Monday, July 4, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.44: Earthly Loveliness Obscured by Heavenly Loveliness

diipa-prabhaM hanti yath" aandha-kaare
sahasra-rashmer uditasya diiptiH
manuShya-loke dyutim aNganaanaam
antar-dadhaaty apsarasaaM tathaa shriiH

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

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.

This is the third in a series of four verses whose various metaphors illustrate the method behind the Buddha's use of a heavenly vision of stunning nymphs to bring Nanda to new heights of passion, even greater than the passion he felt for Sundari.

In passing, we notice that whereas the ascetic striver of cantos 8 & 9 seeks to portray women in the human world as inherently ugly and disgusting, Ashvaghosha himself in this verse acknowledges the lovely radiance or splendour (dyuti) of women in this world.

And this difference, as I perceive it, is not the difference between two opposing views, i.e., a pessimistic vs an optimistic view of the beauty of women. It is rather the difference between one who, as a preacher of propriety, is concerned with trying to be right, and one whose eyeballs have sprung free of that restriction.

The striver is more concerned about preaching to Nanda what behaviour is fitting, right, appropriate for a celibate monk. The emphasis of the Buddha and of Ashvaghosha is more on demonstrating, to Nanda and to the reader, a fundamental truth -- the truth of impermanence. And keen reflection on this truth causes Nanda to opt of his own volition for a better way (shreyas). This better way, as the Buddha and as Nanda choose to follow it, is a way of celibacy. But what it is better than, as I understand it, is not non-celibacy. What it is better than is trying to be right according to the lowly end-gaining principle.

This, at least, is how I see it, as one who has wasted far too much of his life going round trying to be right.

My old Zen teacher had some understanding of trying to be right. He equated the tendency with idealism. Observing that western people, or white people, had brains like computers, he opined that they could solve the problem of idealism by reading in his books the outline of "true Buddhism," which is neither idealism nor materialism.

The irony here is that my teacher's teaching, with its emphasis on self-adjustment of posture, was nothing but a variation on the theme of idealistic trying to be right. It failed to address the original source of trying to be right, which is not a failure to understand Buddhist philosophy, but is a fear of being wrong in oneself. To the extent that this fear is irrational, being rooted in infantile panic vs fear paralysis, the "brains like computers" model is a woefully inadequate one.

If not philosophical understanding then what, truly, is the antidote to that pernicious tendency of trying to be right which only makes a man of faulty sensory appreciation even more wrong?

The Buddha's answer, it seems to me, is not belief. Not belief in a teaching, not belief in a teacher. Not belief in a god, not belief in a prophet. Not even belief in a principle or a way. The Buddha's answer, in a scarily uncertain world governed by the law of impermanence, begins not with belief but with confidence. Confidence in a better way (shreyas). Confidence in a better way than the trying to be right which is rooted in fear of being wrong.

Objectively, I see it working in the work of my brother and my wife who teach nervous swimmers a better way to be in the water, in which fear gives way to confidence. I see it working in the developmental work my wife and I do with children suffering from immature primitive reflexes.

Still, getting beyond fear of being wrong is not easy -- not for me, not I dare say for my brother who has the same faulty genetic inheritance as me, and not even for my wife, whose faulty sensory appreciation is not so severe and who, even as she approaches 50, still has her radiant moments.

Really speaking, whether celestial nymphs exist, except in buddha-ancestors' thought experiments, I seriously doubt. But here on earth, beautiful women exist.

What man, then, except one who was too busy trying to be right and fearing to be wrong, would fail to recognize the lovely radiance of women in this world?

EH Johnston:
Just as the brilliance of the rising sun eclipses the light of a candle in the darkness, so the glory of the Apsarases renders invisible the lustre of women in the world of men.

Linda Covill:
As the radiance of the rising thousand-rayed sun annihilates lamplight in the darkness, so does the glory of the apsarases obscure the shine of women in the world of humankind.

diipa-prabhaam (acc. sg.): lamp-light
diipa: m. a light , lamp , lantern
prabhaa: f. light
hanti = 3rd pers. sg. han: to mar , destroy ; obstruct, hinder
yathaa: ind. just as
andha-kaare (loc. sg.): darkness
andha: mfn. blind; n. darkness
kaara: mfn. making

sahasra-rashmeH (gen. sg. m.): mfn. thousand-rayed ; m. the sun
sahasra: n. a thousand
rashmi: m. a string, cord ; a ray of light , beam
uditasya (gen. sg. m.): mfn. risen , ascended ; being above , high , tall , lofty
diiptiH (nom. sg.): f. brightness , light , splendour , beauty

manuShya-loke (loc. sg.): the human world
dyutim (acc. sg.): f. splendour (as a goddess) , brightness , lustre , majesty , dignity
aNganaanaam (gen. pl.): f. " a woman with well-rounded limbs " , any woman or female

antar-dadhaati = 3rd pers. sg. antar- √ dhaa: to place within; to hide , conceal , obscure
apsarasaam (gen. pl.): f. apsaras, celestial nymph
tathaa: ind. so, similarly
shriiH (nom. sg.): f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory , beauty , grace , loveliness


an3drew said...



















children !

Mike Cross said...

Using the space bar like that is a very poor substitute for carving out one's own niche in space by sitting. Words like Ashvaghosha's are important to me because behind them is wisdom rooted in sitting.

an3drew said...

i think our viewpoints are quite wide apart and i do hold it very much to your credit you haven't banned me or deleted my posts except the first which you must be tempted to do, the viewpoints being so divergent!

i also think you have a strong intutive understanding, that perhaps has been lost sight of

i don't sit, too adhd to sit anyway,

but have spent many years by myself, pretty much a hermit, imo sitting is a toxic facsimile of solitude

sitting seems to induct a sort of schizophrenia



























life !












into !






imo !

an3drew said...

from what i have read of Ashvaghosha he was most likely a wandering minstrel

you can tell from his writing he never did seated meditation, he was sane : o )

Mike Cross said...

I haven't met you and won't presume to advise you. But as a general principle, I know from my work, on self and with others, that ADHD (including the inability to sit still) is often rooted in immature primitive reflexes, particularly the symmetrical tonic neck reflex. And a very effective way of integrating this reflex, and thus helping the whole nervous system to mature, is to practice prostrating oneself on the floor and standing up, slowly and consciously.

The symmetrical tonic neck reflex splits the body into two halves, upper and lower. So what you experience as a kind of schizophrenia may in fact simply be a symptom of an immature symmetrical tonic neck reflex.

As a general rule, for those who find sitting too difficult, doing prostrations is also an excellent way of investigating space -- much better than, for example, incessantly tapping at a space bar on a keyboard.