Thursday, May 26, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.5: Gold in Them There Hills?

tau devadaar-uuttama-gandha-vantaM
aajagmatuH kaaNcana-dhaatu-mantaM
deva-rShi-mantaM hima-vantam aashu

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

Filled with the heady fragrance of the divine deodar,

Full of rivers, lakes, springs and gulches,

And filled with gold ore

Was the Himalayan mountain full of divine seers
at which the two arrived, immediately.

A table is full of design and full of purpose; at the same time, it is full of wood. As a table is, evidently, so is heaven as envisioned by a buddha-ancestor -- a unity of the material and the immaterial (or "form and emptiness" if you prefer).

With this in mind, my first attempt at translating today's verse, involving a slight re-arrangement in the order of elements, ran like this:

At a snow-capped mountain
filled with the heady fragrance of the divine deodar,

Full of rivers, lakes, springs and gulches,

Filled with gold ore, and full of divine seers

The two of them arrived, immediately.

The main gist of today's verse, translated like this, is that two arrived immediately (tau aajagmatuH aashuu), at a place, much like planet earth, which was not only full of entities with spiritual meaning like divine deodar trees and divine seers, but also full of flowing water and other mineral elements.

The dialectic that runs through Shobogenzo has this dual aspect of the immaterial/spiritual vs the material, idealistic thesis vs materialistic anti-thesis. Dogen's dialectic also has, as has been well documented by my old teacher Gudo Nishijima, a threefold structure like a pyramid in which sitting on top of thesis and anti-thesis is practical synthesis. And going beyond philosophy into the area Gudo called "the fourth phase" -- into the area of practice itself -- there is no philosophical pyramid but only the pyramidal shape of some bloke, who frankly speaking might be me, with relatively big legs and a relatively small head, sitting in full lotus.

On this basis, I think today's verse can be read as having four elements listed in a fourfold progression -- (1) something spiritual, (2) something material, (3) a material like gold which people imbue with great value and spiritual meaning, and (4) a Himalayan mountain where great yogis have traditionally sat in full lotus. To preserve that progression in four lines, I have translated the verse as above. This is how I learned to translate four-line verses under Gudo Nishijima. (Fat lot of bloody good it did me!)

Whether we think of Ashvaghosha's description of stuff in heaven as being a union of two factors, or as being the expression of fourfold dialectic, heaven is clearly being described in today's verse as filled with stuff, and this characteristic of heaven as containing stuff seems to be emphasized by no less than five occurrences of the possessive suffixes -vantam and -mantam.

Reading this verse from the perspective of our particular interest in this blog, which is to dig for gold, we cannot fail to be struck in particular by the phrase kaaNcana-dhaatu-mantam, "containing gold ore."

There are some descriptive passages in this Canto, and some passages which refer back to ancient legends, which, at time of writing, I am not looking forward to slogging through. But perhaps kaaNcana-dhaatu-mantam, "containing gold ore," is a kind of reminder of the vital necessity of slogging.

If I say that I spent 13 years in Japan devoted to learning the Zen teaching of Zen Master Dogen, my words are liable to conjure in the minds of self and others images of sitting retreats at a Zen temple, and asking a Zen master questions on Shobogenzo, and so on. But sitting and studying rarely took up more than half of the hours in a day. I spent a lot of time on crowded subway trains; earning a living by teaching English, copy-editing, doing business translation work; bumping up against everyday Japanese cultural arrogance; looking for food on special offer at the local Marushyo supermarket; watching videos and listening to the radio; going to the bath-house; and then sleeping -- or lying awake with a busy mind hoping to get back to sleep. In my early years in Japan I did a lot of karate training and drinking beer. In the middle years I was often lonely and feeling sorry for myself. In the latter years, I was married with a young family. And even when I was devoting a lot of hours to sitting and studying, not all those hours were golden. Much of it seemed like hard slog, especially in the lonely middle years. I remember often stumbling out of bed in the morning with the words of the Madness song playing in my head as I went to wash my face: "In the morning I awake. My arms, my legs, my body aches. The sky outside is wet and gray. So begins another weary day..."

So what? So here Nanda is, having arrived already, immediately, together with the Buddha, at the place where plentiful gold is. And yet that gold might not be immediately accessible. Much digging might remain for Nanda to do, and not every shovel-full is guaranteed to have traces of gold in it.

Is the implicit point of the phrase kaaNcana-dhaatu-mantam, "containing gold ore," to hint to us that rather than being greedy for gold, it is up to each one of us to cultivate in himself or herself -- albeit in a small way -- a desire to keep on digging?

Insofar as 24-carat gold is the aim, arrival is not assured. But insofar as boring old digging is the one great matter, it seems to me, it is never unfeasible for subject and object to arrive (aa-√gam), immediately (aashu).

EH Johnston:
Quickly they came to Mount Himavat, supremely fragrant with deodars, possessing many rivers, lakes and torrents, full of gold ore and of divine seers.

Linda Covill:
In an instant they traveled to the golden-ored Himalayan mountains, imbued with the lovely scent of deodar trees, abounding in rivers, lakes and rushing streams, home to divine seers.

tau (nom. dual m.): those two
devadaar'-uuttama-gandhavantam (acc. sg. m.): endowed with the sublime fragrance of deodar trees
deva-daaru: mn. Pinus devadAru or Deodar (also Avaria Longifolia and Erythrosylon Sideroxyloides)
deva: m. god
daaru: m. wood
uttama: mfn. uppermost, best, excellent; most elevated
gandha: m. fragrance
vat: (possessive suffix)

nadii-saraH-prasravaN'-augha-vantam (acc. sg. m.): containing rivers, lakes, springs, and fast-flowing streams
nadii: f. river
saras: n. lake
pra-sravaNa: n. streaming or gushing forth , trickling , oozing; a well or spring ; cascade
ogha: m. ( √vah) flood , stream , rapid flow of water
vat: (possessive suffix)

aajagmatuH = 3rd pers. dual. perf. aa -√gam: to come , make one's appearance ; to arrive at , attain , reach
to come , make one's appearance
kaaNcana-dhaatu-mantam (acc. sg. m.): having gold ore, having gold and minerals
kaaNcana: n. gold
dhaatu: m. constituent part , ingredient; element , primitive matter ; primary element of the earth i.e. metal , mineral , are (esp. a mineral of a red colour)
mat: (possessive suffix)

deva-rShimantam (acc. sg. m.): populated by divine seers
devarShi: m. (deva + RiShi) a RShi , a saint of the celestial class
deva: m. god, deity
RShi: m. a singer of sacred hymns , an inspired poet or sage ; the authors or rather seers of the Vedic hymns
mat: (possessive suffix)
himavantam = acc. sg. hima-vat: mfn. having frost or snow , snowy , frosty , icy , snow-clad ; m. a snowy mountain ; m. the himaalaya
aashu: ind. quickly , quick , immediately , directly

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