manthāla-gautamo bhikṣur-jaṅghayā vāra-mukhyayā |
piprīṣuś-ca tad-arthārthaṁ vyasūn niraharat purā || 4.17
The beggar Manthāla Gautama,
Wishing to please the royal courtesan 'Legs' Jaṅgā,
Again in olden times, with that aim in view,
Carried corpses out for burial.
EHJ saw today's verse as problematic for a number of technical reasons – including the use of bhikṣu (beggar) for “a mendicant other than a Buddhist” – and he doubted the verse's authenticity.
Whether or not Aśvaghoṣa wrote these four pādas as they have come down to us in the Nepalese manuscripts, they are contained in a series of verses in which Udāyin expresses an idea about the power of women, which he measures in terms of ability to influence men.
What clue might there be in Aśvaghoṣa's records of the Buddha's teaching as to how an intelligent reader or listener might be expected to respond?
One clue that springs to mind is contained in the 15th canto of Aśvaghoṣa's epic story of Beautiful Joy:
So for the giving up, in short, of all these ideas, / Mindfulness of inward and outward breathing, my friend, you should make into your own possession. // SN15.64 //
The Buddha is referring to a virtuous circle whereby simply being aware of breathing conduces to giving up of ideas and, conversely, recognizing that one is under the sway of an idea and abandoning that idea conduces to freer breathing.
A woman can influence a man in this direction. And a man can influence himself in this direction. But this is the kind of truth of which Hurry-Up Udāyin is strikingly unaware.
Aśvaghoṣa does not try to contradict male-centric views of women by counterposing a view of his own about women. Aśvaghoṣa's technique is rather (1) to let the likes of the Buddhist striver in Saundara-nanda, and the brahmin Hurry-Up Udāyin, express as eloquently as befits educated types such as they are, their own views and ideas; and (2) to point us in the direction of abandoning all views and giving up ideas.
manthāla-gautamaḥ (nom. sg. m.): Manthāla-gautama
√manth = √math to stir or whirl round
mantha: m. stirring round , churning
manthā: f. a churning-stick
āla: n. spawn ; any discharge of poisonous matter from venomous animals ; yellow arsenic , orpiment ; mfn. not little or insignificant , excellent
bhikṣuḥ (nom. sg. m.): m. a beggar , mendicant , religious mendicant (esp. a Brahman in the fourth āśrama or period of his life , when he subsists entirely on alms)
jaṅghayā (inst. sg.): f. ( √ jaṁh, to kick) the shank (from the ankle to the knee); the leg
vāra-mukhyayā (inst. sg.): f. the chief of a number of harlots , a royal courtezan [See BC3.52]
vāra: m. (fr. √1. vṛ) keeping back , restraining
vārā: f. a harlot , courtezan
vāra: m. (fr. √2. vṛ) choice ; anything chosen or choice or exquisite , goods , treasure (often ifc.)
mukhya: being in or coming from or belonging to the mouth or face; being at the head or at the beginning , first , principal , chief , eminent (ifc. = the first or best or chief among)
piprīṣuḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. desid. √prī, to please) wishing to give pleasure
tad-arthārtham (acc. sg. n.): in order to accomplish that aim ; with that end in view
arthārtha: mfn. effective for the accomplishment of the aim in view
vy-asūn (acc. pl. m.): the dead
vy-asu: mfn. lifeless , dead
asu: m. ( √as) breath , life
nir-aharat = 3rd pers. sg. imperf. nir- √ hṛ : to take out or off , draw or pull out , extract from (abl.) , expel , remove , destroy; to carry out (a dead body)
purā: before , formerly , of old