Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.1: Success (the Easy Bit)

atha dvijo bāla ivāptavedaḥ
kṣipraṃ vaṇik prāpta ivāptalābhaḥ /
jitvā ca rājanya ivārisainyaṃ
nandaḥ kṛtārtho gurumabhyagacchat //18.1//

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

And so like a young initiate who mastered the Vedas,

Like a trader who turned a quick profit,

Or like a royal warrior who conquered a hostile army,

Nanda, a success, approached the Guru.

The final canto begins with a verse in the Upajāti metre, each pāda having 11 syllables in a 4-3-4 formation, as described in the comments to 11.59. In today's verse the first pāda, beginning with a light - heavy - light (- = -) combination is in the Upendravajrā form of the Upajāti metre, while the other three pādas, beginning with two heavy syllables (= = -), are in the Indravajrā form of the Upajāti metre.

To understand what Ashvaghosha means here by describing Nanda as kṛtārthaH (a success, one who has gained his end, one who has accomplished his purpose), we can refer back and pick up the thread of the last 13 verses of the previous chapter, Canto 17, titled Obtaining the Deathless Nectar:

Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served: without ambition, without partiality, without expectation;/ Without fear, sorrow, pride, or passion; being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different.//17.61// And so Nanda, who, through the instruction of his brother and teacher and through his own valiant effort,/ Had quieted his mind and fulfilled his task, spoke to himself these words://17.62// "Praise be to him, the One Gone Well, through whose compassionate striving for my benefit, / Great agonies were turned away and greater comforts conferred.//17.63// For while being dragged, by ignoble physicality, down a path pregnant with suffering,/ I was turned back by the hook of his words, like an elephant in musk by a driver's hook.//17.64// For through the instruction of the compassionate teacher who extracted a dart of passion that was lodged in my heart, / Now such abundant ease is mine -- Oh! how happy I am in the loss of everything!//17.65// For, by putting out the burning fire of desires, using the water of constancy, as if using water to put out a blaze, / I have now come to a state of supreme refreshment like a hot person descending into a cool pool.//17.66// Nothing is dear to me, nor offensive to me. There is no liking in me, much less disliking./ In the absence of those two, I am enjoying the moment like one immune to cold and heat.//17.67// Like gaining safety after great danger, like gaining release after long imprisonment, / Like being boatless yet gaining the far shore, after a mighty deluge, and like gaining clarity, after fearful darkness; //17.68// Like gaining health out of incurable illness, relief from immeasurable debt, / or escape from an enemy presence; or like gaining, after famine, plentiful food: //17.69// Thus have I come to utmost quiet, through the quieting influence of the teacher. /Again and repeatedly I do homage to him: homage, homage to the worthy one, the Realised One! //17.70// By him I was taken to the golden-peaked mountain, and to heaven, where, with the example of the she-monkey, / and by means of the women who wander the triple heaven, I who was a slave to love, sunk in girl-filled strife, was extricated. //17.71// And from that extreme predicament, from that worthless mire, up he dragged me, like a feeble-footed elephant from the mud, /To be released into this quieted, untainted, feverless, sorrowless, ultimate true reality, which is free from darkness. //17.72// I salute the great supremely compassionate seer, bowing my head to him, the knower of types, the knower of hearts, / The fully awakened one, the holder of ten powers, the best of healers, the deliverer: again, I bow to him. //17.73//

I originally thought to translate kṛtārthaH as "having accomplished his purpose." But on reflection "accomplishing one's purpose" sounds rather final, whereas the kind of success represented by the three metaphors used in today's verse is not the end of those particular stories.

On the contrary, for a young initiate the memorization of the Vedas might be regarded as the beginning of learning -- as for a 17-year-old learner-driver who passed his driving test, passing the test is regarded as the beginning of really learning how to drive. Again, for an entrepreneur running a successful business, turning a quick profit on a one-off deal is likely to be relatively inconsequential in the larger scheme of things -- as compared, for example, with establishing a mutually advantageous long-term connection with a trusted partner. And to understand the military metaphor we don't have to delve too far back into history to find examples in which the initial defeat of a conventional army was the easy part.

In Nanda's case, similarly, success in obtaining for himself the nectar of immortality is far from the end of his story. The Buddha has in mind for Nanda a further purpose, which is to encourage others in the right direction, the direction of freedom.

