Wednesday, June 6, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.37: Superiority – Brahmanism vs Zen

[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * |
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * || 1.37

Here the Brahmans, lest there be any doubt, clarify what they mean by superiority through various examples beginning with Mt. Meru, and gold.

But is Meru necessarily the best of mountains? Was there really ever any such mountain as Mt. Meru? Or is “Meru” just a name, a name not given to a mountain but given to an idea of a mountain, an idea of a mountain that was generally accepted, by unquestioning people, to be the best?

Similarly is gold, for the reasons I gave in commenting on 1.34, inherently the king of metals? Or has gold arrived at the number one spot through a more democratic process of being believed by the majority of people to be most valuable?

For making a water filter, silver might be the best of metals, because of its anti-bacterial properites. Again, for making a catayltic converter in a car engine, platinum or palladium or rhodium might be the best of metals. What would the Brahmans have made of those awkward facts?

Aśvaghoṣa wrote:
Just as gold born from dirt is pure, spotless, gleaming, / And while lying in the dirt is not tarnished by the dirt's impurities, // SN13.4 // And just as a lotus-leaf is born in water and remains in water, / But neither above nor below is sullied by the water, // SN13.5 //So the Sage, born in the world, and acting for the benefit of the world, / Because of his state of action, and spotlessness, is not tainted by worldly things. // SN13.6 //
In this quote from Saundarananda, where Aśvaghoṣa is speaking for himself, and not putting words into the mouths of Brahmans, Aśvaghoṣa compares the Buddha to gold because of two practical qualities that the Buddha has: kṛtitva (a state of purposeful action) and nirmalatva (stainlessness) – qualities that might be correlated with the yang lustre and the yin inertness of gold.

So from the above quote, we can know that Aśvaghoṣa himself saw gold as the best of metals (because he compared the Buddha to gold) and at the same time we can know that Aśvaghoṣa took the trouble to think for himself why gold is better than other metals, not just accepting the cliché that “gold is the king of metals.”

When Brahmanist soothsayers, on the other hand, say that gold is the best of metals (Chinese translation: 衆寶金爲最), I am not inclined to believe a single word they say.

In Dogen's teaching the highest aspiration is just to sit in lotus.

When Patrick Olivelle in the introduction to his translation of Buddhacarita writes of “the Buddhist view of the ascetic life as the highest religious aspiration,” it is because he has failed to see (even in a dream) that just sitting in lotus, which is the supreme thing in the Buddha's teaching, is utterly different from sitting in lotus in Brahmanist pursuit of the ascetic life as the highest religious aspiration. It is not that the highest thing in the Buddha's teaching evolved out of the Brahmanist pursuit of the ascetic life as the highest religious aspiration. The Buddha's truth of just sitting started exactly when the Buddha saw that Brahmanist pursuit of the ascetic life, as the highest religious aspiration, was getting him absolutely fucking nowhere, and so he totally abandoned it. To speak of the Buddha's teaching as the consummation of Brahmanism, is akin to speaking of science as the consummation of religion, or akin to speaking of chalk as the consummation of cheese.

From the standpoint of a religion like Brahmanism, where the earth is stood upon as the centre of God's universe, the moon is the best of planets (Chinese: 諸宿月爲最). But from the contrary standpoint of the moon, the earth might be the best of planets. And seen from the outer reaches of the universe, the earth and moon might be vanishingly irrelevant. People are mistaken who think that the Buddha's teaching is a religion called Buddhism that belongs in the earth-centric bucket marked “Brahmanism, Buddhism, Christianity, Scientology, Mormonism, et cetera.”

Tibetan Text:
| ji ltar lcags rnams la ni gser dag mchog yin la |
| ri rnams la ni ri rab chu bo rnams la mtsho |
| gza’ rnams la ni zla ba gduṅ byed rnams la ñi |
| de ltar khyod kyi sras ni rkaṅ gñis rnams kyi mchog

EHJ's translation (from the Tibetan/Chinese):
37. As pure gold is the best of metals, Meru of mountains, the ocean of waters, the moon of planets and the sun of fires, so your son is the best of men.

Chinese Text:
譬如須彌山 普爲諸山王
衆寶金爲最 衆流海爲最
諸宿月爲最 諸明日爲最
如來處世間 兩足中爲最


S. Beal's translation (from the Chinese):
for as mount Sumeru is monarch among all mountains, 50. ’Or, as gold is chief among all precious things, or, as the ocean is supreme among all streams, or, as the moon is first among the stars, or, as the sun is brightest of all luminaries, 51. ’So Tathâgata, born in the world, is the most eminent of men;

C. Willemen's translation (from the Chinese):
46. “Just as Mount Sumeru is the king among mountains and just as gold is superior among all precious things, just as the sea is superior among all streams, and 47. “Just as the moon is superior among the stars and the sun is superior among all luminous bodies, when the Tathāgata dwells in the world he is the most honored one among two-legged beings.

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