Sunday, October 16, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.20: Real Appreciation

ity-evam-uktvā guru-bāhumānyāt
sarveṇa kāyena sa gāṃ nipannaḥ /
praverito lohita-candanākto
haimo mahā-stambha ivābabhāse //18.20 //

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

After speaking thus,
out of deep appreciation of the Guru

He prostrated himself on the ground
with his whole body.

He looked like a great fallen column

Of gold tinged with red sandalwood.

The IIUI metric scheme for a verse in Upajāti metre is known as Sālā.

Yesterday in preparing today's comment I was moved by a lingering sense of outrage. Nothing new there, then.

A man to whom the highest status had been accorded, when called upon on a big stage to exercise wisdom, conspicuously failed to exercise wisdom. Instead Alain Rolland, refereeing the Rugby World Cup semi-final match between Wales and France, reached impetuously for the red card, only 20 minutes into the game, thereby killing the enjoyment of millions of rugby fans around the world.

It is customary in rugby for players to show respect to the referee. Hence when the Welsh skipper Sam Warburton was shown the red card he did not make a song and dance of complaining to the referee, but simply walked off the pitch.

But showing respect to a person in a position that commands respect, and really appreciating a person as an individual, are not necessarily the same thing. An obvious example that springs to mind of a person who commanded respect but who was truly deserving of nobody's great appreciation, is Harold Shipman. To give him his proper title he was Dr. Harold Shipman. In Japanese he would be called Shipman Sensei, "Shipman who stands out in front," and would be accorded the respect due to a Japanese Sensei, even though he was an arrogant scum-bag who used his position to murder hundreds of people.

What I am striving, through my anger, to express has been expressed much more eloquently and intelligently by Richard Feynman, for example, in this Youtube clip.

One of the thing that Feynman expresses, aside from his disrespect for honours, epaulettes, uniforms, and the like, is his genuine appreciation of his father. So he illustrates well my point that showing of respect and real appreciation are not necessarily the same thing at all. Showing of respect is cheap. Real appreciation costs more.

Scholars who discuss whether Aśvaghoṣa was primarily a poet or a monk, or who discuss what school of Buddhism Aśvaghoṣa belonged to, seem to me to be totally failing to appreciate Aśvaghoṣa, which is a shame.

Coming back to today's verse, the point is that Nanda's action of bowing as Aśvaghoṣa describes it was not done out of respect for the Buddha's uniform, or out of respect for the Buddha's position as top dog in a brotherhood of monks. It was done out of great, deep, real appreciation, because the Buddha had taught Nanda a way of working that Nanda found in his own experience had actually worked for him.

That is why Nanda was able to bow to the Buddha sarveṇa kāyena, with his whole body -- because there were not two Nandas. There wasn't a spiritual Nanda in conflict with a material Nanda. There wasn't a religious Nanda in conflict with an ordinary Nanda. There wasn't an emotional Nanda in conflict with a rational Nanda. There wasn't a mental Nanda in conflict with a physical Nanda. Following the Buddha's teaching had caused Nanda to allow himself to be totally himself.

The second half of today's verse alludes to Nanda's robe, whose colour was yellowish red.

People in the past like Aśvaghoṣa who were able genuinely to appreciate the Buddha and his Dharma, invariably also appreciated, in its traditional form, the Buddha's insignia, which primarily means a traditionally sewn robe dyed a traditional colour.

That being so, in this as in several other verses in Saundara-nanda, Aśvaghoṣa seems to wish to clarify that the colour of Nanda's robe was yellowish red.

Alternatively, one could understand Aśvaghoṣa's intention to be that Nanda's skin was golden or yellow in appearance, and the colour of his robe was a yellowish red colour like sandalwood. In that case, "smeared" rather than "tinged" might be a better translation of aktaḥ.

Either way, the main colours in Aśvaghoṣa's frame for describing the colour of the robe as worn at the time of the Buddha would seem to be yellow and red.

Speaking for myself, I put on a traditionally-sewn robe every morning. Its colour is yellow, and I wear it to sit when I am at home in Aylesbury. In France I have an old robe that I sewed more than 20 years ago and which is quite tattered now, whose colour is brown. So I wear a robe to sit in in the morning, but I don't go overboard on worshipping the robe in a big religious way. I don't believe in the robe as a religious object.

