Monday, February 28, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.33: Women as Ones who See Faults in Others

sva-janaH sva-janena bhidyate
suhRdash c' aapi suhRj-janena yat
paradoSha-vicakShaNaaH shaThaas
tad an-aaryaaH pracaranti yoShitaH

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So that kinsman breaks with kinsman

And friend breaks with friend,

Women, who are good at seeing faults in others,

Behave deceitfully and ignobly.

There might be as much truth in this statement as in the statement that black men of West African origin are good at sprinting. It only takes one truthful and noble woman, or one dyspraxic Ghanaian who runs like a girl, to falsify such general propositions.

Aside from the problem that the striver's statement, then, is demonstrably false on the philosophical level, on the practical level the striver, with the best of intentions, is striving to help Nanda get beyond his desire for his woman, Sundari. The striver's good intention is that Nanda might settle into the homeless life of the wandering mendicant for which he has opted. But, the road to hell being ever paved with good intentions, in practice the striver's strategy proves fruitless: his words fall on deaf ears. Nanda only settles down after the intervention of the Buddha, who pursues a strategy which is the dialectic opposite of the striver's strategy.

Finally, besides talking irrational nonsense and pursuing a strategy that does not work in practice, the striver in this verse, as I read it, is manifesting a universal human tendency and a universal mirror principle, whereby when a person fears that there is something wrong in himself but fails to see clearly what it is, he projects the obscurely understood fault onto some hated other and criticizes the other. The other could be the fault finder's own father or father-figure; it could be a sporting hero/villain like Mike Tyson or Z. Zidane who has conspicuously flouted the rules; or it could be a historical person, like Hitler or Stalin; or it could be a group of people in general, such as black people, or white people, or Jewish people, or homosexual people, or Muslims, or gypsies or women.

The irony of the verse is that the very fault now in question is the tendency to see the faults of others. The striver, in whom this very fault is conspicuous, is projecting the fault onto women, who he sees as deceitful and ignoble. Ashvaghosha's joke, as I hear it, is that the one who is deceiving himself and being ignoble is the striver who projects his own fault onto women, whereas an honest and noble thing to do, as exemplified by Nanda's progress through the four stages of sitting-dhyana in Canto 17, might be to see, on deeper and deeper levels, the faults just in one's own practice.

EH Johnston:
Women behave ignobly and treacherously and are skilled in detecting the weakness of others, so as to cause kinsman to strive with kinsman, friend with friend.

Linda Covill:
Women behave ignobly, maliciously spying out the weaknesses of others, such that kinsman is set against kinsman and friend against friend.

sva-janaH (nom. sg.): m. a man of one's own people , kinsman
sva-janena (inst. sg.): m. a man of one's own people , kinsman
bhidyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive bhid: to split , cleave , break , cut or rend asunder , pierce , destroy

suhRdaH (nom. sg.): m. a friend
ca: and
api: also
suhRj-janena (inst. sg.): m. a friendly person , friend
yad: (correlative of tad): so that

paradoSha-vicakShaNaaH (nom. pl. f.): good at seeing others' faults
para-doSha: n. the proclaiming of another's faults , censoriousness
vi-cakShaNa: mfn. clear-sighted (lit. and fig.) , sagacious , clever , wise , experienced or versed in , familiar with (loc. or comp.)
shaThaaH (nom. pl. f.): mfn. false , deceitful , fraudulent , malignant , wicked

tad: (correlative of yad): for that reason
an-aaryaaH (nom. pl. f.): mfn. not honourable or respectable , vulgar , inferior
pracaranti = 3rd pers. pl. pra- √ car: to be active or busy ; to proceed , behave , act in peculiar manner
yoShitaH (nom. pl.): f. a girl , maiden , young woman , wife

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