Sunday, January 25, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.53: Born to Sing

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Premā)
mgā gajāś cārta-ravān sjanto vidudruvuś caiva nililyire ca |
rātrau ca tasyām ahanīva digbhyaḥ khagā ruvantaḥ paripetur ārtāḥ || 13.53

Wandering creatures of the forest, and elephants,
letting out calls of suffering,

Dispersed in all directions and hid themselves away.

Again, on that night, as if it were day, from every quarter

Singing sky-goers dropped down to earth, struck by suffering.

Today's verse ostensibly depicts an apocalyptic scene of deer, elephants and birds issuing cries and screams of pain and distress. Hence:
Deer and elephants uttering cries of pain ran about or lay down, — in that night as if it were day screaming birds flew around disturbed in all directions. (EBC)
The deer and the elephants, giving forth cries of distress, ran about and hid themselves, and on that night, as if it were day the birds on all sides fluttered about, screaming in distress. (EHJ)

Metaphorically, however, mṛgāḥ (rovers, forest creatures) might mean forest monks, gajāḥ (elephants) might mean the most excellent members of an order of such forest monks; and kha-gāḥ ('sky-goers' or 'those who go in emptiness'; i.e. birds) might mean all those who see it as their aim to NOT to do the doings which are the root of saṁsāra.

In that case, an example of an ārta-ravaḥ (a cry/call/song of suffering; EBC: cry of pain; EHJ: cry of distress) might be this speech of the Buddha's from SN Canto 15:
"That country is an easy place to live; that one is well-provisioned; that one is happy." / If there should arise any such idea in you, // SN15.42 //  You are to give it up, my friend, and not entertain it in any way, / Knowing the whole world to be ablaze with the manifold fires of the faults. // 15.43 // Again, from the turning of the circle of the seasons, and from hunger, thirst and fatigue, / Everywhere suffering is the rule. Not somewhere is happiness found. // 15.44 //  Here cold, there heat; here disease, there danger / Oppress humanity in the extreme. The world, therefore, has no place of refuge. // 15.45 // Aging, sickness and death are the great terror of this world. / There is no place where that terror does not arise. // 15.46 //  Where this body goes there suffering follows. / There is no way in the world going on which one is not afflicted. // 15.47 //  Even an area that is pleasant, abundant in provisions, and safe, / Should be regarded as a deprived area where burn the fires of affliction. // 15.48 //  In this world beset by hardships physical and mental, / There is no cosy place to which one might go and be at ease. // 15.49 // While suffering, everywhere and for everyone, continues at every moment, / You are not to enthuse, my friend, over the world's shimmering images. // 15.50 // When your enthusiasm is turned back from all that, / The whole living world you will deem to be, as it were, on fire. // 15.51 // 
Those of us who have listened to the gist of these words can be described, ironically, as ārtāḥ, "fallen into (misfortune)" or "afflicted" or "struck by suffering."

I am not sure what particular hidden meaning Aśvaghoṣa had in mind, in the 4th pāda, by ruvantaḥ (crying / calling / singing) and paripetuḥ (they flew about / moved to and fro / leaped down). Perhaps paripetuḥ was meant to suggest pacing up and down in walking meditation. And perhaps ruvantaḥ was meant to suggest the reciting of gathas or sutras. To convey those hidden meanings without obscuring the ostensible meaning,however, I could not see any way other than square brackets; e.g:

   Screaming birds flew to and fro, in pain.
   [Those who went in emptiness, singing / reciting, moved to and fro, struck by suffering].

Since, even with resort to square brackets, the hidden meaning is thus still not rendered at all elegantly, I decided as a compromise to translate paripetuḥ as "dropped down to earth," so as to ostensibly suggest dropping out of the sky having been hit by suffering, while conveying an ironic sub-text along the lines of dropping off body and mind.

In conclusion then, Aśvaghoṣa as I hear him, somewhat in the spirit of the person who when given lemons makes lemonade, is using the pretext of an apocalyptic vision to suggest a situation in which Zen practitioners everywhere are, on an individual basis, freely expressing their true Buddha-nature -- not only in silence but also in good voice. 

