Thursday, June 30, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.40: Subject Fixes Upon Object -- Mental Bond Formation

vapush ca divyaM lalitaash ca ceShTaas
tataH sa taasaaM manasaa jahaara
kautuuhal'-aavarjitayaa ca dRShTyaa
saMshleSha-tarShaad iva jaata-raagaH

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

Their heavenly form and playful gestures

He then mentally seized;

And, while his eye was appropriated by curiosity,

He became impassioned, as if from a thirst for union.

On first reading, saMshleSha-tarShaat in line 4 seems to mean "because of a thirst for their embrace," or "because of a thirst for [sexual] union with them."

But in light of yesterday's discussion of chemical bond formation it occurred to me that maybe the formation of a mental bond is being compared here to the kind of compulsion that exists in the material world, for example, between carbon molecules in wood and oxygen molecules in the air when a fire is raging -- in which case saMshleSha-tarShaad iva might better be translated as "as if from want of combination."

In any event, today's verse as I read it is focusing in on the very moment when a match is struck against the side of a matchbox, so that a flame may arise; that is, in other words, the moment when trembling subject and trembling object orient themselves to each other and lock onto each other, ready to combine.

One way of understanding smRti, mindfulness, or maintenance of awareness, is as a kind of conscious force-field that protects us against those unconscious reactions by which we as subjects get bound through our senses to objects. In that light, line 3 of today's verse, as I read it, suggests that Nanda's curiosity caused him to be unmindful, off guard, and vulnerable to the formation of a strong bond of attachment.

A blog I wrote previous to this one I titled "ERRATA: Who Turned Freedom into Its Opposite?" It is a mystery to me how, having turned my back on a budding career in accounting and financial management in order to live in Japan and serve a Zen teacher who preached freedom, I managed to get so bogged down in a lot of religious nonsense and Japanese nonsense and political nonsense. While my eye was appropriated by curiosity about Dogen's teaching, I became very deeply attached to a brand of interventionist doing that my teacher called "Zazen," manifesting itself in the guise of pursuit of freedom. More fool me. Who turned freedom into its opposite? Nobody but my own stupid and spiritually ambitious self.

So how bonds of attachment form is a mystery, and I for one evidently don't understand much about it. Q.E.D.

What I can say is that today's verse seems to me to be part of Ashvaghosha's consideration of how, at a most fundamental level, below the level of consciousness, bonds get formed.

And the study, at a fundamental level, of how bonds get formed is what continues to interest truly conscious chemists.

If you disagree that this part has got anything to do with chemistry, wait for 10.42, in which such skepticism may be washed away.

EH Johnston:
Then he followed their celestial forms and graceful movements with his mind and with eyes full of excitement as if thirst for their embrace had engendered passion in him.

Linda Covill:
His eyes intense with interest, he mentally seized on their divine bodies and teasing gestures as though his passion was aroused through thirsting for union with them.

vapuH (acc. sg.): n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty; n. the body
ca: and
divyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. divine , heavenly , celestial
lalitaaH (acc. pl. f.): mfn. sported , played , playing , wanton , amorous , voluptuous ; artless , innocent , soft , gentle , charming , lovely
lal: to play , sport , dally , frolic , behave loosely or freely
ca: and
ceShTaaH (acc. pl.): f. moving any limb , gesture

tataH: ind. thence, then
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
taasaam (gen. pl. f.): of them
manasaa (inst. sg.): n. mind
jahaara = 3rd pers. sg. perfect hR: to take, seize

kautuuhal'-aavarjitayaa (inst. sg. f.): overcome by curiosity
kautuuhala: n. curiosity , interest in anything , vehement desire
aavarjita: mfn. inclined , bent down , prone ; overcome, humbled
ā- √ vṛj: to turn or bring into the possession of , procure for , bestow , give ; to turn or bring into one's own possession ; to appropriate Caus. ā- varjayati , to turn over , incline , bend ; to cause to yield, overcome
ca: and
dRShTyaa = inst. sg. dRShTi: f. seeing , viewing , beholding (also with the mental eye); sight, faculty of seeing; the mind's eye , wisdom , intelligence; eye ; the pupil of the eye

saMshleSha-tarShaat (abl. sg.): because of thirst for union
saMshleSha: m. junction , union , connection , close contact ; an embrace
saṁ- √ śliṣ: to stick or attach one's self to (acc.) ; to clasp , embrace ; to bring into close contact or immediate connection with
tarSha: m. thirst , wish , desire for (in comp.)
iva: like, as if
jaata-raagaH (nom. sg. m.): become impassioned
jaata: born , brought into existence by (loc.) , engendered by (instr. or abl.); grown , produced , arisen , caused , appeared; happened , become , present , apparent , manifes
raaga: m. the act of colouring or dyeing; red taint; any feeling or passion , (esp.) love , affection or sympathy for , vehement desire

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.39: Trembling Subject

taaH niHsRtaaH prekShya van'-aantarebhyas
taDit-pataakaa iva toya-debhyaH
nandasya raageNa tanur vivepe
jale cale candramasaH prabh" eva

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

When he saw them emerging from their forest niches

Like ribbons of lightning from rainclouds,

Nanda's body trembled with passion

Like moonlight on rippling water.

What Ashvaghosha is describing in the previous verse, this verse, and the following verse, as I read them, is a process of bond formation.

All molecules, my son who is a chemist tells me, are always trembling. And in order for two molecules to form a bond between them, the trembling of each molecule has to be such that a bond can form, releasing heat in the process, allowing energy to spread out and settle down.

Thus when sunlight is concentrated by a magnifying glass onto dry paper, for example, the heat of the sun causes carbon molecules in the paper and oxygen molecules in the air to tremble more rapidly, such that CO2 bonds are able to form, releasing heat in the process and allowing energy to spread out.

Whether or not something similar happens when a person forms an emotional bond, or an attachment, I don't know. But it seems that way to me: falling in love, with another person, or with an idea, or with a way, seems initially to involve a state of heightened energy, or more rapid trembling, which is followed once a bond has been formed by a settling down.

In any event, Ashvaghosha's vision of heaven continues to unfold as one in which universal laws apply.

Christians are taught to pray that it will be on earth as they believe it to be in heaven: "Thy will be done," they pray to a Hebrew god, "on earth as it is in heaven."

In the thoughts of buddha-ancestors, on the contrary, visions of heaven are subordinate to realities observed down here on earth: laws that are observed to apply down here on earth are assumed also to apply in any heaven that might exist. And foremost among such universal laws is the law that energy spreads out, unless prevented from doing so, i.e., the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which might also be called the Buddha's law, the law of impermanence -- according to which the formation of molecules of carbon and oxygen into CO2 is not the end of the story. The C02, for example, might later on be photo-synthesized by a tree that is growing.

I'll tell you something for nothing. I am really glad my sons have chosen to take their chance as scientists, steering well clear of the religious route which is so full of arrogance, fixity, and hypocrisy, and in short trying to be right.

I got an email yesterday from somebody who agrees with me that Gudo Nishijima's teaching on posture in Zazen was wrong, but fortunately for her Master Deshimaru was correct in his teaching. And Alexander technique is helping her to refine further her sitting position. Oh really? Well good for her then. She was right already, and now Alexander technique is making her even more right.

In contrast to such a dismal piece of correspondence, when I googled "photosynthesis" I found this little image which cheered me right up:

Not for nothing did Ashvaghosha compare the Buddha so often to the sun, whose light and heat is so conducive to the making and breaking of bonds.

EH Johnston:
As Nanda saw them come out from the forest like lightning banners from a cloud, his body trembled with passion like moonlight trembling on rippling water.

Linda Covill:
Watching them emerge from the forest interiors like lightning unfurled from clouds, Nanda's body shivered with passion like moonlight reflected in rippling water.

taaH (acc. pl. f.): them
niHsRtaaH (acc. pl. f.): mfn. gone out or forth (with abl. ); prominent (eyes)
niH- √ sR: to go out , come forth
prekShya = abs. pra- √iikSh: to look at , view , behold , observe
van'-aantarebhyaH (abl. pl.): from openings in the undergrowth; from inside the woods
vana: n. a forest , wood , grove , thicket , quantity of lotuses or other plants growing in a thick cluster
antara: n. interior, inside; hole, opening

taDit-pataakaaH (acc. pl. f.): banners of lightning
taDit: f. lightning
pataakaa: f. (fr. √pat, to fly) a flag , pennon , banner , sign , emblem
iva: like
toya-debhyaH = abl. pl. toya-da: m. " water-giver " , a rain-cloud

nandasya (gen. sg.): m. Nanda
raageNa (inst. sg.): m. red taint; any feeling or passion , (esp.) love
tanuH (nom. sg.): f. the body , person , self
vivepe = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vip: to tremble , shake , shiver , vibrate , quiver , be stirred

jale (loc. sg.): n. water
cale (loc. sg. n.): mfn. moving , trembling ; fluctuating
candra-masaH (gen. sg.): m. the moon
prabhaa: f. light
iva: like

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.38: Trembling Objects

kaasaaM cid aasaaM vadanaani rejur
van'-aantarebhyash cala-kuNDalaani
vyaaviddha-parNebhya iv'-aakarebhyaH
padmaani kaaraNDava-ghaTTitaani

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

The faces of some, ear-rings atremble,

Peeped through chinks in the undergrowth

Like duck-dunked lotuses

Peeping through scattered and displaced leaves.

This verse says something about the vivid beauty of women in heaven as Ashvaghosha envisions them, not as mere platonic abstractions but as vivacious beings comparable to living lotuses which have their own leaves and which are subject to interactions with their environment.

