Monday, June 13, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.23: Earrings, As Opposed to Buddhism

haaraan maNiin uttama-kuNDalaani
keyuura-varyaaNy atha nuupuraaNi
evaMvidhaany aabharaNaani yatra
svarg'-aanuruupaaNi phalanti vRkShaaH

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

Pearl necklaces, gemstones, supreme earrings,

Choicest armlets, and ankle bracelets,

Are the kinds of ornaments, fit for heaven,

That trees there bear as fruit.

To translate uttama-kuNDalaani literally as "supreme earrings" or "the ultimate earrings" doesn't sound quite right. It is a phrase more likely to be found in advertizing copy than in a Buddhist text. In Buddhism, how can earrings be described as supreme? But I think this might be just Ashvaghosha's point -- to express, in the supremacy of earrings, the negation of Buddhism.

To paraphrase Zen Master Dogen from Shobogenzo chap. 3, Genjo-koan, when all things are seen as the manifestation of true Buddhism, then there are ordinary trees and different ones, blazing red lotuses and cool blue lotuses, mundane clothes and dharma-robes. When on the contary everything is seen irreligiously or objectively, then there are pearl necklaces, gemstones, and earrings which -- irrespective of the low intrinsic value that religious types tend to assign to them -- can be worth enough on the open market to pay for very many pairs of straw sandals.

In these terms, the four verses from 10.19 to 10.22 can be read as belonging to what Gudo Nishijima used to call "the first phase." And with today's verse Ashvaghosha's standpoint switches to a more objective consideration of how it might be in heaven -- as it is on earth.

So heaven as Ashvaghosha envisions it is not only a place where natural beauty naturally blossoms, but heaven is also a place full of jewelled earrings and other manufactured objects designed expensively to titillate the senses.

In short, in this verse Ashvaghosha as I hear him is imagining that in heaven there are things which don't have any Buddhist meaning, just as sometimes down here on earth what meets the eye is only fences, walls, tiles and pebbles.

In the first phase, there is Buddhism, as opposed to earrings (pratyarthi-bhuuta iva kuNDalaanaam; 10.20). In the second phase, in heaven as it is on earth, there must be earrings, as opposed to Buddhism.

EH Johnston:
Others bear ornaments of the kinds suited for Paradise, such as ropes of pearls, jewels, fine earrings, magnificent armlets and anklets.

Linda Covill:
Pearl necklaces, gems, superb earrings, wonderful armlets, anklets -- these are the kind of heaven-suited jewels that trees there bear as fruit.

haaraan (acc. pl.): m. a garland of pearls , necklace (accord. to some , one of 108 or 64 strings)
maNiin (acc. pl.): m. a jewel , gem , pearl (also fig.) , any ornament or amulet , globule , crystal
uttama-kuNDalaani (acc. pl. n.): supreme earrings
uttama: mfn. uppermost, highest
kuNDala: n. a ring , ear-ring; bracelet

keyuura-varyaaNi (acc. pl. n.): choice armlets
keyuura: n. a bracelet worn on the upper arm
varya: mfn. to be chosen ; excellent , eminent , chief , principal , best of (gen. or comp.)
atha: and, then, moreover
nuupuraaNi (acc. pl. n.): an ornament for the toes or ankles or feet , an anklet

evaM-vidhaani (acc. pl. n.): mfn. of such a kind , in such a form or manner , such
aabharaNaani (acc. pl.): n. ornament , decoration (as jewels &c )
aa-bharaNa: n. decorating
bharaNa: n. wearing, putting on
yatra: ind. wherein

svarg'-aanuruupaaNi (acc. pl. n.): suited to heaven
svarga: m. heaven
anuruupa: mfn. following the form , conformable , corresponding , like , fit , suitable
phalanti = 3rd pers. pl. phal: to bear or produce fruit
vRkShaaH (nom. pl.): m. tree

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