Such, I submit, is the true practice of non-doing. Stopping the doings which are the root of saṁsāra  does not always mean remaining tight-lipped. On the contrary, stopping the doings which are the root of saṁsāra might be synoymous with realizing that one is born to sing

mṛgāḥ (nom. pl.): m. (prob. " ranger " , " rover ") a forest animal or wild beast , game of any kind , (esp.) a deer , fawn , gazelle , antelope , stag , musk-deer
gajāḥ (nom. pl.): m. elephants
ca: and
ārta-ravān (acc. pl. m.): cries of distress
ārta: mfn. fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained , disturbed
rava: m. ( √1. ru) a roar , yell , cry , howl (of animals , wild beasts &c ); song, singing
√1. ru: to roar , bellow , howl , yelp , cry aloud ; to make any noise or sound , sing (as birds) , hum (as bees)
sṛjantaḥ = nom. pl. pres. part. sṛj: to let go or fly ; to utter (a sound); to let loose ; to release , set free

vidudruvuṛ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. vi- √ dru : to run apart or in different directions , disperse , run away , escape ; to part asunder , become divided , burst
dru: to run , hasten , flee
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
nililyire = 3rd pers. pl. perf. ni- √ lī: to settle down (esp. applied to the alighting of birds) , alight , descend ; to become settled or fixed ; to hide one's self , conceal one's self ; disappear  
ca: and

rātrau (loc. sg.): f. night , the darkness or stillness of night (often personified)
ca: and
tasyām (loc. sg. f.): that
ahani (loc. sg.): n. day
iva: like
digbhyaḥ (abl. pl. diś): from every quarter
diś: f. quarter or region pointed at , direction , cardinal point; quarter , region , direction , place , part (pl. , rarely sg. the whole world e.g. diśi , diśi , in all directions , everywhere Bhartr2. i , 86 ; digbhyas , from every quarter BhP. i , 15 , 8 ; diśo diśas , hither and thither Pan5c. ii , 116÷117 ; diśo'valokya , looking into the quarter of the sky i.e. into the air ; díso 'ntāt , from the extremities of the world ) ; space (beside kāla)

khagāḥ (nom. pl.): m. 'sky-goer'; bird
kha: n. a cavity , hollow , cave , cavern , aperture ; vacuity , empty space , air , ether , sky
ruvantaḥ = nom. pl. m. pres. part. ru: to roar , bellow , howl , yelp , cry aloud ; to make any noise or sound , sing (as birds) , hum (as bees)
paripetur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. pari- √ pat : to fly or run about , wheel or whirl round , rush to and fro , move hither and thither ; to leap down from (abl.) ; to throw one's self upon , attack (with loc.)
ārtāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained , disturbed ; injured ; oppressed , suffering , sick , unhappy
ā- √ṛ: to insert , place in RV. ; to excite ; to bring near , fetch RV. ; to come ; to reach , obtain , fall into (misfortune) ; to inflict

[No corresponding Chinese translation]

Saturday, January 24, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.52: When Belief Is a Bubble that Bursts

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Mālā)
tarakṣu-siṁhāktayas tathānye praṇedur uccair mahataḥ praṇādān |
sattvāni yaiḥ saṁcukucuḥ samantād vajrāhatā dyauḥ phalatīti matvā || 13.52

Others who, likewise, were different,
having the semblance of hyenas and of lions,

Howled with loud laughter and roared mighty roars,

At which beings on all sides made themselves small,

Deeming heaven, struck by the thunderbolt, to be bursting.

Today's verse contains no simile. It can be read, however, as continuing to develop the metaphor.

In that case MW's definition of praṇāda is meaningful, and especially the part in parenthesis:
a loud sound or noise (esp. expressive of approbation or delight).

Read in that light, the laughter of hyena-like beings might be the laughter of those who saw the irony of it all – not only the verbal irony but also, behind the verbal irony, the cosmic irony.

And the mighty roars of lion-like beings might be the roars of those who, having heard the lion's roar, were able to roar the lion's roar.

Because of these roars, beings felt small in comparison to, say, the height of a star, or the depth of the Buddha-wisdom.

And in the 4th pāda the thunderbolt might be a forerunner of David Hume's wrecking ball – namely the principle of treating as unfounded any idea that we cannot trace back to sense impressions.

“But,” the devout Buddhist may protest, “what about the textual evidence of SN Canto 10, in which the Buddha flies Nanda up to Indra's heaven to meet the celestial nymphs who put Sundarī's beauty to shame?”

And yes, it is true that Aśvaghoṣa did tell that story. But if you believe that, you might believe anything.

One of the lessons of reading Aśvaghoṣa is not to take anything he writes literally. Even though Aśvaghoṣa is the 12th patriarch in a line from the Buddha Śākyamuni, what he writes is sometimes clearly designed, on detailed investigation, NOT to be taken literally.

