Thursday, June 14, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.45: Overcoming Brahmin Snobbery

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Indravajrā)
ācāryakaṁ yoga-vidhau dvijānām-aprāptam-anyair-janako jagāma |
khyātāni karmāṇi ca yāni śaureḥ śūrādayas-teṣv-abalā babhūvuḥ || 1.45

The status of teacher of the method of yoga 

to twice-born brahmins,

A status that nobody but a brahmin had obtained, 

Janaka did attain;

And the celebrated deeds of Śauri, 

“Descended from the Mighty,”

Were beyond the power of Śūra, 

“the Mighty Man” himself, and his contemporaries.

This is the final example in the series of examples beginning in 1.41 with which the brahmins illustrated their answer to the king's question – why? from what cause?

The king wanted to know how it was possible that the birth of his son was accompanied by unprecedented signs. The bunch of brahmins, like Ph. D. students referring to the scientific literature, gave concrete examples from ancient Indian history of sons surpassing their fathers in various ways. The last of those examplars are Janaka and Śauri.

The significance of the king (and hence member of the kṣatriya caste) Janaka, as Patrick Olivelle points out in the Notes to his translation, is that normally brahmins would have been the teachers of kṣatriyas, but King Janaka was so exceptionally wise that he was able to turn this relationship around and teach his method of yoga to brahmins.

On the surface, then, today's verse includes a tribute to the yoga teaching of Janaka which was so valuable that brahmins were prepared to get beyond their habitual snobbishness in order to receive it. But the implicit intention of the verse might be to highlight that very snobbishness.

With this in mind, various threads gleaned from BBC Radio 4 attempt to weave themselves during sleep into some kind of coherent picture.

Following a discussion of raising the retirement age for public sector workers, a woman phones in to tell of her 45-year old husband, a dustbin man who hates his work, coming in after a hard day chasing behind the dustbin lorry, taking off his boots, listening to the discussion on the radio, putting his head in his hands and, uncharacteristically for him, crying.

On a much more positive note, last night's schedule included a documentary on artificial photosynthesis, which left me with the impression that bright young chemists might help to dig us out of a hole.

But speaking of bright young chemists, my son informs me that the majority of his friends studying Chemistry at university in London went to fee-paying schools, either in Britain or abroad. The main reason he was able to join this academic elite was because the place where I chose to do my Alexander teacher training, by chance, is in a county that retained the selective eleven-plus exam, by passing which my son could go to the local grammar school. In most of Britain grammar schools have been abolished, under an egalitarian ideology, leading to something of a 2-tier system with so-called “comprehensive” schools (which can't truly be comprehensive as long as the fee-paying option remains) and fee-paying public schools, like Eton, where the royal princes Wills & Harry went and where the UK's prime-minister and chancellor Dave & George went.

I am tempted to qualify the phrase “Dave & George” with “that pair of arrogant wankers.” But my reaction arises partly from the mirror principle, since I myself went to what was in the 1970s regarded as the posh school in Birmingham, the school for brummy brahmins. The thriller writer Lee Child has documented what it was like to get the bus into school from outlying suburbs of Birmingham – one felt from some quarters a certain hostility that was liable from time to time to boil over into one getting beaten up. (This was a factor that evidently motivated Lee Child to create the fantasy hero of Jack Reacher, and equally motivated me to learn the Japanese martial art, karate-do.) Before me my parents were both brought up in working-class slums but they benefited from the grammar school system that came in after WWII. Thus they met at university in Birmingham, where they didn't waste much time in conceiving me, while they were still students.

Another BBC Radio 4 programme that has stuck in my mind was last week's Thinking Allowed, in which Lisa Mckenzie described the growth in working class alienation on the St Anne's housing estate in Nottingham. From a post-modernist viewpoint, the narrative of the unemployed black youths living there has as much validity as anybody else's. But from my viewpoint the narrative, centred on self-consciousness of victimhood, seemed to be an excuse for being lazy and feeling a sense of entitlement that was not backed by any sense of social responsibility.

