Saturday, April 16, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.17: Seeking Corroboration in the Vedas

kva kaarta-viiryasya bal'-aabhimaaninaH
sahasra-baahor balam arjunasya tat
cakarta baahuun yudhi yasya bhaargavo
mahaanti shRNgaaNy ashanir girer iva

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Where is the power of the son of Krta-virya,
thousand-armed Arjuna,

Who fancied himself to be so strong?

'Scion of the Bhrgus' Bhargava
severed his arms in battle

Like a thunderbolt
lopping off the lofty horns of a mountain.

The striver here is doing what Nanda did in Canto 7 (see verses 7.24 to 7.46), i.e., seeking corroboration for his thesis in ancient Indian myths.

In this he is somewhat like a modern-day member of the academic priesthood who is versed in the methodology of citing the papers of other academics, regardless of whether the research of the other academic has got any real merit.

The thesis for which Nanda seeks corroboration in the vedas is that he is too weak to resist Sundari's pull: Hordes of gods, kings, and seers such as these have fallen by dint of desire into the thrall of women. / Being weak in understanding and inner strength, all the more discouraged, when I do not see my beloved, am I. [7.46]

Subsequent events recorded in Canto 17 show that Nanda's pessimistic thesis, though it seemed to find corroboration in the vedas, was not in fact true. It was a false conception.

The striver's thesis is that Nanda is wrong to take pride in his strength, and he finds support for this thesis in the myth that the mighty warrior Arjuna was defeated in battle by the brahmin Rama -- whose history is said to typify the class war between kshatriya warriors and brahmins. And the fundamental weakness in this thesis of the striver, as I see it and have stated several times already, is that Nanda shows no evidence of taking pride in his strength. Nanda's problem is that he feels he is too weak.

The striver might be likened to one of those research scientists commissioned by the tobacco industry to investigate the health effects of smoking. Their thesis was that the case against tobacco was not proven, and they would cite various academic papers, apparently ticking all the boxes of a bona fide scientist, to support a thesis that plainly flew in the face of the facts.

The striver sounds like a Buddhist and an educated Buddhist to boot. With his knowledge of the vedas, he sounds as if he knows what he is talking about. But if one stops and considers what the striver is actually saying, it does not add up at all. His whole analysis is based on a false assumption.

In the field of Buddhist studies, again, there are academics in whose opinion Ashvaghosha sought to portray the Buddha's teaching as the culmination of the Brahmanical tradition. But the actual fact, to anyone who has his own eyes, is totally contrary to this academic opinion. Ashvaghosha describes Nanda and the striver turning to the vedas for corroboration of ideas that are patently false.

Ashvaghosha is not a moralizer, at least not directly, but if we want to seek morals implicit in this part they might be: (1) don't rely on the vedas, and (2) don't judge a person by his uniform, even if it is a Buddhist uniform.

The lifeblood of the buddha-ancestors has to do with sitting. It has to do with an attitude in sitting. Or rather it has not to do with bringing any attitude to sitting. What it is nobody can say. But we can be clear what it is not. And so Ashvaghosha gives us the character of the striver, who harks back to snobbish, caste-ridden Brahmanist conceptions and tells Nanda who feels himself to be too weak that he must not take pride in strength. Whatever the lifeblood is, it is not that.

EH Johnston:
Where is the strength of the son of Krtavirya, the thousand-armed Arjuna, who boasted of his strength? The Bhargava seer lopped of his arms in battle, as the leyin brand lops the huge peaks of a mountain.

Linda Covill:
Where is the might of thousand-armed Arjuna Karta-virya, so proud of his power? Bhargava cut off his arms in battle as a thunderbolt cuts off a mountain's giant peaks.

kva: ind. where
kaarta-viiryasya (gen. sg.): m. " son of kRta-viirya " , Kaarta-viirya, N. of arjuna (a prince of the haihayas , killed by parashu-raama)
bal'-aabhimaaninaH (gen. sg. m.): imagining himself to be powerful
bala: n. strength, power
abhimaanin: mfn. thinking of one's self , proud , self-conceited; (ifc.) imagining one's self to be or to possess , laying claim to , arrogating to one's self

sahasra-baahoH (gen. sg. m.): thousand-armed
sahasra: a thousand
baahu: m. the arm
balam (nom. sg.): n. strength, power
arjunasya (gen. sg.): m. Arjuna ; name of the third of the paaNDava princes
tat (nom. sg. n.): that

cakarta = 3rd pers. sg. kRt: to cut, cut off
baahuun (acc. pl.): m. arms
yudhi = loc. sg. yudh: f. war , fight , combat , struggle , contest
yasya (gen. sg.): of whom
bhaargavaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. relating to or coming from bhRgu; N. of parashu-raama: m. " rama with the axe " , N. of one of the three raamas (son of jamad-agni and sixth avataara of viShNu , he was a typical Brahman and his history typifies the contests between the brahmans and kShatriyas)

mahaanti (acc. pl. n.): mfn. great, large
shRNgaaNi (acc. pl.): n. the horn of an animal ; the top or summit of a mountain , a peak , crag
ashaniH (nom. sg.): f. the thunderbolt , a flash of lightning ; the tip of a missile
gireH (gen. sg.): m. a mountain
iva: like

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