Tuesday, March 15, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.48: Ugliness in a Striver's View

yad ahany ahani pradhaavanair
vasanaish c' aabharaNaish ca saMskRtaM
a-shubhaM tamas" aavRt'-ekShaNaH
shubhato gacchasi n' aavagacchasi

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

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.

The key concept in today's verse might be a-shubha in line 3, "ugliness," which is opposed to shubha in line 4, "beauty."

In 8.23 the striver has already drawn the same dualistic distinction between shubha (good) and a-shubha (bad). It is a distinction which he has criticized Nanda for failing to draw:

For you who draws no distinction between good (shubha) and bad (a-shubha), whose mind is settled on objects of the senses, / And who has no eye of attainment, naturally, there could be no delight in higher good. [8.23]

Again it may be instructive to compare and contrast the Buddha's use of the same term a-shubha, variously translated below as "wretched" [15.27], "disagreeable" [16.60 - 16.61], "noxious" [16.74], and "impure" [16.76].

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 (cintayed ashubham). // [15.27]

Steadiness lies, when one's mind is stirred up by passion, in coming back to a disagreeable stimulus (a-shubhaM nimittam); / For thus a passionate type obtains relief, Like a phlegmatic type taking an astringent.// When a mind is wound up, however, with the fault of malice, a disagreeable stimulus (a-shubhaM nimittam) is not to be dwelt upon; / For unpleasantness is destructive to a hating type, as acid treatment is to a man of bilious nature. [16.60 - 16.61]

A man who wishes to live, even when starving, declines to eat poisoned food. / Likewise, observing that it triggers a fault, a wise person leaves alone a noxious stimulus (a-shubhaM nimittam).
// [16.74]

For those brought up well are ashamed of continued impure workings of the mind (manaH pracaarair a-shubhaiH pravRtaiH),/ As one who is bright, young and good-looking is ashamed of unsightly, ill-arranged necklaces.// [16.76]

In these verses, as I read them, the Buddha's use of the terms shubha and a-shubha is redolent of the observation by Shakespeare's Hamlet that "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

For the Buddha in the above verses ugliness is not an objective matter; it is rather a function of a practitioner's mind. The objective ugliness of which the striver speaks, it seems, the Buddha does not recognize.

The implicit point that Ashvaghosha might be hinting at, then, is that the ugliness of which the striver speaks exists nowhere but in his own subjective and jaundiced view of women.

Going further, in two later verses, 16.79 and 17.40, the use of a-shubha ("doing bad, shameful conduct") appears to leap out of either the objective or the subjective dimension, and into the sphere of action itself:

For just as a man afraid of thieves in the night would not open his door even to friends, / So does a wise man withhold consent equally to the doing of anything bad or anything good that involves the faults (samaM shubhasy' aapy ashubhasya doShaiH). // [16.79]

And so the hero cut the three roots of shameful conduct (muulaany atha triiNy ashubasya) using three seats of release, / As if three rival princes, bearing bows in the van of their armies, had been cut down by one prince using three iron points.// [17.40]

In the end, then -- though I seem to have put on a scholar's hat and written a long-winded analysis of a progression in the use of the term a-shuba -- it really all comes back to something ineffably simple: the not doing of anything bad.

Any old striver can say it. But any old striver cannot practise it.

Why not?

It may be that something bad is triggered just in the striving itself.

EH Johnston:
Your eyes are clouded with the darkness of ignorance and you do not understand that you are regarding as pure that which, impure in fact, only appears as pure through daily preparation with washing, clothing and adornment.

Linda Covill:
The repulsiveness adorned day by day with cleansing, clothing and decoration you, with your sight veiled by dark ignorance, perceive as attractive; you fail to understand.

yad (acc. sg. n.): [that] which
ahani = loc. ahar: n. a day
ahani = loc. ahar: n. a day
pradhaavanaiH (inst. pl.): n. rubbing or washing off

vasanaiH (inst. pl.): n. cloth , clothes , dress , garment , apparel , attire
ca: and
aabharaNaiH (inst. pl.): n. decorating ; ornament , decoration (as jewels &c )
ca: and
saMskRtam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. put together , constructed , well or completely formed , perfected ; made ready , prepared ; refined , adorned , ornamented , polished , highly elaborated (esp. applied to highly wrought speech , such as the Sanskrit language as opp , to the vernaculars)

a-shubham (acc. sg. n.): mfn. not beautiful or agreeable , disagreeable ; n. a shameful deed , sin
tamasaa (inst. sg.): . n. darkness ; mental darkness , ignorance
aavRt'-ekShaNaH (nom. sg. m.): with screened eye ; with veiled sight
aavRta: mfn. covered , concealed , hid ; screened
iikShaNa: n. a look , view , aspect , sight ; eye

shubhataH: ind. as beautiful
shubha: mfn. splendid , bright , beautiful , handsome ; pleasant , agreeable , suitable , fit , capable , useful , good
-taH: (ablative/adverbial suffix)
gacchasi = 2nd pers. sg. gam: to go ; (with or without manasaa) to observe , understand , guess
na: not
avagacchasi = 2nd pers. sg. ava- √ gam: to go down; to hit upon , think of , conceive , learn , know , understand

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