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The narrative literature of the Buddhist tradition is rich in imagery, evokes strong emotional feelings and provides a historical summary of the Buddha.
Whether one reads the Jatakas and learns the major precepts of Buddhism at a simpler and less daunting pace or grasps the epic poetry; the discourse of the narratives still is a teaching tool for the Buddhist doctrines.
The epic poem, Sugata Saurabha featured on this page has an interesting story of its own and the author, Chittadhar Hrdaya's writing of the poem is an engaging story of its own.
Hrydaya had been imprisoned in Nepal for writing a ten line poem in his own language of the Newar. While in prison, the author began another conscious yet clandestine attempt at writing and began to compose Sugata on very small sheets of paper, basically scraps. The papers were then hid in a small tin box that he kept in his cell.
Even inside the tin box, the pieces of paper were secretly hidden in case his box was searched.
Eventually the whole poem was completed during his prison stay of five years. He had to finish up approximately twenty or twenty five stanzas of the final two chapters.
The summer of his release in 1946 allowed him the time to edit his work and the body of work was finally published in 1948.
About the translators and translation:
Todd T. Lewis, Prof. of Religious Studies at College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA collaborated with Subarna Man Tuladhar, a professional translator who lives in Nepal and Professor of Public Administration.
The poem is written in couplets and divided into 19 chapters; covering the birth of the Buddha, his life and finally his entry into Nirvana.
The language is modern and beautiful, filling all of one's senses as they journey with the Buddha to his ultimate Liberation.
It is also of interest because, where the classical sources are silent, Hrdaya inserts details of personal life and cultural context that are Nepalese. The effect is to humanize the founder and add the texture of real life.
A third point of interest is the modernist perspective that underlies the author's manner of retelling this great spiritual narrative. This rendering, in a long line of accounts of the Buddha's life dating back almost 2,000 years.
Sugata Saurabha translates to "The fragrant life of the Buddha"
Excerpts from the poem have been made into pdf files for the use of the reader and student. If one wants, the book is now available on Amazon as a Kindle book and can be read aloud.
Five chapters were chosen that illustrate the power of the descriptive language and beauty of the poetry. Furthermore, the chapters chosen also highlight major life events for the Buddha. Each link below goes to a set of pdf files. Not all pages were included for each chapter chosen but a significant amount were included to help give the reader an experience with the literature. Permission was given by Todd Lewis to include these files in this website. PDF links below :
Several lesson ideas emerge as one reads the material. The scope of the language suggests a world that seems almost fantasy like and then Hrdaya includes the bittersweet moments of the young Buddha's life. There are human struggles throughout the poem and the chapter about the dispute over water includes a scene where people go to war over water.
Lumbini bespeaks of the beauty of the valley where the Buddha was born. Yashodhara is the beautiful young wife of the Buddha who struggles with her undying love for him and his eventual renunciation of their marriage and child. Attaining Enlightenment reveals the initial life of the Buddha the day after he leaves his wife and former life and how he attains Enlightenment.
Finally, the Entry into Nirvana provides the rising scholar of Buddhism a modern approach to the Buddha's final end days and how he leaves messages of hope to his own disciples.
What to do?
Art: Ask students to choose a couplet from Lumbini and to draw the image using on the words to guide them.
Writing and Comparison: Yashodhara's story in Chapter 9 is infused with Nepalese images.
Students can investigate the kite-flying history of Nepal and see how this is reflected in the lines of the poem.
Other suggestions are to compare the love and loss of Yashodhara with other women in literature covered in classes. Her story is not unique because her husband left her but unique in that her husband was the Buddha.
One may also have students read Yashodhara's chapter and then Chapter 10 and compare how the Buddha had to deal with his recent separation and then his movement toward Enlightenment.
Writing and Current Events: Chapter 16 discusses the dispute over water and how the people get ready to war over their water rights. Water rights are a controversial and timely topic which students may want to investigate in the Himalayan Region, India and other areas of the world where Buddhism is practiced.
Writing and Theater Art: Chapter 19 seems like the most modern of chapters and has quite a bit of dialogue; one could have the class read this chapter aloud.
Pink Lotus (Skt. padma; Tib. pad ma dmar po):
"As long as you diligently practice mindfulness and cultivate insight
Further again, as long as you diligently recall my teachings daily, meditate mindfully,
Living thoroughly in accord with these seven factors leading to enlightenment
(Page 319, Sugata Saurabha)
Another pink lotus in full bloom.
Pictures taken by Michael C. Mackiewicz.
Chapter 19, a strong chapter to culminate the teachings of Buddhism and to further explain how it is when someone crosses over into Nirvana. These are all topics that the student may finally capture in their writing or even their own artistic display of the event.
This site was created by Diana T. Mackiewicz at the NEH Summer Institute "Literatures, Religions, and Arts of the Himalayan Region," held at the College of the Holy Cross, Summer 2011.