Monday, July 25, 2011

Canto 10: A Vision of Heaven

In reviewing this canto, the main change I noticed that I wanted to make concerned the tiger's tail mentioned in 10.10. The original Sanskrit of line 2 is laaNguula-cakreNa kRt'-aapasavyaH, lit. "making on the right, with a tail-circle." Previously I translated this as "Its tail curled over its right shoulder," and commented that I thought the line alluded to the traditional method of wearing a robe -- i.e. with the right shoulder bare. But when the robe is worn in this traditional manner, of course, the robe is not over the right shoulder; it is over the left shoulder, forming a loop or a circle that passes under the right armpit. With this in mind, I have changed line 2 to "Its tail curling around its right shoulder."

The day that I made that mistake in translating 10.10 was the day I veered off the road and fell off my bike. In making the translation mistake, I got left and right the wrong way round, which is a common dyslexic symptom, the real roots of which lie, deep in the brain, in faults in the vestibular system. Veering off the road in the wrong direction may also have been the manifestation of vestibular dysfunction.

Whether riding a bike down here on all-too-solid earth, or painting a picture of heaven, it is vital to have a reliable sense that left is left, right is right, down is down, and up is up.

The less reliable a person's unconscious sense of where he is in space, the more dangerous it is for him to go directly for an end, relying on that unconscious sense.

Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

Thus he heard about Nanda
intending to give up on sincere practice,

Desiring to see his wife, wanting to go home;

And so the Sage summoned him
in his joyless weak-willed state,

Wishing to take him up out of it.

When Nanda, not yet arrived at liberation's path, arrived,

He of the beautiful mind questioned him,
whose mind was faltering.

Bowed down by humiliation,
Nanda confessed to one full of humility;

He told his intention to a master intention-knower.

And so the One Gone Well, seeing Nanda

Wandering in the darkness called "wife,"

Took his hand and flew up into the sky

Wishing to take him up --
like an honest man in the water bearing up a pearl.

A shining gold they shone

With their ochre robes, in the clear sky,

Like a pair of ruddy sheldrakes rising up from a lake,

Embracing one another with outstretched wings.

Filled with the heady fragrance of the divine deodar,

Full of rivers, lakes, springs and gulches,

And filled with gold ore

Was the Himalayan mountain full of divine seers
at which the two arrived, immediately.

On that auspicious mountain --
which was frequented by celestial singers and saints

And blanketed in smoke from burnt offerings --

As if on an island in an unsupported sky,
where no far shore is reached,

The two stood.

While the Sage, sense-power stilled,
remained there standing,

Nanda looked all around in amazement

At the caverns and bowers and forest-dwellers

That were the mountain's jewels and its guardians.

For there on a great long horn of white rock

Lay a peacock with its tail feathers arrayed

So as to resemble, on the arm of Bala
-- he of the long and full arms --

An armlet of cat's-eye gems.

A lion with shoulders made orange

From contact with orange-red arsenic ore

Looked like Ambika's crumpled armband

Of wrought silver streaked with refined gold.

A tiger, moving in an unhurried, expansive manner,

Its tail curling around its right shoulder,

As it went to drink at a mountain spring,

Looked like a man who, having arrived at water,
was offering it to his ancestors.

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.

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.

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.

Pestering the godly deodars,

Monkeys roved from peak to peak;

Obtaining from those trees no fruit, they went away,

As if from powerful masters whose favour is futile.

But lagging behind that troop

Was one whose face was red as pressed red resin --

A female monkey with one eye missing.

Seeing her, the Sage spoke this to Nanda:

"Which, Nanda, in beauty and in manner,

Is the lovelier in your eyes:

This one-eyed monkey,

Or the person who is the focus of your wishing?"

Addressed thus by the One Gone Well

Nanda said, with a slight smirk:

"How can a gap be measured, Glorious One!, between
that most excellent of women your sister-in-law,

And this tree-tormenting monkey?"

Then the Sage, hearing his protestation,

And having in mind a slightly unconventional means,

Took hold of Nanda as before

And proceeded to the pleasure-grove
of the royal bearer of the thunderbolt.