For translations that fail to take account of Aśvaghoṣa's liking for irony, we need look no further than the translations of EBC and EHJ, which continue to paint a kind of apocalyptic picture: 
Others, wearing the forms of hyenas and lions, uttered loudly fierce howls, which caused all beings round to quail with terror, as thinking that the heavens were smitten with a thunderbolt and were bursting. (EBC) 
Others again, assuming the forms of hyenas and lions, loudly roared mighty roars, from which living beings cowered away on every side, thinking the sky had been split by the blow of a thunderbolt. (EHJ) 

As I sat down this morning to sit, I found myself asking myself a question: What does it mean for the world? How does this translation of Aśvaghoṣa fit into world history? 

This caused me to reflect, for a start, where the question comes from. For example, does the question arise from a lingering desire in me to be somebody? Would I like to be a Mr. Big, like my Dad's uncle, Sir Eugene Cross, play-making rugby player and big beast of the early trade union movement in the South Wales valleys? Or am I really more like the only male ancestor I knew on my mother's side, Bill Haworth, Mr. Nobody, a clog-wearing labourer in a Blackburn paint factory, who liked on his days off to go for long solitary walks and read poetry? 

If the former is the case -- if am still cherishing the desire, which my Zen teacher seemed to encourage, that I should be an effective player in world history -- then it hardly sits easily with the 3rd pāda of today's verse, as I read it. 

Setting aside such self-doubt and coming back to the question, what does today's verse mean for the world here and now? 

If in the world here and now believers in freedom, under a banner like Je suis Charlie, are lined up against the evil forces of Islaamic extremism, then one way of reading today's verse is being on the side of freedom; hence the suggestion of bursting of the bubble of "We-are-right" fundamentalist religious belief. 

It is true that, following recent events in Paris, I felt the urge to identify myself on the side of the Je suis Charlies. But something -- I hope it was some kind of wisdom -- caused me to resist that impulse, and not to trust it. In general, since giving up playing rugby aged 18, I have tended to steer clear of taking sides, preferring more individual pursuits like karate-do, zazen, and Alexander work. 

So another answer, I think a truer answer, that then presented itself, was that today's verse, and Aśvaghoṣa's irony in general, can be taken as a kind of warning not to trust official narratives. 

So if a war is indeed raging in the world right now between the West and Islaam, who started that war? 

In the official narrative, the war started in earnest when freed0m-hating Islaamic fnndamentalists staged the 9-11 attacks. But the official version of events on that day have not yet convinced me of their veracity. The twin towers, in particular, coming down so soon after planes flew into them, do look very similar to buildings being demolished from below. 

And when it comes to engineering attacks on America as a causus belli, the powers-that-be in America certainly seem to have form, with Pearl Harbour. 

It strikes me that if what has really been going on since 11th September 2001 has been the taking away of individual freedoms by states purportedly fighting in the name of freedom, that is just the kind of bitter irony that Aśvaghoṣa would have appreciated. 

tarakṣu-siṁhākṛtayaḥ (nom. pl. m.): with forms of hyenas and lions
tarakṣu: m. a hyena
siṁha: m. a lion
ākṛti: f. a constituent part ; form , figure , shape , appearance , aspect
tathā: ind. likewise, again
anye (nom. pl. m.); others; ones who were different

praṇedur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. pra-√nad: to resound , begin to sound or roar or cry
uccaiḥ: ind. aloft , high , above , upwards , from above ; loud , accentuated ; intensely , much , powerfully
mahataḥ (acc. pl. m.): mfn. great, mighty
praṇādān (acc. pl.): m. a loud sound or noise (esp. expressive of approbation or delight) , shout , cry , roar , yell , neigh &

sattvāni (nom. pl.): n. beings
yaiḥ (inst. pl.): by which
saṁcukucur = 3rd pers. pl. saṁ- √ kuc: to contract , shrink , close (as a flower); to contract , compress , absorb , destroy
kuc: to sound high , utter a shrill cry (as a bird) ; to contract ; to be or make small (cf. √ kuñc.)
kuñc: to make crooked ; to bend or curve , move crookedly : Caus. kuñcayati, to curl
samantāt: ind. on all sides

vajrāhatā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. struck by a thunderbolt
vajra: mn. " the hard or mighty one " , a thunderbolt (esp. that of indra)
āhata: mfn. struck 
dyauḥ (nom. sg.): , f. in later Skr. heaven , the sky
phalati = 3rd pers. sg. phal: to burst , cleave open or asunder , split (intrans.)
iti: “...,” thus
matvā = abs. man: to think, consider

[No corresponding Chinese translation]

Friday, January 23, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.51: When Non-Doing Cheese is Like Doing Chalk

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
gurvīṁ śilām udyamayaṁs tathānyaḥ śaśrāma moghaṁ vihata-prayatnaḥ |
niḥśreyasaṁ jñāna-samādhi-gamyaṁ kāya-klamair dharmam ivāptu-kāmaḥ || 13.51

One who, again, was different,
lifting up a heavy millstone,

Exerted himself for nothing,
his efforts coming to naught;

He was like one seeking to obtain,
through toilsome physical doings,

The peerless dharma that is to be realized
by the act of knowing and by the balanced stillness of samādhi.

