Friday, June 3, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.13: Back to Breasts & Buttocks

darii-cariiNaam ati-sundariiNaaM
vRndaani rejur dishi kiMnariiNaaM
puShp'-otkacaanaam iva vallariiNaaM

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

Hanging out in nooks and crannies,
and going beyond Beauty

With their heart-stealing hips, breasts and bellies,

Were the bevies of kimnaris
who appeared in every quarter,

Like creepers with flowers in their upward winding curls.

This verse brings us back again to the subject of ravishing breasts and buttocks. Within Ashvaghosha's overall scheme I think today's verse can be read as a a kind of milestone referring back to where Nanda has come from and pointing forwards towards where he is going.

With its references to easy female beauty, and to kimnaris, today's verse harks back to Nanda's preoccupations as described in Canto 4:

Like kimnara boy meeting kimnara girl by a cascading mountain torrent, in love with love, / The two of them flirted and shone as if vying to outdo one another in alluring radiance. // [4.10]

With her swelling breasts for clouds and her full thighs for buttresses, her lean abdomen was like a golden fissure in a rock formation: / Nanda could no more be satisfied by glancing at Sundari than by drinking water with one hand.// [4.41]

But the verse, as I read it, also hints at the means-whereby the Buddha will enable Nanda to get over Sundari -- not by encouraging Nanda to suppress his sexual desire for the beautiful Sundari, but by encouraging Nanda to investigate for himself whether chasing even sexual objects who are beyond earthly beauty, is really a way to happiness.

Hence ati-sundarii in line 1 can be read not only as a description of the kimnaris as "beyond beautiful," but also as a suggestion that Nanda is on the upward winding way to getting over the Beauty who is Sundari herself, and thereby moving in the direction of enjoying the simple life....

Incidentally, yesterday while I was asking myself what might be an appropriate collective noun for kimnaris, with connotations of aggregations of creepers, I briefly considered translating vRndaani kiMnariiNaam as "complications of kimnaris."

But on reflection, I should be clear that it is not kimnaris that make life complicated. In the final analysis it is neither sexual desire nor the objects of sexual desire that cause life to become complicated. What causes life to become complicated is rather our own deluded fearful reactions to stimuli, those reactions being so strong that we are liable to become unduly afraid of the stimulus. I have written that this verse is about breasts and buttocks, but what I really think this verse is about, I have not written, for fear of offending others and shocking myself: tits and ass.

Thus stimulated by the potentially scary content of today's verse, I would like to remind myself of the following: the religious tendency is to try to be right, fearing to be sinful and wrong; the tendency of Buddhist scholars is to put forward and defend a view, in order to get a doctorate or otherwise advance an academic career. But Ashvaghosha does not belong to either camp.

I am indebted to Gudo Nishijima for teaching me, even though his Zazen teaching, in practice, was not free of religious pursuit of rightness. I am indebted to EH Johnston, Richard Gombrich and Linda Covill for making the teaching of Ashvaghosha more accessible. But most of all I am indebted to Ashvaghosha himself, for being not in either camp, for being neither Buddhist monk not excellent Sanskrit poet, for being a person who is ineffable.

What Ashvaghosha's teaching is I don't know. But whatever Buddhist monks and Buddhist scholars say it is, I say (hopefully not in the spirit of trying to be right): nope, it is not that.

EH Johnston:
Swarms of Kinnaris, very beautiful with ravishing hips, breasts and waists, who lived in the ravines, appeared on all sides like creepers tressed with flowers.

Linda Covill:
All around appeared clusters of surpassingly lovely cavern-dwelling kinnaris with gorgeous hips, breasts and bellies, their hair coiled like creeping flowers.

darii-cariiNaam (gen. pl. f.): dwelling in holes in the ground
darii: f. a hole in the ground, cave
√ dRR: to break asunder, split open
cara: ifc. going , walking , wandering , being , living
ati-sundariiNaam (gen. pl. f.): mfn. too beautiful, beyond Sundari
ati: ind. passing , going beyond; too (often prefixed to nouns and adjectives , and rarely to verbs , in the sense excessive , extraordinary)
sundara: mfn. beautiful , handsome , lovely , charming , agreeable
sundarii: f. a beautiful woman , any woman ; name of Nanda's wife

manohara-shroNi-kuc'-odariiNaam (gen. pl. f.): heart-stealing buttocks, breasts, and belly
manohara: mfn. " heart-stealing " , taking the fancy , fascinating , attractive , charming , beautiful
shroNi: f. the hip and loins , buttocks
kuca: m. the female breast , teat
udara: n. the belly , abdomen

vRndaani (nom. pl.): n. a heap , multitude , host , flock , swarm , number , quantity , aggregation ; a bunch , cluster (of flowers or berries &c ) ; a chorus of singers and musicians
rejur = 3rd pers. pl. raaj: to be illustrious or resplendent , shine , glitter ; to appear as or like (iva)
dishi (loc. sg. f.): in all directions , everywhere
kiMnariiNaam = gen. pl. kiMnarii: f. a female kiMnara

puShp'-otkacaanaam (gen. pl. f.): tressed with flowers
puShpa: n. a flower, blossom
utkaca: mfn. hairless ; full blown
ud: up, upwards
kaca: m. the hair (esp. of the head)
utkacaya: to coil the hair upwards
iva: like
vallariiNaam (gen. pl.): f. a creeper , any climbing or creeping plant (also fig. applied to curled hair)


an3drew said...

in the light of infinity







tenuous !

Mike Cross said...

Ha! Maybe so... or maybe that is a somewhat optimistic view. I would say that, in the light of bitter experience, the power and danger of attachment to a woman is under-estimated at a bloke's peril!

an3drew said...













: o )











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