Critical Appreciation of Prahasanas - Part 6

After gaining some composure he decides that bowl should have been taken by either a dog or a buddhist monk. While the comparison of a buddhist monk to a dog might seem preposterous, Satyasoma has his reasons which is the presence of roasted meat! This passage already hints at the kind of degeneracy which had crept in which is confirmed by the entry of Nāgasena which happens immediately as if by cue. Also note that later there is also the mention of the dog along with Unmattaka. While this doesn’t fit into the exact definition of a patākāsthāna, it does however indicate the events which happen later. Nāgasena a buddhist monk who is returning to the vihāra after partaking of a sumptuous meal generously hosted by some rich merchant, thanks the omniscient Tathāgata for allowing or prescribing good food, place to stay, soft garments etc., but also wonders why such an all-knowing one somehow hasn’t understood the needs of living beings when it comes to wine and women. He surmises that the older monks have been hiding it and decides to find the “real” teachings and help the generations to come. The next logical step would have been creating a new text and claiming it to be the lost teachings! By that time Buddhism was already divided into various branches and there were serious debates regarding the original teachings of Buddha. The author here hints at this fact.

Such dreamy thoughts are checked by reality when he sees that Satyasoma is calling him. By the time this happens, it seems like Nāgasena is well-acquainted with Satyasoma and his ways that he proceeds with caution and tries to escape, this makes his situation worse since such an attempt adds fuel to suspicion. Satyasoma is sure that Nāgasena is the thief, it fits his theory too. Nāgasena meanwhile betrays his thoughts straightaway by observing how beautiful Devasomā is.

“Things to be concealed”, leads to an argument about how Tathāgata has ordered clothes, compared to kāpālikas who were typically digambaras. This also helps Satyasoma take the moral high ground, showing he has nothing to hide. Such minute things being adeptly used to bring humour helps us gauge the erudition of the author too. It also shows how the arguments aren’t about the most profound philosophical questions but rather about trivial things.

Next we see Satyasoma abusing Buddha and calling him Kharapaṭa who is supposed to be the author of a treatise on thievery! Not just that he goes beyond saying that he is worse as everything is copied from others.

In page 111 of Lockwood and Bhat’s thesis dealing with the introduction to the play we find the following paragraph. (reproduced below verbatim, except for the changes in diacritics)

“In line 82, the Kapālī accuses the Buddha of stealing his doctrinal ideas from the Mahābhārata and Vedānta. This remark has a bearing on the controversy over the age of the Mahābhārata battle and the epic story of it. We are removed from the time of the Buddha by some 25 centuries. Mahendra, by only 12 centuries. Obviously, in his time, he believed the Mahābhārata epic and the Vedānta existed prior to the Buddha’s time.”

In page 110 where Ramaratnam deals with the character of Satyasoma too, a similar if not the same stance is taken. (reproduced below verbatim)

“.. According to him the Buddhists culled out portions from the Mahābhārata and Upaniṣads and compiled their own texts.”

Ramaratnam’s conclusion is still OK since none can accuse Buddha to be a thief who has just copied things, but it should be noted that he is also a product of his times and certainly would have got inspiration from Upaniṣads which were prior to his time. While Mahābhārata as we know it has come to its present form during the time of the Guptas, there is no doubt that it existed in some form much before. Even the vedas also have references to Kṛṣṇa, Purūrava who appear in the Mahābhārata.

But Lockwood and Bhat speak as though both Mahābhārata and Upaniṣads are definitely post Buddha and Mahendravarman somehow believed not to be so and hence he has written like that. Just because Mahendravarman was closer to Buddha in time than we are, how can we say he didn’t know better or we know the correct information? Again Lockwood and Bhat seem to arrive at such conclusions based on thin evidence. Buddha has himself declared that he has recycled the ageless thoughts of seers who existed before him. Bṛhadāraṇyaka and Chāndogya, the oldest among the Upaniṣads, have a well-structured philosophy. This is much prior to Buddhism.

Devasomā meanwhile realizes that it would take longer to get the bowl and makes Satyasoma drink more to “gain strength”. We also see a somewhat magnanimous side of this pair when they concur that even though Nāgasena is on the opposite side their own philosophy is of sharing everything and offers him wine. This can also be thought to be a calculated move since they are convinced he wouldn’t take it in public. This is confirmed by Nāgasena behaviour who curses himself for the predicament thinking that had it been offered in private he could have had it!

Only during this phase Satyasoma seems to talk incoherently saying if he has pity he can’t be free from passion. He also declares he would be free from anger once he has got his bowl back. He again proceeds to ridicule that the follower of the māyāvāda who conceals even oceans mountains, what difficulty in concealing a bowl. Again Satyasoma’s sharpness returns. It seems as though his intellect is sharp when he is drunk and dull when he isn't, which is the opposite of how it works for the majority of people in reality.

But the same can’t be said of his body since the stronger and steadier Nāgasena kicks him to the ground. Devasomā also seems to be oblivious of the monk’s strength, tries to grab him and fails since he has shaved off his hair, resulting in an unintentional fall. Nāgasena’s respect towards Buddha grows further as he has foreseen such a situation and has mandated the monks to shave their head! This again implicitly suggests that such an all-knowing one who could foresee Devasomā’s attack should have been good enough to foresee the changing needs of the monks and remove restrictions on wine and women!

This is the sixth part of the multi-part essay on "Critical Appreciation of Prahasanas". Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh, Shashikiran B N and Hari Ravikumar for reviews and valuable inputs.

Author(s)

About:

Raghavendra G S is currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Science. He is a keen student of classical literature in Sanskrit and Kannada. He is one of the contributing editors of Prekshaa.

Prekshaa Publications

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