Today's verse is another brilliant one. It is also, as we would expect from the last in a series of verse, a difficult one. It would have been more difficult if Aśvaghoṣa had not primed us, in the preceding five verses, to see that the metaphor he has been developing is of a higher order than the similes he has been using along the way.

Each verse in the series of six verses from BC13.46 has featured a simile in its second half which, on the face of it, has carried the main teaching point of the verse. Below the surface, however, we have seen that the main teaching point of each verse has been contained not in the simile, but in the underlying metaphor.

The way to attack today's verse, then, is as we attacked yesterday's verse – by clarifying the metaphor, clarifying the simile, and clarifying the relation between the metaphor and the simile.

The subject of the verse, again, is anyaḥ – one who is different, a buddha who transcends any lingering view you or I might have about how a buddha ought to be; in short, a non-buddha.

The metaphor of lifting the heavy millstone, then, brings to mind Dogen's confession in the opening chapter of Shobogenzo that, when he came back from China to Japan, he felt like he was carrying a heavy burden on his shoulders.

Equally, one thinks of what the Buddha said to Nanda at the end of Saundarananda:
Therefore forgetting the work that needs to be done in this world on the self, do now, stout soul, what can be done for others. / Among beings who are wandering in the night, their minds shrouded in darkness, let the lamp of this transmission be carried. // SN18.57 //

These efforts, in the direction of transmission of the Buddha-dharma, in Aśvaghoṣa's ironic metaphor, are exertion for nothing, labour that comes to naught. What the Buddha calls a lamp Aśvaghoṣa calls a heavy stone, held aloft with great effort but not necessarily with any specific aim in mind. 

So much for the metaphor. What about the simile?

To make sense of the simile there is no better string of sentences than – you've guessed it – the conclusion to MMK Chapter 26:
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do. / The ignorant one therefore is the doer; the wise one is not, because of reality making itself known. //MMK26.10// In the destruction of ignorance, there is the non-coming-into-being of doings./ The destruction of ignorance, however, is because of the allowing-into-being of just this act of knowing.//MMK26.11// By the destruction of this one and that one, this one and that one are discontinued. / This whole edifice of suffering is thus well and truly demolished.//MMK26.12//

The point is that expecting to obtain the peerless dharma by doing the doings which are the root of saṁsāra is just ignorance. The peerless dharma is truly to be obtained precisely NOT by toilsome doings, but rather by jñāna (same word in today's verse and in MMK26.11) and by samādhi.

The genius and the irony of today's verse, then, is that Aśvaghoṣa is comparing two attitudes which are like each other in the way that a cake of chalk looks, from a distance, like a cake of cheese.

gurvīm (acc. sg. f.): mfn. heavy
śilām (acc. sg.): f. (perhaps connected with √1. śi) a stone , rock , crag ; the lower mill-stone ; the lower timber of a door ; the top of the pillar supporting a house
udyamayan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. ud- √ yam: to lift up ; to be diligent , strive after (only P. e.g. udyacchati cikitsāṁ vaidyaḥ , " the physician strives after the science of medicine "; with dat. or acc. or without any object)
tathā: ind. likewise, again
anyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): another ; one who was different

śaśrāma = 3rd pers. sg. perf. śram: to make effort , exert one's self (esp. in performing acts of austerity) , labour in vain
mogham: ind. in vain, fruitlessly
mogha: mfn. ( √1. muh) vain , fruitlets , useless , unsuccessful , unprofitable
muh: to become stupefied or unconscious , be bewildered or perplexed , err , be mistaken , go astray ; to become confused , fail , miscarry
vihata-prayatnaḥ (nom. sg. m.): 'his efforts baffled' [EBC/EHJ]
vihata: mfn. torn up , furrowed ; struck or beaten away or dashed out (of a person's hand)
vi- √ han: to strike apart or asunder , disperse , shatter , break , destroy ; to hinder , interrupt , disturb , prevent , frustrate , annihilate
prayatna: m. persevering effort , continued exertion or endeavour , activity , action , act ; great care , caution ; (in phil.) active efforts (of 3 kinds , viz. engaging in any act , prosecuting it , and completing it)

niḥśreyasam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. " having no better " , best , most excellent
jñāna-samādhi-gamyam (acc. sg. m.): to be attained by knowing and integration
gamya: mfn. to be attained, accessible

kāya-klamaiḥ (inst. pl.): by acts of bodily exhaustion
klama: m. fatigue , exhaustion , languor , weariness
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. dharma
iva: like
āptu-kāmaḥ (nom. sg. m.): desiring to obtain

