Monday, August 23, 2010

Canto 3: A Portrayal of the Tathagata

Going through this canto again in just the space of a week has meant stretching myself in a way reminiscent of translation work in former days, before I began in a systematic way to apply Alexander's principle of (1) giving up the idea of going directly for the gaining of an end, and (2), in the space thereby created, wishing to allow the neck to be free to allow the head to release out in such a way that the back lengthens and widens and the arms and legs are released out of the back.

This is the principle, in other words, of maintaining a good or proper use of the self in one's activities. And this principle is conspicuously expressed in this canto, as I read it, in verse 3.6 in the words:

RShabha-gatir aayat'-ekShaNaH

"With golden arms fully expanded and as if in a yoke,
With lengthened eyes, and bull-like gait..."

In Ashvagosha's portrayal of the Tathagata there is clearly much more than simply giving up a self-suppressing idea and thereby allowing good use of the self to emerge. But a good use of the self is a pre-requisite.

We are ever liable -- doubtless much more liable than people were in the golden age of Manu, and probably more liable than people were in the Buddha's own "declining age" (3.37) -- to try to run before we can walk. Or, to express it another way, we put the cart before the bull. I say "we", but the tendency is particularly strong in me, frequently manifested in impatience and its bedfellow anger.

Consciously intending to counter the end-gaining tendency within myself I will resume tomorrow at the steady pace of one verse per day, with more of a bull-like gait.

I might at some point increase the pace to two verses per day -- but not if it means going with less of a bull-like gait.

For ascetic practice, then, he left Kapilavastu --

A teeming mass of horses, elephants and chariots,

Majestic, safe, loved by its citizens --

And started resolutely for the forest.

In the approach to ascetic practice
of the various traditions,

And in the attachment of sages
to various restraints,

He observed the miseries of thirsting for an object.

Seeing asceticism to be unreliable,
he turned away from it.

Then Arada, who spoke of freedom,

And likewise Udraka,
who inclined towards quietness,

He served, his heart set on truth, and he left.

He who intuited the path intuited:
"This also is not it."

Of the different traditions in the world,
he asked himself,

Which one was the best?

Not obtaining certainty elsewhere,

He entered after all
into ascetic practice that was most severe.

Then, having ascertained that this was not the path,

He abandoned that extreme asceticism too.

Understanding the sphere of meditation to be supreme,

He ate good food in readiness to realise the deathless.

With his golden arms fully expanded and as if in a yoke,

With lengthened eyes, and bull-like gait,

He came to a fig tree, growing up from the earth,

With the will to awakening
that belongs to the supreme method of investigation.

Sitting there, mind made up,

As unmovingly stable as the king of mountains,

He overcame the grim army of Mara

And awoke to the step which is happy,
irremovable, and irreducible.

Sensing the completion of his task,

whose heart's desire was the heavenly nectar

Buzzed with unbridled joy;

But Mara's crew was downcast and trembled.

The earth with its mountains shook,

That which feeds the fire blew benignly,

The drums of the gods sounded,

And rain fell from the cloudless sky.

Awake to the one great purpose,

Which is ageless;
and universal in his compassion,

In order to demonstrate the constant and undying,

He walked to the city that was sustained
by the waters of the Varuna and the Asi.

And so the wheel of Dharma --
whose hub is uprightness,

Whose rim is constancy, determination,
and balanced stillness,

And whose spokes are the rules of discipline --

The seer turned, in an assembly there,
for the welfare of the world.

"This is suffering;

This is the tangled mass of causes producing it;

This is cessation; and here is a means."

Thus, one by one, this supreme set of four,

The seer set out, with its the three divisions

Of the unequalled, the incontrovertible, the ultimate,

And with its statement of twelvefold determination;

After which he instructed, as the first,
him of the Kaundinya clan.

For the fathomless sea of faults,

Whose water is falsity, where fish are cares,

And which is disturbed by waves of anger, lust, and fear,

He had crossed; and he took the world across too.

Having instructed many people at Kashi and at Gaya

As also at Giri-vraja,

He made his way then to the city of his fathers,

In his deeply compassionate desire to include it.

To people possessed by ends,

Serving many and various paths,

Splendour that seemed like the sun had arisen:

Gautama was like the sun, dispelling darkness.

Seeing then all sides of Kapilavastu --

Which was famed for its most beautiful properties,

Being pure and clean in its substance and design,
and pleasantly wooded --

He looked without longing, as though at a forest.

