Saturday, November 26, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.61: What the Buddha Taught

ity-arhataḥ parama-kāruṇikasya śāstur-
mūrdhnā vacaś-ca caraṇau ca samaṃ gṛhītvā /
svasthaḥ praśānta-hṛdayo vinivṛtta-kāryaḥ
pārśvān-muneḥ pratiyayau vimadaḥ karīva // 18.61 //

= = - = - - - = - - = - = =
= = - = - - - = - - = - = =
= = - = - - - = - - = - = =
= = - = - - - = - - = - = =

Thus spoke the Worthy One,
the instructor whose compassion
was of the highest order,

Whose words and equally whose feet
Nanda had accepted, using his head;

Then, at ease in himself, his heart at peace,
his task ended,

He left the Sage's side like an elephant free of rut.

Why is the Buddha's compassion described as supreme, or of the highest order (parama)?

I think Aśvaghoṣa described the Buddha's compassion as being of the highest order in the sense that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day; whereas if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.

This principle has from an early age informed, I confess, my own ambition.

Translation is in essence very modest work, sort of like being a referee in a football match. If you stand out, it is probably because you have committed some major blunder, like impulsively reaching for a red card in the first twenty minutes, or like neglecting the real meaning of the author's original words in your eagerness to assert your own crappy views and opinions. No young lad is likely to have a photo pinned on his bedroom wall of a referee or a translator in some heroic pose -- vigorously blowing his whistle, or stooping over the Monier-Williams dictionary.

The reason I have been doing such modest work all these years, ironically, is a big desire to do something momentous with my life. I always thought, and indeed was very much encouraged so to think by Gudo Nishijima, that if I could succeed in helping to clarify what the Buddha really taught, then I might thereby live a supremely meaningful and valuable life.

Now, according to Dogen, the one and only way to live a life which in meaning and value surpasses the Buddha himself, is to spend it sitting in full lotus.

At the same time, in the final chapter of Shobogenzo Dogen quotes the ultimate teaching of the Buddha on the night before he died as to have small desire and know satisfaction.

Mindful of these two points, I am limping to the end of this final canto at something of a low ebb, feeling like a failure, unable to sit in full lotus due to a torn bit of cartilage in my left knee that resulted from falling off my push-bike at the end of May, and at the same time suffering, as has been my wont for 30 years, from a gnawing sense of frustrated ambition.

Such are the clouded eyes of the bad referee who wants to be a sporting legend, or the rubbish translator who wants to broadcast his own pet theory.

Endeavouring nonetheless, with my whole body and mind, to keep my clouded eye on the ball, I am struck in line 2 by the word mūrdhnā, which is instrumental singular of mūrdhan (forehead, head). So the point might be that Nanda used his own head.

And that may be why needy Nanda was finally able to leave the Sage's side, like a great war elephant free of all wildness -- because he had learned for himself how to use his head.

What was it that the Buddha taught about the use of the head?

I haven't yet fully understood. But it wasn't what Gudo Nishijima taught me in the Zazen Hall of Tokei-in temple, when he grabbed my chin and yanked it several inches backwards, wishing to cause my neck bones to become straight vertically. That is for damn sure.

If the teaching of a buddha-ancestor like Gudo Nishijima can patently be so utterly unreliable, what else is there for each of us to do but to learn to use our own heads?

With this in mind I am looking foward next week to publishing contributions from individual readers of this blog. So far I have received individual testimonies (in the order of receiving them) from Jordan, Ian, Harry, George, and Malcolm. Anybody else is welcome to contribute, whether man or woman, Buddhist or non-Buddhist. The only criterion is that you have to be an individual who, instead of subscribing to anybody's Buddhist view, is willing to use his or her own head.

EH Johnston:
Then Nanda grasped with his head the words and the feet simultaneously of the worshipful, supremely compassionate Master, and cheerful with heart at rest and his aims accomplished, he left the Sage, being freed from conceit like an elephant from must.