[No corresponding Chinese translation]

Thursday, January 22, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.50: Brilliantly Sending Up Religious Ardour

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
kaś cit pradīptaṁ praṇidhāya cakṣur netrāgnināśī-viṣavad didhakṣuḥ |
tatraiva nāsīnam ṣiṁ dadarśa kāmātmakaḥ śreya ivopadiṣṭam || 13.50

One of them directed a blazing eye,

Desiring with the fire of his glare,
like a venomous snake, to burn [his object] up;

He was blind to the seer right there, sitting –

As a sensualist is blind to a better way that has been pointed out.

Today's verse contains not one but two similes. I think the challenge, though, once again, is to dig out the meaning buried in the metaphor.

The first simile compares with a poisonous snake the subject who desires, with burning venom, completely to destroy [something or someone]. Hence āśī-viṣavad didhakṣuḥ, “desiring to burn like a venomous snake.”

The second simile compares with a blind sensualist the subject who fails to see what is in front of his nose. Hence na dadarśa kāmātmakaḥ śreya ivopadiṣṭam, “he did not see, like a sensualist failing to see the better way which has been pointed out.”

At first glance, then, today's verse looks like it cautions against straying off the middle way in the direction of sensuality.

What Aśvaghoṣa has in his sights, below the surface, however, with characteristic irony, might be the religious ardour that resides on the other side of the middle way.

Here again, then, as discussed in connection with BC13.45, when Aśvaghoṣa satirizes religious belief he does so in such a way as not to cause offence – not least because those that might be offended would never recognize themselves as being in the firing line.

Thus the metaphor in today's verse, if we strip away the similes and translate literally, is kaś cit pradīptaṁ praṇidhāya cakṣur netrāgninā didhakṣuḥ / tatraiva nāsīnam ṛṣiṁ dadarśa. “One of them directed a blazing eye, desiring with the fire of his eye to destroy [his object] by burning; / He did not see the Seer sitting right there.”

And this describes nobody better than a Zen Buddhist in the first flush of idealistic zeal, out to destroy all impediments to the Zen enlightenment he has read about and heard about and seen in books and other works of fiction.

If yesterday's verse satirizes one whose attitude is overly intellectual, then, today's verse can be read as satirizing one whose attitude is overly emotional.

These are two mistakes that, undeniably, this bloke who sits has made in the past. I am not even sure that I have stopped making those mistakes yet.

And so finally, to recap in the light of tainted experience from BC13.46, the starting point is to find the courage, or find the confidence, to shoot the blasted arrow. In other words, don't just read books or listen to talks or watch dharma documentaries: establish your own sitting practice. Thus having experienced your arrows being in mid-air, you can be one who is different, a free-faller, and on that basis you can talk your own talk, like wielding a powerful bludgeon. But if in the matter of non-doing, or free falling, or dropping off body and mind, you are too intellectual about it, or too zealous about it, then you will be talking the talk without walking the walk. And in that state you won't be meeting Buddha, even when Buddha is right there, just sitting.

So the present series of verses, which ostensibly uses many similes to paint an interesting and thought-provoking description of Māra's monsters, might better be understood as one metaphor for the process of every bodhisattva who sits, following the example of  a true mahā-rishi -- a truly great seer -- who sat. And the big clue in today's verse to such hidden meaning comes in the 3rd pāda with the words tatraiva (right there) āsīnam (sitting).

When we understand these verses as featuring a series of similes, then the subject is the bodhisattva who is sitting right there, confronted with various threatening objects. But when we see the metaphor running through these verses, the subject is the one who sits, and the ones we thought were objects turn out also to be the one who sits. So in this way, subliminally, our usual way of thinking in terms of subject and object, us and them, is being challenged.

