Thursday, October 27, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.31: Even Monkeys Fall from Trees

adyāpadeṣṭuṃ tava yukta-rūpaṃ
śuddhodano me nṛ-patiḥ piteti /
bhraṣṭasya dharmāt pitṛbhir-nipātād
aślāghanīyo hi kulāpadeśaḥ //18.31 //

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Upajāti (Indravajrā)

Today you may fittingly proclaim

That King Śuddhodana is your father.

For it is not commendable for a backslider,
after falling from the dharma alighted on by ancestors,

To proclaim his lineage.

backslide: to relapse into bad habit: to fall back into wrongdoing or a bad habit after striving to act in a better way.

"Backslide" is a word I like, a good old-fashioned word, not a trendy word. In just nine letters, "backslide" conveys a sense of how difficult it is to go against the habits of a lifetime, and of what invariably happens when I strive to act in a better way -- because striving is only emphasizing what I already know, i.e. my old bad habits.

Apropos of that, here is a Youtube clip that my brother sent me of Neil Young talking about Bob Dylan's capturing of some kind of non-habitual essence in his songwriting. It contains the observation"You can't keep that. That comes and goes through you. You can't strive to be that. There's no way you own it."

So the Buddha seems to be praising Nanda for being something other than a backslider. And how to be that something, I don't know -- any more than I know how to walk, or how to breathe. If I know anything from experience, from multiple experiences of backsliding, I know that you can't strive to be that.

Saundara-nanda describes Nanda's pursuit of a better way (śreyas), but a better way is not something that I can get my dirty paws on, not something I can strive to be. A better way, truly, might not be something, but might be a bit of nothing. A bit of freedom from what usually holds me in its grip, habit.

Because our minds find a bit of nothing difficult to conceive, we find it helps to think of it as if it were something. Hence, in phrases like "I've been a miner for a heart of gold," or "mining Aśvaghoṣa's gold," gold, which is something, is a metaphor for transcendence, liberation, release, freedom from the mundane, freedom from habit, which is a bit of nothing.

In the metaphor that is implicit in today's verse, now that I dig deeper into it, the dharma (as in 12.41) is a tree and ancestors are beings as free and light as birds.

That being so, the verse brings to mind Marjory Barlows' exhortation to remember that work which is the most important thing in the world, is not to be taken seriously. One shouldn't get too serious, or be too heavy about it -- in a religious, ancestor-worshipping kind of way, whereby ancestors are liable to become a heavy brooding judging presence.

I am tempted to finish by pounding my chest with my fists and singing, OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Anyone for a banana?

EH Johnston:
To-day you may fittingly proclaim that King Shuddhodana is your father ; for it is not praiseworthy for a man, who has abandoned the golden rule observed by his ancestors, to proclaim his lineage.

Linda Covill:
Today it is right for you to point to King Shuddhodana as your father; for bringing attention to one's family is not commendable in someone who has fallen from the dharma on which his ancestors had settled.

adya: today
apadeShTum = infinitive apa- √ dish : to point out , indicate , to betray , pretend , hold out as a pretext or disguise
tava (gen. sg.): for you
yukta-ruupam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. suitably formed , fit , proper (with loc. or gen.)

shuddhodanaH (nom. sg.): m. Shuddhodhana; " having pure rice or food" , N. of a king of kapila-vastu (of the tribe of the Shakyas and father of Gautama Buddha)
me (gen. sg.): my
nR-patiH (nom. sg.) m. " lord of men " , king
pitaa (nom. sg.): father
iti: ".....", thus

bhraShTasya = gen. sg. bhraShTa: mfn. fallen , dropped ; strayed or separated from , deprived of (abl. or comp.) ; depraved , vicious , a backslider
dharmaat (abl. sg.): dharma
pitRbhiH (inst. pl. m. pitR): the fathers , forefathers , ancestors
nipaataad = abl. nipaata: m. falling down , descending , alighting (lit. and fig.) , falling from (abl.) into or upon (comp.)
ni- √ pat: to fly down, to fall down; to fall into ruin or decay , be lost

a: - negative prefix
shlaaghaniiyaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. to be praised , praiseworthy , laudable , commendable
ślāgh: to confide in ; to talk confidently , vaunt , boast or be proud of; to praise , commend , eulogise , celebrate
hi: for
kul'-aapadeshaH (nom. sg. m.): pointing out one's family; drawing attention to the nobility of one's family
kula: n. a herd ; a race , family , community , tribe ; a noble or eminent family or race ; high station
apadesha (from apa- √ dish): m. assigning , pointing out ; pretence , feint , pretext , disguise , contrivance

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