The verse, equally, can be read as saying something about lotuses as Ashvaghosha sees them, not as mere symbols of beauty but as vivacious beings comparable to beautiful women who have trembling earrings and who peep out from chinks in the forest.

padm'-aasana is generally translated in yoga circles as "the lotus posture." A much better translation, in my book, is "lotus sitting" or "sitting in lotus."

The phrase that Dogen favours in Shobogenzo, however, is a more literal one:

sitting with legs fully crossed.

When I have led sitting retreats in the past, I always recommended sitting cross-legged over other forms of sitting, because even if there is no apparent prospect of a person being able to sit comfortably in full lotus, any kind of cross-legged sitting gives gravity some kind of chance to guide the hips and knees in that direction, which kneeling does not. So I am not a fan of so-called seiza benches. I am fan of full lotus sitting with the sitting bones supported by a raised surface like a round cushion or a yoga block or a dry bag stuffed with towels, and the knees on some kind of padded mat.

Ashvaghosha evidently does not use the phrase padm-aasana, "lotus sitting." But his writing is suffused with references to lotuses, and every word Ashvaghosha writes, as I read him, is rooted in sitting.

EH Johnston:
The faces of some with dangling earrings peeped from out of the forest glades, as lotus flowers, shaken by karandava birds, peep out from the scattered leaves of the plants.

Linda Covill:
The faces of some peeped out from among the woods, their earrings swaying, as lotuses shaken by a karandava bird peep out from among their scattered and disordered leaves.

kaasaaM cid (gen. pl. f.): some
aasaam (gen. pl. f.): of them, of these women
vadanaani (nom. pl.): n. the act of talking; the mouth, face
rejur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect raaj: to be illustrious or resplendent , shine , glitter ; to appear

van'-aantarebhyaH (abl. pl.): from openings in the undergrowth; from inside the woods
vana: n. a forest , wood , grove , thicket , quantity of lotuses or other plants growing in a thick cluster
antara: n. interior, inside; hole, opening
cala-kuNDalaani (acc. pl. n.): trembling earrings
cala: mfn. moving , trembling , shaking ,
kuNDala: n. ear-ring

vyaaviddha-parNebhyaH (abl. pl.): from displaced leaves
vyaaviddha: mfn. thrown or tossed about , whirling round ; displaced , distorted ; interlaced , entwined
parNa: n. feather; leaf
iva: like
aakarebhyaH = abl. pl. aa-kara: m. one who scatters i.e. distributes abundantly; accumulation , plenty , multitude ; a mine ; a rich source of anything; mfn. best , excellent
akarebhyaH = abl. pl. a-karaa: mfn. handless , maimed; not acting
√ kRR: to scatter or sprinkle over , give abundantly
√ kR: to do, make, act

padmaani (nom. pl.): n. lotus
kaaraNDava-ghaTTitaani (nom. pl. n.): rubbed by karandava ducks
kaaraNDava: m. a sort of duck
ghaTTita: mfn. rubbed , touched , shaken
ghaTT: to rub (the hands) over , touch , shake , cause to move ; to stir round ; to have a bad effect or influence on (acc.)

Monday, June 27, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.37: Back to Breasts & Pearl Necklaces

taasaaM jagur dhiiram udaattam anyaaH
padmaani kaash cil lalitaM babhaNjuH
anyonya-harShaan nanRtus tath" aanyaash
citr'-aaNga-haaraaH stana-bhinna-haaraaH

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

Odd ones among those women sang,
in low and in high voices,

Some pulled lotuses apart, playfully;

Others in the same vein danced,
bristling with mutual delight,

Limbs making exotic gestures,
Breasts perturbing pearl necklaces.

Included in this verse as I read it is the principle of individual differences, as opposed to generic or platonic forms.

Line 1 can be read as introducing this principle; line 2 as describing a kind of reductionist analysis into parts, of the sort that scientists are wont to make; line 3 as expressing mutuality, reciprocity of subject and object, in the act of dancing; and line 4 as painting a vivid picture of arresting dance moves, bringing us back again to the recurrent theme of female human breasts scantily adorned by pearls, and causing us to ask again why Ashvaghosha dwelt so often on this particular subject.

One answer that occurs to me in the context of the preceeding verse is that platonic love (which so many romantic films and songs would have us believe is the main aim of our life) is all very well, but female breasts are a much more concrete pair of targets. And a target, originally, is what a breast is, with its teat for a bulls-eye.

Every healthy baby is born with the understanding hard-wired into its system that a primary tangible target upon which its survival depends is its mother's breast, and in particular the milk-issuing nipple. The healthy baby comes already equipped with the equipment, in the form of rooting and suck reflexes, for finding this target -- naturally, unconsciously, automatically.

Even having been weaned off breast-milk and released (albeit partially in most cases) from the influence of infantile reflexes, we human beings still seem to need our targets. In the above murals from the Ajanta Caves where is the eye naturally drawn? In the first picture (a copy from the 19th century restored by the V&A museum), the eye is drawn primarily to the dancer's gesticulating arms and bending right leg. In the lower picture, the contrasting colours of the white eyes and black hair of the palace maids stand out and draw the attention. And at the same time, especially in the lower picture, the glimpse of a naked female breast seems to retain a certain pull.

If we seek to identify an ultimate target in Saundara-nanda, the target might be amRta, the deathless nectar that Nanda makes his own in Canto 17, as affirmed by the Buddha in Canto 18. But on the way to obtaining the deathless nectar, more limited, tangible, and immediately attainable targets have their place.

Since I fell off my bike exactly four weeks ago and perturbed the ligaments of my left knee, my target for sitting in full lotus without moving the legs has gone from over an hour to somewhere between 15 and 25 minutes, and it has become a bit of a ragged full lotus at that, the line of the toes not making it as far as the outside of the thigh. Regardless, the target of sitting four times a day remains, as does the target of publishing one verse per day. I may be wrong, but this kind of daily target, which is as tangible and substantial as a pair of full and firm female breasts, seems to help me going in what I hope is the right direction, like a donkey motivated by a series of wisely dangled carrots.

Nanda's attainment of the deathless nectar as described in Canto 17 can be understood as total liberation from anxiety about getting carrots. Or it might be compared to the getting of a massive carrot. Either way, a bloke like Nanda at his present stage, the Buddha evidently judged, was like a donkey in need of a tangible, non-platonic carrot.

Among women in heaven, Ashvaghosha seems to suppose, as among women on earth, and as among donkeys, there are individual differences and individual preferences. At the same time, old rugby players everywhere know this universal truth: donkeys like carrots.

EH Johnston:
Some of them sang softly and proudly, some pulled lotuses to pieces for sport ; others again danced because of their pleasure in each other with varied gesticulations, their pearl necklaces thrown into disorder by their breasts.

Linda Covill:
Some sang in low, some in high tones, some pulled playfully at lotuses, and others danced exuberantly with each other, through their vivid gestures breaking the pearl necklaces on their breasts.

taasaam (gen. pl. f.): of them
jagur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect gaa: to sing
dhiiram (acc. sg. n.). steady; deep , low , dull (as sound); gentle , soft
udaattam: (acc. sg. n.). lifted upraised , lofty , elevated , high ; haughty , pompous
anyaaH (nom. pl. f.): others (anyaaH anyaaH: some, others)

padmaani (acc. pl.): n. a lotus (esp. the flower)
kaash cit (nom. pl. f.): some women
lalitam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. sported , played , playing , wanton , amorous , voluptuous ; artless , innocent , soft , gentle , charming , lovely
babhaNjur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect bhaNj: to break , shatter , split ; to break up, divide

anyonya-harShaat (abl. sg.): because of bristling mutual joy
anyonya: mfn. one another, mutual
harSha: m. bristling , erection (esp. of the hair in a thrill of rapture or delight) ; joy , pleasure , happiness
nanRtur = 3rd pers. pl. nRt: to dance
tathaa: ind. likewise, similarly
anyaaH (nom. pl. f.): others

citr'-aaNga-haaraaH (nom. pl. f.): with exotic gesticulations
citra: mfn. conspicuous; bright ; variegated; various ; strange, wonderful
aNga-haara: m. gesticulation
aNga: n. a limb, the body
haara: mfn. bearing, carrying, stealing
stana-bhinna-haaraaH (nom. pl. f.): their breasts detaching/disturbing their pearl necklaces
stana: m. the female breast ; the nipple
bhinna: mfn. split , broken , shattered , pierced , destroyed; detached , disjoined , loosened ; interrupted , disturbed ; disunited , set at variance
haara: m. a garland of pearls , necklace (accord. to some , one of 108 or 64 strings)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.36: Platonic Lovelies

sadaa yuvatyo madan'-aika-kaaryaaH
saadhaaraNaaH puNya-kRtaaM vihaaraaH
divyaash ca nir-doSha-parigrahaash ca
tapaH-phalasy aashrayaNaM suraaNaaM

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

Eternally youthful and devoted purely to Love,

They are zones of recreation
open to all who have made merit,

Zones which are both heavenly and innocent --

The resort of gods, as a reward for austerities.

In this verse as I read it Ashvaghosha presents the kind of vision of celestial nymphs that we would call "Platonic" -- in which case tomorrow's verse might be expected to present a non-platonic anti-thesis to the platonic thesis of today's verse (which it indeed does; I cheated by peeking already).

Because what is being discussed here is purely platonic love, in the phrase saadhaaraNaaH, as I read it, no sense of sexual promiscuity is intended. Rather the kind of love under discussion might be the love that exists between millions of right-thinking and hard-working British men and our nation's sweetheart; for Cheryl truly is, I for one sincerely believe, ever full of sweetness and light and brimming with so much love that she is more than able to reciprocate the affection of every fan.

As regards being a reward for austerities, is there any truth in the proposition that the more austere a nation's circumstances are, the higher in the nation's affections the nation's sweetheart is likely to rise?

