Wednesday, May 30, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.30: The Confusion of Old Fuss-pots

[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * |
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * || 1.30

EHJ notes that the original word translated into Tibetan as lhag ma spaṅs te, which EHJ translates as “pious,” was adhimuktāh or adhimucyamānāḥ.

adhimuktāh: (nom. pl. f.): mfn. inclined, believing
adhimucyamānāḥ = nom. pl. f. passive pres. part. adhi √muc: (not in dictionary)
adhi: over and above
√muc: freeing

In any event in today's verse it is evident both from EHJ's translation from the Tibetan, and from the Chinese translation from the original Sanskrit, that Aśvaghoṣa was describing the response of religious old women to the Buddha's miraculously beautiful birth. Why?

I think it is a kind of study of religious practice as a response to the unknown. The Buddha's birth was not a miracle in the religious sense of something that defies cause and effect via divine intervention, because there is no such thing as a miracle in this religious sense, except in the imaginations of “pious old women who fail in penetration,” or those who 互亂祈神明 "in mutual confusion pray to the divine intelligence.” But the Buddha's natural birth went so beautifully that it seemed like a miracle, as all natural births that go well seem like a miracle, and indeed are a miracle – but not in the sense of a religious miracle that negates cause and effect.

Confronted with a miracle that was a natural birth, and a profusion of extra-ordinarily auspicious signs, the old women were afraid/confused about what they could not understand, and they found a feeling of order and security in the performance of religious rites – much like Rafa Nadal arranging his water bottles.

The difference between a religious old fusspot, and a top sportsman, when each is performing his or her preferred ritual, might be to do with clarity of direction. In the former case, directions are confused, and so ritual fuss is fussing on the basis of fussing. In the latter case it may be that, as described in BC1.26,  directions have already become clear (diśaḥ praseduḥ).

It may be that, primarily because of this clarity of direction, the action of a top sportsman or martial artist, or indeed the work of an experienced Alexander teacher, can seem truly miraculous.

People used to go to FM Alexander totally confused in their directions, believing that down was up, and his hands would transform them, so that ailments and infirmities cleared up as if by magic. Grateful pupils would thus tell FM Alexander that he was a miracle-worker. Alexander's response was always that “There are many miracles in nature.”

In many respects the teaching of the Buddha and the teaching of FM Alexander are not only parallel but the same. One advantage that Alexander work has is that nobody conceives of the Alexander Technique as a religion; people generally understand that it is teaching, or work. In Alexander work to say "I believe in AT," or "I believe in FM Alexander" or "I left Alexander," would sound bizarre, because it is understood that Alexander work is not a religion, it is a teaching that the individual applies for himself or herself. Again, the thought of receiving the honorific "Ven." or "Rev." on qualification as an Alexander teacher is comical. 

How does one go about clarifying that the original teaching of the Buddha also is work, not religion? Yesterday I took a direct approach. Aśvaghośa's approach is invariably indirect. But it seems to me, from the viewpoint of the historical development of so-called "Buddhism," that Aśvaghośa's tactic hasn't worked, at least not yet, because everybody and his dog has continued to speak and act as if there were a religion called "Buddhism." 

Tibetan Text:
| lhag ma spaṅs te ’jigs pa ñid ni śes byas nas |
| yid ’oṅ ’dod pa’i ched du rtogs pa ma yin pa’i |
| bud med rgan mo rnams kyis bde legs gyur byas śiṅ |
| gtsaṅ mar byas te lha rnams dag la phyag ’tshal lo |

EHJ's translation (from the Tibetan/Chinese):
30. The pious old women failed in penetration, seeing only the reasons for alarm; so, purifying themselves and performing luck-bringing rites, they prayed to the gods for good fortune.

Chinese Text:
長宿諸母人 互亂祈神明
各請常所事 願令太子安

S. Beal's translation (from the Chinese):
39. and now the aged women of the world, (of the ’long night’) in a confused way supplicating heavenly guidance, 40. Implored the gods to whom their rites were paid, to bless the child; (cause peace to rest upon the royal child.)

C. Willemen's translation (from the Chinese):
37. The old women were confused and prayed to the spirits. Each one of them beseeched the spirit that they usually served, praying for the safety of the Crown Prince.


Jordan said...

Hey Mike,
I think people can make a religion out of anything. Watch out, the cult of Alexander may be next!

Mike Cross said...

Too true, Jordan, and Alexander could see it coming. But at least the cult of Alexander is not as far advanced as the -ism of Buddhism is.

The athe-ism of Richard Dawkins et al sometimes sounds like it has religious overtones.

I'm all for a-theism.

Want to sign up?

Jordan said...

Sorry for the delayed response, work days have been a bit long of late.
In response to your offer: I do not think I will sign up. The last time I signed up for something they sent me to some isolated backwater island, only to be sent off to a floating prison for half of each year.

Besides, I am already considering ordaining as a minister for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Mike Cross said...

R'amen to that, Jordan.