If a robe has great merit as a religious symbol, maybe I am failing to appreciate it. The first I ever heard of a kaṣāya, which the MW dictionary gives as "a dull or yellowish red garment or robe," was in Gudo Nishijima's translation of Shobogenzo. Gudo's favoured translation was "the ritual robe." Fuck that, I say, for a terrible translation. Gudo's idea was that "the ritual robe" combines something religious ("ritual") with something material ("robe"). But what the fuck is religious about a yellowish red robe?

If a yellowish red robe is religious, then maybe the Pope, or a Buddhist Patriarch, or a rugby referee is always right. And maybe as a result of using foul language in a Buddhist commentary this so-called "stream of consciousness," which is really a big fat bloke called Mike Cross, will be reborn in some lower realm, as a dung beetle or something. But I much prefer the kind of skeptical doubt championed by Richard Feynman.

The first dhyāna as Aśvaghoṣa describes it in Canto 17 is something really to be enjoyed, like diving into a cool pool on a hot day -- something far removed from grim ascetic striving and suffocating religious belief. The first dhyāna is full of all sorts of thoughts, random ones buzzing around, and more directed ones pointing the way to the second dhyāna. This second dhyāna is a zone of unitary awareness in which thoughts do not intrude. It is a zone which might be very difficult to enter for a practitioner who is pulling his head back and down onto his spine while thrusting his lower back forward due to a perverted sense, apparently imported from the military parade ground, of what uprightness is. To sit like this is the antithesis of sitting sarveṇa kāyena, with the whole body. Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

So speaking for myself, I think that (a) Alain Rolland made a very bad call yesterday and if he is a true person he will acknowledge it, (b) the teaching of my teacher Gudo Nishijima around right posture in Zazen was totally wrong, and I don't appreciate it, (c) the teaching of Aśvaghoṣa and FM Alexander around sitting posture is not wrong and I deeply appreciate that. On a good day I deeply appreciate it not with the stream of my consciousness but sarveṇa kāyena, with the whole body.

EH Johnston:
With these words he prostrated himself with his entire body on the ground out of respect for the Guru, appearing like a mighty fallen column of gold smeared with red sandalwood.

Linda Covill:
So saying he laid his whole body on the ground out of reverence for the guru, seeming like a great fallen column of gold tinged with saffron.

iti: ..." [close quotation]
evam: thus
uktvaa = abs. vac: to speak, say
guru-baahumaanyaat (abl. sg.): out of great respect for the guru
guru: m. any venerable or respectable person, teacher
baahumaanya = bahumaanya: mfn. to be thought much of , to be highly esteemed , estimable
baahu: vRddhi form in comp. of bahu: much
maanya: mfn. to be respected or honoured , worthy of honour , respectable , venerable

sarvena (inst. sg.): all
kaayena (inst. sg.): with the body
saH (nom. sg. m.): he
gaam (acc. sg.): f. the earth
nipannaH = nom. sg. m. past part. ni-√pat: to fall down , fall upon or into (lit. and fig. , with upari , acc. or loc. ; with pAdayoH , to throw one's self at a person's [gen.] feet )

praveritaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. cast , hurled
lohita-candana-aktaH (nom. sg. m.): smeared with red sandalwood
lohita: mfn. red , red-coloured , reddish ; made of copper , copper , metal; m. red (the colour) , redness
candana: mn. sandal (Sirium myrtifolium , either the tree , wood , or the unctuous preparation of the wood held in high estimation as perfumes ; hence ifc. a term for anything which is the most excellent of its kind)
akta: mfn. ( √ aJj) , smeared over , diffused , bedaubed , tinged , characterized. Often ifc. (cf. raktaakta mfn. dyed red ; sprinkled or besmeared with blood)

haimaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. heman) golden , consisting or made of gold
mahaa-stambhaH (nom. sg. m.): a great post, pillar , column
iva: like
aababhaase = 3rd pers. perfect aa -√ bhaas: to appear , look like

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