Monday, March 7, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.40: Women as Money-Grabbers

guNavatsu caranti bhartR-vad
guNa-hiineShu caranti putra-vat
dhanavatsu caranti tRShNayaa
dhana-hiineShu caranty avajNayaa

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

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.

The striver, as I hear him, is espousing a pessimistic view of women. Others might argue that the striver is espousing a realistic view of women.

Either way, the striver, in striving to change Nanda's mind, is undeniably espousing a view of women.

That is to say, what the striver is striving to uphold is only a view, a prejudice, an inauspicious conception, an unconstructive thought, a wretched idea. Moreover the striver's well-intentioned effort to win Nanda over to his jaundiced view of women is ultimately unsuccessful; it produces nothing of value -- it does neither the striver nor Nanda any good.

This being so, the striving of the striver can be seen as a concrete individual example, a case in point, of the general principle that the Buddha will outline to Nanda in Canto 15:

On this basis, towards all beings, / It is love and compassion, // Not ill-will or cruelty, / That you should opt for. // For whatever continually / A human being thinks, // In that direction, through habit, / The mind of this person veers. // Therefore, abandoning the inauspicious, / You should think constructively, // Which might be valuable for you here and now / And might be for the reaching of ultimate value. // For unconstructive ideas carried in the heart / Densely grow, // Producing in equal measure nothing of value / For the self and for the other. [15.17 - 15.20]

So with inauspicious conceptions /You should not mar your self // -- Which is a good sword and bejewelled -- / As if you were digging the earth, spattered with mud. // Just as an ignoramus / Might burn as firewood the best aloes, // So would one, wrong-headedly, / Waste this state of being human. // Again, just as he might leave the jewel / And carry from the jewel-island a clod, // So would one leave the dharma that leads to happiness / And cherish a wretched idea.
[15.25 - 15.27]

When the Buddha speaks of the dharma leading to happiness, exactly what does he mean? According to Asvhaghosha's Dharma-grandson Nagarjuna he means the dropping off of all views -- be they optimistic, pessimistic, or realistic.

The striver, though he wears what he calls the honored insignia (arcita liNgam; 8.27) -- in other words, though he wears the uniform -- can be seen as a shining example of one who has not dropped off a view.

Clearly, wearing a uniform -- or possessing a certificate, or being an nth degree black belt, or having a large following of students, or being a Queen's Counsel, or being a medical consultant of high repute, or an investment banker managing huge financial resources -- is no guarantee of immunity to wrong views and opinions.

Whereas many of us have learnt to distrust the views and opinions of political, religious and business leaders, some of us remain all too liable to give robe-wearing shaven-headed strivers the benefit of the doubt. More fool us. We are liable, in our innocent devotion to "Buddhism," to revere the honored uniform regardless of the jaundiced views of the ignorant bigot (who might be me) who is wearing it.

In this situation, who are we to revere? My own tentative conclusion, before I started translating Saundara-nanda, was to revere and serve the Buddha, and to revere and serve the Dharma, just as one independent individual.

I wasn't looking to find confirmation of my own conclusion in Ashvaghosha's writings. If anything, I expected to find a refutation of my own tentative conclusion. But one of the things I have noticed in Ashvaghosoha's writings is that, alongside multiple references to Buddha, and Dharma, there is little or no mention of "Samgha" -- except in incidental references to hosts or groups of people or creatures. Nowhere in Saundara-nanda does the Buddha recommend Nanda to get together with a host of Dharma-buddies and engage in group activities like chanting or confession or mutual admiration.

My intuition is that, drawing from his experience in real life of opinionated uniform-wearers like the striver, Ashvaghosha is suggesting to us the need for each of us to do the work, as an individual, of making the Buddha's teaching our own.

So for the giving up, / In short, of all these ideas, // Mindfulness of inward and outward breathing, my friend, / You should make into your own possession.

EH Johnston:
They are as masterful (as husbands) to the virtuous and (as submissive) as sons to the vicious. They behave greedily to the rich and treat the poor with contempt.

Linda Covill:
they lord it over virtuous men like husbands, and submit like children to the wicked; they are covetous of the rich and contemptuous of the poor.

guNavatsu (loc. pl. m.): mfn. endowed with good qualities
caranti = 3rd pers. pl. car: to proceed; to behave , conduct one's self , act , live , treat (with instr. or loc.)
bhartR-vat: ind. like a master/husband
bhartR: m. a preserver , protector , maintainer , chief , lord , master ; m. a husband
-vat: an affix added to words to imply likeness or resemblance , and generally translatable by " as " , " like "

guNa-hiineShu (loc. pl. m.): mfn. void of merit
guNa: good quality, virtue, merit
hiina: mfn. bereft or deprived of , free from , devoid or destitute of , without
caranti = 3rd pers. pl. car: to proceed; to behave , conduct one's self , act , live , treat (with instr. or loc.)

dhanavatsu (loc. pl. m.): mfn. wealthy , rich ; m. a rich man
caranti = 3rd pers. pl. car: to proceed; to behave , conduct one's self , act , live , treat (with instr. or loc.)
tRShNayaa (inst. sg.): f. thirst ; desire, avidity

dhana-hiineShu (loc. pl. m.): mfn. destitute of wealth , poor
caranti = 3rd pers. pl. car: to proceed; to behave , conduct one's self , act , live , treat (with instr. or loc.)
avajNayaa (inst. sg.): f. contempt , disesteem , disrespect

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