Friday, April 1, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.2: Striving Like a Do-Good Doctor

yathaa hi vaidyasya cikiirShataH shivaM
vaco na gRhNaati mumuurShur aaturaH
tath" aiva matto bala-ruupa-yauvanair
hitaM na jagraaha sa tasya tad vacaH

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For just as a sick man who wants to die

Does not accept the kind advice
of a doctor who intends to do him good;

So Nanda, bubbling with strength, looks and youth,

Did not accept that salutary advice of the striver.

To understand what Ashvaghosha intends with this metaphor might require a bit of digging.

The superficial understanding of the metaphor is that the striver is like a wise and good doctor whose advice could cure a sick patient at death's door (i.e. Nanda), if only the patient would take the good advice. In that case, the verse suggests affirmation of the attitude of the well-meaning doctor, and negation of the attitude of the patient who does not listen to good advice.

Actual experience in the hands of incompetent and unenlightened dentists and doctors, however, causes me to doubt this understanding, and to ask: when a sick man is ready to die, what kind of meddlesome medic intends to do him good?

In general, a truly wise and good doctor might be one who primarily practises preventive medicine, one whose first thought is not to make matters worse. Such a doctor is a cut above the kind of drug-prescribing doctor, or drill-and-fill dentist, who is ever eager to do something.

Thus, faced with a patient who is terminally ill and wishes to die, a truly wise and good doctor might be one who helps her patient to let go. Such a doctor is a cut above the kind of doctor who sticks to the rule book which says that her duty is to keep her patient alive by any means at any cost.

When a very old and sick man, for example, is truly ready to die, the well-meaning intervention of some young doctor who -- with drips and drugs and life-support machines -- wishes to do good, might be the very last thing the old man needs.

Understood like this, the verse suggests negation of the attitude of the well-meaning doctor, and acceptance of the bald fact that the patient does not wish to hear some well-meaning but unenlightened person trotting out glib advice.

Like the sick man who wants not to get better but rather to die, and whose agenda is therefore different from that of his do-good doctor, Nanda wants not to sit in stillness but rather to let Sundari in their marital bed be the willing recipient of his strength, looks and youth. Just as the sick man's agenda is different from the idealistic doctor's agenda, so too is Nanda's agenda different from the idealistic striver's agenda.

The striver, like a bad doctor, does not approach the problem from where the patient actually is, and that is why his plan of action does not work. The Buddha in contrast, like a wise and good doctor, understands what Nanda's agenda is, and he works with that agenda, not denying Nanda's agenda directly but rather leading Nanda indirectly, via his encounter with the gorgeous apsarases in heaven, to reassess his priorities.

EH Johnston:
For as the sick man at the point of death does not take in the words of the doctor who wishes to heal him, so in the intoxication of his strength, beauty and youth he did not take in his friendly advice.

Linda Covill:
Just as a sick and dying man takes no notice of the beneficient words of the doctor who wishes to treat him, so Nanda, intoxicated with his physical fitness, good looks and youthfulness, took no notice of his well-intentioned words.

yathaa: ind. just as
hi: for
vaidyasya (gen. sg.): mfn. versed in science , learned ; m. an expert (versed in his own profession , esp. in medical science) , skilled in the art of healing , a physician (accounted a mixed caste)
cikiirShataH = gen. sg. m. pres. part. desiderative kR: to do, make ; to do anything for the advantage or injury of another
shivam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. auspicious , propitious , gracious , favourable , benign , kind , benevolent; ind. kindly , tenderly

vacas (acc. sg.): n. speech , voice , word ; advice
na: not
gRhNaati = 3rd pers. sg. grah: to take, accept, grasp ; to choose, select ; to receive hospitably (a guest); to perceive
mumuurSuH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. wishing or being about to die , moribund
aaturaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. suffering , sick (in body or mind)

tathaa: ind. so, likewise
mattaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (from past. part. √ mad) excited with joy , overjoyed , delighted , drunk , intoxicated (lit. and fig.); excited by sexual passion or desire , in rut , ruttish (as an elephant); [Apte] 1.intoxicated (fig. also); 2.mad; rut (as an elephant); 4.proud;
√ mad: to rejoice , be glad , exult , delight or revel in ; be drunk with ; to boil , bubble (as water) ; to gladden , exhilarate , intoxicate , animate , inspire
bala-ruupa-yauvanaiH (inst. pl.): with strength, looks and youth
bala: n. power , strength , might
ruupa: n. good looks
yauvana: n. youth

hitam (acc. sg. n.): beneficial , advantageous , salutary , wholesome , suitable , agreeing with (often , said of diet , regimen , medicines &c )
na: not
jagraaha = 3rd pers. sg. perfect grah: to take in
sa (nom. sg. m.): he [Nanda]
tasya (gen. sg. m.): of him [the striver]
tad (acc. sg. n.): that
vacaH (acc. sg.): n. saying, speech, words ; advice

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