Friday, March 25, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.58: Blame & Shame

baddhvaa yathaa hi kavacaM pragRhiita-caapo
nindyo bhavaty apasRtaH samaraad ratha-sthaH
bhaikShaakam abhyupagataH parigRhya liNgaM
nindyas tathaa bhavati kaama-hRt'-endriy-aashvaH

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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.

These might be the words of the Buddha himself -- if not for two dead giveaways.

Twice in this verse the striver uses the word, nindya, blameworthy, from the root √nind, to blame.

EHJ in his somewhat grey and pedantic way just translates nindya literally, as blameworthy. LC, who surely has a more gifted way with words than us more workmanlike translators, appears to recoil from the idea that a Buddhist monk might call a person blameworthy, and so she puts what seems to be a compassionate spin on the striver's words. In LC's translation the striver doesn't apportion blame; he rather describes a certain kind of behaviour as shameful. This, of course, is in accordance with the precepts.

A follower of the Buddha's teaching should, in theory, definitely not blame others. And if he did blame others, that would be a shameful act, but the blamer himself would not deserve to be blamed. At least not in theory.

Ashvaghosha, however, knew something in practice which is not amenable to be understood in theory: he knew how a striver's mind tends to work. I dare say he knew it from the inside. If not from the inside, how else could he truly know it?

Precept no. 7 of the ten precepts that Dogen transmitted from China into Japan is not to praise oneself or blame others. So we should want to keep that precept. As a general rule, however, when we strive to keep the precepts, we fail. It may be that what causes us to fail is striving itself. And this may be why, when we study the striving mind in detail, from the inside, in practice, it is full of blaming others.

Yesterday, after I had explained my understanding of today's verse to my wife and was feeling quite proud of myself (I might even have been comparing my understanding with that of EHJ and LC, with a hint of self-praise), my wife remarked, "You are SHAMON!"

SHAMON is the Japanese word that represents the Sanskrit shramaNa, which literally means striver. So what my wife was saying was "You are the striver!"

Yep, that is the shameful truth. I am the striver. I suppose I might as well make friends with the bastard, since I appear to be stuck with him.

Speaking of players of the blame game who should know better, I could easily name other names besides my own, but what would that prove? Suffice to say that praising self and blaming others is a shameful tendency. And when we dig down around its roots, we find that it is very much rooted in striving.

So Ashvaghosha's portrayal of striving, not in the abstract, but in the form of the striver who is one of the protagonists of Saundara-nanda, might be an incredibly useful resource in helping us to understand that not only gross ascetic striving but also the subtler form of Buddhist striving is just a tendency that the Buddha's teaching invites us to give up.

The point, in short, if only for a moment, is not to be the striver.

EH Johnston:
For as the warrior on his chariot is blameworthy, who after girding on his breastplate and taking his bow retires from the battlefield, so too is he blameworthy who, after accepting the badge and entering the mendicant life, allows the steeds of his senses to be carried away by passion.

Linda Covill:
When a man has donned armor, has his bow at the ready and stands in his chariot, it is shameful for him to retreat from the field of battle. Likewise it is shameful for a man who has adopted mendicancy and accepted the robes of a monk to allow the horses of his senses to run away with desire.

baddhvaa = abs. bandh: to bind round , put on
yathaa: ind. just as
hi: for
kavacam (acc. sg.): m. armour , a coat of mail
pragRhiita-caapaH (nom. sg. m.): holding his bow
pragRhiita: mfn. held forth or out , taken , accepted &c
pra- √ grah: hold ; to seize , grasp , take hold of , take ; receive
caapa: m. a bow

nindyaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. blamable , reprehensible
nind: to blame , censure , revile , despise , ridicule
bhavati = 3rd pers. sg. bhuu: to be, become
apasRtaH (nom. sg. m.): retreated
apa- √ sR: to slip off from (abl.); to go away , retreat
samaraat (abl. sg.): m. coming together ; hostile encounter , conflict , struggle , war , battle
ratha-sthaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. being on a chariot
ratha: m. " goer " , a chariot , car , esp. a two-wheeled war-chariot

bhaikShaakam (acc. sg.): n. mendicancy
abhyupagataH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. gone near to , approached , arrived at; agreed , assented to
abhy-upa- √ gam: to go near to; to assent
parigRhya = abs. pari- √ grah: to take hold of on both sides , embrace ; to put on , wear (as a dress or ornament) ; to take or carry along with one ; to take possession of ; to accept
liNgam (acc. sg.): n. the insignia

nindyaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. blamable , reprehensible
nind: to blame , censure , revile , despise , ridicule
tathaa: ind. so, likewise
bhavati = 3rd pers. sg. bhuu: to be, become
kaama-hṛt'-endriy-aashvaH (nom. sg. m.): the horse/power of his senses carried off by desire
kaama: m. desire, love, sensuality
hRta: mfn. taken , taken away , seized
hR: to take away , carry off , seize , deprive of , steal , rob
indriya: n. power of the senses ; the senses
ashva: m. horse

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