Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Canto 8: A Tirade against Women

The value of this canto, as I read it, is to help the reader be clear in regard to what makes the shramaNa, the striver, strive. When I go on a cycle ride to the other side of the River Thame and back again, which involves pedalling my increasingly flabby middle-aged body up two big hills, cycling up the two big hills is hard work but it doesn't necessarily involve any striving -- as I understand the word. Rather, cycling up the hill, as a process to be enjoyed, might be a good opportunity to experience a moment of what Ashvaghosha calls a-punar-bhava, "the end of becoming" [2.65]. When I run across some minor computer glitch, however, while doing some job I don't particularly want to do anyway, like trying to sort out my wife's email account for her, then the striving mind is prone to go into overdrive. In the mind of the striver, there is something about me, who am the judge, which is important; and there is something about you, and others, with which I am not satisfied. That being so, I think a key to unlock the character of the striver is contained, ironically, in the striver's own words in 8.6: "For minds have many ways of working, and many secrets, whose concealment is complicated by conceit." (gatayo vividhaa hi cetasaaM bahu-guhyaani mad"-aakulaani ca). And the key word within the key sentence, as I read it, might be madaa, conceit or vanity. At the root of the striver's striving is a fault which is sharply reflected in the looking-glass of this canto, and the fault is conceit, or vanity.

while the unsteady-eyed Nanda was looking forward,

With the eagerest of eager expectations, to going home,

A certain striver with a benevolent air

Approached him and said, in a friendly way:

"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.

Pain invariably arises in two ways:

In the mind and in the body.

And for those two kinds of pain,

There are healers skilled in education and in medicine.

So if this pain is physical

Be quick to tell a doctor all about it,

For when a sick man hides his illness

It turns before long into something serious.

But if this suffering is mental tell me,

And I will tell you the cure for it;

Because, for a mind shrouded in gloom and darkness,

The healer is a seeker who knows himself.

Tell me the whole truth, my friend,

If you think it fit to be told;

For minds have many ways of working

And many secrets,
whose concealment is complicated by conceit."

Thus impelled by the other,

While wanting to explain his own decision,

Nanda hung onto him, his hand in his hand,

And went into another corner of the forest.

in between the deep sighs
that intermittently gripped him,

He told the beggar who was adept at hearing and talking

What he intended to do --

An intention that,
for an intelligent man who has gone forth,
is difficult to express.

And so there the two of them sat

In a bright bower of flower-spewing creepers

Whose soft young shoots, stirring in a soft breeze,

Seemed to be hiding them away.

"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!

And so I am particularly keen to speak to you

Who preach propriety;

For what I am feeling now I would not tell
to a man out of balance in himself

Who, though a good talker, was not a true person.

Hear me then when I say, in short,

That without my beloved I do not enjoy
the practice of dharma;

I am like a kimnara without his lover

Roaming about, his semen ready, over mountain peaks.

Averse to the happiness of the forest life,

I just want to go home;

For without her I obtain no comfort,

Like a king without sovereignty."

When he heard those words of Nanda

Who, mind turned towards his beloved wife,
was burning with pain,

The striver while letting his head shake,

Softly, said to himself:

"What a pity!
In its longing for the herd, a rushing stag

Having escaped the mortal danger of the hunter's arrow

Is about to enter the hunter's trap,

Deceived by a call the hunter sang.

Truly, a bird that was caught in a net

And set free by a benevolent person,

as it flits about the fruiting and blossoming forest,

To fly of its own free will into a cage.

A baby elephant, truly,
after a big elephant has pulled it up

Out of the deep mud of a dangerous riverbed,

Wishes, in its thirst for water,

To re-enter that crocodile-infested creek.

Truly, in a shelter where slithers a snake,

A sleeping boy, woken by an elder who is awake,

Has become agitated

And is about to grab the horrible reptile himself.

Truly, having flown up and away

From a forest tree blazing in a great fire,

A chick in its longing for the nest

Wishes to fly back there, its former alarm forgotten.

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 blighter is living a pitiful life.

Greedy and untrained,

Devoid of decency and intelligence,

Truly, a wretched dog wishes to eat again

Food that he himself has vomited."

So saying, the striver contemplated Nanda for a while,

Beholding him torn up by the sorrows of love,

And, striving to be of benefit,

The striver spoke fine words,
which were unpleasant to hear.

"For you
who draws no distinction between good and bad,

Whose mind is settled on objects of the senses,

And who has no eye of attainment,

Naturally, there could be no delight in the better way.

For joy in dharma is not allotted

To one who easily changes his mind,
to one whose thinking

-- In hearing, grasping, retaining
and understanding the supreme truth,
and in mental peace --

Is not firmly fixed.

But the joy is not unknown to one
who sees the faults in objects of the senses,

Who is contented, pure, and unassuming,

Whose mind is versed in religious acts leading to peace

And whose understanding of those acts is formed.

A covetous man delights in opulence;

A fool delights in sensual pleasure;

A true person delights in tranquillity

Having transcended sensual enjoyments
by virtue of his knowledge.

What is more, when a man of repute,

An intelligent man of good family,
bears the honoured insignia

His consciousness no more inclines homeward

Than a mountain bends in the wind.

Only a man who aspires to dependence on another,

Spurning autonomy and self-reliance,

Would yearn, while on the auspicious path to peace,

For life at home with all its faults.

Just as a man released from prison might,
when stricken by some calamity,

Betake himself back to prison,

So might one who has retired to the forest

Seek out again that bondage called home.

The man who would leave strife behind

Wishing only to return again to strife:

He is the fool who would leave behind and then return,

With the power of his senses unconquered,
to the strife that is a wife.