The point, to spell it out, might be that ultimately there is only the one who sits, being right there, sitting. 

kaś cit (nom. sg. m.): one, somebody
pradīptam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. blazing, on fire
praṇidhāya = abs. pra-ṇi- √ dhā: to place in front , cause to precede ; to turn or direct (the eyes or thoughts) upon (loc.)
cakṣuḥ (acc. sg.): n. the act of seeing; eye ; a look

netrāgninā (inst. sg.): with the fire of his eye
netra: n. leading ; guiding ; the eye (as the guiding organ);
āśī-viṣavat: ind. like a venomous snake
āśī-viṣa: m. a kind of venomous snake
āśīs: f. a serpent's fang
viṣa: n. " anything active " , poison , venom , bane , anything actively pernicious
didhakṣuḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. wishing to burn
dah: to burn ; to consume , destroy completely

tatra: there
eva: (emphatic)
na: not
āsīnam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. sitting
ṛṣim (acc. sg.): m. the seer
dadarśa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. dṛś: to see

kāmātmakaḥ (nom. sg. m.): a desirous soul
kāmātman: mfn. " whose very essence is desire " , consisting of desire , indulging one's desires , given to lust , sensual , licentious
śreyaḥ (acc. sg.): n. (as) the better state , the better fortune or condition
iva: like
upadiṣṭam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. specified , particularized ; taught , instructed
upa- √ diś: to point out

[No corresponding Chinese translation]

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.49: How Can a Woman Delude a Man's Mind?

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
strī megha-kālī tu kapāla-hastā kartuṁ mahārṣeḥ kila citta-moham |
babhrāma tatrāniyataṁ na tasthau calātmano buddhir ivāgameṣu || 13.49

A woman, in contrast
– Megha-kālī, “the One Black as a Cloud” –
bearing a skull [or a bowl] in her hand,

To delude the mind of the truly great seer
[or of a would-be mahā-rishi ],

Flitted about there unrestrainedly;
she did not stand still –

Like the intellect of a flibbertigibbet
flitting through ancient scriptures.

  • How black is a cloud?
True, we sometimes notice black clouds on the horizon, but clouds are generally white -- especially in our minds, especially conceptual clouds. If we ask a child to draw clouds, the result will most likely look like puffs of cotton wool floating next to a smiling sun. 

In a similar way,  we are liable in general to think of the moon as being golden and round … and then suddenly one morning we notice the sliver of a white crescent moon in the blue sky.

  • What did Aśvaghoṣa mean by kapāla-hastā?
EBC translated “bearing a skull in her hand,” and EHJ similarly “with a skull in her hand”; but before “the skull,” the MW dictionary defines kapāla as a cup, jar, dish; the alms-bowl of a beggar.”

  • In light of such ambiguity, what should we make of the word strī
What is “a woman”? And a woman is, for example, who?

A celibate monk, like the striver in SN Canto 8, is liable to see “a woman” as a temptress to be feared; but no celibate monk, however exalted, ever got where he was without his mum.

So whereas the MW dictionary gives megha-kālī as 'cloud-black' ; name of a female demon, is it possible that Aśvaghoṣa was ironically painting a picture of a real woman – maybe a female monk of unfathomable dimensions, on her alms round?

In the Alexander world, there are more women Alexander teachers than men, and some of them are much more skillful exponents of non-doing than I will ever be – FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow being a case in point.

There is more than one way, then, in which a woman or “a woman” can delude the mind of a would-be great seer– taking kila to mean “purported" or "would-be." Another meaning of kila, however, is “indeed” or “veritable,” in which case mahārṣeḥ kila means “of the truly great seer.”

If we follow the second meaning, then a woman's effort to delude the mind of a truly great seer must be in vain, in which case those efforts might be a metaphor for trying with the intellect to penetrate the wisdom of the ancients.

So today's verse is another example, as discussed in connection with BC13.46, in which the second half of the verse ostensibly contains the main figure of speech, in the form of a simile; but the main figure of speech is actually in the first half of the verse, in the form of a metaphor.

And the main point Aśvaghoṣa is making, below the surface, might be that a concept can no more delude the mind of a truly great seer than the wavering intellect of a flibbertigibbet could drill holes in the text of a palm-leaf manuscript – this having been, down through the centuries, mainly the work of white ants.

When we read today's verse like this. it makes sense that Aśvaghoṣa chose as the subject of the verse strī, a woman. Just as anyaḥ, "one who is different," is usually a signal in Aśvaghoṣa's writing that he is discussing a real individual, one who is beyond stereotypes, a non-buddha, so strī, "a woman," might also be a signal to the reader, or a test of whether the reader is awake or asleep. 

If the Buddha's dharma, as Nāgārjuna concludes, is the abandoning of all -isms, then there might be a lot to be learned by investigating the meaning in Aśvaghoṣa's writing of strī, a woman.

Hence, I think, the titles of SN Canto 8, strī-vighātaḥ, A Tirade Against Women, and of BC Canto 4 strī-vighātanaḥ, Warding 'Women' Away.

