Saturday, May 12, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.12: Sun-faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Rāmā)
dīptyā ca dhairyeṇa ca yo rarāja bālo ravir-bhūmim-ivāvatīrṇaḥ |
tathātidīpto 'pi nirīkṣyamāṇo jahāra cakṣūṁṣi yathā śaśāṅkaḥ || 1.12

With brightness he shone, and with constancy,

Like a newly-risen sun inundating the earth;

Thus he blazed too brightly to be gazed upon,

And at the same time he stole the eyes,
in the manner of the hare-marked moon.

EHJ points out that  dīpti  (brightness) is the quality of the sun and dhairya (constancy, firmness, gravity) of the earth.

Aside from its poetic qualities, what relevance might today's verse have for those of us who follow the Buddha in sitting?

For a start, the value of today's verse is that it describes for us the Buddha's original features -- what Dogen calls in Fukan-zazengi 本来面目, HONRAI [no] MENMOKU. The verse thus reminds us that the Buddha's enlightenment was not an event in which he became something; it was rather the re-emergence – after years of misguided ascetic practice -- of his original features.

Aśvaghoṣa likens the Buddha's original features to the sun, the earth, and the moon. And that, it strikes me, might not be a helpful metaphor for beings living in far-off galaxies; but for any human being living on planet earth, it is a totally accessible metaphor.

Even if one hasn't read a single word of Sanskrit or Chinese or Japanese literature, and even if one doesn't give a bean about oriental cultures, one only has to witness the morning sun rising over the eastern horizon, which might be Scunthorpe or Grimsby, or to look up at a full moon in a dark night sky, or a white crescent moon on a clear day, to know what the Buddha was really like.

The Buddha was like that thing in the sky which in Sanskrit is called candra or called, as in today's verse, śaśāṅka; and which in Chinese/Japanese is represented by the pictograph . The Japanese word by which ancient Japanese referred to the moon, before pictographs were imported from China, is tsuki. The moon is the subject of Shobogenzo Chapter 42, titled Tsuki. As the first chapter in the 9th of 12 volumes of Shobogenzo, it was the first chapter that I studied in detail under Gudo Nishijima, starting in 1982.

Before that time, as the Chinese Zen Master Unmon correctly pointed out, the moon had been to me more or less the moon. But after that time the moon became imbued for me with profound Buddhist meaning, and probably its brightness was obscured by the conceit of being one who knew well Dogen's view of  tsuki, the moon. Studying Sanskrit might be an opportunity to filter the moon with another layer of conceit, this one bound up with knowledge of words like candra  and śaśāṅka.

There is always a danger of going native in one's efforts to grasp the Buddha's teaching. While I was living in the centre of Tokyo, there were periods when I would go three times a week to visit my teacher in his nearby office to ask him questions on the translation of Shobogenzo from Japanese to English. But when I heard of “mondo” as practised in American Zen centres at first I didn't know what it was. On further investigation, I realized that mon means question, and do means answer, so in fact I was already thoroughly steeped in real mondo – steeped eventually to the point of being sick of it – though no mention had ever been made to me of mondo. Similarly I can see from translating Aśvaghoṣa that there might be a temptation, as one researches the background of Brahmanical heroes that Aśvaghoṣa alludes to, to look sympathetically on Brahmanism. Insofar as that temptation exists, I shall continue to resist it – lest I go down the path trodden by the likes of Patrick Olivelle whose introduction to his translation of Buddhacarita contains the subtitle “Buddha's Dharma as Consummation of Brahmanism.”

My teacher Gudo Nishijima used to say “Buddhism is an international religion.” What he wanted to say was that the Buddha's teaching is the truth of the universe – the truth of the sun and the earth, and of the moon before Aśvaghoṣa and Dogen got their dirty poets' paws on it.

In the matter of using a skillful means to help others liberate themselves from the idealism of “right posture,” my teacher was hopelessly incompetent. He preached the negation of idealism while actively encouraging his students to pursue right posture idealistically, not as a conscious strategy because he was skillful, but blindly because he was so stupid.

Still, what Gudo Nishijima wanted to say was invariably very good. The Buddha's teaching is not amenable to be expressed in Sanskrit or Chinese or Japanese any more or less than it is amenable to being expressed in English, because the Buddha's teaching is just the truth of the moon being the moon. That, in a nutshell, is what Gudo Nishijima wanted to say: the Buddha's teaching is just the universal truth of the moon being the moon. 

What my teacher actually said tended to be very bad -- “Buddhism is an international religion” being an outstanding example.

dīptyā = inst. sg. dīpti: f. brightness , light , splendour , beauty
ca: and
dhairyeṇa (inst. sg.): n. firmness , constancy , calmness , patience , gravity , fortitude
ca: and
yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
rarāja = 3rd pers. sg. perf. rāj: to reign, to be illustrious or resplendent , shine , glitter ; to appear as or like (iva)

bālaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. young ; newly risen , early (as the sun or its rays)
raviḥ (nom. sg.): m. the sun (in general) or the sun-god
bhūmim (acc. sg.): f. the earth, ground
iva: like, as if
avatīrṇaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. alighted , descended
ava- √ tṝ: to descend into (loc. or acc.); to betake one's self to (acc.) , arrive at; to make one's appearance , arrive

atidīptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): blazing too brightly, dazzling
ati-: (prefix) beyond, over, too much, extra-ordinary
dīpta: mfn. blazing , flaming , hot , shining , bright , brilliant , splendid
api: even, though
nirīkṣyamāṇaḥ = nom. sg. m. passive pres. part. nir- √ īkṣ: to look at or towards , behold , regard , observe (also the stars) , perceive

jahāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. hṛ: to take; to take away , carry off , seize , deprive of , steal , rob
cakṣūṁṣi = acc. pl. cakṣus: n. the act of seeing, sight, eyes
yathā: just as, like, in the manner of
śaśāṅkaḥ (nom. sg.): m. " hare-marked " , the moon


an3drew said...

"the truth of the sun and the earth, and of the moon before Aśvaghoṣa and Dogen got their dirty poets' paws on it."

good poetry is the "truth of the sun"

don't disrespect your own efforts in translation!

Mike Cross said...

I never heard of anybody getting a tan, or vitamin d, from a poem.

an3drew said...

the sun shines radiant on my bare skin

warming, with microscopic action



pre vitamin






coursing health


benefically changing gene expression





level !


that's not just description, but the actuality of my life because that's what i do and what happens to me!

buddha is not some remote event that happens to us but the identity and synchronicity of vision with ourselves!

the buddha-carita is that identity, why do you think you are translating it?