Thursday, May 31, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.31: Brahmans Famed for Conduct

[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti
* * * * * * * * * * *  * * * * * * * * * * *  | 
* * * * * * * * * * *   * * * * * * * * * * *  || 1.31

In the Chinese text, there is no character indicating plurality, and so it was natural for Beal and Willemen to translate Brahman in the singular. But BC1.47, for which we have the Sanskrit dvi-jaiḥ (“by the twice-born men”), confirms that Aśvaghoṣa originally wrote of Brahmans in the plural.

On the surface, today's verse would seem to praise the Brahmans, not just for talking the talk but  for actually walking the walk: EHJ's translation  from the Tibetan says that they were famed for “conduct, learning, and experience.”

On further investigation, however, the operative words in EHJ's translation might be “famed for.” Similarly, the Chinese translation speaks of 高名稱 their lofty fame.

On further investigation, then, and in light of the principle that reputation and substance do not always tally with each other, I think that Aśvaghoṣa's real intention was not to praise the soothsaying Brahmans at all – any more than it was Shakespeare's intention to portray in a favourable light the soothsaying hags at the beginning of Macbeth.

In the end, does it matter?  All religions boil down to compassion, do they not? Brahmanism and Buddhism, in their aspiration to a truly spiritual life, are in essence the same are they not? In that sense, the teaching of Lord Buddha might be seen as the consummation of Brahmanism, might it not?

Might it fuck.

In the beginning there are ideas. I have my ideas, dreams, delusions, and so on. Others have their idea of me, which is my fame or reputation -- or notoriety more like. 

With the hard-won understanding that end-gaining ideas are makers of trouble, there is effort to abandon ideas, at the beginning of which there might be utility in the idea of abandoning ideas, of seeing an idea to be false and abandoning it. This attitude towards falsification, according to Karl Popper (if I remember rightly, not having read him for more than 30 years) is the criterion of science. 

So somebody expresses their crappy idea, for example, that the Buddha's teaching is the consummation of Brahmanism. And I chip in with "Is it fuck!" By which I mean, in other words, "that is only an idea, a view, to be abandoned." But seeing that, and actually abandoning an idea, are not the same. 

To become a Muslim, for example, one just has to declare oneself to be a believer. I think the sentence is along the lines of "I believe that God is not only an idea but He really exists, and  Mohammed was his prophet."   Simple as that. Speaking for myself, I reason that "God exists" is an unscientific idea, since it provides no falsifiable hypothesis, and therefore should be abandoned a priori. 

But some ideas, even after one has decided to abandon them, and has nailed one's colours to the mast,  yelling  out "Fuck that idea!", nevertheless persist. "I might be happy;" "I might be safe;" "There might be for me no suffering.... [if that fucking cockerel would shut up]." 

FM Alexander, and of course the Buddha long before him, saw that an idea was tied up with a person's habitual use of himself. Alexander realized that as soon as the idea came to him "I am going to speak," the idea mobilized a whole neuro-muscular army, at the vanguard of which was stiffening of the neck and arms and pulling back of the head. 

This being so, in the teaching of FM Alexander as in the teaching of the Buddha, both of which teachings, I repeat, have fuck all to do with religion, the idea of abandoning ideas is in itself totally insufficient. What is necessary is to perform some activity, like sitting upright for example, without  the idea of gaining that end. Let the action do itself without the idea of me doing it getting in the way. This kind of practice gives rise to instruction like  "Do the action without the idea of doing it." or "Let it do itself." 

What I am doing now is talking a fucking good talk. But the truth is that I am still somewhat hindered from walking the good walk, not only because my left knee hasn't yet fully recovered, but more fundamentally because some deeply ingrained ideas are very difficult to give up... "I might be famous. I might be useful to humankind. I might make a big mark on the world. I might be loved, adored, honoured. I might not have any aches and pains. And if the gold price goes up, as I still think it will, I might be financially secure."

Tibetan Text:
| de yi mtshan ñid dag kyaṅ śes śiṅ thos gyur nas | 
| spyod daṅ thos daṅ tshig la grags thob bram ze rnams |
| rnam rgyas źal ni ya mtshan dga’ ba yis gaṅ ste | 
| dga’ daṅ ’jigs par gyur pa’i mi yi lha la smras | 

EHJ's translation (from the Tibetan/Chinese):
31. When the Brahmans, famed for conduct, learning and eloquence, had heard about these omens and considered them, then with beaming faces full of wonder and exultation they said to the king, who was both fearful and joyfull:–

Chinese Text:
時彼林中有 知相婆羅門
威儀具多聞 才辯高名稱
見相心歡喜 踊躍未曾有
知王心驚怖 白王以眞實

S. Beal's translation (from the Chinese):
Now there was at this time in the grove, a certain soothsayer, a Brahman, 41. Of dignified mien and wide-spread renown, famed for his skill and scholarship: beholding the signs, his heart rejoiced, and he exulted at the miraculous event. 42. Knowing the king’s mind to be somewhat perplexed, he addressed him (thus) with truth and earnestness,

C. Willemen's translation (from the Chinese):
38. At that time there was a brahman in the grove, a discerner of signs.
He had a dignified demeanor and was endowed with learning. He was eloquent and had a lofty reputation. 39. He beheld the signs and rejoiced in his heart, overjoyed at the wonder. He knew that the king felt distress, and he informed the king of the truth:

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