Aśvaghoṣa was certainly no misogynist, of course; but I don't think he was any kind of feminist either. I think his consideration of a woman, in those cantos and in today's verse, was grounded in keen appreciation of the difference between generic concept and individual reality.

So the main point of today's verse, again, might be that the flitting intellect, wavering this way and that, has no material impact at all on the objective reality of the Buddha's teaching – any more than the finger of a person standing on the earth can touch the moon.

My Zen teacher used to say that the whole of the Buddha's teaching comes down to this point of the unbridgeable gulf  that exists between thinking and reality.

The big irony, which I somehow intuited but for years and years struggled to see, was that the direction in sitting that my teacher thought was up, was in reality down.
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra, thus did the dopey one do.

Worse still,
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra, thus did the twit transmit.

strī (nom. sg.): f. a woman
megha-kālī: f. 'cloud-black' ; N. of a female demon, Bcar.
tu: but
kapāla-hastā (nom. sg. f.): skull in hand
kapāla: mn. a cup , jar , dish ; the alms-bowl of a beggar ; a cover , lid ; the skull , cranium , skull-bone

kartum = inf. kṛ: to do, make
mahārṣeḥ (gen. sg. m.): of the great seer
kila: ind. (a particle of asseveration or emphasis) indeed , verily , assuredly" so said " " so reported " , pretendedly; (kila is preceded by the word on which it lays stress)
citta-moham (acc. sg.): m. confusion of mind

babhrāma = 3rd pers. sg. perf. bhram: to wander or roam about , rove , ramble ; to move to and fro or unsteadily , flicker , flutter , reel , totter ; to waver , be perplexed , doubt , err
tatra: there
aniyatam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. not regulated , uncontrolled , not fixed , uncertain , unrestricted , irregular , casual
na: not
tasthau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. sthā: to stand still

calātmanaḥ (gen. sg. m.): mfn. fickle-minded
buddhiḥ (nom. sg.): f. the mind , intellect
iva: like
āgameṣu (loc. pl.): m. science ; a traditional doctrine or precept , collection of such doctrines , sacred work ; anything handed down and fixed by tradition

魔王有姊妹 名彌伽迦利
手執髑髏器 在於菩薩前

作種種異儀 婬惑亂菩薩 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.48: Free Fallin'

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Mālā)
jighāṁsayānyaḥ prasasāra ruṣṭo gadāṁ ghītvābhimukho mahārṣeḥ |
so prāpta-kālo vivaśaḥ papāta doṣeṣv ivānartha-kareṣu lokaḥ || 13.48

Bent on destruction,
one who was different furiously sprang forth,

Wielding a bludgeon [or a string of sentences],
while facing in the great seer's direction;

His time having come, into free fall he went, helplessly –

As the world falls into calamitous faults.

The saṁsāra-fearing one of yesterday's verse and the one bent on destruction in today's verse are both described as anyaḥ, another, a different one. Ostensibly they are different from each other, but ironically they might be the same one, who is different from what you think.

So the one who is different in today's verse, when he is bent on destruction, might be bent on the destruction of the ignorance which is the grounds for the doings which are the root of saṁsāra.

That being so, his bludgeon might look something like this:
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do. / The ignorant one therefore is the doer; the wise one is not, because of reality making itself known. //MMK26.10// In the destruction of ignorance, there is the non-coming-into-being of doings./ The destruction of ignorance, however, is because of the allowing-into-being of just this act of knowing. //MMK26.11// By the destruction of this one and that one, this one and that one are discontinued. / This whole edifice of suffering is thus well and truly demolished. //MMK26.12//

When the world falls into calamitous faults, the falling is accomplished vivaśaḥ, involuntarily, helplessly, spontaneously – as easily as falling off a log.

Ironically, therefore, the falling of the world into calamitous faults, for a person whose primary task is the dropping off of body and mind, is exemplary behaviour. 

It is exemplary because of its spontaneity. 

It is not hampered, for a start, by any religious sense of belonging to the chosen group, or by an idealistic desire to be right. 

A year or two ago, while I was in France for the summer, an Alexander teacher named Claire Rennie very kindly asked and encouraged me to contribute to a book that has just been published. I heard the announcement yesterday. So I have been trying to remember why I didn't take up Claire's kind offer. It would have been a good chance for me to draw attention, for example, to the very profound connection between Alexander's four primary directions and four primitive vestibular reflexes. I could have stuck a metaphorical flag in the ground as the bloke who, having been guided by Ray Evans, was the first to make explicit the correspondence between the four directions and the four reflexes. Doubtless before too long some other bright spark will come along and take the glory.

