Friday, May 20, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.51: Striving vs Knowing Reality

nandasya bhaavam avagamya tataH sa bhikShuH
paariplavaM gRha-sukh'-aabhimukhaM na dharme
buddhaaya tattva-viduShe kathayaaM cakaara

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

saundaranande mahaa-kaavye
mad"-aapavaado naama navamaH sargaH

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

Then, having assured himself
that Nanda's being was not in the dharma

But was turned unsteadily
towards the comforts of home,

That beggar reported back to the investigator
of living creatures' dispositions, tendencies
and ways of being,

To the Buddha, knower of reality.

The 9th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda,
titled "Negation of Vanity."

By ava-√gam, did Ashvaghosha mean that the striver noticed a fact, or did he mean that the striver, because of his ascetic agenda, was liable to a perception that the comforts of home and the practice of dharma are inevitably mutually exclusive? I don't know, but I tend to think the latter. Because even though the solitude of the forest is unquestionably better suited than family life to the practice of the dharma of a buddha, which is just to sit, the difference is not absolute but relative. If Ashvaghosha in this verse is pointing to a mutual exclusivity, I don't think it is between family life and practice of dharma.

Ashvaghosha's description of the Buddha as tattva-vidvas, "knower of reality," as I mentioned yesterday, might best be understood in contrast with the striver, whose relative strengths resided in the hearing and talking departments.

Striving is hoping for the best, emphasizing what one already knows, in spite of the fact that it has not worked so far. Because striving is emphasizing what one already knows, a striver is liable to come across, as Ashvaghosha's striver does, as a bit of a know-it-all. And yet, here at the end of the two cantos that are devoted to him, the striver doesn't know what to do. His preaching of propriety has got him precisely nowhere. So he wants to put the blame on Nanda and to pass the buck to the Buddha.

Whatever Ashvagosha meant by describing the Buddha as tattva-vidhvas, "knowing reality," I don't think he meant the kind of knowing that the striver has striven to demonstrate -- not the knowing of a know-it-all.

At the level of sitting-zen, on a good day I know what ascetic striving is, see what is behind it (a desire to be right, the idea of gaining some end, a personal agenda), see it as tainted, and refuse to go down that route. On a good day I thus approach the level of enjoying the first stage of sitting-meditation. So, as far as I am concerned, never mind about knowing reality; if I can at least spot my habitual tendency to strive, that might be a good start.

Apropos of knowing reality FM Alexander said, "People that haven't any fish to fry, they see it all right."

Ashvaghosha's striver as I hear him is a Buddhist monk with just a bit of a fish to fry, just a hint of an ascetic agenda. The asceticism of this bhikShu, this beggar, this Buddhist monk, is nowhere near as extreme as the asceticism described at the very beginning of Saundara-nanda:

A sage named Kapila Gautama, eminent among upholders of dharma, / Was as consumed in ascetic practice as was Kakshivat Gautama.// He beat down ceaselessly, like Kashyapa the sun, on blazing asceticism; / And in the promotion thereof he pushed himself on, like Kashyapa the sage, to extreme achievement. //

Thus, the point of the striver might be to demonstrate that even the slightest hint of an ascetic agenda, or for that matter just a little bit of any agenda, disqualifies the bearer of that particular fish from truly being tattva-vidhvas, "a knower of reality."

EH Johnston:
Then the mendicant, convinced that Nanda was irresolute in feeling and set on the pleasures of his home, not on the Law, reported the matter to the Buddha, the Knower of the Truth, Who was skilled in examining the dispositions, tendencies and feelings of all beings.

Linda Covill:
Then the monk understood that Nanda's feelings were wavering and that he was focusing on domestic pleasures, not on the dharma. So he related it all to the Buddha, the truth-knower, the examiner of the mental dispositions, latent tendencies and emotions of all beings.

nandasya (gen. sg.): Nanda's
bhaavam (acc. sg.): m. being ; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling , sentiment , opinion , disposition , intention
avagamya = abs. ava-√gam: to hit upon , think of , conceive , learn , know , understand , anticipate , assure one's self , be convinced ; to recognize , consider , believe any one (acc.) to be (acc.)
tataH: ind. then, therefrom
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
bhikShuH (nom. sg.): m. the begger, the mendicant

paariplavam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. swimming; moving to and fro , agitated , unsteady , tremulous; wavering, irresolute
gRha-sukha: the comforts of home ; domestic pleasures
abhimukha: mfn. (ifc.) disposed to , intending to , ready for; (ifc.) disposed to , intending to , ready for
na: not
dharme (loc. sg.): towards dharma

sattv'-aashay'-aanushaya-bhaava-pariikShakaaya (dat. sg. m.): the investigator into the dispositions, tendencies and ways of being of living beings
sat-tva: n. being , existence , entity , reality ; m. n. a living or sentient being , creature , animal
aa-shaya: m. resting-place , bed; seat , place ; the seat of feelings and thoughts , the mind , heart , soul; thought , meaning , intention ; disposition of mind , mode of thinking
aa- √ shii : to lie or rest on or round
anushaya: m. close connection as with a consequence , close attachment to any object
anu- √ shii: to sleep with , lie along or close , adhere closely to
bhaava: m . ( √ bhuu) becoming , being ; state , condition , rank ; true condition or state , truth , reality ; manner of being , nature , temperament , character ; manner of acting , conduct , behaviour ; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling , sentiment , opinion , disposition , intention
pariikShaka: mfn. trying , examining ; m. a prover , examiner , judge
pari- √iikSh: to look round , inspect carefully , try , examine , find out , observe , perceive

buddhaaya (dat. sg.): m. the Buddha
tattva-viduShe (dat. sg. m.): knower of the truth
tat-tva: n. true or real state , truth , reality ; the being that
vidvas: mfn. one who knows , knowing , understanding , learned , intelligent , wise , mindful of , familiar with , skilled in
kathayaaM cakaara = 3rd pers. sg. periphrastic perfect kath: to converse with any one; to tell , relate , narrate , report , inform , speak about , declare , explain , describe ([fr. katham , " to tell the how "])

saundara-nande mahaa-kaavye (loc.): in the epic poem Handsome Nanda
mad'-aapavaadaH (nom. sg. m.):
mada: m. hilarity , rapture , excitement , inspiration , intoxication
madaa: f. sexual desire or enjoyment , wantonness , lust , ruttishness , rut (esp. of an elephant): f. , pride , arrogance , presumption , conceit
apavaada: m. evil speaking , reviling , blaming , speaking ill of; denial , refutation , contradiction
naama: ind. by name
navamaH sargaH (nom. sg. m.): 9th canto

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