Tuesday, June 19, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.50: Only a Brahma-Knower, Together With a Brahma-Knower

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Bālā)
taṁ brahmavid-brahmavidāṁ jvalantaṁ brāhmyā śriyā caiva tapaḥ-śriyā ca |
rājño gurur-gaurava-satkriyābhyāṁ praveśayām-āsa narendra-sadma || 1.50

A knower of brahma among brahma-knowers,

Ushered in him who was blazing
with brahma-begotten brilliance,
and with the glowing heat of ascetic exertion –

The king's guru, 

with the gravity and hospitality due to a guru,

Ushered Asita into the king's royal seat.

Uncertainty surrounds the reading brahmavid-brahmavidāṁ. The original reading in the old Nepalese manuscript, and also in the more recent Amṛtānanda-edited manuscript from which EBC was working, is brahmavid-brahmavidāṁ (“a brahma-knower [nom.] among brahma-knowers [gen.]”). With this reading, the brahma-knower in question is the king's guru. Based on the Tibetan translation, EHJ amended the text to brahmavid-brahmavidaṁ and took it to be a single compound (a-brahma-knower-among-brahma-knowers [acc.]), describing Asita. PO followed EHJ's amendment of the Sanskrit text but instead of taking it as a single compound read it as brahmavid (a brahma-knower [nom.; the king's guru]) who ushered in brahmavidam (the brahma-knower [acc.]; Asita).

In my first effort, I accepted EHJ's amendment brahmavid-brahmavidaṁ and followed PO in reading it as consisting of nominative subject and accusative object. Hence:

That brahma-knower who was blazing 

With brahma-begotten brilliance,
and with the glowing heat of ascetic exertion –

Was ushered, with the gravity and hospitality due to a guru,
by the brahma-knowing guru of the King

Into the King's royal seat.

Understood like that, the verse presents a pleasing symmetry between two individual gurus, via the juxtaposition in line 1 of brahmavid and brahmavidam (“dharma-knowing,” nominative and accusative), and in line 3 of guruḥ (guru) and gaurava (respect/gravity due to a guru).

On further reflection, however, I decided that this kind of symmetry emerges even more strongly if we stick to the original Sanskrit text and understand that it is also praising the king's guru not as a brahmin but as one who truly knew brahman, as something real, like growth, or development, or like a well-recited Om filling up the expanding universe.

Patrick Olivelle observes, with regard to today's verse, that “the repeated use of bhahman here is noteworthy. The meaning of the term in this context, however, is not altogether clear, although it probably refers to the Veda.”

What is particularly noteworthy, as I see it, is that whereas Aśvaghoṣa refers to the previous bunch or bunches of brahmins as dvi-ja “the twice-born,” he does not use this expression dvi-ja to refer either to Asita or to the king's guru. Rather in the coming series of verses Aśvaghoṣa  refers to Asita as the great seer, or the seer, or the seer Asita. And sometimes, setting what I see as a good example for future generations, Aśvaghoṣa refers to Asita as Asita.

Is it just my imagination, running away with me? I seem to hear Asita calling out through the centuries:

Aśvaghoṣa  might have seen dvi-ja, “twice born,” as a class-ridden concept. According to the dictionary it was used to mean a man of any one of the three upper classes in the ancient Indian class system, or any Aryan, but especially a Brahman who had been re-born at his initiation ceremony through investiture with the sacred thread.

So Aśvaghoṣa is not referring either to the king's guru or to Asita in these class-tainted terms. He seems to be saying that Asita was not a Brahman, as class-conscious people generally understood the term Brahman. Aśvaghoṣa's description of the king's guru and of Asita, however, as PO points out, is soaked in brahma/brahman.