No air-brushed google images are available to illustrate how it is in heaven. But there is no shortage of images to choose from of idealized goddesses down here on earth.

What has this consideration of platonic love for British singing sweethearts and American screen goddesses got to do with the one great matter?

I think it has to do with the question of suppressing vs allowing. And this, in sitting, is not a psychological problem but a psycho-physical problem.

Strictly thinking, a traditional vihara is a zone where any kind of sexual relations between male yoga practitioners and women is forbidden (viz. 5.20). But when a man or a woman sits in full lotus truly allowing the neck to be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, then it may be that there is no tendency, Platonic or non-platonic, sexual or asexual, heterosexual or homosexual, orthodox or deviant, that is not allowed -- because, as the Lotus Sutra states

Everything is reality.

None of the above would be news to my old teacher, Gudo Nishijima, who, relying on his understanding of Dogen's teaching and Freud's discoveries, used to encourage his students not to suppress anything. The irony it took me twelve tough years to begin to see was that, while encouraging others in this way to pursue freedom, my teacher had used his interfering hands to transmit to me a totally end-gaining approach to right posture in Zazen.

Marjory Barlow memorably dismissed this approach with a single six-word statement:

"There is no freedom in it."

EH Johnston:
They were young, ever busied in love alone and enjoyed jointly by those who have earned merit ; celestial beings, union with them was no sin. In them centred the reward of austerities of the divine world.

Linda Covill:
Eternally youthful and occupied solely with lovemaking, they were a communal enjoyment for heaven-dwellers who had earned merit. Taking these heavenly women as lovers was no fault, just an acceptance of the rewards of asceticism.

sadaa: ind. always , ever , every time , continually , perpetually
yuvatyaH = nom. pl. f. yuvan: mfn. young, youthful
madan'-aika-kaaryaaH (nom. pl. f.): occupied solely with love
madana: m. passion , love or the god of love
eka-kaarya: mfn. executing the same work , performing the same business
eka: one
kaarya: to be done, task

saadhaaraNaaH (gen. pl. m.): mfn. "having or resting on the same support or basis " , belonging or applicable to many or all , general , common to all , universal , common to (gen.)
puNya-kRtaam (gen. pl.): m. merit-makers
puNya: n. the good or right , virtue , purity , good work , meritorious act , moral or religious merit
vihaaraaH (nom. pl.): m. sport , play , pastime , diversion , enjoyment , pleasure; a place of recreation , pleasure-ground;

divyaaH (nom. pl. m./f.): mfn. divine , heavenly , celestial ; supernatural , wonderful , magical ; charming , beautiful , agreeable
ca: and
nir-doSha-parigrahaaH (nom. pl.): not encompassing any fault
nir-doSha: mfn. faultless , defectless , guiltless , innocent
parigraha: m. getting , attaining , acquisition , possession , property (ifc. " being possessed of or furnished with "); taking (a wife) , marrying , marriage
ca: and

tapaH-phalasya (gen. sg.): the fruit of ascetic practice
tapas: n. ascetic practice ; austerities
phala: n. fruit, result, reward
aashrayaNam (nom. sg.): n. betaking one's self to; n. joining , accepting , choosing ; n. refuge , asylum , means of protection or security; mfn. having recourse to , resorting or applying to , seeking refuge or shelter from ; relating to , concerning
suraaNaam = gen. pl. sura: m. a god , divinity , deity; a sage , learned man ; surii: f. a goddess

Saturday, June 25, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.35: Women in Heaven, As on Earth

aindraM vanaM tac ca dadarsha nandaH
samantato vismaya-phulla-dRShTiH
harSh'-aanvitaash c' aapsarasaH pariiyuH
sa-garvam anyonyam avekShamaaNaaH

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

Nanda beheld Indra's forest all around him,

His eyes wide open with amazement.

And the apsarases surrounded him,
bristling with joyous excitement,

While eyeing each other haughtily.

Why do I find Ashvaghosha's vision of women in heaven, as portrayed in today's verse, more convincing than the striver's view of actual women on earth?

The striver's view of women, as beings which are inherently disgusting, is not credible to me because it does not tally with my actual experience of women here on earth. But is it, then, that Ashvaghosha's vision of women in heaven does tally with actual experience?

As I reflected on this during the long journey back from France, comprising a six-mile hike, three bus journeys, an overnight ferry crossing, a coach trip, another bus journey, and a lift home from my wife on the last leg, I thought of memorable scenes from the "road to" movies which invariably featured some scenario in which Bob and/or Bing woud be the centre of attention of some bevy of adoring beauties.

But it also occured to me that this Hollywood fantasy might be grounded in the actual experience most of us have just after we are born, at which time a cotery of adoring mother, midwife, grandmothers, aunts et cetera is likely to surround our newly arrived selves, cooing for our attention as if competing to cause us to smile.

EH Johnston:
And Nanda beheld the grove of Indra on all sides with eyes staring with surprise ; and the Apsarases, full of joy and eyeing each other haughtily, came round him.

Linda Covill:
Nanda gazed at Indra's forest all around him, his eyes wide in amazement; and the apsarases drew round him, full of joy and eyeing each other disdainfully.

aindram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. (fr. indra) , belonging to or sacred to indra
vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest
tat (acc. sg. n.): that
ca: and
dadarsha = 3rd pers. sg. dRsh: to see, behold
nandaH (nom. sg.): m. Nanda

samantataH: ind. on all sides, around
vismaya-phulla-dRShTiH (nom. sg. m.): his eyes opened wide in amazement
vismaya: m. wonder , surprise , amazement
phulla: mfn. opened wide , dilated (as eyes)
dRShTi: f. seeing, eye, pupil

harSh'-aanvitaaH (nom. pl. f.): full of joyous excitement
harSha: m. bristling , erection (esp. of the hair in a thrill of rapture or delight) ; joy , pleasure , happiness
anvita: mfn. joined , attended , accompanied by ; endowed with
ca: and
apsarasaH (nom. pl. f.): the apsarases, nymphs
pariiyuH = 3rd pers. pl. perfect pari- √i: to go about , move in a circle; (trans.) to go or flow round (acc.) , circumambulate , surround

sa-garvam: ind. proudly, haughtily
anyonyam: ind. each other, mutually
avekShamaaNaaH = nom. pl. f. pres. part. ava-√iikSh: to look at, to have in view

Friday, June 24, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.34: Manic Nanda

nity'-otsavaM taM ca nishaamya lokaM
nando jaraa-mRtyu-vashaM sad" aartaM
mene shmashaana-pratimaM nR-lokaM

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

Seeing that world to be in a perpetually elevated state,

Free from
tiredness, sleep, discontent, sorrow, and disease,

Nanda deemed the ever-afflicted world of men,
under the sway of aging and death,

To be akin to a cremation ground.

This is a vision of heaven that might be familiar to people suffering from what is recently called "bipolar disorder," in which, according to Wikipedia, "The elevated moods are clinically referred to as mania or, if milder, hypomania."

The Wikipedia entry adds, somewhat timidly: "Individuals who experience manic episodes also commonly experience depressive episodes."

They say that what goes up must come down, and in general that might be true -- depending on what kind of up one is talking about.

If "what goes up must come down" is the thesis, an anti-thesis might be provided by Dogen's words in his rules of sitting-Zen which praise those buddha-ancestors who died while sitting or standing up (ZA-DATSU RYU-BO).

The nervous systems of those heroes, as I envisage them, were truly akin to trees that never sprouted, because of their mastery of what FM Alexander called "inhibition."

I am supposed to be qualified to teach the Alexander Technique, but my reaction to Mme Piquard's flock of cockerels confirms to me -- if any confirmation were needed -- that I am very far from having mastered inhibition. Mind you, confronted with a stimulus that was strong enough, FM Alexander himself and many of the teachers he had trained -- so Marjory Barlow reported -- found their powers of inhibition lacking. Perhaps the wise course for all of us is to regard mastery of inhibition, or of Zen, as a work in progress -- lest, in calling ourselves "Zen Master," we disappoint the expectations of self and others and manifest ourselves not as real dragons but as fake elephants, lamentable and laughable frauds.

EH Johnston:
And Nanda, seeing that world to be in perpetual feast and free from exhaustion, drowsiness, disgust, grief or disease, deemed the world of men to be no better than a cemetery as being subject to old age and death and ever in distress.

Linda Covill:
When Nanda saw this world in constant celebration, without langor, sleep, dullness, grief or sickness, he reasoned that the human world, in thrall to age and death and always prone to pain, was comparable to a cremation ground.

nity'-otsavam (acc. sg. m.): in continual merriment
nitya: mfn. continual , perpetual , eternal
utsava: m. enterprise , beginning ; a festival , jubilee ; joy , gladness , merriment
ut- √ suu: to cause to go upwards
tam (acc. sg. m.): that
ca: and
nishaamya = abs. ni- √ sham: to observe , perceive , hear , learn
lokam (acc. sg. m.): the world

nis-tandri-nidr'-aarati-shoka-rogam (acc. sg. m.): free from tiredness, sleep, discontent, sorrow, and disease,
nis: ind. without, free from
tandri m. = tandraa: f. lassitude , exhaustion , laziness
nidraa: f. sleep , slumber , sleepiness , sloth
a-rati: f. dissatisfaction , discontent , dulness , languor ; anxiety , distress , regret
shoka: m. sorrow , affliction , anguish , pain , trouble , grief
roga: m. breaking up of strength " , disease , infirmity , sickness

nandaH (nom. sg.): m. Nanda
jaraa-mRtyu-vasham (acc. sg. m.): in thrall to aging and death
jaraa: f. old age, aging
mRtyu: m. death, dying
vasha: m. authority , power , control , dominion
sadaa: ind. always , ever , every time , continually , perpetually
aartam (acc. sg. m.): fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained , disturbed; injured ; oppressed

mene = 3rd pers. sg. perfect man: to think , believe , imagine , suppose , conjecture ; to regard or consider any one or anything (acc.) as
shmashaana-pratimam (acc. sg. m.): resembling a cremation ground
shmashaana: n. an elevated place for burning dead bodies , crematorium , cemetery or burial-place for the bones of cremated corpses
pratimaa: f. an image , likeness , symbol ; (ifc. like , similar , resembling , equal to)
prati- √ maa: to imitate, copy
nR-lokam (acc. sg.): m. the world of men , the earth

Thursday, June 23, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.33: Just Deserts (Heavenly Nectar)

puurvaM tapo-muulya-parigraheNa
svarga-kray'-aarthaM kRta-nishcayaanaaM
manaMsi khinnaani tapo-dhanaanaaM
haranti yatr'-aapsaraso laDantyaH

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

Having first accepted the price in austerities

And made the decision to splash out on heaven,

Ascetics rich in austerities have their weary minds

Enthralled there by the flirting apsarases.

