Sunday, May 27, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.27: The Buddha's Original Purpose & the Unhappy King of Romance

[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * |
jagad-vimokṣāya guru-prasūtau * * * * * * * * * * * || 1.27

EHJ in a footnote records that his translation of the 3rd pāda (“as though, being in a state of disorder, it had obtained a ruler”) follows the Chinese translation (猶如荒難國 忽得賢明主). On the authority of the Chinese translation, EHJ revised the Tibetan translation, amending thar paḥi to thar-phyir. The result, EHJ conjectured, was equivalent to jagad-vimokṣāya guru-prasūtau (“the guru being born for the liberation of the world”).

As regards the philosophical content of today's verse, the gist would seem to be that the Buddha was born for the liberation of the world, and someone was not happy about this.

EHJ supposed, judging from the Tibetan, that the unhappy one was Kāma-deva, the disembodied god of love mentioned several times in Saundarananda. The Chinese translator went with 魔天王, the “Celestial King of Demons,” i.e. Māra, also mentioned in Saundarananda. The Chinese character is pronounced “Ma” (as in Māra), and at the same time it means “demon” or “devil.”

Whichever pesky being it was that Aśvaghoṣa referred to in the 4th pāda, his intention might have been to emphasize that the Buddha's primary purpose was the practical and mundane one of liberating living beings in the world.

If the unhappy party in today's verse is understood to be Māra, then the point might be that the Buddha was nothing like one of those red-necked American Christians who is obsessed with the Devil and his evil works, or like one of those superstitious black Africans who is afraid of witchcraft. Eventually the Buddha, sitting as still as the king of mountains, causes Māra to quake. But causing Māra to quake and crumble was not the Buddha's original purpose; it was rather, one could argue, an indirect side effect of what the Buddha was born to do, which was to liberate individual living beings in the world (jagad-vimokṣāya).

If the unhappy party in today's verse is understood to be Kāma-deva, then the point might be, similarly, to draw a contrast between, on the one side, the practical and mundane nature of the Buddha's primary task and on the other side the idealistic agenda of the disembodied King of Romance.

On the train yesterday I was seated next to a 27-year old drug addict travelling back from Paris to see his mother in Normandy. He mentioned something about the pain of his parents' divorce and his estrangement from his father. Presumably this was part of the pain which he hoped to blot out with alcohol and vallium. My advice to him was to face up and take his pain like a man. It seemed to me that he was exhibiting an almost total failure to inhabit his own body. He didn't have enough tone in his neck even to hold his own head up. A loyal subject of Kāma-deva, if ever there was one. After I advized him to man up and take ownership of his pain, he withdrew his invitation to get his mother to give me a lift home in her car, and stopped talking to me, which was fine with me on both counts. His talk was disordered, and I in any case like to pedal my own bike.

Sitting this morning I am aware of many jobs, large and small, that are inviting me to do them. An enormous amount of scything and weeding. Pumping waste water out of the sceptic tank. Dealing with the aftermath of the big tree that fell down last time I was here, which means chopping the sawn pieces of the trunk into firewood, and making a bonfire from the smaller branches and twigs. I can't do all these jobs all at once but am looking forward to doing them, one by one, at my own pace, interspersed with ample sitting practice, and practising Alexander work in the context of lying down on my back and investigating the action of (and thinking preparatory to) moving a leg. 

This sense of not being able to do everything at once informs and is informed by both yesterday's and today's verse. Jagad-vimokṣāya is in the dative case; it expresses a purpose or a direction. If the Buddha's end was to liberate all living beings in the world, he never achieved his end and nor will he ever achieve his end. But for him the directions were clear (diśaḥ praseduḥ). Not even the Buddha could accomplish all jobs at once. But he knew the direction he wanted to work in. This might be the best that any of us can hope for – at least those of us who are not in the sway of Kāma-deva, the King of Romance.

Finally, referring back to akāle' pi  in BC1.24on the train yesterday I listened to a podcast from the archives of BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, featuring the singer and artist (in the true sense) Tony Bennett. In passing Tony Bennett mentioned Zen, in the sense of the kind of transcendent ability in piano playing manifested by the likes of Art Tatum. But he said something else, in relation to jazz, that struck me as very much related to the meaning of  akāle' pi, “even out of season,” in BC1.24, and to what Aśvaghoṣa has been describing in the way of spontaneity. Tony Bennett said that he liked being accompanied by jazz musicians because of the possibility of something unexpected and spontaneous happening. So perhaps we can say that blossoms being caused to fall  akāle' pi,  “even out of season,” expresses something neither more nor less miraculous than a jazz band being caused to start swinging. If you can access the Desert IslandDiscs archive, I recommend the interview with Tony Bennett.

Tibetan Text:
| rgud par gyur la mgon ni ñe bar thob nas bźin |
| ’jig rten dag kyaṅ mchog tu rab źi thob gyur la |
| ’jig rten rnams kyi thar pa’i bla ma rab bltams tshe |
| ’dod pa’i lha ñid kho na dga’ ba med par gyur |

EHJ's translation (from the Tibetan/Chinese):
27. When the Guru was born for the salvation of all creatures, the world became exceeding peaceful, as though, being in a state of disorder, it had obtained a ruler. Kāmadeva alone did not rejoice.

Chinese Text:
一切諸世間 悉得安隱樂
猶如荒難國 忽得賢明主
菩薩所以生 爲濟世衆苦
唯彼魔天王 震動大憂惱

[震動大憂惱=獨憂而不悦 [三 ]

S. Beal's translation (from the Chinese):
the whole world of sentient creatures enjoyed peace and universal tranquillity. 35. Just as when a country visited by desolation, suddenly obtains an enlightened ruler, so when Bodhisattva was born, he came to remove the sorrows of all living things. Mâra, the heavenly monarch, alone was grieved and rejoiced not.

C. Willemen's translation (from the Chinese):
33. All the worldly beings were safe and happy, just as when a country in upheaval suddenly has obtained a wise and able ruler. 34. The Bodhisattva was born to save the world from suffering. Only the celestial king Māra was full of sorrow and did not rejoice.

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