Monday, November 21, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.56: Desire to Teach Tranquillity

ihottamebhyo 'pi mataḥ sa tūttamo
ya uttamaṃ dharmam-avāpya naiṣṭhikam /
acintayitvātma-gataṃ pariśramaṃ
śamaṃ parebhyo 'py-upadeṣṭum-icchati // 18.56 //

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

But deemed to be higher than the highest in this world

Is he who, having realized the supreme ultimate dharma,

Desires, without worrying about the trouble to himself,

To teach tranquillity to others.


Having decided, in the middle of last night, to leave today's comment there, I slept like a baby until 8.30 this morning.

And though when I decided before to go for a one-word comment, I really meant it, now that I have sat for an hour there is more I want to say.

Having walked a thousand days in Aśvaghoṣa's tracks, I with the benefit of hindsight am sure about one thing, which is that when it came to prajñā/foresight, Aśvaghoṣa was higher than the highest in this world (ihottamebhyaḥ uttamaḥ).

The man in the middle who Aśvaghoṣa described in yesterday's verse as working for a result in the future, I am sure, was nobody but Aśvaghoṣa himself.

kriyām-amutraiva phalāya madhyamaḥ
Translating the expletive eva more freely than I did yesterday:
A man in the middle [does] work for a result -- now wake up and listen! -- in the future.

Was Aśvaghoṣa a monk or a poet? scholars ask, supposing that he must have been a superior type, but truly neither knowing nor caring who Aśvaghoṣa really was.

Aśvaghoṣa was a man in the middle working for a result -- wake up! -- in the future.

And one very conspicuous future result that Aśvaghoṣa was working towards, as a man in the middle (madhyamaḥ) was Nagarjuna's writing of his mūla-mādhyamika-kārikā, which means something like "a rudimentary statement in verse of being in the middle."

Higher than the highest in this world (uttamebhyaḥ uttamaḥ) sounds like a state that is very exalted and grand, but the irony buried in this and the previous verse, as I read them, is that the Buddha is pointing to the supreme ultimate dharma as something that is realized not by the superior type, but just by the bloke in the middle way, whose desire is to teach tranquillity.

In practice, how does a man or woman in the middle teach tranquillity -- or, to coin a phrase, stillness without fixity? In my experience of stumbling on tranquillity as a young bloke, and eventually being taught tranquillity by an old woman in the middle who understood the process well, there is paradoxical consciousness of (a) working towards a future result, like the throwing of a counter-punch or the movement of a leg or the completion of a translation, and (b) keeping one's eye on the ball; that is to say, giving all one's attention to what is going on here and now, which involves total giving up of all temptation to do anything yet.

The whole process rests on saying "no" -- on saying, to the impatient desire to go directly or hurriedly for the end, "no."

EH Johnston:
But he is deemed best among the best in this world who, after obtaining the supreme, ultimate Element, desires, careless of the trouble it involves for him, to teach this tranquillity to others also.

Linda Covill:
However, the man who is considered better than the best in the world is he who has obtained the supreme and ultimate dharma and wishes to guide others to tranquillity, without thinking of the trouble to himself.

iha: here, in this world
uttamebhyaH = abl. pl. uttama: mfn. uppermost, highest, best
api: even, also (emphatic)
mataH (nom. sg. m.): thought, considered, deemed
saH (nom. sg. m.): he [who]
tu: but
uttamaH (nom. sg m.): uppermost, highest, best

yaH (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
uttamam (acc. sg. m.): uppermost, best
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. the Dharma, the teaching
avaapya = abs. avaap: to reach , attain , obtain , gain , get
naiShThikam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. forming the end , final , last

a-cintayitvaa (abs.): without taking into consideration
a: (negative prefix)
cint: to think , have a thought or idea , reflect , consider ; take into consideration
aatma-gatam (acc. sg. m.): coming to himself, brought upon himself
parishramam (acc. sg.): m. fatigue , exertion , labour , fatiguing occupation , trouble , pain
pari- √ śram: to fatigue or exert one's self

shamam (acc. sg.): m. tranquillity , calmness , rest , equanimity, peace
parebhyaH (dat. pl.): to others
api: also, even (emphatic)
upadeShTum = infinitive upa- √ dish: to point out to ; to indicate , specify , explain , inform , instruct , teach ; to advise, to mention , exhibit , speak of
icchati = 3rd pers. sg. iSh: to endeavour to obtain , strive , seek for ; to desire , wish , long for , request ; to wish or be about to do anything , intend to assent , be favourable , concede


warby said...

These "thousand days of Ashvaghosha"
day by day have been a litany for me.
My sincere appreciation for your efforts. Watching your translation and communication skills develop through out the thousand days has been inspiring as well. I hope one day to hold a copy in print.
Be well- up, wide, and forward.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Warren.

Your comment prompted me to look up the word "litany" in the dictionary:

a long and repetitious list of things such as complaints or problems
Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Well, that it certainly has been. I have been reviewing the Sanskrit text for submission to the Ancient Buddhist Texts website of Ānandajoti Bhikkhu, and my capacity not to get tired of playing the same old record over and over again amazes even me!

Same to you, too, though not necessarily in that order. I would say Be well -- forward, up, and wide.

By the way if you would like to bear witness to what Aśvaghoṣa's teaching has come to mean to you, as an individual, as you see it, I would like to devote some posts to such individual testimony.

If you, or anybody else, is up for that, please email me at

All the best,