For he had become free of belonging:

He was sure in his thinking, the master of himself.

How much less did he belong
to those causes of manifold worry --

Family, countrymen, friends and property?

Being revered gave him no thrill;

Disrespect caused him no grief.

He was clear in his thinking,
come sword or sandalwood,

And he did not change his attitude
when the going got hard or easy.

And so the king learned

That his son had arrived, as the One Thus Come;

With but a few horses straggling behind,

Out he charged in his eagerness to see his son.

The One Gone Well saw the king coming thus,

Composure lost in expectation,

And saw the rest of the people too, with tearful faces;

Wishing to direct them,
he took himself up, into the sky.

He strode over heaven as if over the earth;

And sat again, in the stillness of having stopped.

Invariable in his thinking, he lay down;

He showed many changing forms
and became again, in this manner, all of one piece.

He walked over water as if on dry land,

Immersed himself in the soil as though it were water,

Rained as a cloud in the sky,

And shone like the newly-risen sun.

Simultaneously glowing like a fire

And passing water like a cloud,

He shone, with light like molten gold,

Like a cloud set aglow by the breaking of day or dusk.

Looking up at him in the network of gold and pearls

That seemed to wrap around him like an upraised flag,

The king became joyful beyond measure

And the assembled people, heads bowed down,
felt deep appreciation.

So, perceiving that he had made a vessel

Of the ruler of men,
through the wealth of his accomplishments,

And that the townsfolk also were favourably disposed,

The guide gave voice to the dharma and the discipline.

Then the royal hero reaped the first fruit

For the fulfillment of the deathless dharma.

Having obtained unthinkable dharma from the sage,

He bowed accordingly in the sage's direction,
as to a guru.

Many then who were clear in mind

-- Alert to the agony of birth and death --

Among mighty Shakya-born men of action

Went forth into the wandering life,
like bulls startled by fire.

But even those who did not leave home,

Out of regard for children or father or mother:

They also, until their death,
embraced the preventive rule.

They embraced the rule and held to it, with ready minds.

No living creature, no matter how small,
was subjected to violence,

Even by a person who killed for a living,

Still less by a man of great virtue,
good family and unfailing gentleness,

And how much less by a servant of the sage?

The man who was not shy of hard work
but still short of money,

Though he could not bear the other's slights,

Did not, even so, carry off the other's goods;

For he shrank from others' riches as from a snake.

Even the man of money and youth,

His senses excited by objects of affection:

Even he never approached others' wives,

For he saw them as more dangerous than a burning fire.

Nobody told an untruth,

Nor made true but nasty gossip,

Nor crooned slick but malicious words,

Nor spoke kindly words that had a backbiting motive.

No greedy-minded person, in his heart,

Had any designs at all on the treasures of others;

Perceiving the happiness of sensual pleasures
to be no happiness,

The wise went freely on their way,
as if satisfied in that area already.

Nobody showed any hostility towards the other;

Rather, they looked on others with positive warmth,

As mother, father, child or friend:

For each person there saw in the other himself.

That, inevitably, the fruit of conduct
will be realized in the future,

Is being realized now,
and has been realized in the past;

And that thus is determined
how one fares in the world:

This is an insight that, again,
each experienced unerringly.

By this tenfold means,

By the most skillful and powerful means
which is one's own conduct,

Although virtue was lax in a declining age,

The people there, with the sage's help, fared well.

But nobody there, because of his virtues,

Expected happiness in a resulting birth;

Having learned that all becoming is pernicious,

People worked to eradicate becoming,
not to become something.

Even householders were free from endless doubting,

Their views washed spotlessly away:

For many had entered the stream

And then reduced passion to a trickle.

Any man who had been engaged

In absurd pursuits like wealth

Was now content with free giving, discipline, and restraint:

He also fared well, not straying from the true path.

Neither from within the self, nor from without,

Did any terror arise; nor from fate.

By dint of their true happiness
and material plenty and practical merits,

The citizens there rejoiced as in the golden age of Manu.

Thus exulting in freedom from disease and calamity,

That city was the equal of Kuru, Raghu and Puru,

With the great seer serving there as a guide to peace --

Roaming free,
in the moment,
for the good of all,
without passion.

The 3rd Canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled 'A Portrayal of the Tathagata.'

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