Thursday, December 1, 2011

Canto 18: Affirmation of Full Autonomy

And so like a young initiate who mastered the Vedas,

Like a trader who turned a quick profit,

Or like a royal warrior who conquered a hostile army,

Nanda, a success, approached the Guru.

For it is pleasant,
at a time when wisdom has been fully realized,

For teacher to see student, and for student to see teacher,

Each thinking, "Your toil has rewarded me";

For which same reason
the wish to see Nanda arose in the Sage.

Thus is a noble person obliged to pay respect, to his face,

To the one through whom he has acquired distinction.

Even a noble person who retains the taint of redness
is so obliged, out of gratitude:

How much more is one with no red taint,
all pride having perished?

For when devotion springs from an agenda or desire,

There it remains rooted;

But when there is love and devotion for dharma,

That person is steeped to the core in tranquillity.

And so, a glowing gold in his yellow-red robe,

He bowed his head to the Guru

Like a karnikāra tree, with an outburst of ruddy shoots,

And a glorious blaze of flowers, nodding in the wind.

as a manifestation of his individual merit as a student

And, indeed, of the great Sage's merit as a teacher

-- Not out of pride --

He described his own accomplishment
of the work that has to be done:

"The splinter of a view, that had penetrated to my core,

O Mighty One,
was paining me intensely, being very sharp;

Via the jaws of the pincers of your words
-- by means of a means and by way of a mouth --

It was pulled out of me
as a splinter is removed by a surgeon.

A doubt,
by which I fell into a state of hesitant questioning,

O One Beyond Doubt, has been eradicated in me --

Through your teaching I have arrived at a true path

Like a straggler, under a good guide, getting on the road.

With senses ruled by relishing,

I madly drank the drug of love;

Its action was blocked in me
by the antidote of your words,

As a deadly poison is by a great remedy.

Rebirth is over, O Refuter of Rebirth!

I am dwelling as one with observance of true dharma.

What was for me to do,
O Doer of the Necessary! is totally done.

I am present in the world without being of the world.

Having drunk from the milk-cow of your voice,
whose udder is loving-kindness,
whose lovely dewlap is figures of speech,

Who is milked for true dharma,
and whose horns are boldness of expression,

I am properly satisfied, O Most Excellent One,

Like a little calf that, because of thirst, has drunk milk.

And so, O Sage, hear from me in brief

What, through seeing, I have made my own.

Though you know it anyway, O All-knowing One,

Still I wish to mention how I have worked on myself.

For true freedom-loving people
(however individual they are)

When they hear of another person's plan
that led to freedom

-- Like sick men hearing the plan
of one who became free from a disease --

Will happily work at freedom via that same path.

In a birth, I perceive earth and the other elements,

But in earth and those other elements, no self at all.

On that basis,
there is no attachment in me to those elements;

My orientation is equal
with regard to my body and outside.

Again, the five skandhas,
beginning with the organized body,

I see to be inconstant and without substance,

As well as unreal and life-negating;

Therefore I am free from those pernicious constructs.

Since I see for myself an arising and a vanishing

In all situations in the realms of the senses,

Therefore, again, there is in me no clinging

To those aforementioned elements which are
impermanent, impersonal, and unsatisfactory.

Again, on the grounds that I see the whole world
as emerging and in the same moment passing away,

As having no essential meaning
and not being as it ought to be,

On these grounds, because of meditation,
the world is bound fast by my mind

In such a way that there is no flicker in me of 'I am.'

There is all manner of indulging in four sorts of food,

But since I am not attached to how I take food,

Since when it comes to food
I am not congealed or trussed up,

I am free, on that score,
from the three realms of becoming.

In the daily round of dharma-practice

Since I am neither certain about nor bound in mind to
visual, auditory and other kinds of perception,

And since through that dharma-round
I am graced by trailing equanimity,

On that account I am detached and am free."

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.

Then, after listening to him
who had emerged already out of heedlessness,

After hearing his firmness and his testimony

And a clarity consistent with the gist of dharma,

The Sage boomed at him like a thundercloud:

"You who stands firm
in the dharma loved by those who study it,
stand up!

Why are you fallen with your head at my feet?