The translation of  brahman into English is a minefield, complicated by the uncertainty described above. Thus:
Him shining with the glory of sacred knowledge (brahman) and ascetic observances, the king's own priest, — himself a special student among the students of sacred knowledge (brahman), — introduced into the royal palace with all due reverence and respect. [EBC] 
He was the chief among the knowers of the Absolute (brahman) and shone with the majesty of priestly power (brahman) and with the majesty of asceticism. Accordingly the king's spiritual director brought him into the regal palace with reverence and honour. [EHJ]
PO, wisely in my view, left brahman untranslated:
That knower of brahman, blazing with the splendour of brahman and the splendour of ascetic toil, was ushered in by the brahman-knowing preceptor of the king with reverence and homage into the chamber of the king. [PO]
What is readily apparent, in each of the above translations, including mine, is that Aśvaghoṣa's attitude towards brahma/brahman in this verse was at least somewhat affirmative. Even though he didn't affirm Brahmanism – and in my view, he most definitely did not affirm Brahmanism – here he seems to affirm the realility of brahma/brahman itself.

In that case, I am tempted to suggest that even though Aśvaghoṣa did not affirm the fundamental concepts of the racist or class-ridden ideology of Brahmanism, and he did not affirm the means whereby the ordinary masses of brahmin ascetics pursued their truth of brahma, he paradoxically was prepared to affirm the brahma itself that a bloke like Asita was pursuing.

What was it that Aśvaghoṣa affirmed? Growth? Evolution? Development? Swelling of the soul? Rounded utterance of a sacred sound?

Today's verse, on many levels, is a difficult one, challenging us to dig deeper.

For example: What is sitting?

Is it growth? Is it evolution? Is it development? Is it swelling of the soul? Is it a mystical reverberation?

Jumping to a hasty conclusion is generally a mistake. But my tentative answer would be: No, is it fuck.

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
brahma-vit (nom. sg. m.): a brahma-knowing one; mfn. knowing the one brahma , a Vedic philosopher ; skilled in sacred spells or magic
brahma = in. compounds for brahman: n. (lit. " growth " , " expansion " , " evolution " , " development " " swelling of the spirit or soul " , fr. √bṛh) pious effusion or utterance , outpouring of the heart in worshipping the gods , prayer ; the sacred word (as opp. to vāc , the word of man) , the veda , a sacred text , a text or mantra used as a spell ; the sacred syllable Om ; religious or spiritual knowledge (opp. to religious observances and bodily mortification such as tapas &c ) ; holy life (esp. continence , chastity ; cf. brahma-carya) ; the brahma or one self-existent impersonal Spirit , the one universal Soul (or one divine essence and source from which all created things emanate or with which they are identified and to which they return) , the Self-existent , the Absolute , the Eternal (not generally an object of worship but rather of meditation and-knowledge); n. the class of men who are the repositories and communicators of sacred knowledge , the Brahmanical caste as a body (rarely an individual Brahman)
brahma-vidām (gen. pl. m.): among brahma-knowing men
brahma-vidam (acc. sg. m.): to the brahma-knowing one
jvalantam = acc. sg. m. pres part. jval: to burn brightly , blaze , glow , shine ; to burn (as a wound)

brāhmyā = inst. sg. f. brāhma: mfn. relating to brahma or brahmā , holy , sacred , divine ; relating or belonging to the Brahmans
śriyā (inst. sg.): f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory , beauty , grace , loveliness ; high rank , power , might , majesty , royal dignity
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
tapaḥ-śriyā (inst. sg. f.): with the light/power of ascetic practice
tapas: n. warmth , heat; pain ; religious austerity , bodily mortification , penance , severe meditation , special observance ; N. of a month intervening between winter and spring ; the hot season
ca: and

rājñaḥ (gen. sg.): m. king
guruḥ (nom. sg.): m. any venerable or respectable person ; a spiritual parent or preceptor
gaurava-satkriyābhyām (inst. dual): with showing of respect and hospitality
gaurava: mfn. relating or belonging to a Guru or teacher ; n. heaviness, importance, gravity; respect shown to a person.
satkriyā: f. good action; f. (sg. or pl.) kind or respectful treatment , hospitable reception , hospitality

praveśayām āsa = periphrastic perfect causative pra- √viś: to cause or allow to enter , bring or lead or introduce to , usher into
narendra-sadma (acc. sg.): the seat of the man-lord
narendra: m. " man-lord " , king
sadman: n. a seat , abode , dwelling , house , place (esp. of sacrifice) , temple

來詣王宮門 王謂梵天應
苦行樂正法 此二相倶現

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