sravatiim ashuciM spRshec ca kaH
saghRNo jarjara-bhaaNDavat striyaM
yadi kevalayaa tvac" aavRtaa
na bhaven makShika-pattra-maatrayaa
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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?
There's something about the striver's way with words -- something of the gruff old Yorkshireman -- that one can't help smiling at. One can imagine a story-teller reciting Ashvaghosha's epic tale to families gathered around a fire in an ancient Indian village, as menfolk suppress sniggers and guffaws and some among the assembled women roll their eyes.
Good though the striver's words may sound, however, his logic when it is examined does not stand up to scrutiny. Who would touch a beautiful woman if she had no skin? One might as well ask, about any old master painting, who would want to look at it if its paint were scratched off. Or, about a piece of music by Mozart, who would want to listen to it if it were played by a drunk blowing an out of tune mouth organ. Or, about a delicious meal, who would want to eat it if it were served on a filthy plate.
The striver is striving to kill Nanda's passion by direct means. But these unskillful means of the striver do not have the desired effect on Nanda's mind.
The Buddha, in contrast, as Ashvaghosha describes in Canto 10, actively foments passion in Nanda's mind -- just as, in washing our laundry we add to our dirty clothes an impure substance like Daz, not in order to make the clothes dirtier but in order to encourage any dirt on clothes to come out in the wash. These are the indirect, skillful means of the Buddha, which pass the pragmatic test of truth: they work.
When Buddha thus intuits what is to be done, and does it, the essence of Buddha is the absence of something which is present in striving.
Striving is tainted by some agenda which prevents action from having an easy, effortless quality. Thus, on the physical level, striving hampers good coordination. On the emotional level, because it is tied up with a desire to feel right, or a desire to get things right, striving tends to manifest itself in emotional criticism of others or indeed blaming of oneself.
The very excellent mirror of the striver is one of the jewels in the crowning glory which is Saundara-nanda. Considering how truly excellent Ashvaghosha's teaching is, I wonder why this blog doesn't attract more visitors. Is it perhaps because, I can't help wondering, I am making a pig's ear of translating it and commenting on it -- like an unmusical person striving to play Mozart on a mouth organ?
In order fully to enjoy the samadhi of accepting and using the self it might not always be necessary to feel disgusted by women's bodies. But it might be necessary, for some of us, to make friends with the striver.
What man capable of feeling disgust would touch a woman, oozing and foul like a broken pot, if it were not for the mere covering of skin no thicker than a fly's wing?
What sensitive man would touch a woman, leaking and unclean like an old box, if she were not covered in skin, thin as a fly's wing though it is?
sravatiim = acc. sg. f. pres. part. sru: to flow , stream , gush forth , issue ; to leak , trickle
ashucim (acc. sg. f.): mfn. impure, foul
spRshet = 3rd pers. sg. optative spRsh: to touch , feel with the hand , lay the hand on
kaH (nom. sg. m.): who? what man?
sa-ghRNaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. full of pity , compassionate ; tender of feeling , delicate , scrupulous ; disliking , abhorring
ghRNaa: f. a warm feeling towards others , compassion , tenderness ; aversion ; disgust
jarjara-bhaaNDa-vat: ind. like an old box
jarjara: mfn. infirm , decrepit , decayed , torn or broken in pieces , perforated
bhaaNDa: n. any vessel , pot , dish , pail , vat , box , case
vat: (affix expressing resemblance) like
striyam (acc. sg. f.): a woman
kevalayaa (inst. sg. f.): mfn. alone , only , mere , sole , one , excluding others; simple , pure , uncompounded , unmingled ; entire, whole
tvacaa (inst. sg.): f. skin
aavRtaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. covered , concealed , hid ; screened ; enclosed ; overspread
bhavet = 3rd pers. sg. optative bhuu: to be
makShika-pattra-maatrayaa (inst. sg. f.): as thin as a fly's wing
makShika: a fly , bee
pattra: n. wing
maatra: mfn. (ifc.) having the measure of i.e. as large or high or long or broad or deep