Some commentators have opined that this final Canto marks Ashvaghosha out as a seminal figure in Mahayana Buddhism, which emphasizes helping others ahead of concern for oneself. Some scholars love to discriminate in this way between this Buddhism and that Buddhism, because they are not the slightest bit inclined to prioritize the backward step. They are much more interested in forward steps: in publication of their next book, or putting forward some brilliant new thesis, or attainment of their doctorate in Buddhist studies, or their next academic posting... But they do not practise the backward step and so they discuss the Buddha's teaching as if it were an -ism. But how can the original teaching of the Buddha be an -ism? How much less can it be fragmented into competing -isms?

The last three years, translating one verse of Saundara-nanda per day, have been like falling off a log. Now the finishing post looms and so this work in progress is moving towards what might be judged a successful conclusion. But then what? Then might follow more difficult bits, like giving the translation away, and letting go of it. Like letting people make of it what they will.

One thing I know about success (at least small victories) in Alexander work is that consciousness of having been successful is always liable to muck up the process. Whereas true success is nothing to be proud of -- "You shouldn't have been in the way in the first place!"

EH Johnston:
Then having reached his goal, like a young Brahman who has mastered the Vedas or a merchant who has quickly acquired gain or a Ksatriya who has conquered a hostile army, Nanda sought out the Guru.

Linda Covill:
Successful as a twice-born youth who has mastered the Vedas, as a businessman who has turned a quick profit, as a warrior king who has concquered an enemy army, Nanda then approached the Guru.

atha: ind then, now, and so, etc.
dvijaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. twice-born; m. a man of any one of the first 3 classes , any Aryan , (esp.) a Brahman (re-born through investiture with the sacred thread cf. upa-nayana)
upa-nayana: n. the act of leading near; introduction (into any science); leading or drawing towards one's self ; that ceremony in which a Guru draws a boy towards himself and initiates him into one of the three twice-born classes (one of the twelve saMskaaras or purificatory rites [prescribed in the dharma-suutras and explained in the gRhya-suutras] in which the boy is invested with the sacred thread [different for the three castes] and thus endowed with second or spiritual birth and qualified to learn the veda by heart ; a Brahman is initiated in the eighth, a kShatriya [military] in the eleventh , a vaishya [farmer/tradesman] in the twelfth)
baalaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. young; m. a boy, youth
iva: like
aapta-vedaH (nom. sg. m.): one who mastered the vedas
aapta: mfn. got , gained , obtained
veda: m. (fr. √vid, to know) knowledge , true or sacred knowledge or lore , knowledge of ritual ; name of certain celebrated works which constitute the basis of the first period of the Hindu religion (these works were primarily three , viz. 1. the Rg-veda , 2. the yajur-veda, 3. the saama-veda ; these three works are sometimes called collectively trayii , " the triple vidyaa " or " threefold knowledge " , but the Rg-veda is really the only original work of the three , and much the most ancient [the oldest of its hymns being assigned by some who rely on certain astronomical calculations to a period between 4000 and 2500 B.C. , before the settlement of the Aryans in India ; and by others who adopt a different reckoning to a period between 1400 and 1000 B.C. , when the Aryans had settled down in the Panjab])...

kShipram: mfn. quick; ind. quickly
vaNik = nom. sg. vaNij: m. a merchant, trader
praaptaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. got , acquired , gained ; accomplished , complete , mature , full-grown
iva: like
aapta-laabhaH (nom. sg. m.): one who got profit
aapta: mfn. got , gained , obtained
laabha: m. acquisition , gain , profit

jitvaa = abs. ji: to conquer (in battle) , vanquish, defeat
ca: and
raajanyaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. kingly , princely , royal; m. a royal personage , man of the regal or military tribe (ancient name of the second or kShatriya caste)
iva: like
ari-sainyam (acc. sg. m.): a hostile army
ari: mfn. hostile; m. an enemy
sainya: mfn. belonging to or proceeding from an army; m. a soldier, an army

NandaH (nom. sg. m.): Nanda
kRt'-aarthaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who has attained an end or object or has accomplished a purpose or desire , successful , satisfied , contented
gurum (acc. sg. m.): m. any venerable or respectable person (father , mother , or any relative older than one's self); m. a spiritual parent or preceptor (from whom a youth receives the initiatory mantra or prayer , who instructs him in the shaastras and conducts the necessary ceremonies up to that of investiture which is performed by the aacaarya)
abhyagacchat = 3rd pers. sg. impefect: abhi- √ gam: to go near to , approach (with acc.)

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