Thursday, June 2, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.12: Look What Non-Movement Throws Up

suvarNa-gauraash ca kiraata-saMghaa
sharduula-paata-pratimaa guhaabhyo
niShpetur udgaara iv' aacalasya

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Communities of golden mountain-men, the Kiratas,

Their limbs streaked with shining peacock gall,

Rushed out from their caves like flying tigers,

As if spewed out of the unmoving mountain.

EHJ's original Sanskrit text, based on the palm-leaf manuscript, has pattra for pitta in line 2, but EHJ says in his notes to his English translation that he would rather retain the reading pitta (bile, gall), as per the paper manuscript.

A few days ago I asked whether the present series of verses featuring a peacock, a lion, a tiger, and a yak, along with mountain-men and kimnari women, might best be understood as strands in a shaggy dog story leading up to the appearance of the one-eyed she-monkey. Digging below the surface of verses 10.8 and 10.9, and verses 10.10 and 10.11, has convinced me that there is much more to these verses than a shaggy dog story. What then might lie below the surface of today's verse?

For a start, the opening word suvarNa, golden, might suggest -- aside from the fact that the Kiratas were postulated to be of Mongoloid origin -- that there was something good, or free, or enlightened about the tribe of mountain-men who lived in the mythological Kirata Kingdom.

According to Wikipedia, in Manu's Dharmashastra (X.44) these mountain-men are mentioned as "degraded" kShatriyas. The Monier-Williams dictionary also notes that they were a "degraded" tribe, having become shuudras. Furthermore, it is said, these low-class Kiratas lived by hunting -- which is possibly how they acquired peacocks' gall. So what apart from the colour of their skin might be golden about these lethal men of the mountains?

The Wikipedia entry states that, though formerly kShatriyas, the Kiratas were "outside the ambit of Brahminical influence." Monier-Williams says that these mountain-men became shuudras "by their neglect of all prescribed religious rites."

As I have noted previously, whereas the words buddha and dharma appear frequently throughout Saundara-nanda, the word saMgha is nowhere used in a sense where it could be translated as "Buddhist community" or "brotherhood of Buddhist monks." It is interesting that in choosing a collective noun for irreligious mountain-men, however, Ashvaghosha went in line 1 of today's verse with saMghaaH ("communities").

Another key word in today's verse might be a-cala in line 4, which ostensibly in this context means the mountain. Literally, however, a-cala means non-movement -- as in 3.7 where the Buddha is described as sitting immovably stable as the king of mountains (acala-dhRtir adri-raaja-vat). So a-cala can be read as having the double meaning of (1) a mountain, or (2) the practice of non-movement, that produces communities of golden (if irreligious) men of the mountains.

What then of the peacocks' gall and flying tigers referred to in lines 2 and 3? In my comments to 10.8 and 10.10 I expressed a view on what was represented by the peacock and the tiger mentioned therein. I think that in the spirit of irreligiousness, Ashvaghosha's intention in this verse might be to negate all such views, bringing everything back to the one great matter.

To paraphrase today's verse, then, as I intuit its deeper meaning in four phases:

(1) Above religion, revere a mountain and see the value in a Kukri knife.
(2) If you meet a showy peacock on the road, don't hesitate to kill it.
(3) Don't worry about moving like an unhurried tiger.
(4) If you wish to know where all the teachings of the buddha-ancestors emerge from, look for their origin in non-movement.

Non-movement, as a mountain and as a conscious practice, is naturally full of movement. But in the sitting practice of the buddha-ancestors, as described in Canto 17, non-movement is a kind of target. Ironically, it is non-movement (but do not call it fixity) that gives sitting practice direction.

EH Johnston:
Troops of Kiratas, golden in colour and with limbs striped with gleaming peacocks' gall, looked like tigers charging as they emerged from the caves, or as if vomited out by the mountain.

Linda Covill:
As though the mountain spewed, there spilled forth groups of golden-bodied mountain tribespeople, their limbs streaked with shining peacock bile like tigers pouncing from their caves.

suvarNa-gauraaH (nom. pl. m.): golden-coloured
suvarNa: mfn. of a good or beautiful colour , brilliant in hue , bright , golden , yellow ; gold, made of gold
gaura: mfn. white , yellowish , reddish , pale red ; shining , brilliant , clean , beautiful
ca: and
kiraata-saMghaaH (nom. pl. m.): troops of Kiratas; multitudes of mountain-men
kiraata: m. pl. N. of a degraded mountain-tribe (inhabiting woods and mountains and living by hunting , having become shuudras by their neglect of all prescribed religious rites); m. a dwarf ; m. N. of shiva (as a mountaineer opposed to arjuna , described in bhaaravi's poem kiraat'-aarjuniiya)
saMgha: m. (fr. sam + √ han) " close contact or combination " , any collection or assemblage , heap , multitude , quantity , crowd , host , number

mayuura-pattr'-ojjvala-gaatra-lekhaaH (nom. pl. m.): their luminous limbs streaked with peacock feather [or bile?]
mayuura: m. peacock
pattra: n. (sometimes spelt patra) the wing of a bird , pinion , feather ; a leaf , petal
pitta: n. bile , the bilious humour
ujjvala: mfn. blazing up , luminous , splendid , light; lovely, beautiful
gaatra: n. " instrument of moving " , a limb or member of the body; the body
lekhaa: f. a scratch , streak , line , stroke , stripe , furrow ; the drawing of lines with fragrant substances (on the face , arms , breast &c )

sharduula-paata-pratimaaH (nom. pl. m.): like tigers flying out
sharduula: m. a tiger
paata: m. flying; throwing one's self or falling into (loc.) or from (abl.); alighting , descending
pat: to fly , soar , rush on
pratimaa: f. an image , likeness ; ifc. like , similar , resembling , equal to
guhaabhyaH (abl. pl.): f. a hiding-place , cave , cavern

niShpetur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. niSh- √ pat: to fly out of (abl.) , rush out , jump out , fall out , issue , depart , hasten away
udgaaraH (nom. sg.): m. the act of discharging , spitting out , ejecting (from the mouth) , vomiting , belching
ud- √gRR: to eject (from the mouth) , spit out , vomit out or up , belch out ; to pour out , discharge , spout
iva: like
acalasya = gen. sg. a-cala: mfn. not moving , immovable ; m. a mountain, rock

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