Tuesday, May 8, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.8: A Glorious Setting for a Natural Birth

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Vāṇī)
tasmin-vane śrīmati rāja-patnī prasūti-kālaṁ samavekṣamāṇā |
śayyāṁ vitānopahitāṁ prapede nārī-sahasrair-abhinandyamānā || 1.8 

In that glorious grove,

Perceiving that it was time for the birth,

The queen took to a bed covered over with an awning,

Being joyfully received
into the bosom of thousands of fellow women.

The incomplete manuscript on which EHJ based his Sanskrit text was itself originally incomplete: it consisted of 55 palm leaves, of which numbers one, three, seven, and eight were missing. These missing leaves knocked out verses 1.1 to 1.8b; 1.24d to 1.40c; and 2.1 to 2.35. The manuscript ends abruptly at verse 14.31 in the middle of the second line of leaf 55b, so that the whole of the second half of Buddhacarita was apparently missing from the earlier manuscript from which EHJ's source manuscript was copied.

EHJ notes that Folio 2, i.e. the 2nd of the 55 palm-leaves, begins with the syllables māṇā at the end of the 1st yugapāda. However, EHJ gives the whole of 1.8 in devanagari script in his Sanskrit text section, whereas for the preceding seven verses he merely notes his conjectures in romanized script in footnotes in his English translation section. EHJ was evidently a very diligent sort of bloke, and so he must have felt fairly confident that he had come close to nailing the original Sanskrit of the first half of the verse before -māṇā 

Paleographic issues aside, today's verse as I read it need not be understood to mean that there were literally thousands of women waiting to welcome Māyā at Lumbinī's grove. When any woman goes into a natural labour, it might only be natural for her to be figuratively enclosed by millions of women, coccooning her in zillionfold clouds of oxytocin – so that end-gaining testosterone has no chance of barging its way in, with scalpel and advanced medical knowledge at the ready.

On a personal note, I was privileged to witness the birth of both of my sons. In theory I was supposed to be “assisting” at those births. But my wife informs me that I was more of a hindrance to her and her midwife than a help, especially at the second birth, when I was confident that I had remembered what I had been told in preparation for assisting at the first birth two years earlier, but in fact had forgotten.

A good American friend of mine had introduced us to a Japanese midwife who kept the birth process as natural as possible. She was not a dogmatist: On the rare occasion when she deemed emergency medical intervention to be necessary, she would call an ambulance. But in general she delivered babies on a normal, tatami-matted floor in her house. Notwithstanding my unenlightened presence, this midwife got our two sons off to the best possible start.

After my ten years of devoted Zazen practice, did I have anything to teach this inspirational individual about natural birth? Absolutely not. Conversely, however, from witnessing a natural birth under the guidance of this wise woman, there was a hell of a lot for me to learn about how to sit... viz:

When an investigation comes to be made, it will be found that every single thing we are doing in the Work is exactly what is being done in nature where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously.”

My teacher Gudo Nishijima used to say that a baby has got very excellent prajñā, or real wisdom. For him, prajñā was purely a state of the autonomic nervous system. So that insofar as a baby is looking at the world through empty eyes, from a place without any bad habits or false conceptions, the baby is naturally imbued with plentiful prajñā.

For me, a much more meaningful example of prajñā is the midwife who advocates natural birth and knows her onions. What is lacking in the baby but present in the midwife is the bit about “learning to do it consciously.”

This “learning to do it consciously,” whether in childbirth or in sitting, seems to be largely a matter of becoming conscious of what not to do. The baby's prajñā is simply in the not doing of what is not to be done. The midwife too has the prajñā of not doing what is not to be done, but unlike the baby she also has the prajñā of prior knowing what is not to be done.

EH Johnston:
In that glorious grove the queen percieved that the time of her delivery was at hand and, amidst the welcome of thousands of waiting-women, proceeded to a couch overspread with an awning.

tasmin (loc. sg.): in that
vane (loc. sg.): wood, grove
śrīmati (loc. sg.): mfn. beautiful , charming , lovely , pleasant , splendid , glorious
rājapatnī (nom. sg.): f. a king's wife , royal consort , queen

prasūtikālam (acc. sg.): time of birth
prasūti: f. procreation , generation , bringing forth (children or young) , laying (eggs) , parturition , birth
kālam: time
samavekṣamāṇā = nom. sg. f. pres. part. sam-ava- vīkṣ: to look at , behold , observe , perceive , notice ; to reflect or ponder on , consider , mind , heed ; to acknowledge , think fit or necessary

śayyām (acc. sg.): f. a bed , couch
vitānopahitām (acc. sg. f.): with an awning over it
vitāna: mn. extension; an awning , canopy , cover
tan: to extend, spread
upahita: mfn. put on or upon , placed ,
prapede = 3rd. pers. sg. perfect pra- √ pad: to go forwards set out for , resort to , arrive at , attain , enter (with acc.)

nārī-sahasraiḥ (inst. pl.): by thousands of women
nārī: a woman , a wife
sahasra: a thousand
abhinandyamānā = nom. sg. f. pres. part. passive abhi- √ nand: to please ; to rejoice at , salute , welcome , greet , hail


Happi said...

Mike -

Good to have something worthwhile to read alongside my breakfast again.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Gisela.

I missed having a verse to recite when waking up in the middle of the night.

So, if nothing else, this work may be more worthwhile than the back of a cornflakes packet, and more sleep-inducing than counting sheep.

Happi said...

It's remarkable with all the verses that must be floating around in your head like so many sheep that your sense of humor has survived reasonably well.

You're welcome.

Happi said...

By the way, since I'm not that into cornflakes, I can't say I read cereal boxes. Oatmeal or bread are better.