Tuesday, November 29, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.64: Mining Aśvaghoṣa's Gold

prāyeṇālokya lokaṃ viṣaya-rati-paraṃ mokṣāt pratihataṃ
kāvya-vyājena tattvaṃ kathitam-iha mayā mokṣaḥ param-iti /
tad-buddhvā śāmikaṃ yat-tad-avahitam-ito grāhyaṃ na lalitaṃ
pāṃsubhyo dhātu-jebhyo niyatam-upacitaṃ cāmīkaram-iti // 18.64 //

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Seeing, in general, that the world
is moved primarily by fondness for objects
and is repelled by liberation,

I for whom liberation is paramount
have told it here like it is,
using a kāvya poem as a pretext.

Being aware of the deceit,
take from this what pertains to peace
and not to idle pleasure.

The elemental (verb-root-rooted) dust,
assuredly, shall yield up abundant gold.

As we limp towards the finishing line, rather than sailing through victorious and unimpeded, we find that last line of the last verse of Saundara-nanda presents some difficulties and dangers -- like fences, walls, tiles and pebbles, not to mention potholes.

LC translates upakaraṁ cāmīkaram as "serviceable gold," which might be difficult to improve upon if one accepts the reading upakaraṁ. EHJ, however, notes that upakara is not met with elsewhere, nor is there any obvious amendment, so that its exact sense is uncertain.

Setting that difficulty aside for a moment, another difficulty is that the last line of the last verse of Saundara-nanda, as I read it, contains one of Aśvaghoṣa's most memorable, and least easily translatable, plays on words.

dhātu-jebhyaḥ is defined as 1) elemental, born of primary elements of the earth, and 2) derived from a verbal root.

The latter definition "derived from a verbal root," describes the vast majority of the words in Saundara-nanda. In today's verse, for example, prāyeṇa is derived from the root √i, to go; ālokya is derived from the root √lok, to see; lokaṃ is thought possibly to be derived from the root √ruc, to shine; viṣaya is derived probably either from √viṣ, to act, or from vi + √si, to extend; rati is derived from the root √ram, to delight; and so on, and so on.

Following only the former definition, dhātu-jebhyaḥ is a literal description of dust: it describes the dust from which gold is to be extracted as "born from the primary elements of the earth." In that case the 4th line, as a bare statement of the facts about dust and gold, sounds almost apologetic:
"Out of dust born from earth elements, necessarily, [comes] serviceable gold."

But what Aśvaghoṣa is really saying in the 4th line, as I read it, is not only self-deprecating but also cocksure: his intention is explicitly to describe his own poem as only so many words, so much verbage, so much of the dust that is dhātu-jebhyaḥ "derived from verbal roots." And yet from this verbal dust, Aśvaghoṣa is confident -- for those of us who are inspired on a regular basis to get off the sofa, put down the remote, and sit on a round cushion swallowing the bitter pill -- the essence of the Buddha's teaching can be extracted. Read like this, the fourth line is an assurance, a confident prediction, a guarantee, and an expression of Aśvaghoṣa's own prajñā:
"Out of [this] dust derived from verbal roots, it is guaranteed, [there shall be] abundant gold."

Read like this, the last line of Saundara-nanda is very close to the last line of Fukan-zazengi, in which Dogen promises that the treasure house will spontaneously open, allowing us to accept and use the treasure as we please.

For that reason I have dared to amend the uncertain upakaraṁ into upacitaṁ, which means furnished abundantly, posessed plentifully, from the verbal root upa- √ci: to heap up, to furnish oneself with.

The difficulty of the last line does not allow any sense of going out in a blaze of glory, or of closure. Rather one is left with a sense of lingering ambiguity and uncertainty, of difficulty continuing.

So the rainbow-chaser in me cannot help but feel empty and disappointed: there is evidently no pot of gold waiting to be found at the end of this particular rainbow, just continuing uncertainty and the promise of gold. The miner in me who likes mining, however, is undeterred, because Aśvaghoṣa's Buddha-carita might be another goldmine -- or it might be another bottle of bitter pills, deceitfully presented in the guise of kāvya poetry.

EH Johnston:
Since I saw mankind mainly given over to the pleasure of the objects of the senses and averse from Salvation, I have here told of the final truth under the guise of a Kavya, considering Salvation to be supreme. Let the reader understand this and study attentively in it that which leads to tranquillity and not that which is merely pleasurable, as only the residue of gold is taken after it has been separated from the metal dust.

