Friday, April 29, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.30: Pessimism? Realism? Realization?

niShevya paanaM madaniiyam uttamaM
nishaa-vivaaseShu ciraad vimaadyati
naras tu matto bala-ruupa-yauvanair
na kash cid apraapya jaraaM vimaadyati

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

After nights and daybreaks drinking
the most intoxicating liquor,

One finally comes round,

But drunk on strength, looks and youth,

No man ever comes round -- until he reaches old age.

This verse I have found to be a challenging one. A settled view on this verse seems difficult to arrive at -- and maybe this is Ashvagosha's intention, to steer us away from the sin of certainty.

The striver has shown himself in my eyes to be an unreliable character... and yet he seems to say some good things. And in the real world too, there are Buddhist teachers like that. But if I sit here in solitude, with unshakeable confidence that there is a better way than my old way -- coarse end-gaining on the basis of faulty sensory appreciation -- then what have other people got to do with me? What conclusion do I need to reach about them?

One way of reading today's verse is to understand that the first line is optimistic and the second line is pessimistic -- to understand that the striver is saying the right thing does itself after a man has become temporarily intoxicated by alcohol, but the right thing is more permanently blocked from doing itself by vanity. Is this true, or not?

Ultimately optimism and pessimism are both views to drop off. And yet there might be something real in what the striver is saying about the impediment of vanity and the tragedy of old age.

In that case, is he parroting the Buddha's teaching, as a champion of realism? Or has he realized something for himself?

I don't know, but in regard to the character of the striver, I remain skeptical.

As befits a preacher of propriety, a man who is primarily concerned with what is right and proper, the striver gives me the impression of being too static, being tight and right. Asvaghosha's striver could do with studying -- as this striver has benefitted from studying -- the truth of FM Alexander that "There is no such thing as a right position. But there is a right direction."

According to this principle, being drunk on strength, looks and youth is nothing to worry about, as long as one is continuing to work on oneself, as a work in progress. So we keep on keeping on, not letting ourselves get stuck for too long in worries about right and wrong. What else is there for it? Just to wait for old age to provide a cure for our vanity?

Too many of us -- and I absolutely include myself -- are going around all the time like the striver trying to be right, trying to do the right thing, trying to say the right thing, trying to reach the right conclusion.

Trying to be right, it might be true to conclude, is the ultimate vanity of every striver.

EH Johnston:
A man may give himself up for many nights and dawns to the finest of intoxicating liquors yet at long last he returns to sobriety, but no man who is intoxicated with his strength, youth and beauty becomes disillusioned till he reaches old age.

Linda Covill:
A man who drinks hard for days and nights eventually sobers up, but a man besotted with his own strength, looks and youth never comes to his senses until he reaches old age.

niShevya = abs. ni - √sev: (with acc.) to frequent , inhabit , visit , serve , attend , honour , worship , follow , approach , enjoy (also sexually) , incur , pursue , practise , perform , cultivate , use , employ
paanam (acc. sg.): n. drinking (esp. drinking spirituous liquors); a drink , beverage
madaniiyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. intoxicating
uttamam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. uppermost, best; ind. most, in the highest degree;

nishaa-vivaaseShu (loc. pl.): for nights and dawns
nishaa: f. night
vi-vaasa: m. shining forth , dawning
ciraat: ind. (abl.) after a long time , late , at last
vimaadyati = 3rd pers. sg. vi- √ mad: to become perplexed or discomposed
vi-: (sometimes used as private/negative prefix)
√ mad : to rejoice, exult ; be drunk ; intoxicate
vi-mada: mfn. free from intoxication , grown sober ; free from rut ; free from pride or arrogance

naraH (nom. sg.): m. a man
tu: but
mattaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. excited with joy , overjoyed , delighted , drunk , intoxicated (lit. and fig.)
bala-ruupa-yauvanaiH (inst. pl.): with strength, looks and youth
bala: strength
ruupa: good looks
yauvana: youth

na kash cid: not anyone
apraapya (abs.): not having obtained; not reaching
pra- √aap: to attain to; reach , arrive at
jaraam (acc. sg.): f. old age
vimaadyati = 3rd pers. sg. vi- √ mad (see above)

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