Wednesday, May 25, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.4: Shining Dullness, Widening Wingspans

kaaShaaya-vastrau kanak'-aavadaatau
virejatus tau nabhasi prasanne
saraH-prakiirNaav iva cakravaakau

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A shining gold they shone

With their ochre robes, in the clear sky,

Like a pair of ruddy sheldrakes rising up from a lake,

Embracing one another with outstretched wings.

Some of my happiest moments have been spent sitting in my gardening clothes, big flask of tea or coffee by my side, looking out over freshly dug soil that is casting shadows on itself in the spring sunshine. Nobody digs soil for the sake of appearance. The intention is generally more practical -- for example, to plant spuds to eat later in the year. But, as an indirect result of digging, even something as simple, practical and down-to-earth as a bed of soil can look strikingly beautiful, when the conditions are right. (Chief among those conditions, Gudo Nishijima would say, in a rather reductionist manner, is balance of the autonomic nervous system.)

The traditional robe called kesa in Japanese, from the Sanskrit word that opens today's verse, kaaShaaya, is something as simple, practical and down-to-earth as soil. Dyed in dull earthen hues, it is not designed to be glittering or flashy. In no way is it sexy. A single rectangular sheet, it is no kind of fashion statement. And yet when the conditions are right, this verse seems to say, in the sunshine of a clear day, even a shapeless dull yellow-red robe can look strikingly beautiful.

So this verse, as I read it, again suggests what the Buddha's teaching is not: for example, it is not dour ascetic pessimism.

Speaking for myself, I think I tend naturally to be enthusiastic and optimistic -- "a dream hero" as I was once described. Optimism tends to be followed by pessimism, however, as sure as night follows day. So as a result of unfounded optimism, not to say perfectionism, I have continued to be very liable through my life to be disappointed, especially with human beings, both others and self. Out of the four sessions I sit every day, at least three are liable to begin with some sense of disappointment, mainly with myself.

So a verse like today's verse I can read as a reminder that the joy of the first stage of sitting-meditation includes a distancing of oneself from miscellaneous desires, and from tainted view-stained things like expectations and disappointments, romantic optimism and ascetic pessimism.

The Buddha's teaching is to know contentment through small desire. And that might involve finding beauty not so much in high fashion and fine art but in everyday stuff...

Shimmering gold
in the dappled shade of an apple tree
is one among several concrete objects
-- an old paving slab.

The other point in this verse that might be worthy of comment is the double use of words from the root √kRR, which means to spread out. So the intention may be to convey a sense of expansiveness, and especially the sense of a widening direction that complements the sense of going up.

EH Johnston:
They shone in the clear sky with the sheen of gold and earth-coloured robes like a pair of sheldrakes rising out of a lake with wings oustretched in mutual embrace.

Linda Covill:
With their ochre garments they shone like refined gold in the clear sky, like a pair of chakra-vaka birds rising from a lake, their wings outstretched to clasp one another.

kaaShaaya-vastrau (nom. dual): with their ochre robes
kaaShaaya: mfn. (fr. kaShaaya, ) , brown-red , dyed of a reddish colour
kaShaaya: mfn. red , dull red , yellowish red (as the garment of a Buddhist bhikSu)
vastra: n. cloth , clothes , garment , raiment , dress , cover ; n. a brown-red cloth or garment
kanak'-aavadaatau (nom. dual): gold-cleansed, with golden whiteness
kanaka: mfn. of gold , golden
ava-daata: mfn. ( √ das, to become exhausted) cleansed , clean , clear ; blameless , excellent ; of white splendour , dazzling white; m. white colour

virejatuH = 3rd pers. dual perfect vi- √ raaj: to be illustrious or eminent , shine forth
tau (nom. dual.): those two
nabhasi = loc. sg. nabhas: n. mist , clouds , vapour (esp. of the soma) the sky or atmosphere
prasanne (loc. sg. n.): mfn. clear , bright , pure (lit. and fig.)

anyonya-saMshliShTa-vikiirNa-pakShau (nom. dual.): wings outstretched in mutual embrace
anyonya: mfn. one another , mutual
saMshliShTa: mfn. clasped or pressed together
vikiirNa: mfn. outspread
vi- √kRR: to scatter , throw or toss about , disperse
√kRR: to pour out , scatter , throw , cast , disperse
pakSha: m. wing, side

saraH-prakiirNau (nom. dual): taking off from a lake
saras: n. " anything flowing or fluid " , a lake , large sheet of water , pond , pool
prakiirNa: mfn. scattered , thrown about , dispersed; expanded , opened
pra- √kRR: to scatter forth , strew , throw about ; to issue forth, spring up
iva: like
cakravaakau (nom. dual): m. the cakra bird (Anas Casarca ; the couples are supposed to be separated and to mourn during night); the ruddy sheldrake

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