Monday, May 30, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.10: A Tiger Moving Like A Sincere Observer of Tradition

vyaaghraH klama-vyaayata-khela-gaamii
laaNguula-cakreNa kRt'-aapasavyaH
babhau gireH prasravaNaM pipaasur
ditsan pitRbhyo' mbha iv' aavatiirNaH

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A tiger, moving in an unhurried, expansive manner,

Its tail curled over its right shoulder,

As it went to drink at a mountain spring,

Looked like a man who, having arrived at water,
was offering it to his ancestors.

EHJ notes, with acknowledgement to the Sanskrit scholar E. Hultzsch (1857-1927), that this verse refers to the sacred thread being worn over the right shoulder at the time of libation to the ancestors -- as prescribed in the gRhya-suutra (a ritual work containing directions for domestic rites and ceremonies).

Normally, when a tiger appears in a metaphor used to describe movement, the metaphor is along the lines of he sprang like a tiger or she prowled like a tiger or they sat poised like tigers.

So this verse in which Ashvaghosha describes a tiger moving like a man seems designed to make the reader stop and think.

Moving in an unhurried, expansive manner does not come naturally to me. Much of my life I have been in a hurry to get somewhere, and not minding if I stiffen my neck in the process -- which is the surest way of not arriving here and now.

Reflecting thus this morning as I cycled 70-odd miles through northern France (including a lengthy detour around William the Conqueror's hometown of Falaise, where I unwisely chose to follow my own sense of direction instead of relying on signposts), it occured to me that Ashvaghosha was not necessarily talking in the fourth line about brahmins going down to and offering water as prescribed in the gRhya-suutra.

Ashvaghosha's idea might rather be that those who have arrived at the reality of water, i.e. the buddha-ancestors, are examples to all beings, including lesser men and tigers, of moving and not moving in an unhurried, expansive manner. And that is why, not always being in a desperate hurry to park their backsides on a round cushion and get on with the one great matter, buddha-ancestors offer flowers, or incense, or water, to their buddha-ancestors. And when they do so, as a rule, they first put on a kesa, wearing it with the right shoulder bare, so that the kesa hangs from over the left shoulder and passes under the right armpit, curling as it were around the right shoulder.

Understood like this today's verse seems to me to convey Ashvaghosha's sense of humour. Usually we think that tigers are paragons of excellent coordination. But Ashvaghosha's suggestion, as I hear it, is that when we are without fish to fry in the matter of serving offerings to buddhas, in the traditional manner, then tigers should learn from us.

So this verse, as I read it, is about how to serve offerings to buddhas -- not necessarily like a tiger, but in such a way as to teach a tiger. Unlike the striver who bends others' ears with his strident preaching of propriety, Ashvaghosha gets his point across so indirectly that if one blinks one misses it.

EH Johnston:
A tiger, moving with stealthy gait as if stretched with fatigue and curling his tail widdershins, appeared as he went to drink at a mountain stream like a man going down to offer water to the Pitris (with the sacred thread on his right shoulder).

Linda Covill:
A tiger proceeding in stately languid stretches to a mountain stream, his tail curled over his right shoulder as he prepared to drink, seemed like a man going down to offer water to his ancestors.

vyaaghraH (nom. sg.): m. a tiger
klama-vyaayata-khela-gaamii (nom. sg. m.): proceeding with languid expansive movements
klama: m. fatigue , exhaustion , languor , weariness
vyaayata: mfn. drawn asunder , separated ; opened , expanded
khela: mfn. moving , shaking , trembling
gaamin: ifc. going or moving on or in or towards or in any peculiar manner

laaNguula-cakreNa (inst. sg.): with the curling of its tail
laaNguula: n. a tail , hairy tail
cakra: n. a wheel, circle
kRt'-aapasavyaH (nom. sg. m.): done on the right
kRta: mfn. made, done
apasavya: mfn. not on the left side , right; (with auguries) from the right to the left , moving to the left

babhau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect bhaa: to shine forth , appear , show one's self; to appear as , seem , look like
gireH (gen. sg.): m. mountain
prasravaNam (acc. sg.): n. streaming or gushing forth , trickling , oozing , effusion , discharge ; a well or spring
pipaasuH (nom. sg.): m. (fr. Desid. √paa, to drink) wishing to drink , thirsty

ditsan = nom. sg. m. desid. pres. part. daa: to give, offer to
pitRbhyaH (dat. pl.): m. the fathers , forefathers , ancestors , (esp.) the pitRis or deceased ancestors
ambha = acc. sg. ambhas: n. water
iva: like
avatiirNaH = nom. sg. m. past part. ava- √ tRR: to descend into (loc. or acc.); to betake one's self to (acc.) , arrive at ; to be in the right place , to fit

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