Friday, September 2, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.39: Returning Like a Three-Day Monk (Or Not)

kRtv" aapi duShkaraM karma
svargaM labhdv" aapi dur-labham
nR-lokaM punar ev' aiti
pravaasaat sva-gRham yathaa

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

Even having done action that is hard to do,

And reached a heaven that is hard to reach,

A man comes right back to the world of men,

As if to his own house after a spell away.

The metaphor of a man who returns to his original house must have had a particular resonance for the likes of Ashvaghosha and Ananda who had left their homes and their families and for whom there would be no going back.

In that light, I think this verse is also part of a meditation on the irony of impermanence. Because separation is the celestial constant, i.e., because the 2nd law of thermodynamics is the universal rule, the wheel of samsara continues to turn. Samsara is impermanence itself.

The irony is that because of impermanence there are events from which there is no turning back, like birth, like death, like firewood becoming ash, and like a seeker of truth leaving home never to return. Hence...

In order to go entirely beyond the sphere of desire, he overpowered those enemies that grab the heel, / So that he attained, because of practice, the fruit of not returning, and stood as if at the gateway to the citadel of Nirvana.// [17.41]

Because of impermanence, Nanda who had been sorely tempted to go back to his own house after a spell away, was able to attain the fruit of the anaagaamin, the one who does not go back, the one who does not backslide into samsara. Nanda was able to realize that fruit because of impermanence, and at the same time because of practice (yogaat).

EH Johnston:
Man performs the most difficult tasks and reaches Paradise the inaccessible, only to come back again to the world of men as if he were returning to his home from a journey.

Linda Covill:
A man can perform deeds difficult to do and even win heaven so hard to win, but he comes back to the human world, just as a traveler returns home after living abroad.

kRtvaa = abs. kR: to do, make
api: even also
duSh-karam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. hard to be done or borne , difficult , arduous
karma = acc. sg. karman: n. act, action

svargam (acc. sg.): m. heaven
labhdvaa = abs. labh: to reach, obtain, gain, win
api: even also
dur-labham (acc. sg. m.): mfn. mfn. difficult to be obtained or found , hard , scarce , rare

nR-lokam (acc. sg.): m. the world of men , the earth
punar: ind. again, back
eva: (emphatic)
eti = 3rd pers. sg. i: to go; (with punar) to come back again , return

pravaasaat (abl. sg.): m. dwelling abroad , foreign residence , absence from home
sva-gRham (acc. sg.): n. one's own house
yathaa: ind. in which manner or way , according as , as , like

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