The mirror principle – whether I am using as a mirror white posh boys educated at Eton or black unemployed benefit scroungers of a Nottingham council estate – never fails. I suppose I am lucky to have had a varied enough life to enable me to use many kinds of people as mirrors in which to see my own faults, even including a small yellow brahmin who graduated on Japan's royal road from Tokyo University Law Department into the Ministry of Finance.

What in the end can any of us do to overcome class snobbery? The answer might be nothing. But nothing is totally impossible to do. There might be a Zen koan in there somewhere – How does one sit and do nothing? I don't know. But not by trying to impose, from the top down, an ideology. 

The Chinese translator, by the way, described Janaka as "having attained the way/tao/truth of Zen, without a teacher" (無師得禪道). Having thus gone his own way in describing Janaka in the first half of the verse, he then failed altogether to mention the original protagonist of the second half of the verse, Śauri.

Śauri means Kṛṣṇa, of Hari Krishna fame, one of whose celebrated deeds is mentioned by the striver in Saundarananda Canto 9:
Where is the strength of Hari Kṛṣṇa, 'The Kaṁsa-tormentor,' who broke the Horse-King's jaw? / With one arrow from Jaras he was brought down, like utmost beauty brought down, in due order, by old age. // 9.18 //
Perhaps it was natural that the brahmins' references should culminate with Kṛṣṇa, the ultimate Hindu super-hero. When George Harrison sang his devotional My Sweet Lord,  the Lord he had in mind was Kṛṣṇa. You plonker, George. Such a beautiful song makes it somehow hard to be cynical. Still, when it comes to belief in any kind of god, I can somehow manage to be cynical. Romantic thoughts sometimes are very beautiful, but they are also invariably the cause of suffering. Q.E.D.

“Hare Krishna? Come off it, George!

“Imagine all the people, living life in peace.”No thanks, John. I'd rather aspire to parking my arse on a round cushion and doing nothing but sit.

ācāryakam (acc. sg.): n. the office or profession of a teacher
ācārya: m. " knowing or teaching the ācāra or rules " , a spiritual guide or teacher (especially one who invests the student with the sacrificial thread , and instructs him in the vedas , in the law of sacrifice and religious mysteries
yoga-vidhau (loc. sg. m.): the practice of yoga, the method of yoga
yoga: m. the act of yoking, practice, yoga
vidhi: m. use, method, any act or action , performance , accomplishment , contrivance , work , business (ifc. often pleonastically )
dvijānām (gen. pl.): m. “twice-born,” a man of any one of the first 3 classes , any Aryan , (esp.) a Brahman (re-born through investiture with the sacred thread)

aprāptam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. unobtained, not accomplished
anyaiḥ (inst. pl.): others
janakaḥ (nom. sg.): m. “progenitor,” N. of a king of videha or mithilā (son of mithi and father of udāvasu )
jagāma = 3rd pers. sg. perf. gam: to go, to go to a condition

khyātāni (nom. pl. n.): mfn. named ; known , well known , celebrated , notorious
karmāṇi = nom. pl. karman: n. act, action
ca: and
yāni (nom. pl. n.): [those] which
śaureḥ = gen. sg. śauri: m. 'descended from Śūra,' patronymic of vasu-deva ; and of viṣṇu-kṛṣṇa
vasu-deva: m. N. of the father of kṛṣṇa; and of kṛṣṇa

śūrādayaḥ (nom. pl. m.): Śūra and his contemporaries
śūra: m. “mighty man,” N. of a yādava , the father of vasu-deva and grandfather of kṛṣṇa
ādi: et cetera, and the rest
teṣu (loc. pl. n.): in regard to those
abalāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. weak, feeble, lacking power
babhūvuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. bhū: to be

闍那駒仙人 無師得禪道
凡得名稱者 皆生於自力
或先勝後劣 或先劣後勝

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