Saturday, March 26, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.59: Isn't It Ironic?

haasyo yathaa ca param'-aabharaN'-aambara-srag
bhaikShaM caran dhRta-dhanush cala-citta-mauliH
vairuupyam abhyupagataH para-piNDa-bhojii
haasyas tathaa gRha-sukh'-aabhimukhaH sa-tRShNaH

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And just as he is laughable who wears
the finest ornaments, clothes and garlands,

And, with head full of passing fancies,
goes begging holding a bow,

So too is he laughable
who has taken to shapelessness
and who eats food offered by others,

While thirstily veering towards the comforts of home.

Today's verse reminds me of that song by Alanis Morissette in which she asks, "Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?" and then launches into the refrain "It's like rain on your wedding day! A free ride when you've already paid!" Your sort of know what she is getting at, but a free ride when you've already paid isn't really ironic; it is more annoying.

In a similar way, there is something not quite right about what the striver understands here to be laughable.

The behaviour the striver describes in the first half of the verse does not strike me as laughable; it is more bizarre. The picture he paints of somebody going begging in totally inappropriate attire is like a joke that doesn't quite come off, but elicits polite laughter that is muted or embarrassed. (I have told one or two of those in my time as a striver, and I doubtless will do so again.)

Unlike the striver's description of Nanda in the second half of today's verse, when Ashvaghosha describes Nanda at the end of Canto 5, he does so in a way that elicits not laughter but empathy and sadness:

As his hair was thus being banished, his tearful downcast face / Resembled a rain-sodden lotus in a pond with its stalk sagging at the top. // Thence, in drab garb with the dull yellow-red colour of tree bark, and despondent as a newly-captured elephant, / Nanda resembled a waning full moon at night's end, sprinkled by the powdery rays of the early morning sun. // [5.52 - 5.53]

I imagine that Ashvaghosha in his time saw plenty of young men who, having had their heads shaved and donned the shapeless robe, were as despondent as newly-captured elephants, grieving for the homes and families they had left behind. So his picture of Nanda would have been drawn from real life. Similarly, I imagine that Ashvaghosha was familiar with plenty of characters like the striver, and familiar also with a tendency to strive in himself, and so today's verse might also be drawn from real life.

In our unreal thoughts, a comedian is always a person who makes others laugh. But the real situation that comedians fear is a performance which causes nobody to laugh. For comedians, this experience is very real -- so real they call it dying.

In a similar way that we assume a comedian, knowing what is laughable, should be able to make others laugh, we tend to assume that an Alexander teacher should be one who understands how to sit well, how to breathe naturally, how to walk economically, and so on. And we tend to assume that a buddha should be one who knows what enlightenment is. Those assumptions are all false. But the making of those assumptions is very real -- as real as a joke that doesn't come off, and as imperfect and quirky as a character in a story drawn from real life.

EH Johnston:
It would be laughable for a man to go begging who wears beautiful ornaments, clothes and garlands, holds a bow and flaunts a gorgeous nodding headdress ; so too is it laughable for one, who has abandoned all outward ornament and lives on others' alms, to be filled again with desire and to long to return to the pleasures of his home life.

Linda Covill:
And just as it is ridiculous to practice mendicancy decked in the finest ornaments, clothes and garlands, holding a bow and with one's head full of frivolities, likewise it is ridiculous to consent to the drab robes and to eat the almsfood of others while thirstily longing for domestic pleasures.

haasyaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. to be laughed at , laughable , ridiculous , funny , comical
yathaa: ind. just as
ca: and
param'-aabharaN'-aambara-srak (nom. sg. m.): with the finest ornaments, clothes, and garlands
parama: mfn. the best
aabharaNa: n. ornament , decoration (as jewels &c )
ambara: n. clothes , apparel , garment
sraj: f. (nom. srak) a wreath of flowers , garland , chaplet worn on the head , any wreath or garland

bhaikSham (acc. sg.): n. asking alms , begging
caran = nom. sg. m. pres. part. car: to go
dhRta-dhanuH (nom. sg. m.): holding a bow
dhRta: mfn. held
dhanu: m. a bow
cala-citta-mauliH (nom. sg. m.): head full of fickle thoughts
cala-citta: mfn. fickle-minded ; n. fickleness of mind
mauli: m. the head , the top of anything

vairuupyam (acc. sg.): n. multiplicity of form , diversity , difference ; deformity , ugliness
ruupya: mfn. well-shaped , beautiful
abhyupagataH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. agreed, assented to
abhy-upa- √ gam: to go near to , approach , arrive at (acc.) ; to obtain ; to assent , agree to
para-piNDa-bhojii (nom. sg. m.): eating food offered by others
para: m. another, others'
piNDa: m. any round or roundish mass ; a roundish lump of food , a bite , morsel , mouthful ; (esp.) a ball of rice or flour &c offered to the pitRs or deceased ancestors , a shraaddha oblation ; food , daily bread , livelihood , subsistence
bhojin: mfn. (ifc.) enjoying , eating

haasyaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. to be laughed at , laughable , ridiculous , funny , comical
tathaa: ind. so too, likewise
gRha-sukh'-aabhimukhaH (nom. sg. m.): inclined towards the comforts of home
gRha-sukha: the comforts of home ; ease of domestic life
abhimukha: mfn. with the face directed towards , turned towards , facing; (ifc.) going near , approaching ; (ifc.) disposed to , intending to , ready for
sa-tRShNaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having thirst, thirsty, desirous

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