There one by one, season by season,
and moment by moment,

Trees convey their individual form;

While some odd ones also bring out

The combined manifold glory of all six seasons.

Some produce garlands and wreaths

Which are fragrant and affecting,
with variously interwoven strands,

And small round creations suited to the ear

Which are akin to earrings' opponents.

Trees there that abound in red lotuses

Look like trees ablaze.

Different trees, growing full-blown blue lotuses,

Seem to have their eyes open.

In various colourless hues, or else white;

Beautifully illuminated with golden dividing lines;

Beyond the weaving together of strands,
being nothing but a unity;

Are the exquisite robes that trees there bear as fruit.

Pearl necklaces, gemstones, supreme earrings,

Choicest armlets, and ankle bracelets,

Are the kinds of ornaments, fit for heaven,

That trees there bear as fruit.

There rise golden lotuses with beryl stems

And diamond shoots and stamens;

Receptive to touch, they have a scent of the ultimate:

Still pools without ripples allow them to grow.

There a diversity of musical instruments,

With lengthened [sinews] and widened [skins],
with open tubes and solid matter,

Are born as fruit
by the distinctively bejewelled and gilded trees

Which are the heaven-dwellers' playing companions.

Over mandara coral trees,

And over trees weighed down
with water-lily and ruddy lotus blossoms,

The 'Full Grown' Coral,
shining there with majestic qualities,

Steps up and reigns supreme.

Growing there, on soil tilled in Indra's heaven

By unwearying ploughs of austerity and discipline,

Are such trees as these, which are always adapting

To provide for sky-dwellers' enjoyment.

Birds there have bright red beaks,
the colour of red 'mind rock' arsenic;

And crystalline eyes;

And wings a deathly shade of yellow,
with intensely red tips;

And claws as red as red dye, but half white.

Birds which are -- again -- different,
with distinctively golden wings

And bright, beryl-blue eyes,

Birds called shinjirikas fly to and fro,

Carrying away minds and ears with their songs.

Adorned with curling feathers that are red at the tips,

Golden in the middle,

And the colour of beryl within borders,

There birds move.

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.

There, doing as they please, constantly erect,

Free from pain, free from aging, beyond sorrow --

Each by his actions inferior, superior, or in the middle,

Each letting his own light shine -- merit-makers rejoice.

Having first accepted the price in austerities

And made the decision to splash out on heaven,

Ascetics rich in austerities have their weary minds

Enthralled there by the flirting apsarases.

Seeing that world to be in a perpetually elevated state,

Free from
tiredness, sleep, discontent, sorrow, and disease,

Nanda deemed the ever-afflicted world of men,
under the sway of aging and death,

To be akin to a cremation ground.

Nanda beheld Indra's forest all around him,

His eyes wide open with amazement.

And the apsarases surrounded him,
bristling with joyous excitement,

While eyeing each other haughtily.

Eternally youthful and devoted purely to Love,

They are zones of recreation
open to all who have made merit,

Zones which are both heavenly and innocent --

The resort of gods, as a reward for austerities.

Odd ones among those women sang,
in low and in high voices,

Some pulled lotuses apart, playfully;

Others in the same vein danced,
bristling with mutual delight,

Limbs making exotic gestures,
Breasts perturbing pearl necklaces.

The faces of some, ear-rings atremble,

Peeped through chinks in the undergrowth

Like duck-dunked lotuses

Peeping through scattered and displaced leaves.

When he saw them emerging from their forest niches

Like ribbons of lightning from rainclouds,

Nanda's body trembled with passion

Like moonlight on rippling water.

Their heavenly form and playful gestures

He then mentally seized;

And, while his eye was appropriated by curiosity,

He became impassioned, as if from a thirst for union.

He became thirsty,
desirous of drinking up the apsarases,

Afflicted by a pervading itch to have them.

Dragged along by the mind-chariot
whose horse is the restless power of the senses,

He could not come to stillness.

For just as a man, by adding soda ash to dirty clothes,

Makes them even dirtier,

In order to remove dirt, not in order to increase it,

So the Sage had stirred the dust of passion in him.