The prostration does not honour me so much

As this surefootedness in the dharma.

Today, conqueror of yourself, you have truly gone forth,

Since you have thereby gained sovereignty
over yourself.

For in a person who has conquered himself,
going forth has worked;

Whereas in an impulsive person
whose senses remain unconquered, it has not.

Today you are possessed of purity of the highest order,

In that your voice, body, and mind are untainted,

And in that, henceforward, my gentle friend,
you will not again be confined

In the ungentle womb of unready slumber.

Listening ears open to the truth replete with listening,
and with purpose,

Today you stand surefooted in the dharma,
in a manner that befits the listening tradition.

For a man equipped with listening ears who is wavering

Is like a swordsman lacking valour:
he is worthy of blame.

Ah! What firmness in you,
who is a slave to objects no more,

In that you have willed the means of liberation.

For it is a fool in this world who,
thinking 'I will be finished,'

Gives in, in the face of the end of existence,
to a state of quivering anxiety.

Happily, this meeting with the present moment,
which is so hard to come by,

Is not being wasted under the sway of ignorance.

For a man who has been down goes up with difficulty,

Like a turtle to a hole in a yoke, in the foaming sea.

Having conquered Māra,
who is so hard to stop in battle,

Today, at the forefront of the fight,
you are a hero among men.

For even a hero is not recognized as a hero

Who is beaten by the foe-like faults.

Today, having extinguished the flaming fire of redness,

Happily, you will sleep well, free of fever.

For even on a fabulous bed he sleeps badly

Who is being burned in his mind by the fires of affliction.

You used to be markedly mad about possessions;

Today, because you have stopped thirsting, you are rich.

For as long as a man in the world thirsts,

However rich he may be, he is always deprived.

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.

How great it is
that you have reached the deepest tranquillity,

Like a man making it through a wasteland
and gaining possession of treasure.

For everyone in the flux of saṁsāra is afflicted by fear,

Just like a man in a wasteland.

Thinking 'When shall I see Nanda settled,

Given over to the living of a forest beggar's life?',

I had harboured from the start the desire to see you thus.

What a wonderful sight you are for me to behold!

For even an unlovely sort is a sight to behold

When well-adorned with his own best features.

But a man who is full of the befouling faults,

Strikingly beautiful man though he may be, is truly ugly.

Developed in you today is the real wisdom

By which you have done, totally,
the work you had to do on yourself.

For even a highly educated man lacks wisdom,

If wisdom fails to show in his practice of a better way.

So it is with seeing,

Among people with eyes open and with eyes closed.

For when a man lacks sight packed with intuition,

Though he has eyes, the Eye is not present in him.

Struck by calamity,
stung to do something to combat suffering,

The world exhausts itself with work like ploughing;

And yet it is ceaselessly re-visited by that suffering,

To which,
using what you know, you today have put an end.

'There might be for me no hardship;
there might be for me just happiness....'

Thus is the world impelled ever forward:

And yet it does not know a means whereby
that happiness might come to be --

That rarely attained happiness
which you today have realized, properly."

While the Tathāgata told him this and more
for his benefit

Nanda remained firm in his judgement and thinking

And was indifferent to plaudits or criticisms.

With hands joined, he spoke these words:

"Oh, how particular, O Seer of Particularities,

Is this compassion that you have shown to me!

Since I who was sunk, Glorious One, in the mire of love

Have been a reluctant refugee from the terror of saṁsāra.

If not set free by you, a brother,
a guide along a better way,

A fruitful father, and equally a mother,

I would be done for;

Like a straggler dropped from a caravan,
I would not have made it.

Solitude is sweet for one who is calm and contented,

Who looks into and has learned what is.

Again, for one who is sober and shorn of conceits,

For one who is detached in his decision-making,
dispassion is a pleasure.

And so, through squarely realising what is,

Through shaking off faults and coming to quiet,

I worry now neither about my own place,

Nor about the person there,
nor about apsarases, nor about gods.

For now that I have tasted this pure, peaceful happiness,

My mind no longer hankers
after happiness born of desires --

Just as the costliest earthly fare cannot entice

A god who has supped the heavenly nectar.