In a series of seven verses from here to 10.39, as part of his thought experiment, Ashvagosha paints the apsarases in an extremely appealing light. There is none of the pessimism by which the striver in Canto 8 seeks to deny women's sexual charms. Ashvaghosha's imagery is more reminiscent of those paintings in the Ajanta Caves that seem to portray sensuality as it is -- if not actually to celebrate sensuality in the spirit of "all dharmas are real form" (SHO-HO JISSO).

Ashvaghosha, unlike the striver, does not try to make the case that women are originally unappealing. Ashvaghosha rather portrays women, in his descriptions of the nymphs here and in his descriptions of Sundari in earlier cantos, as extremely sexually attractive -- with pearl necklaces that are nudged out of the way by their exaggeratedly large and firm breasts, with slender waists, shapely hips, trembling earrings and anklets, darting eyes, coquettish moves, and so on.

Why? What is the point of this thought experiment in which fantastic nymphs in heaven are even more sexually attractive than women down here on earth -- who are already liable to be more than attractive enough to distract a yogin's attention.

Ashvaghosha is laying the ground for Ananda in Canto 11 to shock Nanda with the news that the sensual bliss which union with fantasy women represents can only ever be impermanent, to be followed by the suffering of separation.

Whether, in truth, it is possible to win the sexual favours of celestial nymphs by first paying the price in self-denying austerities is not really the point. What Ashvagosha is doing, as I hear him, is conducting a thought experiment like the one Einstein is said to have conducted when he imagined himself to be travelling at the speed of light.

At the same time, Ashvaghosha's vision of heaven, based on ancient Indian myth, does seem to have some basis in human experience. Sailors who after weeks at sea have arrived at ports around the world to find young women eagerly waiting for them in dimly-lit bars, might feel that there is some basis in reality for the ancient Indian fantasy. Again, I remember going on long winter runs when I lived on the outskirts of Tokyo, running up to a look-out tower (Iruma Tembo-dai) where I could see Tokyo on one side and Mt. Fuji on the other side; and on the way home I would stop off at a vending machine to buy a 100-yen can of hot, sweet coffee. So I would walk the last 100 yards sipping the coffee, and it always felt -- after stepping out into the cold and doing the run -- like the height of luxury. But such luxury was only available to me because I had been prepared first to pay the price in terms of a run in austere conditions.

This kind of luxury, however, the luxury of a sweetly-scented woman after weeks on the salty sea, or the luxury of a hot sweet drink on a frosty morning, is not what is meant in Saundara-nanda by a-mRta, the deathless nectar which Nanda makes his own in Canto 17.

The deathless nectar might have less to do with the gratification of suppressed desires to gain an end, and more to do with replacement of big end-gaining desires by those small desires which constitute a means-whereby for living happily.

As I write this, I am not so much trying to clarify something for others that I have already conclusively figured out for myself; I am rather in the process of figuring it out, again, for myself -- stimulated by the incessant crowing of next-door's roosters which seems to threaten, every morning, to set me screaming.

The many and various disappointments of men, like old age, occur as long as their doing goes on. / (For even when violent winds blow, trees do not shake that never sprouted.) // [16.10]

The Buddha's ultimate teaching on the night before he died, indubitably, was not to have those big end-gaining desires which keep triggering our habitual patterns of doing, but rather to practise small desire (in Sanskrit alp'ecchu).

My teacher, though small in stature even for a Japanese, was a man of very big ambition, and he tended to attract ambitious followers of whom I was one. I see on the internet people who received the Dharma from my teacher, announcing themselves as Zen Masters, and I think it is primarily my teacher's fault. He was too ambitious in wishing to disseminate, for example, his own pet theory of the autonomic nervous system which, in the end, is only a shabby reductionist view. The Gudo Nishijima I knew (for many years before the latter-day Zen Masters appeared on the scene) -- for all his many virtues such as generosity, self-discipline, endurance and patience, great energy and courage, devotion to sitting-dhyana, and philosophical insight, not to mention a certain intuitive wisdom -- was a doer, an end-gainer, and a man of vaulting ambition.

Translating and publishing Shobogenzo, for example, was a very ambitious project. This translation and day-by-day publication of Saundara-nanda, in contrast, is much less ambitious -- and deliberately so. Still, if I were truly free of the end-gaining mind, would the roosters continue to bother me so much? Perhaps instead of sitting at this computer, I would be happy to go for a walk in the forest and find somewhere to sit there, or to adapt to the roosters in some other non-violent way. But no, I would like to silence the bastard roosters for ever and enjoy peace and quiet right here and now, without the bother of going someplace else.

Just as I write this, incidentally, the roosters have for some reason or other fallen silent. Ah, heaven! But I somehow know it won't last....

An end-gaining attitude, even if the means are wrong, may nonetheless result in the gaining of some limited end -- as for example Gudo Nishijima gained his end at last of seeing Shobogenzo in English translated and published by Gudo Nishijima. (At least in his own mind he gained that end.) But if the means are wrong, gaining of the end invariably has undesirable side-effects, aka duHkha, suffering, brought upon oneself and on others.

If the end in view is not a limited end, however, but obtaining of the deathless nectar, then end-gaining does not work. One cannot grab deathless nectar with dirty paws. The nectar that is grabbed with dirty paws is not deathless.

This, I think, is the conclusion that Ashvaghosha's thought experiment is leading to. Let us suspend disbelief for a while and imagine that the sweetest-tasting nectar in the world, the joy of sex with unimaginably gorgeous nymphs, could be obtained by the dirty end-gaining paws of asceticism. Could that nectar be the deathless nectar of which the Buddha spoke? No, it could not. The nectar that is grabbed with dirty paws is not deathless.

EH Johnston:
There the amarous Apsarases ravish the weary minds of the ascetics who had determined to purchase Paradise by first paying the price in austerities.

Linda Covill:
Here the apsarases play the flirt, enrapturing the weary minds of ascetics who had decided to buy heaven by first paying the price in ascetic practices.

puurvam: ind. before , formerly , hitherto , previously
tapo-muulya-parigraheNa (inst. sg.): by accepting the price payable in ascetic practice
tapas: n. ascetic practice, austerities
muulya: n. original value , value , price , worth , a sum of money given as payment
parigraha: m. laying hold of on all sides ; taking , accepting , receiving or anything received

svarga-kray'-aartham (acc. sg. n.): to buy heaven
svarga: m. heaven
kraya: m. buying , purchase ; the purchase-price
artha: n. aim, purpose
kRta-nishcayaanaam (gen. pl.): determined to
kRta: mfn. done, made
nishcaya: resolution , resolve fixed intention , design , purpose , aim (nischayaM- √kR, to resolve upon , determine to)

manaMsi = acc. pl. manas: n. mind
khinnaani (acc. pl. n.): mfn. depressed , distressed ; wearied, exhausted
tapo-dhanaanaam (gen. pl. m.): mfn. rich in religious austerities ; m. a great ascetic
tapas: n. ascetic practice, austerities
dhana: n. any valued object , (esp.) wealth , riches ,

haranti = 3rd pers. pl. hR: to take away, carry off; to enrapture , charm , fascinate
yatra: ind. wherein
apsarasaH (nom. pl.): f. apsaras, celestial nymph
laDantyaH = nom. pl. f. pres. part. laD: to play , sport , dally

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.32: Each to His Own -- In Heaven As It Is On Earth

yatr' eShTa-ceShTaH satata-prahRShTaa
nir-artayo nir-jaraso vi-shokaaH
svaiH karmabhir hiina-vishiShTa-madhyaaH
svayaM prabhaaH puNya-kRto ramante

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

There, doing as they please, constantly erect,

Free from pain, free from aging, beyond sorrow --

Each by his actions inferior, superior, or in the middle,

Each letting his own light shine -- merit-makers rejoice.

This could be a description of ascetics enjoying endless sexual union with nymphs in heaven; or it could be a description of a Cloud Hall in the golden days of Chinese Zen.

The ambiguity in today's verse, as I read it, is intentional. What Ashvaghosha is saying, in so many words is: "I have never been to heaven, but I know a bit about how it is down here on earth, and I am confident that the same fundamental rules apply."

Ashvaghosha's vision of heaven does not, as I hear it, convey any reliable information about heaven, because there might not be any such place. But Ashvaghosha's vision of heaven does tell us something about Ashvaghosha's insight into the Buddha's teaching, in which the 2nd law of thermodynamics (or "impermanence") is truly universal, in which unwavering confidence in cause and effect is paramount, and in which nobody but me can let my own light shine.