Just as, wishing to draw faults from the body,

A healer would endeavour to aggravate them,

So, wishing to kill the red taint of passion in him,

The Sage brought about an even greater passion.

Just as a light in the dark is extinguished

By the thousand-rayed brightness of the rising sun,

So the lovely radiance of women in the human world

Is put in the shade by the apsarases' shining splendour.

Great beauty blots out lesser beauty,

A loud noise drowns out a small noise,

And a severe pain kills a mild pain --

Every big stimulus tends to extinguish a minor one.

And Nanda was able, relying on the power of the Sage,

To endure that sight unendurable to others.

For the mind of a man lacking dispassion,
when he was weak,

Would be burned up by the apsarases' shining splendour.

Deeming then that Nanda
was roused to a new height of passion,

His passion having turned from love of his wife,

And desiring to fight passion with passion,

The dispassionate Sage spoke these words:

"Look at these women who dwell in heaven

And, having observed, truly tell the truth:

Do you think more of these women
with their lovely form and excellent attributes

Or the one upon whom your mind has been set?"

So, letting his gaze settle upon the apsarases,

Burning in his innermost heart with a fire of passion,

And stammering, with a mind stuck on objects of desire,

Nanda joined his hands like a beggar and spoke.

"Whatever difference there might be, Master,

Between that one-eyed she-monkey
and your sister-in-law,

Is the same when your poor sister-in-law

Is set against the lovely apsarases.

For just as previously, when I beheld my wife,

I had no interest in other women,

So now when I behold their beauty

I have no interest in her.

Just as someone who had been pained by mild sunshine

Might be consumed by a great fire,

So I who was previously toasted by a mild passion

Am now roasted by this blaze of passion.

Therefore pour on me the water of your voice,

Before I am burned, as was The Fishes' Foe;

For a fire of passion is going now to burn me up,

Like a fire rising up
to burn both undergrowth and treetops.

Please, O Sage firm as the earth, I am sinking,

Free me who am without firmness.

I shall give up my life, O man of liberated mind,

Unless you extend to a dying man
the deathless nectar of your words.

For a snake whose coils are calamity,
whose eyes are destruction,

Whose fangs are madness,
whose fiery venom is dark ignorance:

The snake of love has bitten me in the heart.

Therefore, Great Healer, supply the antidote!

For nobody bitten by this snake of love

Remains anything but unsettled in himself --

Bewildered was the mind of Vodhyu,
whose essence had been immovability,

While 'Good-Body' Shan-tanu,
a sensible man, grew gaunt.

In you who abides conspicuously in the state of refuge,
I seek refuge.

So that I might not go through this world
loafing hither and thither,

And so that, after coming to that abode
which is my adversity-ending end,

I might go beyond,
please help me who is repeatedly pleading."

Desiring to dispell that darkness in his heart

Like the moon
dispersing the darkness that rises by night,

Then spoke the moon of great seers,
the disperser of the world's darkness,

The one devoid of darkness -- Gautama:

"Embracing firmness, shaking off indecision,

And getting a grip of hearing and heart, listen!

If you desire these women

Practise now the utmost asceticism to pay their price.

For these women are conquered
neither by force nor by service,

Neither by gifts nor by good looks;

They are mastered just by dharma-conduct.

If aroused, practise dharma diligently.

Perching here in heaven with gods;

Delightful forests; ageless women --

This is the fruit of your own pure action.

It is not conferred by another; nor is it without cause.

For through strenuous efforts on earth
-- drawing a bow and the like --

A man may sometimes win women,
or else he may not;

But what is certain is that,
through his practice of dharma here and now,

These women in heaven can belong
to a man of meritorious action.

So delight in restraint, being attentive and ready,

If you desire to secure the apsarases,

And I guarantee that,
insofar as you persist in your observance,

You certainly shall be one with them."

"From now on, I will!" he agreed.

Believing intently in the supreme Sage,
he had become extremely determined.

Then the Sage,
gliding down from the sky like the wind,

Brought him back down again to earth.

The 10th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda,
titled "A Vision of Heaven."

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