Monday, May 7, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.7: When a King Should Know Who's Boss

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Sālā)
āryāśayāṁ tāṁ * * * * * * vijñāya kautūhala-harṣa-pūrṇaḥ
śivāt purād bhūmi-patir jagāma tat-prītaye nāpi vihāra-hetoḥ || 1.7

Appreciating the nobility of her instinct - - - - - -,

And filled with joyful anticipation,

The master of the earth departed from the blessed city

Not because he felt like an excursion, but to please her.

If EHJ's conjecture is correct, Aśvaghoṣa in this verse discusses Māyā's nobility.

In so doing, Aśvaghoṣa was concerned primarily neither with religious niceties like “piety” (as per EHJ's translation) nor with nobility as a social nicety bound up with class and breeding. The kind of nobility Aśvaghoṣa was interested in is the kind of selfless nobility which every expectant mother, for some mysterious reason -- doubtless associated with but never reducible to the presence of certain hormones -- tends to have. (Admittedly the noble instinct is all too often obscured in so-called civilized socieites by aberrations like smoking and heavy drinking during pregnancy, and the sense of being “too posh to push.”)

The point of today's verse – whatever the legend happens to be surrounding the particular event of the Buddha's birth – might be that a man who is wise, however big a wheel he is in the world, is wise to defer to the noble instincts of the expectant mother of his child.

Because we don't have the Sanskrit text of the second half of the Buddhacarita, in which Aśvaghoṣa describes the Buddha's death, we cannot know for sure what Aśvaghoṣa wrote about it. But my guess is that what concerned Aśvaghoṣa, in discussing the birth and death of the Buddha, was not to aim for historical accuracy but rather to lead each reader in the direction of realizing for himself or herself something of the truth of the human condition which the Buddha realized.

What we are ultimately being asked to understand – or rather not to understand -- is not primarily the historical details of some great person's life, but rather, in the first instance, how to conceive, gestate, and give birth to something beautiful. And in the final instance, how to let go of everything and pass into oblivion.

And the primary way to glean such understanding and non-understanding is not so much by reading a text like Buddhacarita as by carving out a cave in space and time in which to sit upon a round cushion, and then sitting on it, accepting and using oneself as well as one can until such time as nature takes over and helps one to forget about oneself.

The Japan I lived in for 13 years, from 1982 onwards, was a society heavily oriented towards work, and in general towards always doing one's best (gambaru). But a baby is not  born with any idea of doing its best. And when it comes time to let go and die, the idea of always doing one's best might be just the very thing to let go of.

Too many people in Japan, if you ask me, have got into the habit of suppressing their natural instincts, in favour of Japanese conceptions like “always doing one's best.” For 13 years I became one of those misguided people, believing that “always doing one's best” was the Buddha's teaching.

Since leaving Japan at the end of 1994, my efforts have been more directed towards deferring to nature, towards letting it happen rather than constantly trying to do it (not that I can claim to be very skilled in this business of letting). And so I read today's verse, along with every verse that Aśvaghoṣa wrote, in the light of that experience – in the light of having made misguided effort for 13 years, and in the light of subsequent effort to clarify a better way of sitting, and a better way of being. Better, in general, might mean closer to nature.

Too many of my wife's old friends have remained single – a symptom, I think, of Japan being over-civilized, of having temporarily forgotten that in the final analysis, Cesarian operations and blood transfusions notwithstanding, nature has to be the boss.

Tibetan Translation:
| de yi chos daṅ ldan la ’phags pa’i źes ’dod dag |
| rnam par śes nas ya mtshan dga’ ba yis gaṅ ste |
| źi ba’i groṅ nas sa yi bdag po gśegs gyur te |
| de yi dga’ ba’i rgyu yin rnam par rgyu phyir min |

EHJ's translation (from the Tibetan/reconstructed Sanskrit):
7. The lord of the earth, full of wonder and joy, recognised that her disposition was noble from her possession of piety, and left the fortunate city, in order to gratify her, not for a pleasure excursion.

Chinese Translation:
寂靜順禪思 啓王請遊彼
王知其志願 而生奇特想

S. Beal's translation (from the Chinese):
6. Quiet and peaceful, delighting in meditation, respectfully she asked the king for liberty to roam therein; the king, understanding her earnest desire, was seized with a seldom-felt anxiety (to grant her request).  

C. Willemen's translation (from the Chinese):
6. She wanted to meditate in quietude and beseeched the king for permission to travel there. The king understood her earnest wish and thought that it was wonderful.

āryāśayām (acc. sg. f.): the seat of her feelings and thoughts being noble
ārya: m. a respectable or honourable or faithful man ; mfn. behaving like an Aryan , worthy of one , honourable , respectable , noble ; wise
aśaya: m. resting place, seat; the seat of feelings and thoughts , the mind , heart , soul ; disposition of mind , mode of thinking
tām (acc. sg. f.): her

vijñāya = abs. vi- √ jñā: to distinguish , discern , observe , investigate , recognize , ascertain , know , understand
kautūhala-harṣa-pūrṇaḥ (nom. sg. m.): filled with curiosity and excitement
kautūhala: n. curiosity , interest in anything
harṣa: m. bristling , erection; joy, pleasure, happiness
pūrṇa: mfn. filled , full , filled with or full of

śivāt (abl. sg. n.): mfn. auspicious , propitious , gracious , favourable ; happy, fortunate
purāt (abl. sg.): n. a fortress , castle , city , town ;
bhūmi-patiḥ (nom. sg.): m. " earth-lord " , a king
pati: master , owner , possessor , lord , ruler , sovereign
jagāma = 3rd pers. sg. perf. gam: to go

tat-pritaye (dat. sg.): as a favour to her
prīti: f. any pleasurable sensation , pleasure , joy , gladness , satisfaction (with loc. or ifc. ; with ind.p. , " joy at having done anything "); friendly disposition , kindness , favour , grace , amity (with samam or ifc.) , affection , love (with gen. loc. , or ifc.)
na: not
api: and
vihāra-hetoḥ (abl. sg.): having the motive of walking for pleasure
vihāra: m. walking for pleasure or amusement , wandering , roaming ; sport , play , pastime , diversion , enjoyment , pleasure
vi- √ hṛ: to roam , wander through (acc.) ; (esp.) to walk or roam about for pleasure , divert one's self
hetu: m. motive, cause ; ifc. hetu also = " having as a cause or motive " , " caused or effected or actuated or attracted or impelled by”

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