Something of Ashvaghosha's insight might be reflected in the order of the elements in line 3, hiina-vishiShTa-madhyaaH, the inferior, the excellent, and those in the middle. True, if Ashvaghosha had written the elements in the ascending order of hiina-madhya-vishiShTaaH, inferior, middling, and superior, then the line would not have scanned. But even so line 3 as I read it contains the suggestion that the middle is the place to be. Nagarjuna wasn't the only one to sing a fundamental song of the middle way.

Yesterday on the radio I heard a debate about the merits and de-merits of putting in "streams" primary school children as young as seven years old -- which seems to me to be a very unenlightened approach to education. I can see the point of sets for the teaching of particular subjects, like reading or arithmetic. But seven is an absurdly young age to decide on a general basis whose capabilities in the classroom are inferior and whose are superior.

At the primary school I went to there was an A stream and a B stream and my rank, according to the end-of-year exams was generally no. 1 in the A stream (except in my final year at school when I was surpassed by arch-rival Lesley Blakemore). And this may be part of the reason that I have tended to struggle through life handicapped by a big desire to be excellent. Recently, however, I eschew the translation of shreyas as "Excellence" (LC) or "the highest good" (EHJ) in favour of "a better way." A better way than grim striving with a big desire for excellence, it seems to me recently, is happy maintenance of a small desire to be in the middle. Still, it is easier said than done. Old habits die hard. Some wrong views are not easy to shake off.

Being a parent, and working with struggling children, has for me been a big help in shaking my former view. Because wanting children to be excellent, and wanting them to be happy, evidently, are not necessarily the same thing.

So what Ashvagosha calls shreyas, I am suggesting, is not necessarily "Excellence" or "The Highest Good" as a superior end to be gained. shreyas might mean, more modestly, a better way to be happy -- in the middle.

EH Johnston:
There those who have earned merit enjoy themselves, doing as they wish, ever joyful, free from affliction and grief, ever young, shining with their own light and having a lofty, middle or low station according to their deeds.

Linda Covill:
Here the merit-makers take their pleasure, doing as they wish, always blissful, free from pain, old age and grief, the splendor of each being low, great or average according to their former deeds.

yatra: ind. wherein
iShTa-ceShTaH (nom. pl. m.): behaving as they like, doing as they please
iShTa: mfn. wished , desired; liked
ceShTa: n. moving the limbs , gesture ; n. behaviour , manner of life
satata-prahRShTaaH (nom. pl. m.): always bristling with delight
satata: ind. constantly, always, ever
prahRShTa: mfn. erect , bristling (as the hair of the body) ; thrilled with delight. exceedingly pleased , delighted
pra: ind. forth, before ; as pref. to adj. = excessively , very , much
hṛṣṭa: mfn. thrilling with rapture , rejoiced , pleased , glad , merry ; bristling , erect , standing on end (said of the hairs of the body) ; rigid , stiff

nir-artayaH = nom. pl. m. nir-arti: mfn. painless
arti = aarti: f. painful occurrence , pain , injury , mischief ; sickness
nir-jarasaH = nom. pl. m. nir-jaras: mfn. not becoming old , young , fresh; imperishable , immortal
vi-shokaaH = nom. pl. m. vi-shoka: mfn. free from sorrow

svaiH (inst. pl.): his own
karmabhiH = inst. pl. karman: n. act, action ; former act as leading to inevitable results , fate (as the certain consequence of acts in a previous life)
hiina-vishiShTa-madhyaaH (nom. pl. m.): inferior, superior, or in the middle
hiina: mfn. left , abandoned , forsaken ; left behind , excluded or shut out from , lower or weaker than , inferior; brought low , broken down in circumstances
vishiShTa: mfn. distinguished ; pre-eminent , excellent ; better or worse than (abl. or comp.)
madhya: m. middle

svayaM-prabhaaH (nom. pl. m.): shining with one's own light, spontaneously radiant
svayam: ind. self , one's self (applicable to all persons e.g. myself , thyself , himself &c ) , of or by one's self spontaneously , voluntarily , of one's own accord
prabhaa: f. light , splendour , radiance , beautiful appearance (ifc. often mfn.)
puNya-kRtaH (nom. pl. m.): merit-makers
puNya: n. the good or right , virtue , purity , good work , meritorious act , moral or religious merit
kRta: mfn. done, made; doing, making
ramante = 3rd pers. pl. ram: to stop, stay; to be glad or pleased , rejoice at , delight in , be fond of ; to play or sport , dally

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.31: Winged Rovers Who Bowl Nymphs Over

rociShNavo naama patatriNo' nye
diipt'-aagni-varNaa jvalitair iv' aasyaiH
bhramanti dRShTiir vapuSh" aakShipantaH
svanaiH shubhair apsaraso harantaH

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

Winged ones of a different ilk, named rochishnus,

Who have the lustre of a blazing fire,
their faces seeming to be aglow,

Roam around,
shaking views with their wonderful appearance,

And carrying apsarases away with their splendid sound.

In my first attempt at translating this verse, several months ago while doing the preparatory work of cutting and pasting the dictionary definitions for the vocabulary below, I translated it as if it were about birds darting here and there, catching people's eyes. But when I read my own translation back to myself a few days ago, it didn't mean anything to me. At the same time, the dictionary seemed to be saying that ā- √kṣip in line 3 does not mean "to attract [the gaze]" or "to catch [the eye]" but rather the opposite of to attract or to catch: ā- √kṣip, according to the dictionary means to throw down, to strike with a bolt, or to convulse.

Only after a bit of spadework on the previous three verses does this verse begin to make sense -- as the fourth of four verses ostensibly about birds. It is not really about birds at all, at least not common or garden ones. It is really about that particular category of human beings -- call them what you like, it makes no difference -- who possess wings, or means, that are not necessarily of the feathered variety. It belongs to that dimension which is beyond our ability to figure things out, to what Gudo Nishijima used to call "the fourth phase." Hence the implicit negation of views, interpretations, opinions, comments, and the like...

So giving up any desire to comment further... I would like to comment further.

Gudo Nishijima used to tell me, contrary to conventional Buddhist thoughts about desire, "What we desire we should have." And so in my efforts to serve buddha-ancestors I was doing my best to give him what I thought he wanted, when, in 1997 a huge spanner was thrown in the works of our translation partnership. And so for 14 years since this big dislocation, I have been struggling -- with not very much skill or wisdom of my own -- to adapt to a new situation, and this independent translation of Ashvaghosha is part of that struggle. But one thing Gudo deeply desired was a translation of Nagarjuna's Fundamental Song of the Middle Way which Gudo could call his own, reflecting his "four philosophies" or "theory of three philosophies and one reality." And what he wanted, it seems to me, he could so easily have had, if only....

"If only": therein lies the essence of a tragedy.

Coming back to today's verse, "winged" might mean, for example, being in possession of five powers, namely, confidence, courage, mindfulness, balanced stillness, and intuitive wisdom. The noble eightfold path -- with its threefold division into wisdom, integrity, and balanced stillness -- might be eight wings.

But all these wings are practically useless without one primary power, which is the power to be adaptable, dropping off one's own views and opinions (Hence: ṛddhi-pravekaṃ ca bahu-prakāraṃ, The principal psychic power, taking many forms [16.2]).

One reason old age is such a tragedy is that with old age this power of adaptability invariably seems to diminish sharply.

But the teaching of Ashvaghosha and his Dharma-grandson Nagarjuna does not make any allowances for how old you are. That teaching, ultimately, "at the fourth phase," is nothing but the dropping off of views.

EH Johnston:
Other birds called rocishnus flit here and there, with glowing beaks which give them as it were the colour of a blazing fire, attracting the gaze with their beauty and charming the Apsarases with their sweet songs.

Linda Covill:
Other birds, their bright beaks coloured like a flaming fire, are known as rochishnus. They dart about, catching the eye with their beauty and entrancing the apsarases with their lovely fluting.

rociShNavaH = nom. pl. m. rochiShNu: (name not traced)
naama: ind. by name
patatriNaH = nom. pl. m. patatrin: mfn. winged , feathered , flying (also applied to agni , the vehicle of the ashvins &c ) ; m. a bird
patatra: n. a wing , pinion , feather &c
anye (nom. pl. m.): other, different

diipt'-aagni-varNaaH (nom. pl. m.): having the colour of blazing fire
diipta: mfn. blazing , flaming , hot , shining , bright , brilliant , splendid
agni-varNa: mfn. having the colour of fire
agni: m. fire
varNa: m. covering; outward appearance , exterior , form , figure , shape , colour ; colour of the face , (esp.) good colour or complexion , lustre , beauty
jvalitaiH (inst. pl. n.): mfn. lighted , blazing , flaming , shining
iva: like, as if
aasyaiH = inst. pl. aasya: n. mouth, jaws, face

bhramanti = 3rd pers. pl. bhram: to wander or roam about , rove ; to fly about (as bees)
dRShTiiH (acc. pl.): f. seeing ; eye , look , glance ; view, notion; (with Buddhists) a wrong view
vapuShaa = inst. sg. vapus: n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty
aakShipantaH = nom. pl. m. pres. part. ā- √ kṣip: to throw down ; to draw or take off or away ; to strike with a bolt ; to convulse , cause to tremble

svanaiH = inst. pl. svana: m. sound , noise (in the older language applied to the roar of wind , thunder , water &c ; in later language to the song of birds , speech , and sound of any kind
shubhaiH ( m.): mfn. splendid , bright , beautiful , handsome ; pleasant , agreeable ,
apsarasaH (acc. pl.): f. celestial nymph
harantaH = nom. pl. m. pres. part. hR: to take, carry; to take away, carry off ; to enrapture , charm , fascinate

Monday, June 20, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.30: There Birds Move

raktaabhir agreShu ca vallariibhir
madhyeShu caamiikara-piNjaraabhiH
vaiDuurya-varNaabhir upaanta-madhyeShv
alaMkRtaa yatra khagaash caranti

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

Adorned with curling feathers that are red at the tips,

Golden in the middle,

And the colour of beryl within borders,

There birds move.

