Saturday, April 23, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.24: To Be or Not to Be

ahaM vapuShmaan iti yac ca manyase
vicakShaNaM n' aitad idaM ca gRhyataaM
kva tad vapuH saa ca vapuShmatii tanur
gadasya saamyasya ca saaraNasya ca

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

Again, that you think "I am good looking"

Is not astute. Let this be grasped:

Where are the good looks, where the beautiful bodies,

Of Gada, Samba, and Sarana?

Through all of the 13 years I lived in Japan I would listen almost every day to the Far Eastern Network of American Armed Forces Radio. A programme called All Things Considered was a favourite listen, but I used to listen indiscriminately to pretty much anything, especially in those years before building up the good karma that enabled me to meet and start a family with my wife. Listening to FEN radio is how I became familiar with a humorous country song that has been playing in my head for the past day or so, while thinking about the translation of today's verse.

O Lord, it is hard to be humble
When you're perfect in every way
I can't wait to look in the mirror
'Cos I get better looking each day...

This song, tongue-in-cheek though it is, is not really an appropriate song to be quoted in a scholarly discussion of a religious text -- and that is probably why, out of my sitting practice, the memory of the song bubbled up. That is certainly why I quote the song now. Because my sitting practice is not religious. And because these comments are never intended to be scholarly discussion of a religious text.

The striver, preacher of propriety, doubtless would not approve.

Who were Gada, Samya and Sarana mentioned in line 4?

In his notes to the Sanskrit text, EHJ states:
Of the three names in d Gada and SaaraNa are vRShNis often mentioned together, e.g. MBh. I. 7992... For Saamya, whom I cannot trace, perhaps should be substituted Shaamba or Saamba who is mentioned in these passages and whose masquerade as a woman... caused the downfall of the vRShNis
. [The Vrishnis were the tribe or family from which Krishna was thought to be descended].

In his notes to his English translation, referring to Maha-bharata xvi, EHJ concludes that he thinks there is no doubt we should read shaambasya for saamyasya in line 4.

Where are the good looks of Gada, Samba, and Sarana? Presumably the good looks of those ancient Vrishnis are no more.

A more pertinent question might be: Where is the evidence that Nanda thinks himself to be good looking?

We are told in 2.58 that Nanda was extremely good looking, and in 2.63 that he frittered all his time on idle pleasures, but the vanity which the striver denounces is not mentioned. Was this an oversight on Ashvaghosha's part? I somehow doubt it. Much more likely, I reckon, is that the striver was up to his old trick of projecting his own fault onto others. For in 9.5 we have concrete evidence not only of the striver's vanity but also of his consciousness of beauty (even if it is not his own beauty): Your strength and looks and fresh youth I recognize as you do; / But that these three are impermanent you do not realise as I do. [9.5]

Coming back to the one great matter, that is the dharma of a buddha, which is just to sit, I think the most important word to consider in today's verse is the first word in the verse: aham.

ahaM vapuShmaan means "I, being good looking [masculine]."
"I, being good looking [feminine]" would be aham vapuShmatii.

My old Zen teacher used to earn his income, a portion of which he channeled to me in the form of a monthly "scholarship," working as a consultant for a cosmetics company. It is not a very religious sounding job -- which again is why I am talking about it here, lest we go down the striver's path of thinking that true yoga is all about sack-cloth and ashes. "Women tend to be happy," Gudo told me, affirming the value of make-up, "when they have consciousness that they are beautiful."

What the striver is doing in today's verse, as I hear him, is imitating the sound of the Buddha's teaching, viz: That "I am young," or "I am strong," should not occur to you: / Death kills in all situations without regard for sprightliness. [15.54]

The striver, it seems to me, in common with religious strivers everywhere, only knows that "I am" is to be negated.

Strivers tend not to understand that in the Buddha's teaching "I am" is also very much part of the primary thing to be affirmed. Hence:

Therefore walking like this: "Walking, I am"; and standing like this: "Standing, I am" -- / At opportune moments such as these -- you should cover yourself in mindfulness. // 14.45

caro 'smi: walking, I am; in action, I exist.
caraH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. moving, living, practising, acting
asmi = 1st pers. sg. √as: to be

In action, I exist. Acting, I am. The Gudo Nishijima that I knew was an incredibly stupid, annoying and unskillful teacher, with his yanking back of people's chins and all the rest of it. But this one point, he got. Acting, I am.

EH Johnston:
And similarly your idea that you have beauty is not wise, and you should take this to heart ; where is now the beauty , where the beautiful bodies of Gada, Shamba and Sarana?

Linda Covill:
And it's not clever to believe 'I am handsome!' Ponder this: where are the fine looks, where are the fine bodies of Gada, Shamba or Sarana?

aham (nom. sg. m.): I
vapuShmaan (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having a beautiful form , handsome
iti: "....," thus
yat (nom. sg. n.): that
ca: and
manyase = 2nd pers. sg. man: to think, believe , imagine , suppose

vicakShaNam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. conspicuous; clear-sighted (lit. and fig.) , sagacious , clever , wise
na: not
etad (acc./nom. sg. n.): mfn. this , this here , here (especially as pointing to what is nearest to the speaker) ; etad generally refers to what precedes , esp. when connected with idam
idam (acc./nom. sg. n.): this (idam often refers to something immediately following , whereas etad points to what precedes)
ca: and
gRhyataam = 3rd pers. sg. passive imperative grah: to grasp, to take on one's self ; to perceive (with the organs of sense or with manas) , observe , recognise ; to receive into the mind , apprehend , understand , learn ; to accept , admit , approve

kva: where
tad (nom. sg. n.): that
vapuH (nom. sg.): n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty
saa (nom. sg. f.): that, the [body]
ca: and
vapuShmatii (nom. sg. f.): mfn. having a beautiful form
tanuH (nom. sg.): f. the body , person , self

gadasya (gen. sg.): m. Gada ; N. of a son of vasu-deva and younger brother of kRShNa
saamyasya (gen. sg.): m. Samya = (?) Samba
saamba: m. (also written shaamba) N. of a son of kRShNa and jaambavatii
saamya: n: equality , evenness , equilibrium , equipoise , equal or normal state
ca: and
saaraNasya (gen. sg.): m. Sarana; N. of a brother of kRShNa
ca: and

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