Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.48: Nice Theory, Shame about the Trying to Be Right

yath" opayuktaM rasa-varNa-gandhavad
vadhaaya kiMpaaka-phalaM na puShTaye
niShevyamaaNaa viShayaash cal'-aatmano
bhavanty an-arthaaya tathaa na bhuutaye

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Just as eating a tasty, colourful
and fragrant kimpaka fruit

Leads to death not nourishment,

So an imbalanced person's devotion to objects

Makes for misfortune, not well-being.

As someone trained and supposedly qualified to transmit the teaching of FM Alexander, I hear these words of the striver as an eloquent summary of the problem that Alexander called end-gaining.

That is to say, when a person with excellent coordination, centred on healthy functioning of the vestibular system, goes directly for his object (e.g. "just put the ball in the back of the f-ing net"), a successful outcome is likely to ensue -- as also when a healthy dog chases after a stick in order to retrieve it, or a healthy donkey walks forward in pursuit of a carrot.

But when a poorly co-ordinated human product of an unenlightened education system in a civilized society goes directly for some object, the likely eventual outcome is back pain, depression, and other psycho-physical misfortunes.

So the striver's words in this verse, as I read them, are perhaps the wisest words he has expressed so far, at least in theory.

In practice, however, the view expressed by the striver in this verse is falsified by the content of the following Canto and the rest of Saundara-nanda.

Where the striver preaches propriety the Buddha in Canto 10 does the very opposite. The Buddha encourages Nanda, in his imbalanced state, to go totally wrong by devoting himself totally to end-gaining -- the end Nanda has in view being sexual enjoyment of incredibly gorgeous nymphs. And although this end-gaining causes once handsome Nanda to become ugly, it is ultimately all for his well-being. Why? Because having gone so spectacularly wrong, Nanda understands for himself how he has gone wrong. And as FM Alexander truly said, "To know when we are wrong is all that we shall ever know in this world."

This is a massive teaching point in Saundara-nanda, and to know it in theory is not necessarily to have got it practice. But as a writer who can cause us to see the point, having already got the point in his own practice, as 12th in a line of transmission from the Buddha, Ashvaghosha seems to me, as far as I know, to be unsurpassed by any other writer in any other language of the past or present.

EH Johnston:
Just as eating a kimpaka fruit leads to death not to nourishment, though its taste, colour and fragrance be good, so application to the objects of the senses leads the man of unbalanced mind to disaster, not to prosperity.

Linda Covill:
It tastes good, it looks good, it smells good, but eating a kimpaka fruit brings death and not nourishment; likewise a giddy man's preoccupation with the sense realm brings misery and not well-being.

yathaa: ind. just as
upayuktam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. enjoyed , eaten , consumed
rasa-varNa-gandhavat (acc. sg. n.): endowed with taste, colour and fragrance
rasa: m. taste, flavour
varNa: m colour
gandha: m. fragrance
rasavat: mfn. tasty
varNavat: mfn. having colour
gandhavat: mfn. endowed with fragrance

vadhaaya (dat. sg.): m. the act of striking or killing , slaughter , murder , death , destruction
kiMpaaka-phalam (acc. sg. n.): kimpaka fruit
kimpaka: mfn. not mature , childish , ignorant , stupid; m. a Cucurbitaceous plant (of a very bad taste , Trichosanthes palmata)
phala: n. fruit
na: not
puShTaye (dat. sg.): mfn. nourished , cherished , well-fed , thriving , strong , fat; n. growth , increase

niShevyamaaNaaH = nom. pl. m. pres. passive part. ni - √sev: (with acc.) to frequent , inhabit , visit , serve , attend , honour , worship , follow , approach , enjoy (also sexually) , incur , pursue , practise , perform , cultivate , use , employ
viShayaaH (nom. pl. m.): sense objects, worldly objects
cal'-aatmanaH (gen. sg. m.): mfn. fickle-minded; imbalanced
cala: mfn. moving , trembling; unsteady, confused
aatman: m. essence , nature , character , peculiarity (often ifc. e.g. karm'-aatman, acting, active &c )

bhavanti = 3rd pers. pl. bhuu: to be, become
an-arthaaya (dat. sg.): m. disappointing occurrence , reverse , evil
tathaa: ind. so, likewise
na: not
bhuutaye (dat. sg.): n. well-being , welfare , prosperity


Ian Cross said...

what about yourself?

Mike Cross said...

Ha! For a measure of the difference in writing ability (not to mention practical understanding) between Ashvaghosha and me, for a start, you could count the number of words in my comment today, if you had a few minutes to waste, and compare that number with the number of syallables in Ashvaghosha's Sanskrit verse: 48.

For another thing you could compare the rambling and erratic progress of my blogs, a manifestation of much blind groping in the dark, and the masterful design of the eighteen cantos of Saundarananda, with its inter-weaving of metaphors, repeated refrains, and calibrated progression.