Friday, June 15, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.46: Equality of Opportunity, As Seen by Brahmins

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Bālā)
tasmāt-pramāṇaṁ na vayo na vaṁśaḥ kaścit-kvacic-chraiṣṭhyam-upaiti loke | 
rājñām-ṛṣīṇāṁ ca hi tāni tāni kṛtāni putrair-akṛtāni pūrvaiḥ || 1.46

The criterion, then, is neither age nor descent;

Anyone anywhere may attain pre-eminence in the world.

For, among kings and seers,
sons have achieved various things

That forebears failed to achieve.”

The “in the world” (loke) of today's verse may be compared with Nanda's expression in Saundara-nanda Canto 18 when, after realising the worthy state of an arhat, he describes himself as being “present in the world without being of the world.” (lokeṣu bhūto 'smi na loka-dharmā;18.10). The criterion for this particular bunch of progressive brahmins, as I have argued previously, seems to have to do with getting on in the world.

Evidently there were brahmins who talked a good talk of equality in ancient India, just as there are in modern Britain.

An Economist article from 20th January 2011 titled “The rich and the rest – What to do (and not do) about inequality,” begins thus:
APART from being famous and influential, Hu Jintao, David Cameron, Warren Buffett and Dominique Strauss-Kahn do not obviously have a lot in common. So it tells you something about the breadth of global concerns about inequality that China’s president, Britain’s prime minister, America’s second-richest man and the head of the International Monetary Fund have all worried, loudly and publicly, about the dangers of a rising gap between the rich and the rest. Mr Hu puts the reduction of income disparities, particularly between China’s urban elites and its rural poor, at the centre of his pledge to create a “harmonious society”. Mr Cameron has said that more unequal societies do worse “according to almost every quality-of-life indicator”....
The article concludes that
“rather than fretting about inequality itself, policymakers need to differentiate between its causes and focus on ways to increase social mobility. A global market offers far bigger returns to those at the top of their game, be they authors, lawyers or fund managers. Modern technology favours the skilled. These economic changes are themselves often reinforced by social ones: educated men now tend to marry educated women. The result of all this, as our special report this week shows, is the rise of a global elite. At heart, this is a meritocratic process; but not always. Rules and institutions are often rigged in ways that limit competition and favour insiders at the expense both of growth and equality. The rules can be blatantly unfair: witness China’s limits to migration, which keep the poor in the countryside. Or they can involve more subtle distortions: look at the way that powerful teachers’ unions have stopped poorer Americans getting a good education, or the implicit “too big to fail” system that encouraged bankers to be reckless and left the rest with the tab. These are very different problems, but they all lead to wider inequality, fewer rungs in the ladder and lower growth....”
I'm not trying to make a party political point. I googled “David Cameron on widening inequality,” but I might just as well have searched for a quote from those other equality-loving brahmins Nick Clegg (Cambridge University) and Ed Miliband (Oxford).

My point is rather that achieving brahmins, whether of the ancient Indian variety or of the modern English variety, are always liable to discuss equality of opportunity with an air of their own effortless superiority and from their own lofty perch in the world. But haven't those British brahmins who the Economist calls “policymakers” become policymakers precisely by striving to clamber to the top of the greasy pole? And, though I am no expert on Indian society, hasn't the restriction of social mobility been since ancient times the whole point of the caste system?

Brahmins in ancient India, it seems, saw a clear dividing line between other-worldly religious matters and matters in the world. And they didn't see their own sphere of understanding and influence as limited to the former: the status of a brahmin was partly religious and also partly socio-political.

So my understanding of the series of verses which concludes with today's verse is that the king asked a question on the basis of causality and in responding to the king's question the brahmins on the surface tried to show their scientific and progressive credentials, but implicitly what they unknowingly expressed in the end was their hypocrisy.

In the Buddha's teaching, in contrast, hypocrisy where it exists is not allowed to go unrecognized. Hypocrisy is a fault, and a fault is to be seen as a fault.

During the World Cup of 1986 I noticed that despite having just shaved my head and thrown myself all-out into sitting practice, I was still somewhat interested in England progressing through the tournament. I asked Gudo Nishijima how he felt when Japan was competing internationally – did he also feel a kind of nationalism? There was a telling pause. He knew that if he denied it, I would know he was lying. After a while he laughed and said “Not so strong.” 

This, as I see it, accords with the Buddha's teaching of small desire, which is both a cause and effect of enjoying sitting practice. 

Over the course of the past twenty-odd years, for example, my wife and I have not desired equality of opportunity for our sons. Never mind about “May all living beings be well”; we have desired to give our sons a better start than other living beings. I would like to think that daily sitting practice has caused this kind of parochial desire in us to be “not so strong.”

Nevertheless, I am still closely monitoring the price of gold.

tasmāt: ind. from that, therefore
pramāṇam (nom. sg.): n. measure , scale , standard
na: not
vayaḥ (nom. sg.): n. energy; vigorous age , youth , prime of life , any period of life , age
na: not
vaṁśaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the line of a pedigree or genealogy (from its resemblance to the succession of joints in a bamboo) , lineage, race , family , stock

kaś-cit: anybody
kva-cit: anywhere
śraiṣṭhyam (acc. sg.): n. (fr. śreṣṭha) superiority , preeminence among (gen. or comp.)
upaiti = 3rd pers. sg. upa- √i : to go near, to arrive at
loke (loc. sg.): m. the world

rājñām (gen. pl.): m. kings
ṛṣīṇām (gen. pl.): m. seers
ca: and
hi: for
tāni tāni (acc. pl. n.): this and that , various , different

kṛtāni (nom. pl.): n. deed , work , action ; mfn. done , made , accomplished , performed ;
putraiḥ (inst. pl.): m. sons
akṛtāni (nom. pl. n.): mfn. not done , not accomplished
pūrvaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. an ancestor , forefather (pl. the ancients , ancestors)

帝王諸神仙 不必承本族
是故諸世間 不應顧先後

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