Wednesday, June 1, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.11: A Yak Stuck Like an Indebted Man

calat-kadambe himavan-nitambe
tarau pralambe camaro lalambe
chettuM vilagnaM na shashaaka baalaM
kul'-odgataaM priitim iv' aarya-vRttaH

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

A yak had got stuck in a dangling kadamba tree

Swaying on the Himalayan hillside:

Unable to free its tangled tail,

It was like a man of noble conduct
who cannot break away from a kindness
that has been shown in his House.

Just as 10.9 mirrors 10.8, with comparisons of purportedly imagined but truly real evolutionary marvels and purportedly real but truly imagined Brahman iconography; so 10.11 seems to mirror 10.10 in the way it turns around the conventional order of a metaphor. Conventionally, the explained element tends to be something less readily perceptible to the senses and the explanatory element more concrete and vivid -- as in the metaphor on which this blog is based of mining Ashvaghosha's gold. But in 10.10 and 10.11, Ashvaghosha is ostensibly trying to explain the behaviour of something objective and readily observable (moving tiger, non-moving yak) by means of an element which is less obviously physical (sincerity towards ancestors, gratitude/indebtedness).

What is Ashvaghosha up to? I think this and the previous verse are exercises in avoidance of preachiness. What Ashvaghosha as I hear him is saying here, if he were not saying it so indirectly, could easily sound offensively preachy -- at least to me, who doesn't like to be told to whom I am obliged to feel obliged. (I prefer to work it out for myself, thank you very much.)

The message of this verse, as I hear it, is the same message that Zen Master Dogen delivers somewhat more directly in Shobogenzo chap. 30 Gyoji. Dogen preaches in that chapter that, having received the benevolence of buddha-ancestors, not to endeavor to repay that benevolence would make us less than animals.

So as in the previous verse a gentle sense of humour seems to be at play, and a keen sense of irony: The teaching of buddha-ancestors sets us free. And yet, having been set free, even if only marginally, we are totally obliged to the buddha-ancestors and there is nothing for it but for us to keep seeking a way to serve them. In the words of Frederique the diligent builder, "Pas de choix."

EH Johnston:
On the slope of the mountain with its waving kadamba trees a yak was entangled in a hanging tree and could not cut off his tail which was caught in it, just as a man of noble conduct cannot give up a hereditary friendship.

Linda Covill:
A yak was caught in the overhang of a rustling kadamba tree on the Himalayan slope, unable to free his entangled tail, like a man of noble conduct who cannot cut free from an inherited friendship.

calat-kadambe (loc. sg.): with trembling kadamba trees
calat = pres. part. cal: to be moved , stir , tremble , shake , quiver , be agitated
kadamba: m. Nauclea Cadamba (a tree with orange-coloured fragrant blossoms)
himavan-nitambe (loc. sg.): on the backside of a snow-capped mountain
himavat: m. a snowy mountain; the Himalaya
nitamba: m. the buttocks or hinder parts (esp. of a woman ); (fig.) the ridge or side or swell of a mountain

tarau (loc. sg.): m. a tree
pralambe (loc. sg. m.): mfn. hanging down
camaraH (nom. sg.): m. a kind of ox called the Yak (Bos grunniens)
lalambe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. lamb: to hang down , depend , dangle , hang from or on (loc.); to be fastened or attached to , cling to , hold or rest on (loc.)

chettum = inf. chid: to cut off, cut through ; to divide , separate from; to destroy , annihilate , efface , blot out
vilagnam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. clung or fastened or attached to , resting or hanging on , connected with (loc.)
na: not
shashaaka = 3rd pers. sg. perf. shak: to be able
vaalam (acc. sg.): m. (later form of vaara ; also written baala) the hair of any animal's tail (esp. of a horse's tail) , any tail or hair

kul'-odgataam (acc. sg. f.): mfn. sprung from his noble family ; inherited from his lineage
kula: n. a herd; a race , family , community , tribe , caste; the residence of a family , seat of a community , inhabited country; house ; a noble or eminent family or race
udgata: mfn. gone up; come or proceeded forth , appeared; vomited
priitim (acc. sg.): f. pleasure, joy; friendly disposition , kindness , favour , grace , amity (with samam or ifc.) , affection , love
iva: like
aarya-vRttaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. behaving like an Aryan , honest , virtuous

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