Sunday, June 17, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.48: The Brahmins Get Their Reward

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Indravajrā)
prītaśca tebhyo dvija-sattamebhyaḥ satkāra-pūrvaṁ pradadau dhanāni | −−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−
bhūyād-ayaṁ bhūmi-patir-yathokto yāyāj-jarām-etya vanāni ceti || 1.48

And so upon those truest of the twice-born,

He joyfully bestowed riches, along with hospitality,

“May the boy become a king as prophesied

And retire to the forest in his old age.”

This verse is not saying much – unless one understands Aśvaghoṣa's use of irony, in which case it is saying a lot.

If those brahmans really had been the truest, in the sense of being most free of deceit, how come they got their prophecy so wrong? I think Aśvaghoṣa meant they were truest only in the sense of being true to form, as fortune-tellers who were happy to tell the king what he wanted to hear, in exchange for money.

When in 1988 I visited Thailand, a country whose establishment includes elders of the religion called Theravada Buddhism, I saw shaven-headed fortune tellers wearing Buddhist robes and selling superstitious people lucky numbers. As a follower of the Buddha that kind of so-called monk who panders to people's superstitions is not true at all. I suppose that Aśvaghoṣa felt the same about brahmins of his day who told people what they wanted to hear, hoping to be rewarded for it.

As a rule, religious Buddhists worship three objects: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. But when we read what the Buddha taught Nanda in Saundara-nanda, we get the sense that he taught Nanda to have confidence in the buddha-dharma and, having made it his own, to stand firm in it, but he didn't say anything about worship, and he didn't mention anything about a Buddhist Sangha at all.

Aśvaghoṣa might have been so far ahead of his time that his teaching would blow the minds of religious Buddhists, if they understood it. In Theravada Buddhism as practised in recent years in a place like Thailand, worship of the Sangha boils down to worship of monks. But that kind of practice, as I see it, ironically, is not traditional. The Buddha's teaching, as I endeavour to follow it, is traditionally not a way of worship but a way of individual practice.

My cooperation with the Theravada monk Ānandajoti Bhikkhu seems to have broken down. The reason may be that I felt, rightly or wrongly, that Ānandajoti expected me to show him the respect that is due to a senior monk. That stimulated me to tell him to fuck off, on several occasions. I do in fact respect Ānandajoti highly, for his work and his generous helpfulness, but not because he wears a Buddhist monk's uniform.

Theravada Buddhism, in any event, is bound to go the way of all religions, via a process akin to natural selection. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin

Returning to today' verse, the underlying point as I see it, is that in the value system of buddha-ancestors, a purported monk who tells lay people what they want to hear for money is the falsest of the false. To the mind of Zen Master Dogen such so-called monks were like dogs trying to grovel the shit and piss of lay people on which to feast. Aśvaghoṣa's mind was the same as Dogen's, and is in the background to today's verse, as I read it. The difference is not in the mind but in the directness of expression: Dogen's expression was very straight and direct; while Aśvaghoṣa, acting circumspectly as was doubtless wise in an age where capital punishment was at the whim of the powerful, hid his real intention behind a veil of irony.

The Chinese translator, for one, totally missed the point, making the king the subject who will go to the forest when old:
我年已朽邁 出家修梵行
I , when already aged, [shall] leave home and practise brahma-conduct.
無令聖王子 捨世遊山林
So that the sacred prince will not have to abandon the world and wander in the forest.

Here is another case of “send three and fourpence we are going to a dance,” and further confirmation that relying on anybody's translation of the Buddha's teaching is not wise.