Linda Covill:
So with his head he grasped the words and feet together of the worthy one, the supremely compassionate teacher ; and sound in himself, his heart at ease, his task ended, he left the sage's side like an elephant free of rut.

iti: "....", thus
arhataH (gen. sg. m.): worthy , venerable , respectable
parama-kaaruNikasya (gen. sg. m.): supremely compassionate
parama: highest, supreme
kaaruNika: mfn. compassionate
shaastur (gen. sg.): m. a chastiser , punisher ; a ruler , commander ; a teacher , instructor

muurdhnaa = inst. sg. muurdhan: m. the forehead , head in general , skull
vacaH = acc. sg. vacas: n. speech , voice , word ; advice , direction , command , order
ca: and
caraNau = acc. dual caraNa: foot
ca: and
samam: ind. in like manner , alike , equally , similarly
gRhiitvaa = abs. √grah: to seize , take, lay hold of ; to lay the hand on , claim ; to place upon (instr. or loc.) ; to take on one's self ; to receive hospitably (a guest) , take back (a divorced wife) ; to perceive (with the organs of sense or with m/anas) , observe , recognise ; to receive into the mind , apprehend ; to accept , admit , approve ; to obey, follow

sva-sthaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. self-abiding , being in one's self (or " in the self " Sarvad. ), being in one's natural state , being one's self uninjured , unmolested , contented , doing well , sound well , healthy (in body and mind ; comfortable , at ease
prashaanta-hRdayaH (nom. sg. m.): his heart at peace
prashaanta: mfn. tranquillized , calm , quiet ; extinguished , ceased , allayed
hRdaya: n. heart
vinivRtta-kaaryaH (nom. sg. m.): his work to be done having ended
vinivRtta: mfn. turned back , returned , retired , withdrawn ; desisting from (abl.) , having abandoned or given up R, disappeared , ended , ceased to be
kaarya: n. work or business to be done , duty , affair

paarshvaat (abl. sg.): n. the side
muneH (gen. sg.): m. the sage
pratiyayau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect prati- √yaa:to come or go to
vi-madaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. free from intoxication , grown sober ; free from rut ; free from pride or arrogance
karii = nom. sg. karin: m. " having a trunk " , an elephant
iva: like


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

Since you been taking an interest in Sanskrit prosody and metre, I've had a notion to do a little research on the division of padas into 3- or 4-syllable gaNas.

I’ve not looked far: MW defines a gaNa as “a foot or four instants” but most of the primers I’ve read divide into 3 (initially) and define a gaNa that way.

Although Sanskrit verse is not regularly stressed in equal bars/measures (unlike traditional western musical metre or metric verse), feeling gaNas in 3 works better for me than 4. 4 syllables of different lengths can be felt as simple time (groups of 2) or as compound time (groups of 3) – which confuses my western musical mind. I notice that the past couple of days you’ve not been showing any division. Is there a reason? Something to do with 3’s or 4’s?


Mike Cross said...

Hi Malcolm,

The reason I didn't show each pāda as divided into gaṇas in today's verse is that the metre is not divided into gaṇas on Ānandajoti's website (and by myself I wouldn't know where to start):

The reason I didn't show the divisions yesterday is that I took my eye off the ball:

I took my eye off the ball because of being too busy talking about the meaning of keeping one's eye on the ball -- typical!

Thanks for the feedback,


jiblet said...

Damn. I was hoping you'd say: "How remarkable! You read my mind! I am indeed conflicted about whether gaṇas are grouped in threes or fours. What do you advise?" I could then have told you (not that I know what I'm talking about) to do it in threes and to ask Ānandajoti and Monier-Williams why they don't do the same.

There a big difference, I feel, between feeling an 8-syllable shloka like this:

did-le-y/did-le-y/dum dum//
(i.e. xxx/xxx/xx//)

- which can work well whether the syllables are long or short)

or like this:

(i.e. xxxx/xxxx//)

- which works fine when the syllables are all of the same length, but not nearly so well with syllables of different lengths.

Does that make any sense?

Mike Cross said...

Not really. Understanding of prosody hasn't even really started to be a work in progress as far as I am concerned -- more like work that I would like to make a start on when I get round to it.

But Ānandajoti Bhikkhu is an incredibly helpful guide on such matters, so if you would like to ask him, by leaving a comment on his webpage or by email (, and report back here, that would be great.

