Friday, March 4, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.37: Women as Rag-bag of Rapacious Crocodiles

na vapur vimRshanti na shriyaM
na matiM n' aapi kulaM na vikramaM
praharanty avisheShataH striyaH
sarito graaha-kul'-aa-kulaa iva

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

Without pausing to consider looks or wealth,

Or intelligence or breeding or valour,

Women attack no matter what,

Like a ragged assortment of crocodiles in a river.

Why is the striver talking such palpable nonsense? Has he maybe been traumatized by some early formative experience at the first day of the January sales?

Whatever the cause of the striver's tirade, I think the general principle is that when a striver is prejudiced against women, the fault is not in women. The fault is in the prejudice of the object-blaming striver.

It might be that when a man is beyond object-blaming striving, he is also beyond any prejudice against women.

Thus, in the Buddha's final words to Nanda in Canto 18 (18.59 - 18.60), delivered as Nanda is about to head back to the city of Kapilavastu, the Buddha expresses the hope that Sundari will be sufficiently impressed by Nanda's new-found restraint and tranquillity that she might be inspired to seek the Buddha's truth herself.

The Buddha, evidently, does not share the striver's concern that Nanda, as a realized man, might be devoured by Sundari and her women like a ragged assortment of crocodiles.

So to come back to the question: why is the striver talking such prejudiced nonsense?, I think that Ashvaghosha has given us the character of the striver to help us understand more clearly what the Buddha's teaching is not.

First up, the Buddha's teaching is not asceticism. But only the most extremely ignorant person would opine that the Buddha's teaching was an extension of the ancient Indian tradition of asceticism. Ascetic practitioners with their matted locks do not look remotely like followers of the Buddha.

What looks like the Buddha's teaching is the efforts of a striver who, wearing the robe whose form was set by the Buddha, lights a stick of incense and bows his shaved head to a Buddha statue, and then sits cross-legged on a round cushion, concentrating on his posture, and constantly coming back, whenever thoughts intrude, to adjusting his posture. What sounds like the Buddha's teaching is the words of a striver who speaks of such things as impermanence.

But when we investigate the striver's striving closely and intimately, the striving of the striver is not the Buddha's teaching either. Striving to look and sound and be like the Buddha is totally different from the empty state of Buddha.

Scholars who have studied Saundara-nanda hitherto have discussed the relation between the two halves of the poem. It has been suggested that the first half is more given to poetry, the second half to religious doctrine. Ashvaghosha's scheme, as I see it, is much more simple. It can be summed up in two short sentences:

The Buddha's teaching is not that.
This is the Buddha's teaching.

In this scheme today's verse along with the rest of Cantos 8 and 9 belong firmly in the first half. The second half begins with the intervention of the Buddha and Ananda in Cantos 10 and 11. Considering that Saundarananda has got 18 Cantos, this seems broadly to add up.

EH Johnston:
Women take no account of beauty, sovereignty, intelligence, race or valour. They strike indiscriminately like rivers infested with crowds of crocodiles.

Linda Covill:
Women have no regard for handsome looks, wealth, intelligence, lineage or valor; like hordes of crocodiles in a river, they attack without discrimination.

na: not
vapur (acc. sg.): n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty
vimRshanti = 3rd pers. pl. vi- √ mRsh: to touch (with the hands) , stroke , feel ; to touch (mentally) , be sensible or aware of , perceive , consider , reflect on , deliberate about
na: not
shriyam (acc. sg.): f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory , beauty , grace , loveliness ; prosperity , welfare , good fortune , success , auspiciousness , wealth , treasure , riches ; high rank , power , might , majesty , royal dignity

na: not
mati (acc. sg.): f. the mind , perception , understanding , intelligence , sense , judgement
na: not
api: also
kula (acc. sg.): n. a race , family ; a noble or eminent family or race; high station
na: not
vikrama (acc. sg.): m. valour , courage , heroism ,

praharanti = 3rd pers. pl. pra- √ hR: to thrust or move forward ; to strike , hit , hurt , attack , assail
a-visheShataH: ind. without difference
striyaH (nom. pl.): f. a woman , female , wife

saritaH = gen. sg. f. sarit: f. a river , stream
graaha-kul'-aa-kulaaH (nom. pl. f): excellent and not excellent rapacious aquatic animals ;
graaha: m. a rapacious animal living in fresh or sea water , any large fish or marine animal (crocodile , shark , serpent , Gangetic alligator , water elephant , or hippopotamus)
kul'-aa-kula: mfn. excellent and not excellent , middling ; of mixed character or origin
iva: like

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