Sunday, March 27, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.60: Going Back to Original Sin

yathaa sv-annaM bhuktvaa parama-shayaniiye 'pi shayito
varaaho nirmuktaH punar ashuchi dhaavet paricitaM
tathaa shreyaH shRNvan prashama-sukham aasvaadya guNavad
vanaM shaantaM hitvaa grham abhilaShet kaama-tRShitaH

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Just as a hog,
though fed with good food and lain on the finest bedding,

Would run, when set free, back to his familiar filth,

So, having tasted the excellent pleasure of cessation
while learning a better way,

Would a man of thirsting libido
abandon the tranquil forest and long for home.

Translating shreyaH as "a better way" fits well in this verse, in which shreyaH is the object of the present participle of shru, to hear or listen or to learn. "While learning a better way" rings truer than "while hearing of a higher good."

In this verse the striver seems to suggest that there is something inherently impure about family life. Is it because the sexual act is originally impure? Or is "original sin" a tainted view that is liable to infect strivers of all denominations?

In what sense is family life comparable to the impurity in which pigs instinctively swill?

The Buddha in Canto 5 speaks of the faults or drawbacks in family life (gRheShu doShaan; 5.39), but he does not suggest, as I hear him, that family life is inherently impure. On the contrary in Canto 3 Ashvaghosha paints a picture of the householders of Kapilavastu under the influence of the Buddha being spotlessly free of views (parama-parishuddha-dRShTayaH; 3.39):

By this tenfold means, by the most skillful and powerful means which is one's own conduct, / Although virtue was lax in a declining age, the people there, with the sage's help, fared well. // But nobody there, because of his virtues, expected happiness in a resulting birth; / Having learned that all becoming is pernicious, people worked to eradicate becoming, not to become something. // Even householders were free from endless doubting, their views washed spotlessly away: / For many had entered the stream, and then reduced passion to a trickle. // [3.37- 3.39]

So the striver, in seeing family life as something filthy -- something analogous in the translations of EHJ and LC to a midden or a dunghill -- might not be telling us anything true about the inherent purity or impurity of family life. But he might be saying something about the inherent impurity of the striving mind.

I am finding fault like this in everything the striver says because Ashvaghosha's intention, as I understand it, is that I should do so -- and in so doing, should find fault in that of the striver in me. Why? Because, like the striver, I am prone to have views and opinions which are different from real, intuitive wisdom. These views and opinions are tainted, and to enter the first stage of sitting-meditation is to drop them off (17.42). In Canto 17 Ashvaghosha describes subsequent progress through four stages of sitting-meditation as a process of finding one fault after another in one's practice (17.44 - 17.55). Ashvaghosha then suggests further that even in the condition of full awareness and indifference that is the fourth stage, upper fetters that are bound up with superiority and tied up with I and me and mine, may still remain to be broken (17.57). Even then dormant tendencies of the mind may be slumbering on (17.58). And so the effort -- but do not call it striving -- to free the mind of faults continues until the hard-to-cross flood of suffering is finally crossed (17.60).

Grumpy strivers are liable to have a pessimistic view that sounds like some variation on the Christian theme of original sin. And self-proclaimed Mahayana Buddhists with their heels off the ground are liable to have an optimistic theory about Buddha-nature. But the practice of purifying one's own mind, to which Ashvaghosha is pointing, is practice of a totally different order.

EH Johnston:
Just as a boar, if fed on the best of food and provided with even the best of bedding, would hasten on release to his familiar midden, so the man who is dominated by the thirst of passion, would leave the tranquil forest and long for his home, though, while hearing of the highest good, he had tasted the excellent pleasure of religious peace.

Linda Covill:
Just as a boar would return to his dunghill when set free, though he had been fed with good food and had slept on the finest bedding, so would a man thirsty for passion yearn to abandon the peaceful forest and go home, though he had learned of Excellence and had sipped the bliss of peace.

yathaa: ind. just as
sv-annam (acc. sg.): n. good food
bhuktvaa = abs. bhuj: to enjoy , use , possess , (esp.) enjoy a meal , eat
parama-shayaniiye (loc. sg.): on the finest bed
parama: mfn. the best, the finest
shayaniiya: mfn. to be slept or lain on ; n. a bed
api: though
shayitaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. reposed , lying , sleeping , asleep

varaahaH (nom. sg.): m. a boar , hog , pig , wild boar
nirmuktaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. loosed , separated , sundered , liberated or saved or escaped or free
punar: ind. again, back
ashuchi (acc. sg.): n. that which is unclean, impure, foul
dhaavet = 3rd pers. sg. optative dhaav to run , flow , stream , move , glide , swim ; to run away, flee
paricitam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. known , familiar

tathaa: ind. so too, likewise
shreyaH (acc. sg.): n. the better state ; higher good
shRNvan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. shru: to hear, listen ; to hear (from a teacher) , study , learn
prashama-sukham (acc. sg. n.): the ease of cessation
prashama: m. calmness , tranquillity (esp. of mind) , quiet , rest , cessation , extinction , abatement
sukha: n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness
aasvaadya = abs. aa- √ svad: to eat, taste
guNavat (acc sg. n.): mfn. endowed with good qualities or virtues or merits or excellences , excellent , perfect

vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest
shaantam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. appeased , pacified , tranquil , calm , free from passions , undisturbed
hitvaa = abs. haa: to leave , abandon , desert , quit , forsake , relinquish
grham (acc. sg.): m. house, home
abhilaShet = 3rd pers. sg. optative abhi- √ laSh: to desire or wish for (acc.) , covet , crave
kaama-tRShitaH (nom. sg. m.) a man thirsting with sexual desire
kaama: m. desire ; love , especially sexual love or sensuality
tRShita: mfn. thirsty , thirsting , desirous

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