Like poisonous clinging creepers,

Like swept caves still harbouring snakes,

Like unsheathed blades held in the hand,

Women are calamitous in the end.

Sexy women arouse lust;

Unsexy women are fearsome.

Since they bring a fault or bring fear

How are they worth bothering about?

So that kinsman breaks with kinsman

And friend breaks with friend,

Women, who are good at seeing faults in others,

Behave deceitfully and ignobly.

When men of good families fall on hard times,

When they rashly do unfitting deeds,

When they recklessly enter the vanguard of an army,

Women in those instances are the cause.

They beguile with lovely voices,

And strike with sharp minds:

There is honey in women's speech,

And lethal venom in their hearts.

A burning fire can be held,

The bodiless wind can be caught,

An angry snake can be captured,

But the mind of women cannot be grasped.

Without pausing to consider looks or wealth,

Or intelligence or breeding or valour,

Women attack no matter what,

Like a ragbag of crocodiles in a river.

No sweet words, no caresses,

And no affection do women ever remember.

The female, even when cajoled, is flighty:

So rely on one no more than you would
your enemies in this world.

Women flirt with men who give them nothing,

And grow restless with generous men;

They show disdain towards the humble,

But simpering contentment towards the arrogant.

They lord it over men who have merit,

And submit like children to men without merit.

They act rapaciously towards men who have money;

Men without money they treat with contempt.

Just as a cow,
having gone from one pasture to another,

Keeps right on grazing, however she is restrained,

So a woman,
without regard for any affection she felt before,

Moves on and takes her pleasure elsewhere.

For though women ascend their husbands' funeral pyre,

Though they follow at the cost of their own lives,

Though they bear all kinds of pain,

They never truly show affection.

Women who in some small way please their husband,

Treating him like a god, sometimes,

A thousand times more, in their fickle-mindedness,

Please their own heart.

The daughter of Sena-jit the Conqueror, so they say,
coupled with a dog cooker;

Kumud-vati, 'Lilly Pool,'
paired up with Mina-ripu, 'Foe of Fishes';

And 'Burly Heroine' Brhad-ratha loved a lion:

There is nothing women will not do.

Scions of the Kurus, Haihayas and Vrishnis,

Along with Shambara whose armour was much magic,

And the sage Ugra-tapas -- 'Grim Austerities' -- Gautama,

All incurred the dust of passion which a woman raises.

Ungrateful, ignoble, unsteady:

Such is the mind of women.

What man of wisdom could fasten his heart

Onto such fickle creatures?

So you do not see that their little lightweight hearts

Are pernicious in their intense duplicity?

Do you not at least see that women's bodies

Are impure, oozing houses of foulness?

The ugliness which day after day is prettified,

By means of ablutions, garments, and jewels,

You with eyes veiled by ignorance do not truly see:

You see it as beauty.

Or else you see that their bodies are foul

But intelligence is lacking in you:

For the fragrant task you are engaged in

Is extinction of the impurity that originates in them.

Cosmetic paste and powder, garlands,

Gems, pearls, gold, fine fabric:

If these are good, what have they to do with women?

Let us examine what in women is originally pure.

Dirty and unclothed,

With nails, teeth and body-hair in their natural state:

If your 'Beautiful Woman' Sundari were like that now,

She surely would not be to you such a beautiful woman.

What man capable of disgust would touch a woman,

Leaking and unclean like an old bucket,

If she were not scantily clad

In skin as thin as a flying insect's wing?

If you see women's bodies to be bony skeletons

Wrapped around with skin

And yet you are forcibly drawn by passion,

Then, truly,
Love is immune to disgust and lacking in restraint.

You are inventing beauty

In nails, teeth, skin, and hair long and short,
which are not beautiful.

Dullard! Do you not see

What women originally are made of
and what they originally are?

So reckon women, in mind and in body,

To be singularly implicated with faults;

And hold back, using this arithmetic,

Your impulsively homeward-straining mind.

You are educated, intelligent, and well-bred --

A fitting vessel for supreme tranquillity;

As such, you ought not in any way to break

The contract into which you have entered.

For the spirited man of noble birth,

For the man who cherishes honour
and strives to earn great respect,

For the man of grit --

Better death for him than life as a backslider.

For just as he is blameworthy who,
having girded on armour and taken up a bow,

Flees in his war-chariot away from a battle;

So too is he blameworthy who,
having taken on the insignia and taken up begging,

Allows the stallion of his senses
to be carted away by desire.

And just as he is laughable who wears
the finest ornaments, clothes and garlands,

And, with head full of passing fancies,
goes begging holding a bow,

So too is he laughable
who has taken to shapelessness
and who eats food offered by others,

While thirstily veering towards the comforts of home.

Just as a hog,
though fed with good food and lain on the finest bedding,

Would run, when set free, back to his familiar filth;

So, having tasted the excellent pleasure of cessation
while learning a better way,

Would a man of thirsting libido
abandon the tranquil forest and long for home.

Just as a flaming torch, when fanned by the wind,
burns the hand that holds it,

Just as a snake, swift to anger,
bites the foot that steps on it,

Just as a tiger, though caught as a cub,
mauls the one who took it in,

So too does association with women, in many ways,
make for disaster.

So know these faults to be tied,
mentally and physically, to women;

Understand how sensual pleasure,
as it flows away like river water,
makes for affliction and for sorrow;

See the world, in Death's shadow,
to be fragile as an unbaked pot;

And make the peerless decision that leads to release
-- instead of stiffening up your neck through yearning."

The 8th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda,
titled "A Tirade against Women."

No comments: