Friday, June 8, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.39: The King's Question

[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti
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* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * || 1.39

The king now seems to ask the Brahmans why the signs identified by the Brahmans in his son were not seen in previous royal progeny.

Why does the king ask this question?

On the surface, the question reveals something about the king's mind – a doubt, or some anxiety about whether the prince will take a religious or worldly path. But I think Aśvaghoṣa's real agenda may be to draw our attention to where causality (Chinese: 因縁) fits into the Brahmans' scheme of things.

Religious pursuit of the truth, based on belief in God, generally aims at enlightenment through union with God, the Absolute. The enlightenment which scientists seek, in contrast, based on the principle of causality, is a more relative affair, whereby the ideas of the previous generation of scientists are both abandoned and built upon by the present generation of scientists.

In the coming series of verses the Brahmans affirm that the Brahmanical tradition is always liable to be improved upon by the sons of fathers who left vital tasks unfinished. In so affirming, the Brahmans are expressing something along the lines of the viewpoint of modern scientists.

I think this is Aśvaghoṣa's indirect way, without being preachy about it, of causing us to question whether or not the Buddha's teaching is subject to such continuing development.

Has it been my duty, for example, to endeavor to demolish the ideas of Gudo Nishijima, and in so doing to build upon those ideas? If so, then by criticizing his theory of balance of the autonomic nervous system, and by drawing attention to the importance of primitive reflexes, and especially the mutual antagonism between the Moro (baby panic) reflex and the fear paralysis response, I have only been doing what I am called upon to do.

In my comments up to today's verse, I have found myself challenging the view that the Buddha's teaching is a religion. In its approach to discovering the truth, the Buddha's teaching as I see it is not religious but scientific, in that discovery of the truth does not require any religious belief but it does require abandonment of ideas.

The coming series of verses may cause us to consider a difference between the Buddha's teaching and science: namely, that whereas the ultimate truth in science is unknowable, for all is but a woven web of guesses, the Buddha's teaching is just the teaching that the Buddha taught, based upon the truth that the Buddha already realized. In that sense, then, the task is only to re-discover for ourselves, in our own practice and experience, the truth that the Buddha realized. Making new discoveries of the kind that the scientist hopes to make, is not the one great matter. The one great matter is only to sit as the Buddha sat.

This I think is the point that Aśvaghoṣa is going to make in the next series of verses, implicitly and indirectly, through the device of Brahmans who make a sort of scientific-sounding case to the contrary.

Patrick Olivelle writes in the introduction to his translation of Buddhacarita: “Ashva-ghosha's presentation of the Buddha's dharma as the consummation and fulfillment of the Brahmanical tradition is made implicitly and indirectly rather than openly. He does not come out directly and tell his audience that the Buddha's dharma is what brahmins have been waiting for all these centuries.”

To the extent that the Brahmanical tradition encompassed both religious and scientific pursuit of the truth, perhaps it is after all not so wrong to say that Aśvaghoṣa presented the Buddha's dharma as the consummation and fulfillment of the Brahmanical tradition. Certainly I agree that Aśvaghoṣa's presentation is made implicitly and indirectly rather than openly.

But the ultimate point to realize might be that, when he discovered the truth of just sitting, the Buddha totally and utterly abandoned the two ways of pursuing the truth that had been competing with each other, in ancient India, and in his own body-and-mind, before that time.

Tibetan Text:
| de nas gñis skyes rnams la mi bdag gis smras pa |
| bdag ñid chen po mi skyoṅ sṅa mas ma mthoṅ ba |
| mthoṅ źes khyad ’di gaṅ yin ’di la rgyu mtshan ci |
| de nas bram ze rnams kyis de ñid la smras pa |

EHJ's translation (from the Tibetan):
39. Then the king said to the twice-born: "What is the cause that these excellent characteristics should be seen, as you say, in him, when they were not seen in previous great-souled kings?" Then the Brahmans said to him:–

Chinese Text:
時王告二生 若如汝所説
如此奇特相 以何因縁故
不應於先王 乃現於我世
婆羅門白王 不應如是説


S. Beal's translation (from the Chinese):
53. At this time the king addressed the twice-born, ’If it be as you say, with respect to these miraculous signs, that they indicate such consequences, 54. ’Then no such case has happened with former kings, nor down to our time has such a thing occurred.’ The Brahman addressed the king thus,’Say not so; for it is not right; 

C. Willemen's translation (from the Chinese):
49. The king then said to the twice-born one, “If it is as you say, why would such wonderful signs not be associated with a former king but be manifested in my progeny?” 50. “Do not speak like that! 

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