A far wiser course might be to monitor the influence of what one thinks or does not think, and what one does or does not do, on one's own breathing – preferably on an amateur basis!

prītaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. pleased , delighted , satisfied , joyful , glad
ca: and
tebhyaḥ (dat. pl. m.): to them
dvija-sattamebhyaḥ (dat. pl. m.): the best of the twice-born
dvija: twice-born
sat-tama: mfn. very good or right , the best , first , chief of (gen. or comp.)

satkāra-pūrvam: with hospitality
satkāra: m. (sg. or pl.) kind treatment , honour , favour ; hospitable treatment , hospitality
pūrvam: (ifc.) with
pradadau = 3rd pers. perf. pra-√ dā : to give, offer
dhanāni (acc. pl.): n. any valued object , (esp.) wealth , riches , (movable) property , money , treasure , gift

bhūyāt = 3rd pers. sg. benedictive bhū: to be, become
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this one
bhūmi-patiḥ (nom. sg.): m. “earth-lord,” king
yathā: ind. as
uktaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. told, proclaimed, declared

yāyāt 3rd pers. sg. optative yā: to go
jarām (acc. sg.): f. old age
etya = abs. ā- √i : to draw near, to reach, enter into
vanāni (acc. pl.): n. forest, wood
ca: and
iti: “....,” thus

王聞仙人説 歡喜増供養
我今生勝子 當紹轉輪位
我年已朽邁 出家修梵行
無令聖王子 捨世遊山林


Jordan said...

This post had me recalling a couple of things General Mattis (Known among the Jarhead tribe as the warrior monk) had passed down during our time in Iraq, and I don’t know if you will find it helpful, but I am inclined to share them regardless.
When you mentioned your dealings with the Theravada monk Ānandajoti Bhikkhu, I recalled the General advising us to “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
With your commentary about sanga, and it may be applicable to your dealings with people like Ānandajoti as well, I thought of the General ‘s notable quotes again where he said”In this age, I don’t care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony—even vicious harmony—on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines.”
Don’t get me wrong as I am with you in that the sangha is not something to be worshiped, but I think on a micro scale it can be a useful tool as support for practice. For example, Ananda’s words bring Nanda back down to earth, setting up the conditions for him to adjust the aim of his practice. If Anada had just been practicing on his own in a bubble as a hermit, this could not of happened.
I am not saying this is the direction to go, just food for thought out of my own random thoughts.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan.
I see the wisdom in what you are saying. My counter-argument is related with why Neil Young on his latest album has got a version of "God Save the Queen." He woke up in the morning singing it, and went with that. Neil Yoong is not some superficial wannabe out to make a name for himself. He knows his time to shine has already passed. Then why did he spend so much effort and take so many takes to record "God Save the Queen" the way he wanted to record it? There is some kind of authenticity there, something real. When I'm very rude on this blog it is never planned. I usually write a more reasoned comment the day before and then after I sit in the morning I follow my intuition -- crazy though it may seem, even to me. If Anandajoti's will to cooperate is so thin that a couple of "fuck offs" is enough to get him to throw his toys out of the pram, then I'm glad it is you and not him who is running the site with the audio files.

If I turn your general's words around...
“Be rude as you fucking well like, shit on professionalism, but have a plan to save everybody without even meeting them”
that also makes a sort of sense to me.

Jordan said...

And comments like that are why I say, If Mike Cross leads me in to hell, than at least I will be in good company,

Mike Cross said...

With consciousness of the awesome unrivalled power of the US military, which is still totally without a rival in the world, I bow to you Jordan, as I was taught to bow by Morio Higaonna, not looking at the floor but respectfully keeping your eye on the person you are bowing to, lest he is secretly harbouring a plan to kill you.

Jordan said...


No need to worry about secret plans.

When we kill our friends, it is either inadvertently, aka friendly fire, like how I have been busily linking each verse on with your original commentary (out of filial love and to show the effort put into each line of the translation) or with a knife to the chest so at least you see it coming.

Semper Fi,

Mike Cross said...

If I saw it coming, I wouldn't allow it to get me. That might be why somebody sneaked up unexpectedly and got me in the back! Still I must have done something to deserve it... I shudder to think of collateral damage I have caused along the way.

Thanks as always Jordan for your sterling support.


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Thank you, Bhuvana. If I am ever in Chennai and find myself in need of a 5ft chocolate fountain, supplied by a brahmin caterer, I will be sure to look you up.