Wednesday, May 16, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.16: Magical Realism in the Middle Way

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Rāmā)
khāt-prasrute candra-marīci-śubhre dve vāri-dhāre śiśiroṣṇa-vīrye |
śarīra-saṁsparśa-sukhāntarāya nipetatur-mūrdhani tasya saumye || 1.16

Flowing out of emptiness, as radiant as moonbeams,

Two showers of raindrops, with a cooling and a heating effect,

Fell upon his cool, moist, moon-like head

In order to bring ease to his body, 
by intimately connecting into it.

There may be meaning in khāt-prasrute “flowing out of empty space” or “flowing out of emptiness.” Aśvaghoṣa's idea might be that nothing flows except out of emptiness. This idea tends to be corroborated by work as an Alexander teacher, in which a teacher's hands have to be more or less empty, for which purpose the teacher's mind has to be more or less free of eager or anxious grasping.

Emptiness, as my teacher Gudo Nishijima never tired of asserting, is a state of balance of the autonomic nervous system.

Much as it pains me to admit it, it is difficult to read today's verse without acknowledging that it is Aśvaghoṣa's figurative expression of balance of the autonomic nervous system, wherein the cooling effect of the parasympathetic nerves is balanced by the heating effect of the sympathetic nerves.

Balance of the autonomic nervous system is not a special state that has to be manufactured on a round black cushion, Gudo used to teach. Rather it is the natural state of a human being, however old or young. It was the natural state of the enlightened Gautama Buddha. And it was the natural state of the infant prince of the Śākyas.

“In order to realize, or come back to, this state, it is not necessary to think anything, it is not necessary to feel anything. Just keep the spine straight vertically.”

That teaching sounded convincing to my youthful ears. But in my older age I have come to see it as a very crude approximation of the truth, born more of philosphical thinking than real wisdom. It is a dangerous instruction to give any student without skillful administration of the negative feedback which a student needs as he or she goes wrong in his or her efforts to “keep the spine straight vertically.”

So I am no apologist for the teaching of Gudo Nishijima. I think he went too far in trying to reduce everything the Buddha taught down to balance of the autonomic nervous system. Still, if the old bugger were still compos mentis, I am sure he would have greatly appreciated today's verse.

Doing A-level Spanish 35 years ago I was forced to read Latin American literature that fell into the genre known as “magical realism.” Names I remember are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as also the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes who I heard on the radio this morning just popped his clogs.

Above reading magical realism, I much preferred playing rugby, which on a good day could seem like a gate into a more magical reality.

If it is acceptable to describe today's verse as a kind of magical realism, then the kind of magical reality that it points to might be the reality of sitting in lotus in the dappled shade of an apple tree.... in a rare moment of quiet before some bastard with nothing better to do flies his light leisure aircraft noisily overhead.

khāt (abl. sg.): m. the sun; n. cavity; vacuity , empty space , air , ether , sky
prasrute (nom. dual f.): mfn. flowed forth , oozed out , issued
candra-marīci-śubhre: (nom. dual f.): radiant as moonbeams
candra: moon
marīci: mf. (prob. connected with marút) a particle of light , shining mote or speck in the air ; ray of light (of the sun or moon)
śubhra: mfn. radiant , shining , beautiful , splendid ; clear; bright-coloured , white

dve (nom.): two
vāri-dhāre (nom. dual f.): streams of water, showers of raindrops
vāri: n. water, rain
dhārā: f. stream or current of water ; flood , gush , jet , drop (of any liquid) , shower , rain
śiśiroṣṇa-vīrye (nom. dual f.): with energy/efficacy of cold and heat
śiśira: m. n. cold , coolness , hoarfrost , dew ; m. the cool or dewy season (comprising two months , māgha and phālguna , or from about the middle of January to that of March)
uṣṇa: mn. heat , warmth , the hot season (June , July)
vīrya: n. power, energy; efficacy (of medicine)
śarīra-saṁsparśa-sukhāntarāya (dat. sg.): for the purpose of ease through close contact with the body
śarīra: body
saṁsparśa: m. close or mutual contact; touch
sukha: n. ease, comfort ;
antara: n. the interior; n. (ifc.) different , other. [EHJ notes that the use here is close to the classic use defined as tādarthya, “the being intended for that”]

nipetatur = 3rd pers. dual. perf. ni- √ pat: to fly down , settle down , descend on (loc.) , alight
mūrdhani = loc. sg. mūrdhan: m. the forehead, head, skull
tasya (gen. sg.): his
saumye (loc. sg. m.): relating or belonging to soma (the juice or the sacrifice or the moon-god) , connected or dealing with soma , having his nature or qualities ; cool and moist ; " resembling the moon " , placid , gentle , mild 

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