Friday, August 19, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.25: Varieties of Abstinence

titaaDayiShayaa dRpto
yathaa meSho 'pa-sarpati
tadvad a-brahma-caryaaya
brahma-caryam idaM tava

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

Just as, in its desire to charge,

A wild ram draws back,

So, for the sake of non-abstinence,

Is this devout abstinence of yours!

It is evident from the story of handsome Nanda that the Buddha regarded some forms of abstinence as laudable. It is equally evident that ancient buddha-ancestors regarded some form of abstinence as laughable, or pitiful.

Truly devout practice, on the evidence of Ashvaghosha's writing, is not for the sake of non-abstinence and not for the sake of abstinence. Truly devout practice is practice done for the sake of peace (shaantaye; e.g. [11.26]) and for the sake of release (mokShaaya; e.g. [17.3]).

In his Sanskrit text, EHJ emended dRpto (wild) in line 1 to sRpto (slunk) on the basis of the research of an Italian scholar named Tucci (Rivista degli Studi Orientali X. p. 145) who found today's verse and 11.30 quoted in the Chinese translation of Vasubandhu's commentary on the Shatashaastra of Bodhisattva Deva.

In his subsequent English translation, however, EHJ realized he had done something silly and reverted to dRpto as per the palm-leaf manuscript.

Kanadeva was the 15th ancestor and Vasubandhu was the 21st ancestor, of the lineage in which Ashvaghosha was the 12th ancestor.

EHJ's emendation, erroneous though it seems to have been, is interesting in indicating that Ashvaghosha's teaching was seminal for Vasubandhu, whose teaching (including investigation into aa-laya vijNaana, or storehouse consciousness) is itself regarded as seminal in Indian philosophy.

The 28 buddha-ancestors of ancient India were all celibate monks. Some wrote epic verse, some wrote a lot of commentaries, some seem not to have left any record of their words. In the interests of peace and of release, so they say, each was totally restrained by stillness. In Dogen's words: GOTSU-CHI NI SAERARU.

Going directly for this stillness, not in the interest of peace and of release but for the sake of some other end, such as union with a celestial nymph or becoming a buddha-ancestor, tends to result in lengthening at the expense of widening, stillness at the expense of fixity.

The teaching of FM Alexander, it seems to me, in the interest of peace and of release, can be preventive medicine against going directly for anything at the expense of anything else.

In the first instance it may be necessary to see end-gaining at the root of suffering, which is what Ananda is helping Nanda to do in the present canto. As a result of these efforts, Nanda is able in Canto 12 to gain confidence in a better way which leads him in the direction of peace and of release.

Fundamentally, this better way of which the Buddha speaks (shreyas) as I understand it, it is not a better way than non-abstinence. It is a better way than end-gaining.

EH Johnston:
Just as a savage ram draws back in order to charge, so you are following the holy life for an object which is contrary to it.

Linda Covill:
Just as a wild ram draws back when he is about to charge, likewise this celibacy of yours is undertaken for the sake of sex.

titaaDayiShayaa = inst. sg. titaaDayiShaa: f. (fr. desid. taD [?]) desire to charge
taD: to beat , strike , knock , strike (with arrows) , wound , punish
dRptaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. mad , wild , proud , arrogant
sRptaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. crept , crawled &c
sRp: to creep , crawl , glide , slink , move gently or cautiously

yathaa: ind. just as
meShaH (nom. sg.): m. a ram
apasarpati = 3rd pers. sg. apa- √ sRp: to move off, retreat

tadvad: ind. so, in like manner
a-brahma-caryaaya (dat. sg.): for non-abstinence
a-brahma-carya: mfn. not keeping a vow of continence , unchaste

brahma-caryam (nom. sg.): n. study of the veda , the state of an unmarried religious student , a state of continence and chastity
brahman: n. (lit. " growth " , " expansion " , " evolution " , " development " " swelling of the spirit or soul " ); holy life (esp. continence , chastity)
idam (nom. sg. n.): this
tava (gen. sg.): of yours


an3drew said...

"So, for the sake of non-abstinence,"


"So, for the sake of the apsarases"

actually maybe there's no single english word since several meanings are needed including "non abstinence"

that's to capture the complexities of nandas character !

Mike Cross said...

Yes, of course the intended meaning is "for the sake of having sex with the apsarases."

But in the original Sanskrit a-brahma-caryam, "non-abstinence" or "non-celibacy" is opposed to brahma-caryam, whose meanings include "abstinence" or "celibacy."