Wednesday, September 7, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.44: To Wriggle Or Not to Wriggle Free

raajyaM kRtv" aapi devaanaaM
papaata nahuSho bhuvi
praaptaH kila bhujaMgatvaM
n' aady' aapi parimucyate

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Though he ruled the gods,

Nahusha fell to earth;

He turned into a snake, so they say,

And even today has not wriggled free.

What do you want?
Qu'est-ce que vous voulez?
Some nice situation in samsara?
Or an exit route, however tough, out of samsara?

When one wakes up in the morning with stuff to do, as I woke up every morning for many years staring up at a high mountain called the translation of Shobogenzo into English, or as a mother wakes up every morning until her fledglings flee the nest, there is less latitude for asking oneself what one wants. But in recent years, finding myself on more and more days alone in France, with plentiful space and time, I have found myself asking myself: Qu'est-ce que vous voulez? What do you want?

In a couple of weeks my younger son will leave for university. Right now he is the Costa del Sol, my older son went back to his student digs in London last night, and my wife is in Japan where yesterday she attended her mother's funeral. (No doubt somebody was paid handsomely for croaking out the Heart Sutra... Qu'est-ce que vous voulez?) So this morning, though back at the Cross homestead in Aylesbury, I am all alone and it is unusually quiet, with not a plane in the sky. So the question naturally arises...

Qu'est-ce que vous voulez? Perhaps, like Nanda, monsieur might fancy a bevvy of gorgeous nymphs catering to his every sexual whim? Or how about some exalted position seated at the high table, or in the VIP lounge, alongside some exalted leader -- President Obama? David Cameron? Or maybe the Dalai Lama? Why not aim higher still for the absolute top spot in samsara? Rather than simply hob-nobbing with the likes of Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Simon Cowell and David Beckham, might it be better still to obtain dominion over them?

Book 13 of the Mahabharata tells the story of how King Nahusha gained just such an exalted position in samsara, assiduously performing Brahmanical rites and thereby becoming chief of the gods, knocking Indra off top spot. By his arrogance, however, Nahusha incurred the wrath of one of the Rishi who he had charged with carrying his palanquin. This Rishi, named Agastya, reacted to being booted in the head by placing a curse on Nahusha who duly turned into a great big snake and skulked off to a Himalayan cave.

Thereafter, the story goes, when a group of exiled Pandavas found the snake hiding in the cave, the Pandava leader Yudhi-sthira ("Firm in War") recognized that the snake was no ordinary snake and asked it about its origin. Nahusha then confessed and was relieved of his curse, shedding his snakely incarnation.

The story is recounted in detail in this somewhat abstruse translation, in this more bite-sized kids version, and in this version which is more in the middle way.

Whereas the ancient legend says that Nahusha was relieved of the curse, Ananda in today's verse says that Nahusha has not become free even today.

Ashvaghosha's has put into Ananda's mouth a statement that would have appeared to ancient Indian listeners to contradict the ancient legend.

The intention that Ananda is conveying, as I read it, is that regardless of whether Nahusha is back on top, or whether he remains in the world of animals, or whether he has moved on to some other realm of samsara, insofar as he has failed to wriggle free from samsara through the practice of yoga, samsara is just where he is stuck.

EH Johnston:
Though Nahusa ruled over the gods, yet he fell to earth and, it is said, became a snake and is not yet released (from that incarnation).

Linda Covill:
Though Nahusha reigned even over the gods, he fell to earth. They say he became a snake and is still not free.

raajyam (acc. sg.): n. royalty , kingship , sovereignty , empire (with √ kṛ to exercise government , rule , govern)
kRtvaa = abs. kR: to do
api: even, though
devaanaam (gen. pl.): m. god

papaata = 3rd pers. sg. pat: to fly , soar , rush on ; to fall down or off , alight , descend
nahuShaH (nom. sg.): m. name of an ancient king (son of āyu or āyus and father of yayāti ; he took possession of indra's throne but was afterwards deposed and changed into a serpent )
bhuvi (loc. sg.): f. earth

praaptaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. attained to , reached , arrived at , met with
kila: ind. " so said " " so reported "
bhujaMga-tvam (acc. sg. n.): the state of going in curves; snakehood
bhujaMga: m. (fr. bhujam ind. p. of √bhuj + ga) a serpent , snake , serpent-demon
√bhuj: to bend, curve
-tva: neuter abstract noun suffix

na: not
aadya: ind. today, now, nowadays
api: even
parimucyate = 3rd pers. sg. pari- √ muc: to loosen or free one's self , get rid of ; to be liberated or emancipated (from the ties of the world)

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