Alas, the world has its eyes closed
by blind unconsciousness;

It does not see utmost happiness in a different robe.

Flinging away lasting inner happiness,

It exhausts itself so, in pursuit of sensual happiness.

For just as a fool, having made it to a jewel mine,

Might leave the jewels and carry off inferior crystals,

So would one reject the highest happiness
of full awakening

And struggle to gain sensual gratification.

Oh! high indeed, then, is the order of that desire
to favour living beings

Which the Tathāgata,
overflowing with benevolence, has:

Since, O Sage, you throw away
the highest-order happiness of meditation

And are consumed by your effort
to stop others suffering.

How today could I possibly repay you,

My compassionate Guru whose desire is others' welfare,

By whom I was taken totally up and out
of the foaming sea of becoming,

Like a man out of a great ocean
when his boat is being battered by waves?"

Then the Sage, hearing his well-founded words

Which signified the end of everything superfluous,

Voiced, as the Very Best of Speakers,

These lines that none but a buddha,
being 'Sheer Radiance,' should voice:

"As a man of action who got the job done
and who knows the primary task,

None but you, O crafty man!,
should express this affirmation --

Like a great trader,
having crossed a wasteland and got the goods,

Who affirms the work of a good guide.

An arhat, a man of action whose mind has come to quiet,

Knows the Buddha as a charioteer
of human steeds who needed taming:

Not even a seer of truth
appreciates the Buddha in this manner:

How much less does the common man,
however intelligent he may be?

This gratitude is fitting, again, in none but you

Whose mind has been liberated
from the dust of the passions and from darkness.

For while dust prevails in the world,

O man of gratitude! real gratitude is a rare state of being.

O possessor of dharma!
Since, because of abiding by dharma,

You have skill in making it your own
and quiet confidence in me,

I have something else to say to you.

For you are surrendered and devoted,
and up to the task.

Walking the transcendent walk,
you have done the work that needed to be done:

In you, there is not the slightest thing left to work on.

From now on, my friend, go with compassion,

Loosening others up
who are pulled down into their troubles.

The lowest sort of man only ever sets to work
for an object in this world.

But a man in the middle does work
both for this world and for the world to come.

A man in the middle works for a result,
I repeat, in the future.

The superior type, however,
tends towards abstention from goal-oriented action.

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.

forgetting the work that needs to be done
in this world on the self,

Do now, stout soul, what can be done for others.

Among beings who are wandering in the night,
their minds shrouded in darkness,

Let the lamp of this transmission be carried.

Just let the astonished people in the city say,

While you are standing firm, voicing dharma-directions,

'Well! What a miracle this is,

That he who was a lover boy is preaching liberation!'

Surely then, when she hears of your steadfast mind

With its chariots turned back from sundry objects,

Your wife following your example will also talk,

To women at home, the talk of dispassion.

For, with you showing constancy of the highest order,
as you get to the bottom of what is,

She surely will not enjoy life in the palace,

Just as the mind of an enlightened man
does not enjoy sensual pleasures

When his mental state is tranquil and controlled,
and his thinking is detached, distinct, separate."

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.

When the occasion arose
he entered the town for begging
and attracted the citizens' gaze;

Impartial towards gain, loss,
comfort, discomfort, and the like,
his senses composed, he was free of longing;

And being there, in the moment,
he talked of liberation to people so inclined --

Never putting down others on a wrong path
or raising himself up.

This work is pregnant with the purpose of release:
it is for cessation, not for titillation;

It is wrought
out of the figurative expression of kāvya poetry
in order to capture an audience
whose minds are on other things --

For what I have written here
not pertaining to liberation,
I have written
according to the conventions of kāvya poetry.

This is through asking myself
how the bitter pill might be made pleasant to swallow,
like bitter medicine mixed with something sweet.

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.

The 18th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda,
titled "Affirmation of Full Autonomy."

This is the work of a beggar, the respected teacher Aśvaghoṣa of Saketa, son of the noble Suvarṇākṣī, crafter of epic poetry and talker of the great talk.


Ian Cross said...

Congratulations on a first class job.

Mike Cross said...

Hmmm. Trying to make the best of a bad job, more like.