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

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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 (inst.pl. 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

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