Tuesday, May 22, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.22: Winds of Change

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Indravajrā)
vātā vavuḥ sparśa-sukhā mano-jñā divyāni vāsāṁsy-avapātayantaḥ |
sūryaḥ sa evābhyadhikaṁ cakāśe jajvāla saumyārcir-anīrito 'gniḥ || 1.22

Breezes blew that were pleasant to the touch
and agreeable to the mind,

Causing fancy clothing to fall off.

The sun shone with extra brightness,
being nothing but itself.

Fire, with a full, moon-like flame,
burned without being stirred.

The breezes in today's verse can be understood as symbolizing the teachings of buddhas, which cause us to abandon fancy stuff and simply be ourselves, naturally letting our own light shine.

I understand today's verse like this firstly because of sitting four times a day for thirty years, and secondly because of having been taught that, as a general rule, whenever the Buddha's teaching is presented in four lines, by a writer who is steeped in the practice of it, the 2nd line is liable to contain the negation of idealism.

Thus in the 2nd pāda of today's verse, Aśvaghoṣa's original Sanskrit divyāni vāsāṁsy-avapātayantaḥ, as I read it, permits an interpretation along totally irreligious lines; it might be translated for example, “causing gorgeous lingerie to slip off”....

Forgive the mind-wandering. For a moment there I was back in the bedroom with Nanda and Sundarī...

Framed by the tamāla smudges, her face with its cherry red lips, and wide eyes extending to her hair, /
Seemed like a lotus framed by duck-weed, with crimson tips, and two big bees settled on it. // 4.21

Where was I? Ah yes, divyāni vāsāṁsy-avapātayantaḥ:
EBC: dropping down heavenly garments
EHJ: wafting down heavenly raiment
PO: bringing down showers of garments divine

Translation into Chinese:
天衣從空下 觸身生妙樂
S Beal: the garments of Devas descending from heaven touching the body, caused delightful thrills of joy;
C Willemen: Celestial garments descended from the sky, and upon touching them, one was thrilled.

A message passed back from the front line, “Send reinforcements, we are going to advance!” is thus ever liable to reach field HQ as “Send three and fourpence; we're going to a dance.”

Every one of the above translations makes it seem as if Aśvaghoṣa were telling the tale of some kind of religious miracle of clothes falling out of a supernatural sky. Why? Because that's the kind of expression people expect to find in Aśvaghoṣa's writing, when they are approaching it from the viewpoint of religious idealism.

Lord Buddha”? “His Holiness the Dalai Lama”? “Ven. Mike Cross”? I don't think so.

If we look in the writings of Aśvaghoṣa himself  for a real example of what he might mean by  divyāni vāsāṁsy-avapātayantaḥ, fancy apparel being caused to fall off, there is the example of Nanda as described in Saundarananda cantos 4 and 5. 

Nanda is described as wearing apparel that was gorgeous indeed:

When he heard that the great Seer had entered his house and departed again without receiving a welcome, /
Nanda in his brightly-coloured gems and garments and garlands, flinched, like a tree in Indra's paradise shaken by a gust of wind. // SN4.31.

 Subsequently Nanda took off clothes that were suited to love and took on a form that befitted his task.” (SN4.38)

Shortly thereafter, at the end SN Canto 5, Nanda is described as clothed, “in drab garb with the dull yellow-red colour of tree bark, and despondent as a newly-captured elephant.” (SN5.53).

Read in this light, the 2nd line of today's verse describes not the miraculous magicing of something fancy out of thin air, but rather the dropping off of something fancy, leaving nothing fancy. The clothes that are caused to drop off are described as divyāni, which has three meanings, each of which might be intended, namely: (1) “divine, heavenly, of the gods” -- i.e. religious; (2) “supernatural, magical” -- i.e. inclining towards negation of cause and effect; and (3) “gorgeous, beautiful.” The implied negation, then, might be the negation of fancy religious idealism, or fancy hedonistic materialism, or the fancy bells and whistles of superstition, or all three of the above. Divyāni vāsāṁsy might mean, for example, fancy priestly vestments, or fancy ladies' lingerie, or the fancy uniform of a Tibetan Buddhist soothsayer.