In the context of its being the third of four verses about birds, one might expect this verse to say something about action in the middle way. And that expectation seems straight away to be confirmed by the double appearance of the word madhyeShu (in the middle, within), and by the final word of the verse caranti, from the root √car, to move/act.

Again, if the thesis is that ordinary beings are subject to life and death in a world that is predominantly red in tooth and claw, and the anti-thesis is that buddhas dwell in a deathless realm of enlightenment and cool detachment whose representative colours are gold and blue, then this verse might be expected to express a synthesis in which red, gold and blue all exist together -- which it does, negating both pessimism and optimism.

Why are these birds described as being adorned with feathers that are curled, like creepers (vallariibhiH)?

In the same way that we might see the stereotype of a feather as not curling but straight, one might assume a buddha not ever to be subject to the red taints of anger or grasping desire or undue worry. But if one googles "curled plumage," one is presented with images of the Sebastopol goose and the Japanese quail. And if one reads Shobogenzo in detail, one gets glimpses of what ancient buddha-ancestors felt angry about, what they felt passionate about, and what they worried about.

Did they worry about keeping their behaviour within borders? Within what kind of borders did their behaviour remain?

Setting aside such worries, in all four verses in the present series of verses on birds, birds represent beings which possess the means of transcendent action, as reflected in the names by which Ashvaghosha calls them:

viha-M-gaaH "sky-going" (10.28)
viha-M-gamaaH "going through the sky" (10.29)
kha-gaaH "going through the air" (10.30)
patatriNaH "winged ones" (10.31).

But in line 4 of today's verse, as I read it, the sense of dynamic direction of energy is particularly vivid:

yatra: there, in the moment, in their moving here and their changing now,
khagaaH: those movers-through-the-air,
caranti: go, walk, step into action, get a flipping move on ...

alaMkRtaa yatra khagaash caranti
Adorned, there birds move.

EH Johnston:
Birds adorned with feathers red at the tips, golden yellow in the middle and the colour of beryl at the ends wander about there.

Linda Covill:
And there are birds that wander there arrayed in plumage red at the tip, yellow-gold in the middle and the color of cat's-eye jewels at the end.

raktaabhiH (inst. pl. f.): red
agreShu (loc. pl.): n. foremost point or part ; tip
ca: and
vallariibhiH = inst. pl. vallari: f. a creeper , any climbing or creeping plant (also fig. applied to curled hair)

madhyeShu (loc. pl.): mn. middle
caamiikara-piNjaraabhiH (inst. pl. f.): golden red/yellow
caamiikara: n. gold
piNjara: mfn. reddish-yellow , yellow or tawny , of a golden colour

vaiDuurya-varNaabhiH (inst. pl. f.): the colour of beryl
vaiDuurya: n. a cat's-eye gem; beryl
varNa: m. a covering ; colour of the face , (esp.) good colour or complexion , lustre , beauty
upaanta-madhyeShu (loc. pl. m.): inside the edges
upaanta: mfn. near to the end , last but one; n. proximity to the end or edge or margin; n. border , edge ; n. the last place but one
madhya: m. the middle , midst , centre , inside , interior

alaM-kRtaaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. adorned , decorated
yatra: ind. wherein
kha-gaaH (nom. pl.): m. "moving in air;" a bird
caranti = 3rd pers. pl. car: to move one's self , go , walk , move , stir , roam about , wander (said of men , animals , water , ships , stars , &c ) ; to behave , conduct one's self , act , live

Sunday, June 19, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.29: Different Birds with Blue Eyes (& Golden Wings)

citraiH suvarNac-chadanais tath" aanye
vaiDuurya-niilair nayanaiH prasannaiH
vihaMgamaaH shiNjirik'-aabhidhaanaa
rutair manaH-shrotra-harair bhramanti

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

Birds which are -- again -- different,
with distinctively golden wings

And bright, beryl-blue eyes,

Birds called "shinjirikas" fly to and fro,

Carrying away minds and ears with their songs.

"Golden wings" suvarNac-chadanaiH suggest an essential means of transcendent action, and brings to mind the Thirty-Seven Wings of Awakening, which is the title of Shobogenzo chap. 73.

Birds distinguished by their golden wings are no ordinary birds; hence, like trees that grow full-blown blue lotuses, they are described, again, as in 10.21, as different (anye):

Trees there that abound in red lotuses look like trees ablaze./ Different trees, growing full-blown blue lotuses, seem to have their eyes open. // 10.21

And in line 2 of today's verse, again, as in 10.21, Ashvaghosha makes an association with eyes and blueness -- the colour of cool detachment, as opposed to tainted redness. The suggestion might be that eyes which really see are dispassionate eyes.

I do not know the meaning of the name "shiNjirika" in line 3, but the meaning of abhidhaana is clear: abhidhaana means "called." So the point might be that in Asvhaghosha's vision of heaven, as it is on earth, birds belong to distinct nameable species identifiable by distinguishing features like golden wings.

Line 4 evokes the free life of a wanderer whose use of his voice has the power to change others' minds -- no ordinary person, but one who meets a certain distinguishing criterion, which Dogen called the samadhi of accepting and using the self.

What is the gold we have been mining in this blog? Above all, I think it is a means -- a means which is different (anya) from the usual end-gaining approach.

The essential thing to clarify is how the ancient yoga practice of padm'-aasana "lotus sitting," can be a golden means of realizing the criterion which is the samadhi of accepting and using the self.

According to my old teacher Gudo Nishijima, keeping the spine straight vertically allows the autonomic nervous system to become balanced. But that teaching might be a very crude approximation of the truth, and if in the past I allowed my mind and ears to be carried away by the preaching of it, that was my stupid mistake.

Trying to keep the spine straight vertically in an end-gaining manner, i.e. trying to be right on the basis of feeling that is liable to be faulty, is not what is symbolized in today's verse, as I read it, by suvarNac-chadanaiH, golden wings.

The samadhi of accepting and using the self is a human being's original, natural state. Why, in that case, are those who dwell in it called anye, different, odd, other? Because they are special, religious people (like those consecrated Catholic priests who abuse children)? No. Because they are in some way superhuman? No. Because they got their grubby claws around the kind of enlightenment that deluded people deludedly suppose to exist? No. I think the state of buddha is different because it arises out of a means which is different from end-gaining.

Among Zen Buddhists in particular, a very common form of end-gaining is trying to be buddha. As an anti-dote to that tendency the Alexander teacher Marjory Barlow used to tell me that being prepared to be wrong was "the golden key."

Hidden in line 4 then, as I read it, is the teaching that true buddha is free from trying to be right, and freedom like that tends to transmit itself naturally, for example, through the sound of the voice.

EH Johnston:
Other birds called shinjirikas have brilliant golden wings and clear eyes blue as beryl and roam about, charming the mind and the ear with their songs.

Linda Covill:
There are other birds too, with limpid eyes blue as cat's-eye gems and shimmering golden feathers; these shinjirikas, as they are called, flit about enchanting the mind and ear with their trilling.

citraiH (inst. pl.): mfn. conspicuous , excellent , distinguished ; bright , clear , bright-coloured ; variegated ; various
suvarNac-chadanaiH (inst. pl.): with gold wings/feathers
suvarNa: golden
chadana: n. a cover , covering ; a wing ; a leaf
tathaa: ind. in like manner, likewise, similarly, too
anye (nom. pl. m.): other

vaiDuurya-niilaiH (inst. pl.): the blue-green color of beryl
vaiDuurya: n. a cat's-eye gem ; beryl
niila: n. of a dark colour , (esp.) dark-blue or dark-green or black
nayanaiH (inst. pl.): n. " the leading organ " , the eye
prasannaiH (inst. pl.): mfn. clear , bright , pure (lit. and fig.); distinct ; placid, tranquil

viha-M-gamaaH (nom. pl.): m. "moving in the sky," a bird
shiNjirik'-aabhidhaanaaH (nom. pl. m.): called "shinjirika"
shiNjirika: (no reference traced)
shiNjin: mfn. tinkling , rattling , sounding
abhidhaana: n. telling; a name , title , appellation

rutaiH (inst. pl.): n. (often pl.) any cry or noise , roar , yell , neigh (of horses) , song , note (of birds) , hum (of bees)
manaH-shrotra-haraiH (inst. pl.): carrying away hearts/minds and ears
manas: n. mind (in its widest sense as applied to all the mental powers) , intellect , intelligence , understanding , perception , sense , conscience , will
shrotra: n. the organ of hearing , ear ,
hara: mfn. bearing , wearing , taking , conveying , bringing ; taking away , carrying off , removing , destroying ; ravishing , captivating (» mano-hara)
mano-hara: mfn. " heart-stealing " , taking the fancy , fascinating , attractive , charming , beautiful
bhramanti = 3rd pers. pl. bhram: to wander or roam about , rove ; to fly about (as bees)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.28: Birds with Red Extremities (& Empty Eyes)

manaHshil"-aabhair vadanair vihaMgaa
yatr' aakShibhiH sphaaTika-saMnibhaish ca
shaavaish ca pakShair abhi-lohit'-aantair
maaNjiShThakair ardha-sitaish ca paadaiH

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

Birds there have bright red beaks,
the colour of red 'mind rock' arsenic;

And crystalline eyes;

And wings a deathly shade of yellow,
with intensely red tips;

And claws as red as red dye, but half white.

