Sunday, May 13, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.13: The Lustre of Gold

−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Haṁsī)
sa hi sva-gātra-prabhayojjvalantyā dīpa-prabhāṁ bhāskaravan-mumoṣa |
mahārha-jāmbūnada-cāru-varṇo vidyotayām-āsa diśaś-ca sarvāḥ || 1.13

For with the blazing light of his body,

He blotted out the light of lamps as does the sun;

And with his beautiful lustre of precious gold,

He enlightened all directions.

Today's verse again has to do with radiance, and with the original features with which the Buddha, as a healthy, naturally-born baby, was born. As such, the verse again brings to mind Dogen's encouraging words that if we just sit, learning the backward step of turning our light and letting it shine, body and mind will fall off by themselves, and our original features will emerge.

mahārha-jāmbūnada means “precious gold.”

Why did Aśvaghoṣa bother to include the word mahārha? To discriminate precious gold, from gold which is not so precious -- to discriminate, say, 24 carat gold from 9-carat gold? Or to emphasize what a precious thing, inherently, gold aways is? 

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, I am interested in gold -- perhaps unduly so -- not so much as a lustrous substance as a financial asset. I am particularly interested in watching the price of gold, denominated in US dollars or pounds sterling, go up and down, for which purpose I use a  goldbug websiteon which from time to time mention is made of George Soros. 

Recently I thought I would elicit the views of the man himself and wached a Youtube video in which Soros describes his philosophical starting point as a consideration of the relationship between thinking and reality. 

Thirty-odd years ago, before I fell under the spell of Gudo Nishijima, the guru whose teaching made most sense to me was Karl Popper. Soros has extended Popper's teaching about the inherent fallibility of human knowledge into a conceptual framework which Soros claims to be a correct interpretation of reality, an interpretation which sees faults in (1) the enlightenment fallacy of a totally objective reality which is out there waiting to be understood by human reason, and (2) the post-modernist fallacy of many narratives without any objective reality.

Soros gives a good explanation, based on his extension of Popper's ideas, of why financial markets, influenced by human fallibility, are prone to give rise from time to time to bubbles. And gold, Soros, has observed, is the ultimate bubble.

Soros seems to me to have developed a very strong argument. I am convinced by his criticisms of the way in which the last Bush administration (with Tony Blair's support) abandoned the truth in favour of manipulation of reality, and led the US and Britain to war in Iraq under false pretences. 

As a financial asset, gold may be a bubble that has already burst. Or it may be that the gold bubble has barely yet begun. It may even be that Soros' own ideas -- through their influence on hedge-fund managers and other big market players, on one side, and on regulatory authorities on the other side -- may prevent a gold bubble inflating as much as might otherwise have happened. What is not in doubt is that, from the time of Aśvaghoṣa through to the present, notwithstanding many ups and downs, gold has been a much more reliable store of value than the paper (and latterly digital) money issued by governments. 

All directions (diśaḥ sarvāḥ) can be understood to mean all four of the four quarters, or all ten of the ten directions, also including up, down, and the four diagonal directions – as per the chapter of Shobogenzo which is titled 十方 JUPPO, “the ten directions.”

In our efforts to understand the reality of those ten directions, as Soros convincingly argues, we constantly misconstrue it. 

What Aśvaghoṣa describes in the 4th pāda of today's verse is a baby boy illuminating the ten directions, i.e. enlightening them in the archaic sense of the word enlighten, before he ever started trying to construe anything. 

So here is one way of understanding what Dogen meant by "learning the backward step of turning our  light and letting it shine" -- learning, that is, how NOT to misconstrue, or how to stop misconstruing, the reality of the ten directions. 

The word "reality" in itself is perhaps apt to mislead us into thinking that we might construe or interpret it correctly. "The ten directions" or "all directions" (diśaḥ sarvāḥ) sounds somehow less construable. 

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
hi: for
sva-gātra-prabhayā (inst. sg. f.): with the light of his limbs/body
sva: one's own, his
gātra: n. " instrument of moving " , a limb or member of the body, the body
prabhā: f. light , splendour , radiance , beautiful appearance
ujjvalantyā = inst. sg. f. pres. part. uj- √ jval: to blaze up , flame , shine

dīpa-prabhāṁ (acc. sg. f.): the light of lamps
dīpa: m. a light , lamp , lantern
bhāskaravan (nom. sg. m.): like the sun
bhās-kara: m. " making light ", the sun
-vat: an affix added to words to imply likeness or resemblance , and generally translatable by " as " , " like "
mumoṣa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. muṣ: to steal , rob , plunder , carry off ; to blind , dazzle (the eyes) ; to cloud , obscure (light or the intellect) i

mahārha: mfn. very worthy or deserving , very valuable or precious
jāmbūnada: mfn. coming from the river (nadī) jambū (kind of gold); n. gold from the jambū river , any gold
cāru: mfn. pleasing , lovely , beautiful
varṇa: mfn. covering; outward appearance , exterior , form , figure , shape , colour ; colour of the face , (esp.) good colour or complexion , lustre , beauty

vidyotayām āsa = 3rd pers. sg. periphrastic caus. perf. vi- √ dyut: to illuminate , irradiate , enlighten , make brilliant
diśaḥ = acc. pl. diś: f. quarter or region pointed at , direction , cardinal point
ca: and
sarvāḥ (acc. pl. f.): mfn. all

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