Linda Covill:
Seeing that the world generally holds the pleasure of sensory experience uppermost and is resistant to liberation, I, holding liberation to be paramount, have described the truth in the guise of poetry. Knowing this, that part which relates to peace should be carefully extracted from it, not the entertaining part; serviceable gold necessarily comes from ore-born dust.

praayeNa: ind. mostly , generally , as a rule
aalokya = abs. aa - √ lok: to look at, behold
lokam (acc. sg.): m. the world
viShaya-rati-param (acc. sg. m.): delighting in objects as its paramount aim
viShaya: m. an object of sense; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
rati: f. pleasure , enjoyment , delight in , fondness for (loc. or comp)
paraa: f. any chief matter or paramount object (ifc. having as the chief object , given up to , occupied with , engrossed in
mokShaat (abl. sg.): liberation, release
pratihatam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. struck or striking against ; repelled ; hostile
prati- √ han: to beat against (gen.) ; to attack ; to strike in return , strike back , ward off, remove , dispel , check , prevent , frustrate

kaavya: m. a poem
vyaajena (inst.): treacherously , deceitfully , under the pretext or guise of
vyaaja: m. deceit , fraud , deception , semblance , appearance , imitation , disguise , pretext , pretence
tattvam (nom. sg.) n. true or real state , truth , reality
kathitam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. told, related, narrated
iha: here
mayaa (inst. sg.): by me
mokShaH (nom. sg.): m. liberation, release
param (acc. sg.): mfn. best, highest, supreme, chief, paramount
iti: thus

tad (acc. sg. n.): that, it
buddhvaa = abs. to wake , wake up , be awake ; to perceive , notice , learn , understand , be aware of
shaamikam (acc. sg.) : (from √ sham) tranquillity, peace
√ sham: be quiet or calm or satisfied or contented ; to cease , be allayed or extinguished
yat (acc. sg. n.): [that] which
tat (acc. sg n.): that [which]
avahitam (acc. sg.): mfn. plunged into (loc.); fallen into , placed into , confined within
itaH: ind. (used like the abl. case of the pronoun idam) from this, from it
graahyam = acc. sg. gerundive grah: to seize , take ; to pluck , pick , gather ; to receive into the mind , apprehend , understand , learn
na: not
lalitam (acc. sg.): mfn. sported , played , playing , wanton , amorous ;
n. sport , dalliance , artlessness , grace , charm ; languid gestures in a woman (expressive of amorous feelings , " lolling , languishing " &c )

paaMsubhyaH = abl. pl. paaMsu: m. crumbling soil , dust , sand (mostly pl.)
dhaatu-jebhyaH = abl. pl. m dhaatu-ja: mfn. produced or derived from a verbal root ; born from a primary element of the earth
dhaatu: primary element of the earth i.e. metal , mineral , are (esp. a mineral of a red colour) ; element of words i.e. grammatical or verbal root or stem
ja: mfn. ( √jan) ifc. born or descended from , produced or caused by ; prepared from ; belonging to , connected with , peculiar to
niyatam (nom. sg. n.): fixed , established , settled , sure , regular , invariable , positive , definite; : ind. always , constantly , decidedly , inevitably , surely
upakaram (nom. sg. n.): doing a favour (?), providing a service (?), being yielded up (?);
upa- √ kR: to bring or put near to , furnish with , provide ; to assist , help, favour; to serve
upakāra: m. help , assistance , benefit , service , favour; use , advantage ; preparation , ornament , decoration , embellishment (as garlands suspended at gateways on festivals , flowers &c )
upakaraNa: n. the act of doing anything for another , doing a service or favour , helping , assisting , benefiting
upacitam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. heaped up , increased; big , fat , thick ; covered over , furnished abundantly , possessing plentifully
upa- √ ci: to heap up, to furnish oneself with
upagatam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. obtained
upacaram (nom. sg. n.): mfn. accessory , supplementary
upanatam (nom. sg. n.): fallen to one's share
uparavam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. eclipsed, obscured
caamiikaram (nom. sg.) n. gold
iti: "....," thus


Γιώργος Ασκούνης said...

When I re-read your comment this evening I thought of the ending of a poem called "Ithaca" that is written in the 18th century by the Greek poet Konstantinos Kavafis.
Here it is:

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean.

Thank you for your efforts!

Mike Cross said...

Thanks George.