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  • A Snatch of Dream
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

alam aticapalatvāt svapnamāyopamatvātpariṇativirasatvāt saṃgamena priyāyāḥiti yadi śatakṛtvas tattvam ālokayāmastad api na hariṇākṣīṃ vismaraty antarātmā

  • alam. enough, equal to

  • ati-capalatvāt. extremely brief, instantaneous

  • svapna. dream

  • māyā. illusion

  • upamatvāt. is like, resembles

  • pariṇati. consequence, natural end

  • virasatvāt. juiceless, insipid, leaving a bad taste

  • saṃgamena. sexual union

  • priyāyāḥ. (f.) with (your) lover

  • iti. thus

  • yadi. though

  • śata. one hundred

  • kṛtvaḥ. times

  • tattvam. this truth

  • ālokayāmas. I reflect, study, consider

  • tad-api. nonetheless

  • na. does not

  • hariṇa-akṣīṃ. (bv. cmpd.) (f.) antelope-eyed-one

  • vismarati. forget

  • antarātmā. (my) inner self, heart [End Page 82]

A snatch of dream,a juggler’s contrivance—making love to herlasts hardly an instant,then leaves a bad taste in the mouth.A hundred timesI reflect on this “truth”but still can’t forgetthe lady’s antelope eyes.

In Vidyākara’s eleventh-century anthology, nineteen poems carry Dharmakīrti’s name. Nobody knows whether the Dharmakīrti who wrote them was the seventh-century Buddhist logician of the same name. The poems are certainly Buddhist in vocabulary and philosophy. This poem uses both svapna (dream) and māyā (illusion or contrivance)—words that recur in Buddhist sūtras. Both terms show up famously in a verse embedded in the Diamond Sūtra: “As a dream, an illusion … so should all compounded things be regarded.” Likewise, what I’ve translated as “truth” is a technical Buddhist term: tattva (thus-ness).

Dharmakīrti’s poems use twists of logic, deconstructions of grammar, and a trained metaphysical mind to expose the vulnerable heart. He shows himself unable to dwell in logic alone, and cannot abandon sexual love—though it ends up vi-rasa-tvāt: literally, juiceless; more colloquially, leaving a bad taste. No matter how decisively the Mahayana Buddhist sūtras and commentaries, as well as his own logical mind, insist that love is temporary, illusory, or in the end disappointing, a deeper instinct keeps driving Dharmakīrti back to his beloved. He calls her hariṇa-akṣīṃ (girl with antelope eyes). That feral quality of desire—a dash of animal wildness—before which logic stands powerless.

In Light of India, Octavio Paz’s book on his six years in India, reflects on the mystery of Dharmakīrti’s identity: “In Vidyākara’s anthology there are various poems attributed to a Dharmakīrti. Reading this name, I rubbed my eyes: was it possible that the author of these erotic poems was also the severe Buddhist logician? Professor Ingalls [translator of the anthology into English] dispelled my doubts: the passionate, sensuous, and ironic poet and the closely reasoning and sharp-minded philosopher are almost certainly one and the same.” [End Page 83]

Andrew Schelling

Andrew Schelling, born in 1953 at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington, D.C., has written, edited, or translated twenty books. Early opposition to American involvement in Vietnam, plus an encounter with India’s texts, set him on a lifelong engagement with Asian literature. He studied Sanskrit at the University of California at Berkeley, and began to translate from its classical poetry tradition around 1978. His first book, Dropping the Bow: Poems of Ancient India, received the Academy of American Poets translation award in 1992, the first time the Academy had honored work done from an Asian language. Schelling’s own poetry and essays emerge from the Southern Rocky Mountain bioregion in which he lives. Recent books of poetry wrangle with the Arapaho language as a way of reading landscape and the natural cycles; they include From the Arapaho Songbook and A Possible Bag. He has edited The Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature and Love and the Turning Seasons: India’s Poetry of Spiritual and Erotic Longing (forthcoming from Counterpoint Press). Living on the Front Range of Colorado, he is active on land-use issues and teaches at Naropa University. He also teaches regularly at Deer Park Institute, in India’s Himalayan foothills.



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pp. 82-83
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