gautamaṁ dīrgha-tapasaṁ maharṣiṁ dīrgha-jīvinam |
yoṣit saṁtoṣayām-āsa varṇa-sthānāvarā satī || 4.18
The great seer Gautama Dīrgha-tapas
Was long on asceticism and in longevity,
But a girl pleasured him
Who was low in colour and standing.
A high-minded ascetic named Dīrgha-tapas features at the beginning of the 1st canto of Saundara-nanda:
In high-mindedness, he was like a second Dīrgha-tapas; / And he was like a third in the mould of Kāvya and Āṅgiras, in religious thought. // SN1.4 //
When he says that the girl who pleasured Dīrgha-tapas was low in colour and standing (varṇa-sthānāvarā satī), Udāyin presumably means that she had the darker skin of one of the darker-skinned original tribes of India as opposed to the fairer skin of the Āryan conquerors who invaded India from the north.
In the background to today's verse, then, is a view that Hurry-Up Udāyin has not only about women but also about colour and standing.
EBC, EHJ, and PO all translate varṇa as “caste,” which somehow sounds less direct, or less univerally offensive, than “colour.” But before it means “caste” varṇa means “colour.”
I think the whole point about Udāyin might be that, beneath his friendly, well-educated and eloquent veneer, he is a man of unexamined views.
But Aśvaghoṣa, again, was not in the business of contradicting ancient Indian views on gender and race by counterposing a Buddhist view on gender and race. He was not a politician with an agenda to reform the Indian caste system. Neither was he, like some professor of a mickey-mouse subject like "gender studies," an expert in views on views. He was a buddha-ancestor whose only duty was to practise sitting-meditation, as a vehicle for abandoning all views.
gautamam (acc. sg.): m. Gautama
dīrgha-tapasam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. performing long penances ; name of several ṛṣis.
maharṣim (acc. sg. m.): great seer
dīrgha-jīvinam (acc. sg. m.): long-lived
dīrgha: mfn. long (in space and time) , lofty , high , tall
jīvin: mfn. ifc. living (a particular period or at a certain time or in a certain way)
yoṣit (nom. sg.): f. a girl , maiden , young woman , wife
saṁtoṣayām-āsa = 3rd pers. periphrastic causative perf. saṁ- √ tuṣ: to make well satisfied or contented , propitiate , please
varṇa-sthānāvarā (nom. sg. f.): inferior in colour and standing
varṇa: m. covering ; outward appearance , exterior , form , figure , shape , colour; colour of the face , (esp.) good colour or complexion , lustre , beauty ; colour = race , species , kind , sort , character , nature ; class of men , tribe , order , caste (prob. from contrast of colour between the dark aboriginal tribes and their fair conquerors)
sthāna: n. the act of standing; station , rank , office , appointment , dignity
avara: mfn. inferior ; low , mean , unimportant, of small value ; n. ifc. the least , the lowest degree , lowest sum
satī = nom. sg. f. pres. part. as: to be