One of the functions of birds, in Ashvaghosha's vision of heaven, seems to be to form a fleeting four-verse bridge between the stalwart trees and the flighty apsarases.

On the way, birds show us various colours, beginning in this verse with various shades of red, along with transparent crystal (line 2), the colour of a dead human body (line 3), and white (line 4).

What on earth does Ashvaghosha intend to represent with these colours?

I do not know and cannot say. I can only say what these colours represent to me as I read them in today's verse.

Bright red is the starting point. Today's verse begins, as does 10.9, with manaH-shilaa, lit. "mind-rock," which means realgar, i.e. an arsenic ore which has an orange-red colour.

For me, as I have described already (e.g. in comments to 10.21), going bright red was a starting point. A starting point of what? A starting point of seeking a means -- borrowing a line from Bob Marley -- to emancipate the mind from mental slavery. A starting point of seeking a means -- borrowing a phrase from Marjory Barlow -- to inhibit unconscious behaviour. After all these bloody years, I must confess, I don't feel that I have got very far.

Never mind. The principle remains that when unconscious behaviour is inhibited, then consciousness can grow. The recognition that this possibility exists for all human beings led FM Alexander to call his first book "Man's Supreme Inheritance." Eyes as transparent as crystals -- providing chinks through which the light may pass -- can be read as symbolizing the potential for realizing the supreme inheritance which is growth of consciousness.

For most of us, most of the time, however, such potential remains untapped. That being so the colour that predominates in us, in our vulnerability to labile unconscious reactions, is red.

So just as red lotuses in 10.21 seem to represent the pointless suffering in samsara of ordinary beings, red birds in this verse, as I read it, are ordinary birds, birds whose extremities are suffused with the red taint of passion, birds who are still suffering in the samsaric cycle of life and death. Hence Ashvaghosha sees their wings as being the yellow colour of bloated death, tipped by the vivid reds of intense suffering and passion. The deathless nectar is not within the grasp of these birds' claws.

Finally, why are these claws described as half-white? I think because in an immature nervous system struggling to cope with a challenging stimulus, the Moro reflex, whose colour is red (the colour of blood being mobilized for fight or flight), tends to be locked in a battle for supremacy with the fear paralysis response whose colour is white (the colour of blood being withdrawn to preserve internal organs).

Absence of such conflict between red panic and white fear paralysis may be regarded as the original condition which Gudo Nishijima used to call "balance of the autonomic nervous system," or "the state of plus/minus zero." Chromatically, I think this state of balance or enlightenment is represented by Ashvaghosha as blue and as golden.

If understanding along the above lines is roughly on target, then one might think that birds with red extremities would be more suited to hell, and so what are they doing here in Ashvaghosha's vision of heaven? The answer might lie in the ancient truth that blue lotuses open in fire. These birds with red extremities, like the trees described in 10.21 as ablaze with red lotuses, are there to provide a contrast with ones that are odd, different, other (anye) -- the golden ones who seem to have blue in their eyes.

EH Johnston:
There birds have beaks of the hue of red arsenic, eyes like crystal, dark brown wings tipped with scarlet and feet of the colour of red madder and half white.

Linda Covill:
There are birds with beaks the color of red arsenic, crystalline eyes, tawny wings tipped with scarlet, and with claws half crimson, half white.

manaHshil"-aabhaiH (inst. pl. n.): with the appearance of red arsenic
manaH-shilaa: realgar , red arsenic
aabhaa: f. splendour , light; ifc. like , resembling , appearing
vadanaiH = inst. pl. vadana: n. the act of speaking ; the mouth , face , countenance ; the front , point
viha-M-gaaH (nom. pl.): m. "sky-going," bird

yatra: ind. wherein
akShibhiH (inst. pl.): n. the eye
sphaaTika-saMnibhaiH (inst. pl. n.): like crystal
sphaaTika: n. crystal ; mfn. crystalline
saMnibha: mfn. like , similar , resembling (ifc. ; often pleonastically with names of colours
ca: and

shaavaiH (inst. pl. m.): mfn. (fr. śava) cadaverous , relating to a dead body , produced by or belonging to a corpse ; of a cadaverous or dark yellowish colour , tawny
shava: mn. (prob. fr. √ śū , or śvi and orig. = " swollen ") a corpse , dead body
√ śū / √śvi : to swell , grow , increase
ca: and
pakShaiH (inst. pl.): m. wing
abhi-lohhit'-aantaiH (inst. pl. m.): with intense red tips
abhi-lohhita: mfn. intense red, scarlet
abhi: (As a prefix to nouns not derived from verbs) it expresses superiority , intensity , &c
lohita: red , red-coloured , reddish
anta: m. end

maaNjiShThakaiH = inst. pl. m. māñjiṣṭhaka = māñjiṣṭha: mfn. (fr. mañjiṣṭhā) dyed with madder , red as madder
mañjiṣṭha: mfn. (superl. of mañju) very bright , bright red (as the Indian madder)
mañjiṣṭha: n. red , red colour
mañju: mfn. beautiful , lovely , charming , pleasant , sweet
ardha-sitaiH (inst. pl. m.): half-white
ardha: mfn. half
sita: mfn. white , pale
ca: and
paadaiH (inst. pl.): m. the foot (of men and animals)

Friday, June 17, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.27: Endless Adapting

kRShTe tapaH-shiila-halair akhinnais
tripiShTapa-kShetra-tale prasuutaaH
evaMvidhaa yatra sad" aanuvRttaa
divaukasaaM bhoga-vidhaana-vRkShaaH

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

Growing there, on soil tilled in Indra's heaven

By unwearying ploughs of austerity and discipline,

Are such trees as these, which are always adapting

To provide for sky-dwellers' enjoyment.

In this verse trees are not the subjects who cultivate heaven through practice of austerities. In Ashvaghosha's world, ascetic practice of austerities is invariably practised by ascetics.

"The great ascetics practised asceticism." [1.14]

So trees, in Ashvaghosha's vision, in heaven as it is on earth, do not till the soil. Rather, it is ascetics who cultivate heaven; and it is trees who, in heaven as it is on earth, grow in soil by adapting to circumstances.

Today's verse, then, as I read it, contains a suggestion of that teaching which the Buddha called the cause of nirvana, namely, small desire.

The verse seems to me to say that the real players in heaven are not necessarily the pushy celestial superstars and ambitious prima donnas who play the roles of ascetic leading men and nymph-like leading ladies; rather the real action might be with the ones who play more modest supporting roles and who, in that endless adaptive following, are able to keep growing.

When this verse is read in conjunction with the previous verse, the point might be that the one great matter has to do with growth in the direction of being fully oneself -- but that does not mean simply doing one's own thing.

In the teaching of buddha-ancestors, a favourable situation down here on earth is to be able to serve buddhas. In Ashvaghosha's vision of heaven, in the absence of buddhas, it seems that trees are able to grow by adapting to the demands of sky-dwellers. Growing (prasuutaH), in Ashvaghosha's vision of heaven, takes place not through political struggle or assertion of one's rights under the banner of some -ism or other, but rather through the kind of adaptive attitude which is expressed by the words "thy will be done."

In heaven, as it is on earth, thy will be done.

This completes a series of nine verses that began with 10.19 on the subject of trees in heaven. A few weeks ago I was daunted by the prospect of translating such poetic flights of fancy. But as a result of working on these nine verses, I think I see at least one important point that I didn't see before, which is this: In Ashvagosha's vision of heaven the heroes are neither the God or gods who are imagined to abide there eternally, nor the ascetic human achievers who enjoy temporary union there with celestial nymphs. The real heroes are the trees who adapt and keep growing.

EH Johnston:
Such are the trees that grow there, ever attentive to provide enjoyment for the dwellers in heaven, where the soil of the celestial fields is cultivated by the unwearying ploughs of asceticism and discipline.

Linda Covill:
There, in the topsoil of heaven's fields which is tilled by the unwearying plows of asceticism and moral self-restraint, grow these kinds of trees, in compliance always with the provision of enjoyment for the denizens of heaven.

kRShTe (loc. sg.): mfn. ploughed or tilled
tapaH-shiila-halaiH (inst. pl.): by the ploughs of austerity and pure conduct
tapas: n. pain; ascetic practice, austerities
shiila: n. moral conduct , integrity
hala: mn. plough
akhinnaiH (inst. pl.): mfn. unwearied
khinna: mfn. depressed , distressed , suffering pain or uneasiness; wearied , exhausted

tripiShTapa-kShetra-tale (loc. sg.): on the topsoil of indra's heaven
tri-piShTapa: n. indra's heaven (= tri-diva)
tri-diva: n. the 3rd or most sacred heaven , heaven (in general)
piShTapa = viShTapa: f. top , summit , surface , highest part , height (esp. of heaven)
kShetra: n. landed property , land , soil; a field
tala: n. surface
prasuutaaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. procreated, produced, grown

evaMvidhaaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. of such a kind , such
yatra: ind. wherein
sadaa: ind. always , ever , every time , continually , perpetually
anuvRttaaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. following , obeying , complying

divaukasaam (gen. pl.): m. " sky-dweller " , a deity ; a bee
diva: n. heaven, sky
okas: n. house , dwelling , place of abiding , abode , home
bhoga-vidhaana-vRkShaaH (nom. pl. m.): enjoyment-arranging trees
bhoga: m. enjoyment , eating , feeding ; sexual enjoyment ; enjoyment of the earth or of a country i.e. rule , sway ; profit , utility , advantage , pleasure , delight ; any object of enjoyment (as food , a festival &c ) ; hire , wages (esp. of prostitution)
vidhaana: mfn. disposing , arranging , regulating; n. order , measure , disposition , arrangement
vi- √ dhā: to distribute , apportion , grant , bestow ; to furnish , supply , procure ; to put in order , arrange , dispose , prepare , make ready
vRkSha: m. tree

Thursday, June 16, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.26: Full-Grown Sovereignty

mandaara-vRkShaaMsh ca kushe-shayaaMsh ca
puShp'-aanataan koka-nadaaMsh ca vRkShaan
aakramya maahaatmya-guNair viraajan
raajaayate yatra sa paarijaataH

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

Over mandara coral trees,

And over trees weighed down
by water-lily and ruddy lotus blossoms,

The 'Full Grown' Coral,
shining there with majestic qualities,

Steps up and reigns supreme.

