Sunday, April 22, 2012

BUDDHACARITA: An Epic Story of an Awakened Man in Action

The task now at hand is a translation from Sanskrit into English of the Buddha-carita of Aśvaghoṣa. In this work the challenge of not end-gaining -- that is to say, attending to a process without thirsting after an object -- might be aided by the fact that, literally, no end is in sight. Not only the end but the entire second half of the Sanskrit text of Buddha-carita is missing. There are only thirteen and a bit out of the original twenty-eight cantos to aim at. 

So in some sense what is required is to make the best of a bad job. Not an easy thing for anybody who has developed the fault of perfectionism.... reflecting on which causes me to remember something the Buddha tells Nanda about rebirth in Canto 16 of the Saundarananda:  

Again, you must understand how, due to this cause, because of men's faults, the cycle of doing goes on, /
So that they succumb to death who are afflicted by the dust of the passions and by darkness; but he is not reborn who is free of dust and darkness. // 16.18 //

Insofar as the specific desire exists to do this or that, an action like going or sitting happens; /
Hence, in just the same way, by the force of their thirsting living creatures are reborn -- as is to be observed: // 16.19 //

See sentient beings in the grip of attachment, dead set on pleasure among their own kind; /
And, from their habitual practice of faults, observe them presenting with those very faults. // 16.20 //

Just as the anger, lust, and so on of sufferers of those afflictions give rise in the present to a personality trait, /
So too in new lives, in various manifestations, does the affliction-created trait develop: // 16.21 //

In a life dominated by anger arises violent anger, in the lover of passion arises burning passion, /
And in one dominated by ignorance arises overwhelming ignorance. In one who has a lesser fault, again, the lesser fault develops. // 16.22 //

Seeing what fruit is before one's eyes, one knows, from past knowledge of that fruit, the seed it was in the past. /
And having identified a seed before one's eyes, one knows the fruit it may be in the future.// 16.23 //

In whichever realms of existence a man has ended faults, thanks to that dispassion he is not born in those realms. /
Wherever he remains susceptible to a fault, that is where he makes his appearance, whether he likes it or not. // 16.24 //

So my friend, with regard to the many forms of becoming, know their causes to be [the faults] that start with thirsting /
And cut out those [faults], if you wish to be freed from suffering; for ending of the effect follows from eradication of the cause. // 16.25 //

Note to self. Possible title for future autobiography: "Learning to Make the Best of a Bad Job." Or "Repeatedly Throwing the Toys Out of the Pram and Spitting the Dummy, Instead of Learning to Make the Best of a Bad Job."

buddha-carita mahā-kāvya

buddha is the past passive participle of the verbal root budh, to wake up. So buddha means one who is awakened, enlightened, conscious – as opposed to one who is more or less asleep, kept in the dark by unconscious thirsting after ends or objects. At the same time, “the Buddha,” is used as an epithet, or title, for a son born to a certain King Śuddodhana (the chief of an ancient Indian tribe called the Gautamas) who devoted himself for several years to extreme practice of asceticism (known in Sanskrit as tapas), but who then recognised asceticism to be a mug's game and gave it up. Just in the abandonment of ascetic striving, he experienced an awakening on which basis he thereafter advocated not asceticism but a form of practice (yoga) centred on conscious awareness (smṛti) and good balance and coordination (samādhi).

If we think religiously – as opposed to scientifically – the Buddha, Lord Buddha, is the founder of a faith called Buddhism.

But verily, brethren, I say unto you: No, sod that for a game of cards.

Seriously. Away with Buddhism, along with every other -ism and -ity and -aam and -ology that human sheep subscribe to in lieu of thinking things out for themselves, with all due scepticism, as an individual.

Away with religion. Away with the whole idea of striving to be right. What was it that King Śuddodhana's son gave up, if not religious striving to be right?

So in the title buddha-carita, I am not going to translate buddha as “the Buddha.” For the present, I am going to translate buddha as “an awakened man.”

carita is the past passive participle of the verbal root car which means to to move one's self, go, walk, move, roam; and hence to behave, conduct one's self, act, live. So as a past participle carita means gone; at the same time, as a noun carita means going, moving, course; and hence acting, doing, practice, behaviour, acts, deeds, adventures. Because buddha-carita is ostensibly the biography of the son of King Śuddhodhana, it might be natural to translate carita as “career” or “life” or “acts” or “deeds.” But the original word is singular, and at the same time it has a sense of dynamism that “career” or “life” fail to convey. So for the present I am going to translate  carita  as “in action.”

mahā means great or epic, and kāvya is defined in the dictionary as a poem, a poetical composition with a coherent plot by a single author. For the present I am going to translate mahā-kāvya as “an epic story,” opting for the indefinite article, "a," because this work by Aśvaghoṣa, even if he is a Zen ancestor, is a poetical composition by a single author. It isn't something that was revealed as absolute truth; it is a poem thunk up by a human being, based on a transmission through twelve generations that was mainly non-verbal but, to the extent that it was verbal, relied on spoken words, and not on anything inscribed in stone tablets.

buddha-carita mahā-kāvya
An Epic Story of an Awakened Man in Action

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