At some point I hope we can get Ānandajoti himself, or possibly some Indian pundit, to recite Saundara-nanda, and get a sense of the prosody like that.

jiblet said...

Thanks Mike, I'll do that. Easiest way is to link him to these comments, I reckon. I'll forward any reply.

Anandajoti said...

Hi Mike and jiblet, the reason for the division in analysis is not because of musical or aesthetic sensibilities, unfortunately, but because of the positions where the variations occur.

For instance in the Sloka the variations in the prior line are set mainly in the last four syllables, with only an occasional syllable being fixed earlier in the line.

On the other hand there is no need to analyse Vasantatilaka in this way, as it is a fixed metre having no variations. If it was divided into ganas though we would divide it into four/six/four, which would show its origin in the Trstubh.

Hope that helps.

Mike Cross said...

Many thanks for the clarification. It slowly begins to make more sense.

jiblet said...

Thanks, Anandajoti. It seems I was barking up the wrong tree - expecting classical Sanskrit prosody to somehow include/consider stress in the way western poetry and music does.

Am I to understand that stress plays no part in the structure of classical Sanskrit verse, and so the decision to divide padas into ganas of 3 or of 4 syllables is a matter of analytic convenience, convention and/or preference and can differ from place to place?

Anandajoti said...

Hi jiblet,

Unlike in English for instance, the patterns are made not through stress, but through alternation of heavy and light syllables, producing rhythmic patterns.

It is not quite arbitrary where we use the analysis, and there is general agreement on its employment, but it requires an understanding of the Vedic metres to see why sometimes.

For instance in early Trstubh the opening and closing patterns are more or less fixed, but the break in the middle is relatively free, this leads to a logical analysis into opening, break, cadence.

Similarly with other metres.

Later when we come to the vast array of the Classical metres we no longer have these variations as all possible metres are idenified, and normally named (if they've been used) so the analysis is different then.

jiblet said...

Hi Anandajoti,

I think I've been expressing myself poorly. I do understand the general principle of Sanskrit prosody and how it differs from western patterns based on stress. My question is essentially this:

Why might I see this as an analysis of nabhalagA gajagatiH:

- - - / = - - / - =

(from M.R.Kale's grammar)

but also this:

- - - = / - - - = ?

You've clarified that the barring doesn't imply stress; I understand that the presentation makes no difference to the recitation, so why the difference?

Many thanks for your help...And your excellent website.


Anandajoti said...

Dear jiblet, there is a shorthand convention in the prosodies (similar to what we see in Pāṇini) whereby letters are substituted for gaṇas, so for instance
ma (short for magaṇa) equals ===,
na (short for nagaṇa) equals ---,
ra (short for ragaṇa) equals =-=, etc.

So in Vrttaratnākara, for instance, the Sumukhī metre is described as
najajalagair-gaditā sumukhī, this means Sumukhī is said to be nagana + jagana + jagana + light + heavy >> ---|-=-|-=-|-= Kale is following this analysis when he writes.

However this is just shorthand in order to enable the writing of the description in metrical form – all the descriptions in the prosodies are also examples.

E.g. if we analyse najajalagair-gaditā sumukhī we will find it is also an example of the Sumukhī metre itself.

So these are shorthand conventions, not really structural analyses; whereas the divisions into 4/4 for the Śloka for instance are structural analyses to identify variations.

This applies to the vaṇṇacchandas metres, in the gaṇacchandas on the other hand, they are in fact musical structures. See the entry under Gaṇa on this page:

jiblet said...

Many thanks, Anandajoti. I was aware of the ma na ra etc 3-syllable shorthand, but couldn't see why it wasn't used by everyone. Now I see.

And thanks for the link - lots more reading to be done!

- Despite the lack of a specific role for stress/accent as understood in English in classical Sanskrit prosody, as a musician I have a theory that the classification of gaNas as groups of 3 is not merely a mneumonic convenience, but reflects something universal about the nature of the phenomenon 'rhythm'. Hence my original question to Mike.

Thanks again. I do now understand the purpose of the different methods of analysis.