Monday, May 21, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.21: Miraculous Nature

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Rāmā)
yasya prasūtau giri-rāja-kīlā vātāhatā naur-iva bhūś-cacāla |
sa-candanā cotpala-padma-garbhā papāta vṣṭir-gaganād-anabhrāt || 1.21 

At his birth the earth, anchored by the king of mountains,

Shook like a ship being battered in a gale;

And a sandalwood-scented rain, 
containing lillies and lotuses,

Fell from the cloudless sky.

This verse as I read it is a poetic description of the magic of nature, and not a religious description of unnatural miracles.

Without movement of the earth, the king of mountains would still be on the bottom of the sea, but the movement is so slow that when short-lived human beings find marine fossils in the Himalayas, we express amazement. It seems like a miracle to us, but we who prefer science to superstition, religion, et cetera, consider that the miracle is just nature itself.

As regards rain being scented by sandalwood, it may be that all rain has been forever scented by sandalwood already, but the senses of human beings are not sufficiently refined to know it. Maybe dogs know it.

And as Dogen memorably pointed out, a single drop of dew can contain the whole of the moon and sky: how then can it be difficult for a single drop of rain not to contain innumerably many lillies and lotuses?

Again, a Zen master in China observed that the buddhas of the three times were in the flame of a fire, preaching the Dharma.

Who knows what natural wonders remain to be discovered inside a drop of rain?

The original cloudlessness of the sky, whether the sky is blue, white, or grey, has already been discussed in connection with the description in SN3.9 of the Buddha's completion of his task:

The earth with its mountains shook, that which feeds the fire blew benignly, /
The drums of the gods resounded, and from the cloudless sky rain fell. // SN3.9

In today's verse, then, a parallel is being drawn between the miraculous state of the world at the time of the Buddha's birth and at the time when he “awoke to the step which is happy, irremovable, and irreducible” (SN3.7).

yasya (gen. sg.): of whose
prasūtau = loc. sg. prasūti: f. procreation, birth
giri-rāja-kīlā (nom. sg. f.):
giri-rāj: m. " mountain-king " , N. of the himavat
kīla: m. a sharp piece of wood , stake , pin , peg , bolt , wedge , &c

vātāhatā (nom. sg. f.): battered by the winds
vāta: m. wind or the wind-god (pl. also " the maruts ")
āhata: mfn. struck , beaten , hit , hurt
nauḥ (nom. sg.): f. a ship , boat , vessel
iva: like
bhūḥ (nom. sg.): f. the earth
cacāla = 3rd pers. sg. perf. cal: to be moved , stir , tremble , shake , quiver

sa-candanā (nom. sg. f.): [perfumed] with sandalwood
ca: and
utpala-padma-garbhā (nom. sg. f.): full of lotuses and water-lillies ; full of blue and pink lotus blossoms
utpala: n. the blossom of the blue lotus ; any water-lilly
padma: mn. a lotus (esp. the flower of the lotus-plant Nelumbium Speciosum which closes towards evening ; often confounded with the water-lily or Nymphaea Alba); red or coloured marks on the face or trunk of an elephant; a partic. posture of the body in religious meditation (cf. padmāsana)
garbha: ifc. " having in the interior , containing , filled with "

papāta = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pat: to fall
vṣṭiḥ (nom. sg.): f. (sg. and pl.) rain (ifc. often = a shower of)
gaganāt (abl. sg.): n. the atmosphere , sky , firmament
anabhrāt (abl. sg.): mfn. cloudless

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