apyaasiid duHkhitaan pashyan
n' aadhauShiic ca yasho lobhaad
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Seeing people suffering he overflowed
With his original emotion as a man of compassion
But he did not, through eager desire,
undermine his honour
By unprincipled acquisition of treasured objects.
In the beginning was ... what?
A word? Sin? Fear?
In the beginning, Ashvaghosha seems to be saying in this verse, there was, at least for the non-Buddhist king, karuNaa, compassion.
Ashvaghosha's grandson Nagarjuna would later write:
yaH saddharmam adeshayat
taM namasyaami gautamaM
For the dropping of all views
He taught the true Dharma,
I bow to him, Gautama.
A turning word in Nagarjuna's verse, as I read it, is upaadaaya, from upaa-√daa, whose meanings the dictionary lists as to receive , accept , gain , acquire , appropriate to one's self; take away , carry off , steal ; to take as help , use , employ , apply.
Taking together that verse of Nagarjuna and this verse of Ashvaghosha, one gets the impression that the Indian ancestors are telling us that what marked Gautama out was not so much the fact or even the depth of his compassion but rather his great skill in exploiting this original resource, in appropriating it, making it his own, and applying it; in short, in utilizing it.
Having compassion came naturally to the king, Ashvaghosha is telling us. But the king did not, on the basis of an emotion or a feeling like compassion, go directly for the objects he treasured.
Treasured objects acquired by unprincipled means might be material riches or might be something immaterial like empty fame.
Again, a treasured object acquired by unprincipled means might be a sitting posture in which the spine is vertically straight.
If the means are unprincipled, even though the treasured object in view might be acquired, and even though the original intention was compassionate, the acquisition of the treasured objet is very likely to be at the expense of undesirable side-effects.
Observing how originally compassionate intentions are prone to go awry in this manner, FM Alexander, quite independently of the Buddha's teaching, tracked the problem back to a combination of "faulty sensory appreciation" and "end-gaining."
So what I primarily take from this verse, having slept on it, is further clarification of a point that Nagarjuna's verse has seemed to be trying to impress on me since I studied it a few weeks ago. The point might be that to be compassionate or to have compassion is not enough, because it might be true to say that every Tom, Dick and Harry is already innately compassionate. The point might be to develop a certain skill, which is opposed to instinctive human end-gaining, in utilizing our original stuff.
One can readily observe people of compassion being everywhere drawn into areas such as medicine, education and (in the middle way between medicine and education) Zen practice and Alexander work. Whether inside or outside, however, real skill in utilizing compassion based on a truly conscious means-whereby principle -- as opposed to end-gaining guided by faulty sensory appreciation -- is much harder to find.
The compassion, innate in his nature, overflowed at the sight of distress, and he did not imperil his fame through covetousness in the unjust acquisition of riches.
His was a compassionate nature, which welled up when he beheld suffering; but greed could never drive him to damage his reputation with improperly attained wealth.
apyaasiit = 3rd pers. sg. aorist pyai: to swell , be exuberant , overflow
duHkhitaan (acc. pl. m.): mfn. pained , distressed ; afflicted , unhappy
pashyan = nom. sg. m. pashyat: mfn. seeing, beholding etc.
prakRtyaa = inst. sg. prakRti: f. " making or placing before or at first " , the original or natural form or condition of anything, original or primary substance ; nature , character , constitution , temper , disposition
karuN'-aatmakaH (nom. sg. m.): having the character of compassion
karuNaa: f. pity , compassion
aatmaka: having the nature or character of (in comp.)
adhauShiit = 3rd pers. sg. aorist dhuu: to shake , agitate , cause to tremble ; to shake down from (e.g. fruits [acc.] from a tree [acc.]); to shake off , remove , liberate one's self from (acc.) ; to treat roughly , hurt , injure
yashaH = acc. sg. yashas: n. fame, honour etc.
lobhaat (abl. sg.): m. perplexity , confusion ; impatience , eager desire for or longing after (gen. loc. or comp.) ; covetousness , cupidity , avarice
a-nyaay'-aadhigataiH (inst. pl.): improperly acquired
a-nyaaya: m. unjust or unlawful action ; impropriety , indecorum ; irregularity , disorder.
adhigata: mfn. found , obtained , acquired
dhanaiH = inst. pl. dhana: n. any valued object , (esp.) wealth , riches , (movable) property , money , treasure , gift