The phrase that appears in the 3rd pāda of today's verse, sa eva, “being nothing but itself,” also appears in the 17th canto of the Saundarananda, where it describes Nanda after his own realization of the worthy state:

Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served. Without ambition, without partiality, without expectation; /
Without fear, sorrow, pride, or passion; while being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different. // 17.61

In the gap before starting on the present translation of Buddhacarita, I wrote an article for submission to an academic journal in which I quoted SN17.61 in the process of challenging what seems to be the generally accepted assumption that the Saundarananda is “a story of religious conversion.”  The Saundarananda, I argued, is not the story of how Nanda became more religious; it is the story of how he became less religious, in coming back to himself. 

First indications are that my article was not well received. Never mind. I didn't much enjoy writing the article, but thought (mea culpa) that it might help draw people's attention to my translation; I also sort of wanted to contribute something back having benefitted so much from the groundwork done by Oxford scholars like EH Johnston and Linda Covill, and from the Clay Sanskrit Library publications of Aśvaghoṣa. Any way up, writing the article seemed to make me all the clearer in seeing that (a) Aśvaghoṣa's teaching is much more scientific, in the true sense, than it is religious, and (b) it is up to me to clarify for others what my teacher took pains to clarify for me, that the Buddha's teaching includes -- at the second of four phases corresponding to the Buddha's four noble truths -- the negation of idealism.

Negation of religious idealism, along with negation of other forms of end-gaining, is by no means the whole story. But it might be a golden key that unlocks the door out of the trap of trying, my friend, to be anything else other than what you fucking well are.

The final point I would like to make, in connection with the last line of today's verse, is that anīritaḥ “without being stirred,” is as I read it an expression of non-doing – that is, not an expression of intervening to try to get one's own light to shine, but just an expression of letting.

vātāḥ (nom. pl.): m. wind, air
vavuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. vā: to blow
sparśa-sukhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): pleasant to the touch
mano-jñāḥ (nom. pl. m.): agreeable to the mind

divyāni (acc. pl. n.): mfn. divine , heavenly , celestial ; supernatural , wonderful , magical ; charming , beautiful , agreeable
vāsāṁsi = acc. pl. vāsas: n. cloth , clothes , dress , a garment
avapātayantaḥ = nom. pl. m. caus. pres. part. ava- √ pat: to throw down
ava- √ pat: to fly down , jump down , fall down

sūryaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the sun
sa eva: its very self
abhyadhikam: (ind) surpassingly, extra-brightly
abhi: (prefix) over, upon
adhika: mfn. additional; surpassing; abundant, excellent
cakāśe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kāś: to shine , be brilliant , have an agreeable appearance

jajvāla = 3rd pers. sg. perf. jval: to burn brightly , blaze , glow , shine
saumyārciḥ (nom. sg. m.): with placid flames
saumya: " resembling the moon " , placid , gentle , mild ; auspicious
arci: m. ray, flame
anīritaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. unstirred
agniḥ (nom. sg.): m. fire


Jordan said...

I think saying your submission was a mistake is a kind of mistake. Not enjoying writing the article, now that was maybe bit of a mistake.

Today I hand jammed an inventory of nearly 2000 plastic widgets. It was brutally boring. But I was happy when I corrected my chin tucking as I slogged through it.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan,

You thinking you corrected your chin tucking might have been a mistake -- due to the problem that FM Alexander identified as faulty sensory appreciation, our attempts to correct our own postural faults are generally doomed to failure.

If you get a headache later on, remember, I told you so!

To come across so all-knowing might be a mistake on my part.

Ah well, one mistake after another. (I'm sure Michael Thaler would have approved.)

Jordan said...

Hey Mike, no headache. But I know I did overcorrect initially. But I had done that intentionally. i could probably use some lessons in the correct use of self, but yoga will have to do for now.

You are not all knowing? Say it isn't so!

Yes, one continuous mistake. I think that is someone's book title.