This is a difficult verse, with which I grappled last night until bed-time and beyond. It is doubtless full of meaning that I haven't been able to dig out. But here goes:

The mandaara tree and the paari-jaata ("fully developed") tree, according to the Monier Williams dictionary, are one and the same species of tree -- Erythrina Indica.

So is Ashvaghosha suggesting the fact that Gautama Buddha was different (anye; see 10.19; 10.21) from other human beings just in the completeness of his being a human being?

Is buddha different from, more noble than, other states of human being precisely because in the state of buddha human being is most completely itself? Recognition along these lines would seem to be behind Ashvaghosha's description of Nanda's attainment in Canto 17:

Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served: without ambition, without partiality, without expectation; / Without fear, sorrow, pride, or passion; being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different.// (17.61)

If this is also the main gist of today's verse, then trees bowed down by lilies, which grow from bulbs and do not originally belong on trees, might be read as representing people who are labouring under the effort to be something other than what they really are.

The supreme practice which Dogen called the backward step of turning one's light and letting it shine, on the contrary, is to come back to one's self.

Lest there be any doubt that a buddha-ancestor regards this sitting practice, in the overall scheme of things, as reigning supreme, Zen Master Dogen spelled it out in the clearest possible terms in Shobogenzo chap. 72, Zanmai-o-zanmai, The Samadhi that is King of Samadhis.

Nevertheless, to know because of having read Shobogenzo that buddhas see sitting in lotus as supreme, and to sit in lotus on that basis, does not necessarily constitute a backward step to true sovereignty over oneself.

According to the teaching of FM Alexander, what really has overarching sovereignty in human affairs is the use of the head, neck and back in relation to each other and in relation to the limbs. Alexander called this "the primary control." If it is used badly -- for example, by hyper-extending the back and pulling the chin down, through trying to maintain what one deludedly conceives to be "the right posture" -- even sitting in the full lotus posture is liable to become the kind of journey described in the Lotus Sutra as wandering in distant lands.

So there is nothing incompatible between the teaching of buddha-ancestors like Ashvaghosha and Dogen, as I understand it, and the teaching of FM Alexander, as I understand it. One does not negate the other. For me there is in essence only one teaching, pointing me in the direction of sitting in full lotus and enjoying the samadhi of accepting and using the self.

Sitting in full lotus reigns supreme, as I see it, because it is the thing which, with the right kind of practice, allows us to be most completely who we originally are. But with the wrong kind of practice (i.e. the kind of unconscious behaviour which Alexander work aims to prevent) a bit of a gap is liable to open up. And a bit of a gap rapidly becomes greater than the distance between heaven and earth.

Ruddy red lotuses!

Bloody Buddhism.

EH Johnston:
There the Parijata tree rises shining with all the qualities of majesty, and plays the king over the mandara trees and other trees which are laden with the bloom of day-waterlillies and red lotuses.

Linda Covill:
The coral tree is ruler there, radiant with the qualities of majesty and lording it over the mandaras and water-lilies and trees of crimson lotuses that bow under their flowery weight.

mandaara-vRkShaan (acc. pl.): m. coral trees, mandara trees
mandaara: m. the coral tree , Erythrina Indica (also regarded as one of the 5 trees of paradise or svarga); heaven ; the thorn-apple
ca: and
kushe-shayaan (acc. pl. m.): water-lilied
kushe-shaya: m. a kind of tree (Pterospermum Acerifolium) ; m. the Indian crane; n. " lying in water " , a water-lily
kushe = loc. sg. kusha: n. water
shaya: mfn. lying
ca: and

puShp'-aanataan (acc. pl. m.): being bent down by flowers
puShpa: flower
aanata: mfn. bending , stooping , bowed ; humbled , submissive , obedient ; flat , sunk (not elevated)
koka-nadaan (acc. pl. m.): red water-lilied
koka-nada: n. the flower of the red water-lily
koka: m. the ruddy goose ; frog
nada: m. crying; a river ; = naDa: m. a species of reed
ca: and
vRkShaan (acc. pl.): m. trees

aakramya = abs. aa- √ kram: to step or go near to , come towards , approach , visit ; to step or tread upon (acc.); to hold fast with the hands , seize ; to attack , invade
maahaatmya-guNaiH (inst. pl.): with qualities of majesty
maahaatmya: n. (fr. mah"-aatman) magnanimity , highmindedness ; exalted state or position , majesty , dignity
guNa: m. a quality , peculiarity , attribute or property
viraajan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. vi- √ raaj: to reign , rule , govern , master (gen. or acc.) , excel (abl.) ; to be illustrious or eminent , shine forth

raajaayate = 3rd pers. sg. causative raaj: to reign , rule ; to illuminate , make radiant
yatra: ind. wherein
sa (nom. sg. m.): it, the [Pari-jata tree]
paari-jaataH (nom. sg.): m. the coral tree , Erythrina Indica (losing its leaves in June and then covered with large crimson flowers) ; N. of one of the 5 trees of paradise (produced at the churning of the ocean and taken possession of by indra from whom it was afterwards taken by kRiShNa)
paari: vṛddhi form of pari in comp.
pari-jaata: mfn. begotten by , descended from (abl.) ; fully developed
a-pari-jaata: mfn. not fully born, born prematurely

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.25: Playing (Four-Part Harmony)

yatr' aayataaMsh c' aiva tataaMsh ca taaMs taan
vaadyasya hetuun suShiraan ghanaaMsh ca
phalanti vRkShaa maNi-hema-citraaH
kriiDaa-sahaayaas tridash'-aalayaanaaM

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

There a diversity of musical instruments,

With lengthened [sinews] and widened [skins],
with open tubes and solid matter,

Are born as fruit
by the distinctively bejewelled and gilded trees

Which are the heaven-dwellers' playing companions.

The first line of today's verse not only speaks of music but also has a musical quality in its own sound, which is like a drum roll with its taam .. ta taam . taam taan.

Line 2, as I read, it contains the suggestion that the ultimate means of music making might be the voice of an individual human being -- especially one in which the neck is being allowed to release, to let the head go forward and up, to let the whole torso lengthen and widen.

As in yesterday's verse, the sense of synthesis of the organic and the inorganic is again apparent in line 3, as I read it. And it might be, in heaven as it is on earth, that the fruits of that synthesis are in exact correspondence with the trees that produce the fruits -- in the same way that apples grown on apple trees, and plums grow on plum trees, so that when we look at an apple growing on a tree we can be sure that it is an apple tree, and when we see plums budding on a tree we can be confident that it is nothing but a plum tree (copyright Zen Master Dogen, 1243; see Shobogenzo chap. 43, Kuge).

Line 4, as I read it, raises the question of whether sitting-dhyana can be a kind of play. And the answer might be more often than not that, no it can't. Not if we bring to the practice big desires and tainted attitudes it can't. Not as an ascetic practice it can't. Not as a means to some other important end it can't. Not as a way of trying to be right it can't. Not if our response to it is to give in to the instinctive tendency -- when confronted by any challenging stimulus -- to stiffen the neck, pull the head back, and hold the breath.

EH Johnston:
There the trees, gorgeous with gold and gems, assist the gods in their pastimes by bearing as fruit all kinds of musical instruments, of skin and string, hollow and solid.

Linda Covill:
Assistants to amusements in the gods' abodes, trees aglitter there with gems and gold bear instruments for music, extended in length or pulled taut, hollow or solid.

yatra: ind. wherein
aayataan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. stretched , lengthened
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
tataan (acc. pl. m.): extended , stretched , spread , diffused , expanded
ca: and
taan = acc. pl. m. tad: that, those (tad tad this and that , various , different)

vaadyasya = gen. sg. m. vaadya: mfn. mfn. to be said or spoken; to be played; m. or n. a musical instrument
hetuun (acc. pl.): m cause , reason, means
su-Shiraan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. " having a good tube or channel " , perforated , pierced , hollow
ghanaan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. compact , solid , material , hard , firm , dense ; m. any compact mass or substance (generally ifc.)
ca: and

phalanti = 3rd pers. pl. phal: to bear as fruit
vRkShaaH (nom. pl.): m. tree
maNi-hema-citraaH (nom. pl. m.): conspicuous with jewels and gold
maNi: m. a jewel , gem , pearl
heman: n. gold
citra: mfn. conspicuous , excellent , distinguished; bright , clear , bright-coloured ; variegated ; various , different , manifold

kriiDaa-sahaayaaH (nom. pl. m.): playmates, playing companions
kriiDaa: f. sport , play , pastime , amusement , amorous sport
sahaaya: " one who goes along with (another) " , a companion , follower , adherent , ally , assistant , helper in or to (loc. or comp. ; ifc. " having as a companion or assistant , accompanied or supported by ")
tridash'-aalayaanaam (gen. pl.): m. " abode of the gods " , heaven; n. a heaven-dweller , god
tri-dasha: mfn. 3 x 10 (= 30); the 3 x 10 (in round number for 3 x 11) deities (12 aadityas , 8 vasus , 11 rudras , and 2 ashvins); n. heaven
aalaya: m. and n. a house , dwelling; (often ifc. e.g. himaalaya , " the abode of snow. ")