Saturday, April 9, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.10: Denunciation of Striving After an Object

yathaa ghaTaM mRn-mayam aamam aashrito
naras titiirShet kShubhitaM mah"-aarNavaM
samucchrayaM tadvad asaaram udvahan
balaM vyavasyed vishay'-aartham udyataH

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

Like a man aspiring to cross the stormy ocean

In an unbaked earthen pot,

Is he who would assume the sapless accretion
of his body to be strong

As he carries it around, striving after an object.

As if at the gateway to nirvana, the first of four stages of sitting-meditation as Ashvaghosha describes it is free from desires and things that are tainted (17.42).

The most glaring example in Saundara-nanda of a thing that is tainted -- so tainted as to be comical -- is Nanda's expectation that celestial nymphs will serve him sexually as a reward for his ascetic striving.

A subtler example is the effort of the striver, whose striving in this verse continues to be tainted by a twofold agenda; namely, (1) to assert his own Buddhist view that a human body is originally weak, (2) to tell Nanda off for assuming that his body is strong.

As is usually the case with a hidden agenda, the agenda is hidden primarily from the person in whom it is hiding -- a phenomenon which often gives rise to the mirror principle whereby one unconsciously projects one's own fault onto another and has a go at him.

Thus, in telling Nanda off, the striver seems to denounce vishay'-aartham udyataH, "striving after an object." But who here is striving after an object?

Nanda's striving only begins in earnest in Cantos 10 & 11 when the Buddha convinces him he can earn sex with celestial nymphs through diligent ascetic striving. Before that experience it may be that Nanda has never really strived after anything in his life, which is why the Buddha used a skillful means -- some might say a white lie -- to enable Nanda to begin to know what true yoga is not.

The player in the present scene who is striving after some object, as I see it, is not Nanda.

Going further, because of a tendency to be an ineffectual windbag, I would like to discuss the difference between the word udyata used in line 4 of this verse and the word viirya which the Buddha uses at length at the end of Canto 16. udyata describes a person who is extending himself, striving in pursuit of some end. viirya means manly vigour, virility, valour, energy and I have translated it in Canto 16 as "directed energy." So these two words, udyata and viirya, as I read them, describe two different kinds of effort. Both kinds of effort are hard work, but in one essential sense the two kinds of effort are totally different. udyata is associated with doing, with trying, with stiffening of the neck. viirya is associated with undoing, with re-directing energy fearlessly, i.e. in such a way that the neck is not unduly stiffened.

To clarify the difference between these two kinds of effort is, I think, one of the main tasks -- perhaps the main task -- that Ashvaghosha undertook in writing Saundara-nanda. In order to make the nectar of immortality his own, Nanda has to put forth enormous effort. Initially the effort causes once-handsome Nanda to stiffen his neck and become ugly. But with understanding Nanda's effort turns into effort of a very different order, effort with a free neck, far removed from any kind of ascetic striving.

EH Johnston:
The man who should in his eagerness for the objects of the senses deem himself strong, when all that he has is this worthless corporeal aggregate, is like a man who should not set out to cross the heaving ocean in an unfired clay pot.

Linda Covill:
A man carries about this sapless excrescence and in his longing for sensory experience is persuaded of its robustness; but he is like a man who sets out to cross the rolling ocean in an unbaked earthen pot.

yathaa: ind. just as; in which manner or way , according as , as , like
ghaTam (acc. sg.): m. jar , pitcher , jug , large earthen water-jar , watering-pot
mRn-mayam (acc. sg. m.): made of clay
mRd: f. earth , soil , clay
aamam (acc. sg. m.): raw, unbaked
aashritaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. attaching one's self to , joining ; having recourse to , resorting to as a retreat or asylum ; depending on ; dwelling in ; using, employing
aa- √ shri: to affix, to attach oneself to ; to betake one's self to , resort to ; to depend on ; to choose, prefer

naraH (nom. sg. m.): a man
titiirShet = 3rd pers. sg. optative desiderative tRR: to wish to cross
kShubhitam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. agitated , shaken , tossed , set in motion
kSubh: to shake , tremble , be agitated or disturbed , be unsteady
mah"-aarNavam (acc. sg.): m. " mighty sea " , the ocean

samucchrayam (acc. sg. m.): that which rises or grows up; m. an eminence , hill ; increase, growth
sam-ud- √shri: to raise well up , raise aloft , erect , elevate
tadvat: ind. (correl. yathaa) so, likewise
a-saaram (acc. sg. m.): mfn. sapless , without strength or value , without vigour
saara: mn. the core or pith or solid interior of anything ; firmness, strength; mfn. hard , firm solid strong ; precious , valuable ; good , sound , best , excellent
udvahan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. ud- √ vah: to bear (a weight or burden)

balam (acc. sg.): n. strength ; stoutness
vyavasyet = 3rd pers. sg. optative vy-ava-√so: to settle down ; to determine , resolve , decide; to ponder , reflect , consider
vishay'-aartham (acc. sg.): sense object
vishaya: m. anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
artha: aim , purpose (very often artham "for the sake of , on account of , in behalf of , for"); cause , motive , reason; object of the senses
udyataH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. upraised; ready or eager for ; active , persevering , labouring diligently and incessantly
ud- √ yam: to lift up, raise ; to be diligent , strive after (with dat. or acc. or without any object)
ud: up
√ yam: to raise; to raise , extend or hold (as a screen &c ) over ; to extend one's self

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