Monday, April 18, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.19: Frailty Before Mighty Indra

diteH sutasy' aamara-roSha-kaariNash
camuu-rucer vaa namuceH kva tad balaM
yam aahave kruddham iv' aantakaM sthitaM
jaghaana phen'-aavayavena vaasavaH

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Where is the strength of Namuci son of Diti,

Light of an army and provoker of the gods?

He stood his ground in battle, furious as death,

But Indra slew him with a spattering of foam.

Namuci, according to the Wikipedia entry on rakshasas (demons), is another name for our old friend Mara, king of demons.

"With waters' foam you tore off, Indra, the head of Namuci, subduing all contending hosts." [RV.VIII 14.13]

This reference in the Rg Veda to how Indra slew Namuci with foam on water, according to another Wikipedia entry, is the origin of a popular myth about the Hindu deity Narashima.

What is Ashvaghosha's purpose in causing not only Nanda but also the striver to refer at such length to these ancient Indian myths?

What difference might Ashvaghosha be intending to highlight here between the Brahmanic tradition and the Buddha's teaching?

Both Nanda and the striver look to the ancient Indian classics for evidence of human frailty, not to mention frailty of gods, royal seers, demons, and so on. Without such frailty, the narrative of the classics might be a lot less entertaining.

It is not only classic literature, and modern soap opera, that revolve around human frailty. In religions also, in general, God or gods up there are mighty and we human beings down here are frail. In today's verse, Namuci is weak, but Indra is mighty -- as in my favourite hymn, Guide Me O Thy Great Redeemer:

"I am weak, but Thou art mighty.
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.

In my susceptibility to that kind of sentiment, cultivated while watching Wales play rugby in Cardiff during the 1970s, I am indeed weak.

But what is the Buddha's teaching as regards human frailty? Is it the same as this religious feeling of weakness, of impotence before the Almighty? Or is the Buddha's teaching different?

If there is a similarity, it might be in the inability of a human subject to do an undoing -- hence "Thy will be done." That said, I think the Buddha's teaching is singularly different from religious teaching as regards human frailty before God or gods.

Standing in awe before almighty God or the mighty gods, religions generally encourage in us an attitude of belief or faith. But what Nanda finds under the Buddha's skillful guidance is not so much belief or faith as confidence -- confidence in a means-whereby that really works, a better way. Confidence in the operationally verifiable principle that when one stops doing the wrong thing, the right thing does itself. Finding this kind of confidence is in Saundara-nanda the beginning of Nanda's discovery of real strength -- RYU NO MIZU O URU GA GOTOKU, like a dragon finding water.

Thus, Ashvaghosha's subversion of cherished religious conceptions is not at all overt. Ashvaghosha's intention might rather be that each individual reader should dig below the surface and -- resisting the pull of the religious herd -- decide for himself or herself, "No, the Buddha's teaching is not that."

EH Johnston:
Where is the strength of Namuci, the son of Diti, who caused the immortals to rage as he shone in the battle array? Him Vasava slew in single combat with a piece of foam, though he opposed him furious as death.

Linda Covill:
Where is the strength of Namuchi son of Diti, light of the army and provoker of the gods? Furious as death he stood his ground in battle, but Vasava killed him with a morsel of foam.

diteH (gen. sg.): m. Diti
sutasya (gen. sg.): m. son
amara-roSha-kaariNaH (gen. sg. m.): producer of anger in the gods
a-mara: mfn. undying , immortal ; m. a god
roSha: m. anger , rage , wrath , passion , fury
kaarin: mfn. doing , making , effecting , producing (mostly ifc.)

camuu-ruceH (gen. sg. m.): light of an army
camuu: f. an army or division of an army (129 elephants , as many cars , 2187 horse , and 3645 foot)
ruci: f. light , lustre , splendour , beauty
vaa: or
namuceH = gen. sg. namuci: m. N. of a demon slain by indra and the ashvins
kva: ind. where?
tat (nom. sg. n.): that
balam (nom. sg.): n. strength

yam (acc. sg. m.): whom
aahave (loc. sg.): m. challenge , provoking ; war, battle
kruddham (acc. sg. m.): mfn. irritated , provoked , angry with
iva: like
antakam (acc. sg.): m. death ; m. yama , king or lord of death ; mfn. making an end, causing death
sthitam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. standing ; standing firm (yuddhe , " in battle ")

jaghaana = 3rd pers. sg. perfect han: to smite , slay
phen'-aavayavena (inst. sg.): with a bit of foam
phena: m. foam , froth , scum
avayava: m. a limb , member , part , portion
vaasavaH (nom. sg.): mfn. (fr. vasu) relating or belonging to the vasus , derived or descended from them; m. N. of indra (as chief of the vasus)
vasu: mfn. good, excellent ; N. of the gods (as the "good or bright ones"); N. of a partic. class of gods (whose number is usually eight , and whose chief is indra)

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