So my first reaction when I read Claire's announcement was a kind of shaking of my head at myself. Why didn't I take the chance of spreading the good word? Why spend all this energy keeping this blog, which nobody reads, when I could have used Claire's book as an excellent platform?

But just now, I accidentally answered my own question, when I wrote of a person whose primary task is the dropping off of body and mind... 

Now I remember. My primary task is not to spread the good word. My primary task – as I tend to remember when, assisted by the trees, I am on my own in France, but tend to forget when back in Aylesbury – is just to drop off body and mind.

And my keeping this blog – as you may have noticed if you are a regular visitor – is not primarily for the purpose of spreading the word. It is not written primarily for the reader's benefit. I resolved six years ago to do this translation at a rate of one verse per day, and ever since I have been embracing that resolve like a friend.

Before I started this translation I was suffering from a pain in the stomach that no amount of sitting, and no amount of Alexander inhibition and direction, was taking away. When I started work on this translation, and allowed myself to write whatever the hell I wanted to write in these comments, the pain cleared up. I'm not quite sure how that worked in theory, but it worked in fact. 

Is this helping to clarify the hidden meaning of vivaśaḥ papāta, “he fell helpless,” or “into free fall he spontaneously went”? Or am I just expressing a pathetic degree of self-indulgence?

Maybe a bit of both.

I do remember the Dalai Lama telling Jerry Paxman several years ago that his dream would be to live the life of an anonymous monk, free to devote himself to his own practice. Mindful of that, I thank my lucky stars, in my better moments, that this blog has not attracted more interest.

It could be that these intolerably long and self-indulgent rambles of mine, with the occasional descent into foul and abusive language, are a kind of technique for keeping people away. That is how my wife, for one, sees my behaviour.

So here, apropos of not much, but in the spirit of further shameful self-indulgence, is Tom Petty singing Free Fallin'.

I liked this song even before I got a real taste, as a student of the FM Alexander Technique, of how just sitting upright in the lotus posture might be enjoyed not only as an act of doing but also as an act of non-doing -- an act, in other words, of true free falling. 

Spare a moment to appreciate the excellent contribution (bass guitar and backing vocals) of Jeff Lynne, whose joy and suffering I shared in the 1970s as a supporter of Birmingham City Football Club.

We are all unfathomably inter-connected. That being so, it matters not that nobody reads my stuff. If any of us can truly spring up, having gone back, even for a moment, who knows what beneficial side effects there might be?

That's all, for today, from Pseud's Corner.

jighāṁsayā (inst. sg.): f. wish or intention to strike or slay or destroy ; malice , revenge
anyaḥ (nom. sg.): m. another ; one who was different
prasasāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra- √ sṛ: to move forwards , advance (" for " or " against " acc.) , proceed (lit. and fig.) , spring up , come forth , issue from (abl.) , appear , rise , spread , extend
ruṣṭaḥ (nom. sg. m.) = ruṣiṭa mfn. injured , offended , irritated , furious , angry
to hurt , injure , kill (hiṁsāyām) Dha1tup. ;
ruṣ: to be hurt or offended by , take offence ; to displease , be disagreeable to (gen.) ; to be vexed or cross , be angry with (gen.)

gadām (acc. sg.): f. a series of sentences; f. club, bludgeon
gad: to speak articulately , speak , say , relate , tell
gada: m. a sentence
gṛhītvā = abs. grah: to grasp, seize
abhimukhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. with the face directed towards , turned towards , facing (with acc.)
mahārṣeḥ (gen. sg.): the great seer

saḥ (nom. sg. m.): he
prāpta-kālaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one whose time has come , seasonable , suitable , opportune
aprāpta-kālaḥ [EBC] (nom. sg. m.): 'without finding an opportunity'
aprāpta-kāmaḥ [EHJ] (nom. sg. m.): '[men (lokaḥ)] not obtaining their desires'
aprāpta: mfn. unobtained
vi-vaśaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. deprived or destitute of will , powerless , helpless (" through " comp.) , unwilling , involuntary , spontaneous
papāta = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pat: to fly , soar , rush on to fall down ; to fall (in a moral sense) , lose caste or rank or position

doṣeṣu (loc. pl.): m. faults
iva: like
anartha-kareṣu (loc. pl. m.): causing calamity ; producing evil or misfortune
lokaḥ (nom. sg.): m. world

諸種種形類 欲害菩薩者
不能令傾動 隨事還自傷

[Roughly summarizes verses 45 – 48]