Wednesday, September 21, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.58: Towards Less Aspiration

yadaa c' aishvaryavanto 'pi / kShayiNaH svarga-vaasinaH /
ko naama svarga-vaasaaya / kSheShNave spRhayed budhaH //11.58//

- = = = / - = = = // - - = = / - = - =
= = = = / - = = = // = - = - / - = - =

Since heaven-dwellers, even when all-powerful,

Are subject to decay,

What wise man would aspire

To a decadent sojourn in heaven?

By far the most common form of the 8-syllable Śloka metre, Anandajoti Bikkhu informs us, is the pathyā. In the pathyā form of the Śloka metre, in the 2nd and 3rd positions of each pāda, two successive light syllables are not allowed.

Today's verse again confirms to the pathyā form of the Śloka metre. Two successive light syllables do not appear in the 2nd and 3rd positions. At the same time, the second half of the first pāda in each line begins with a light syllable then two heavy syallables (- = = ); and the second half of the second pāda in each line begins with a light syllable followed by a heavy syllable followed by another light syllable (- = -).

It is all described here for anybody who thinks it is worthy of attention -- which Ashvaghosha himself apparently did.

With regard to the meaning of today's verse, it seems to beg the question of what a wise man would aspire to, if not a decadent sojourn in heaven.

An obvious answer might be to aspire to the eternal peace of nirvana. But I don't know what the eternal peace of nirvana is -- in just the same way as I don't know what it means to let the neck be free to let the head go forward and up.

If I know anything from experience, I know what it means to stiffen the neck and pull the head back and down -- for example, through end-gaining for some desirable object, like nirvana.

If I have got any wisdom, in other words, it is not the wisdom of knowing what to aspire to. But there might be wisdom in knowing the dangers of aspiring.

A MAN WHO AIMS AT NOTHING SELDOM MISSES THE TARGET a billboard in a Sheffield church preached to me -- in an "Onward Christian Soldiers" tone of voice -- as I went passed it on the top deck of a bus, circa 1980. "A man who aims at nothing seldom misses the target" struck me then as an interesting statement. Over the past 30-odd years I have come to see it as false on many levels.

A target like for example understanding Sanskrit prosody is not so difficult to hit. If I carry on analyzing the metre of one verse of Ashvaghosha's Sanskrit every day for the next two or three years, I will gradually get the hang of it. But nothing is a much more elusive target. A bloke could spend his whole life aspiring to hit it, without even beginning to realize that aspiring is already something which is not nothing.

On Saturday I quoted the Four Immeasurables which are attributed to Vasubandhu, the Sanskrit recitation of which by Raji Ramanan we can listen to on Youtube.

sarve sattvaaH sukhaish c' aiva yuktaaH su-sukha-karaNair

bhavantu satataM muktaaH duHkhaish ca duHkha-karaNaiH

kadaa 'pi vaNcitaa n' aasur duHkha-hiina-mahaa-sukhaat

duuraa-duura-dvesha-raagaa mukt'-opekShaa-sthitaa hi tu

"May all beings be subject to happiness and to the causes of true happiness,

Being constantly free of suffering and the causes of suffering,

Never straying from the great happiness in which suffering is absent,

But abiding in an indifference which is liberated by a long way from hatred and passion."

Abiding in indifference can be understood as a state that a wise man aspires to. But it may be better to understand that abiding in indifference is the state of a man who is wise enough not to aspire -- at least not too high.

Aiming at nothing might be a bit ambitious. A wiser course might be to set the bar low and be content at least with that level of transcendence.

EH Johnston:
Seeing that the inhabitants of Paradise despite their dominion come to destruction, what wise man would desire an ephemeral stay there ?

Linda Covill:
When even the sovereign dwellers of heaven decay, what wise man would yearn for an ephemeral stay there?

yadaa: ind. when
ca: and
aishvarya-vantaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. possessing power or supremacy
aishvarya: n. the state of being a mighty lord , sovereignty , supremacy , power , sway; dominion
api: even

kShayiNaH = nom. pl. m. kShayin: mfn. wasting , decaying , waning ; perishable
svarga-vaasinaH (nom. pl. m.): heaven-dwellers
svarga: m. heaven
vaasin: mfn. staying , abiding , dwelling , living , inhabiting (often ifc. = living in)

kaH (nom. sg. m.): who?
naama: ind. by name, indeed, really; after an interr. = then , pray
svarga-vaasaaya (dat. sg. m.): towards an abode in heaven
vaasa: ifc. = having one's abode in , dwelling or living in

kSheShNave = dat. sg. m. kSheShNu: mfn. perishable >>√4. kṣi
√kṣi: to destroy , corrupt , ruin , make an end of (acc.) , kill , injure
spRhayet = 3rd pers. sg. optative spRh: to be eager , desire eagerly , long for (dat. gen. , or acc.)
budhaH (nom. sg.): m. a wise or learned man , sage ; mfn. awaking ; intelligent , clever , wise

No comments: