive to understand. It is teaching that we should categorically NOT strive to understand. It may be that faulty feelings, bright ideas, and wrong patterns of use, all spontaneously drop off just in the moment of not striving itself.

As the embodiment of not striving, then, there is the actual tradition of just sitting which, when actually practised on a regular basis over a number of years, is akin to walking a walk.

What is excellent about the striver, in Ashvaghosha's portrayal of him as I read it, is the striver's excellent words (guNavad vaakyam). He is a good talker of the talk.

EH Johnston:
Thus looking reflectively and repeatedly at him as he was carried away by the sorrows of love, the disciple wished to do him good and spoke these words, excellent but of displeasing import :--

Linda Covill:
The ascetic reflected for a while, then looking at Nanda who was torn up with the anguish of passion, he spoke the following unwelcome but excellent words, intended for his benefit:

iti: ...", thus [closing of quotation]
manmatha-shoka-karShitam (acc. sg. m.): torn up with the anguish of love
manmatha: m. (either an Intens. form fr. √ math, "to whirl round," or fr. man = manas + matha , " agitating ") love or the god of love , amorous passion or desire
shoka: m. sorrow , affliction , anguish , pain , trouble , grief
karShita: mfn. ploughed
kRSh: to draw , draw to one's self , drag , pull , drag away , tear; (causative) to pull to and fro , cause pain , torture , torment

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
anudhyaaya = abs. anu- √ dhyai : to consider attentively , think of , muse
muhur: ind. for a moment , a while ; at every moment , constantly , incessantly
niriikShya = abs. nir- √ iikSh: to look at or towards , behold , regard , observe (also the stars) , perceive
ca: and

shramaNaH (nom. sg. m.): m. one who performs acts of mortification or austerity , an ascetic , monk , devotee , religious mendicant ; m. a Buddhist monk or mendicant (also applied to buddha himself ) ; mfn. making effort or exertion , toiling , labouring , (esp.) following a toilsome or menial business ; base , vile , bad
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
hit'-aabhikaaNkShayaa (inst. sg.) with the longing to be of benefit
hita: n. anything useful or salutary or suitable or proper , benefit , advantage , profit , service , good , welfare , good advice &c
abhikaaNkShaa: f. longing for , desire (with acc. or ifc.)
abhi- √ kaaNkSh: to long for , desire ; to strive
abhi: ind. (a prefix to verbs and nouns , expressing) to , towards , into , over , upon
√ kaaNkSh: to wish , desire , long for , hope for (with acc.) , expect , wait for , await (with acc.) , strive to obtain

guNavat (acc. sg. n.): mfn. " furnished with a thread or string " and " endowed with good qualities " ; endowed with good qualities or virtues or merits or excellences , excellent , perfect
vaakyam (acc. sg. ): n. speech , saying , assertion , statement , command , words
uvaaca = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vac: to speak , say , tell
vipriyam (acc. sg. n.): disagreeable , unpleasant

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