Friday, September 9, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.46: Buying Heaven; and Leaving It

bhuuridyumno yayaatish ca
te c' aanye ca nRpa'-rShabhaaH
karmabhir dyaam abhikriiya
tat-kShayaat punar atyajan

= = = = - = = -
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Bhuri-dyumna and Yayati

And other excellent kings,

Having bought heaven by their actions,

Left it again, after that karma ran out --

There are two ways, at least, of reading this verse.

Bhuri-dyumna was apparently known for his piety. His fall from heaven, according to EHJ's notes, is documented in Book 2 of the Ramayana (II. 81, 23-24.). According to this Ramayana translation, however, Book 2, Canto 81 has only 16 verses.

Much more information is available on Yayati, who Asvhaghosha already mentioned, in a somewhat affirmative context, in 1.59:

Those equals of Indra took charge of that city with noble ardour but without arrogance; / And they thus took on the fragrance of honour, forever, like the celebrated sons of Yayati.// [1.59] .

The ambiguity of today's verse, as I read it, derives from the dual nature of Yayati's karma, which was both bad and in the end good, and from the ambiguity of the final word of today's verse atyajan, "they left."

On the negative side of Yayati's karmic balance sheet, he cheated on his wife Devayani. She was the daughter of Sage Shukracharya, the guru of all asuras or anti-gods (who are the complaining protaganists of tomorrow's verse, 11.47). Sage Shukracharya put a curse on Yayati so that, for his sins, he immediately became an old man. Instead of accepting this fate, Yayati created still more bad karma for himself by trying to get one of his five sons to give him their own youth.

On the positive side, Yayati eventually realized the futility of his former shallow actions, let go of his worldly ambitions and took great pains to redeem himself.

Given that Saundara-nanda itself is essentially a tale of redemption, I wonder whether Ashvaghosha is intending to portray Yayati in a somewhat positive light. I wonder, then, if the running out of karma described in line 4 should be understood as the running out of good karma, or the running out of bad karma.

If we understand tat-kShayaat as the running out of good karma, then the departure described by tyaj, "to leave," is no different from the falling back and down, or backsliding, described in several previous verses.

But if, digging deeper, we understand tat-kShayaat as the running out of bad karma, then tyaj is expressing not a fall from grace but, on the contrary, the giving up or letting go of something.

In that case, nRpa'-rShabhaaH, "royal bulls," means not your run-of-the-mill ancient kings, but kings who were excellent among kings.

And true excellence in the Buddha's teaching, invariably, might have to do with tyaj, or leaving something be.

The ultimate truth of sitting, in the end, might be not to do anything but just to leave everything be.

And the ultimate difficulty might be that we are ever liable to turn letting into a doing.

Hence FM Alexander was once overheard telling a pupil during a lesson: "You are doing what you call leaving yourself alone."

My own teacher, Gudo Nishijima, never worried about such niceties. He just merrily got on with out-and-out doing, not worrying whether it was good or bad. And there was a kind of freedom in that approach. A kind of blissful ignorance.

EH Johnston:
Bhuridyumna, Yayati and other royal seers purchased heaven with their actions, but on the exhaustion of their merit left it again.

Linda Covill:
Bhuri-dyumna, Yayati and those other bull-like kings bought heaven with their deeds, but left it again when their merit ran out.

bhuuri-dyumnaH (nom. sg.): m. Bhuri-dyumna; m. " possessing great glory " , N. of a pious prince (son of vīra-dyumna)
bhuuri: mfn. much , many , abundant , frequent , numerous , great , important , strong , mighty ; wealth
dyumna: n. splendour , glory , majesty , power , strength
yayaatih (nom. sg.): m. (prob. fr. √ yat) N. of a celebrated monarch of the lunar race (son of king nahuṣa whom he succeeded ; from his two wives came the two lines of the lunar race , yadu being the son of devayānī , daughter of uśanas or śukra , and puru of śarmiṣṭhā , daughter of vṛṣa-parvan ; yayāti nāhuṣa is also represented as the author of RV)
ca: and

te (nom. pl. m.); those, they
ca: and
anye (nom. pl. m.): others
ca: and
nRpa'-rShabhaaH (nom. pl. m.): best of kings, royal bulls
nR-pa: m. protector of men , prince , king
RShabha: m. a bull, the best or most excellent of any kind or race

karmabhiH = inst. pl. karman: n. acts, actions, deeds ; former act as leading to inevitable results , fate (as the certain consequence of acts in a previous life)
dyaam = acc. sg. div: mf. heaven, the sky
abhikriiya= abs. abhi- √ krii: to buy for a special purpose

tat-kShayaat (abl. sg.): after it ran out
kShaya: m. loss , waste , wane , diminution , destruction , decay , wasting or wearing away (often ifc.) ; fall (as of prices); end, termination
punar: ind. back again
atyajan = 3rd pers. pl. imperfect tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit; to leave a place , go away from

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