Wednesday, May 9, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.9: Sanctified -- But Not By Religious Vows or Rites

−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Kīrti)
tataḥ prasannaś-ca babhūva puṣyas-tasyāś-ca devyā vrata-saṁskṛtāyāḥ |
pārśvāt-suto loka-hitāya jajñe nirvedanaṁ caiva nirāmayaṁ ca || 1.9

as a propitious moon passed into the asterism of Puṣya,

To that queen sanctified by the manner of her action --

Through her, for the welfare of the world -- a son was born,

Painlessly and healthily.

On first reading this verse, I knew that beneath the impossible surface meaning there must be another more real meaning. A cursory glance at the MW dictionary was enough to find it. On the surface pārśvāt means “from/through her side” -- as opposed to through the birth canal leading naturally from her womb to the outside world. But the dictionary indicates that  pārśvāt  also means “by the means of” or simply “through.” So what Aśvaghoṣa is really pointing to in this verse is not the defiance of cause and effect by a miraculous side exit; on the contrary, the point is that such an excellent baby as was the infant Gautama, was born painlessly and healthily to a natural woman who reaped just what she sowed, having been sanctified by the manner of her action.

vrata-saṁskṛtāyāḥ, as I read it, does not mean sanctified by a religious vow or a religious rite. It means sanctified by the natural manner of her action, by her natural conduct, by the natural way in which she lived her life.

EHJ translated  vrata-saṁskṛtāyāḥ  as “hallowed by her vows,” and Patrick Olivelle translated vrata-saṁskṛtāyāḥ  as “consecrated by rites.”

These translations cannot be criticized on linguistic grounds: they are supported by the dictionary, which defines  vrata as: n. sphere of action, mode or manner of life (e.g. śuci-vrata, "pure manner of life"), conduct, manner, custom; a religious vow or practice ; any vow or firm purpose.

I criticize those translations on the grounds that neither EHJ nor PO peeped, even in a dream, Aśvaghoṣa's real purpose – which had fuck all to do with religion, but everything to do with the sphere of action.

The Buddha was born from a real individual human being called Māyā, by the means of the whole of her, not through one side of her. And yes, Aśvaghoṣa writes that Māyā was sanctified, but not by religion.

What is there in Aśvaghoṣa's own words to lend credence to the assumption that Māyā was hallowed by vows, or consecrated by rites? It is in the sphere of action that Māyā, according to EHJ's conjecture, is described in Buddhacarita 1.5 as vīta-śrama-śoka-māyā devoid of weariness, sorrow, and the māyā which is deceit.” It is through the manner of her action that Māyā is described in Saundarananda 2.49 as vīta-krodha-tamo-māyā devoid of anger, darkness and the māyā which is deceit.”

Who says Māyā was hallowed by vows? Who says she was consecrated by rites? Aśvaghoṣa himself? Or educated people who assume without reason that the Buddha's teaching is some kind of whacky religion like Judaism, or Christianity, or Islaam, in which believers are encouraged to believe irrationally in something other than cause and effect?

tataḥ (ind.): thence
prasannaḥ (nom. sg. m): mfn. clear , bright , pure (lit. and fig.) ; gracious , kind , kindly disposed towards, favourable (as stars &c )
ca: and
babhūva = 3rd pers. sg. perfect bhū: to be, become
puṣyaḥ (nom. sg.): m. name of the 6th lunar asterism (also called sidhya and tiṣya)

tasyāḥ (gen. sg): f. her
ca: and
devyāḥ (gen. sg.): f. goddess; queen , princess lady (the consecrated wife or daughter of a king, but also any woman of high rank)
vrata-saṁskṛtāyāḥ (gen. sg. f.): sanctified in the sphere of action; sanctified by the manner of her action
vrata: n. sphere of action , function , mode or , manner of life (e.g. śuci-vrata , " pure manner of life "), conduct , manner , usage , custom; a religious vow or practice ; any vow or firm purpose
saṁskṛtā: mfn. put together , constructed , well or completely formed , perfected ; made ready , prepared , completed , finished ; purified , consecrated , sanctified , hallowed , initiated

pārśvāt (abl. sg.): n. the region of the ribs (pl. the ribs) , side , flank (either of animate or inanimate objects); the side = nearness , proximity (with gen. or ifc. ; pārśvayaḥ , on both sides ; pārśvam , aside , towards ; pārśve , at the side , near [opp. to dura-tas] ; pārśvāt , away , from ; by means of , through)
sutaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a son
loka-hitāya (dat. sg. m.): for the welfare of the world
loka: the world
hita: n. anything useful or salutary or suitable or proper , benefit , advantage , profit , service , good , welfare , good advice &c
jajñe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. jan: to be born

nirvedanam (acc. sg. n.): painlessly
nir: without
vedanā: f. pain , torture , agony
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
nirāmayam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. free from illness, healthily
āmaya: m. sickness , disease
ca: and

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