Thursday, June 21, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.52: Offerings Befitting One Devoted to Sitting

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Ṛddhi)
tato nṛpas-taṁ munim-āsana-sthaṁ pādyārghya-pūrvaṁ pratipūjya samyak | 
nimantrayām-āsa yathopacāraṁ purā vasiṣṭhaṁ sa ivāntidevaḥ || 1.52

Then that sage who was absorbed in sitting

The king 
fittingly honoured, 
with foot-washing water and with welcoming water;

The king offered to him appropriate service,

As once upon a time Antideva did to Vasiṣṭha.

The compound āsana-stham at the end of the 1st pāda might look at first glance like an incidental description of what the sage happened to be doing at that time – keeping his bum plonked down on some kind of chair or seat. Hence the Chinese translator described Asita as reposing on “a true-dharma seat” (正法座). Hence also EBC translated “to the sage who was seated in his seat;” EHJ “the sage, when seated;” PO “When seated....”

The suffix stham can indeed simply mean “being” or “remaining” as in “remaining in a seat.” And āsana can simply mean “a seat.” But stham can also mean “devoted to” or “practising” and āsana is originally an action noun that means “sitting.” 

In Chinese, similarly, āsana can be translated either , “seat,"  or 坐, “sitting” -- as in 坐禅 sitting-meditation. Dogen, by the way, never wrote 座禅 , “seated meditation;” he always wrote 坐禅 sitting-meditation.

So it might not look like āsana-stham is saying anything deep about the sage himself, but truly  āsana-stham  is saying everything about why Aśvaghoṣa deemed Asita to be worthy of being served water.

The story of how Antideva went to heaven after serving warm water to Vasiṣṭha is contained in the Mahābhārata.

So I think Aśvaghoṣa wishes us to notice that when the king gave the brahmins the reward that they were after, he gave them riches, assets with a monetary value that appropriately reflected their elevated social status. But the offering that was appropriate for Asita was water.

What is generally going on in this first chapter of Buddhacarita is that Aśvaghoṣa is describing for us what we need to know about the milieu from which the Buddha sprang. 

The main gist is that there were loads of posh brahmins, who fell into two main groups. On one one side was the idealistic or religious lot who were convinced that the moon was the best of planets and who drew a clear dividing line between religious life and action in the world. On the other side were those more materialistic or proto-scientific brahmins who were more inclined to look at history objectively, as  modern academics are trained to do, as the playing out of the principle of cause and effect.

Quite apart from this bunch of snobs there were individual ascetics like Asita who went into the forest to practice, amongst other practices, the yoga of sitting in the full lotus posture.

And it was in this latter tradition that the Buddha went into the forest and sat – for six years, according to Dogen in Fukan-zazengi.

Because the Buddha was following an ancient tradition, the list of buddha-ancestors to which Aśvaghoṣa and Dogen belonged does not begin with the Buddha Śākyamuni; it rather counts the Buddha Śākyamuni as 7th in a line of Seven Ancient Buddhas.

I apologize to Patrick Olivelle that I am now going to have another go at his Buddhist view. Hopefully as a university professor he is a big enough boy to take my criticism. The thing is that it is so easy, at least it comes easy to me, to attack a Buddhist view that is patently wrong. So in a sense I am grateful to Patrick Olivelle for making it easier for me to serve Aśvaghoṣa by clarifying what his teaching is not. It is most definitely not a “presentation of the Buddha's dharma as the consummation and fulfillment of the Brahmanical tradition.” Nor did Aśvaghoṣa ever seek to uphold “the Buddhist view of the ascetic life as the highest religious aspiration.” 

On the contrary, Aśvaghoṣa presents the Buddha's dharma in such a way as constantly to undermine the snobbish intellectual conceptions of the Brahmanical tradition; and he guides us to revere the ascetic life, through examples like Asita and Nanda himself, as a starting point in the work of abandoning all Buddhist views, and especially religious asceticism.

How come such a lovely and intelligent man as Professor Patrick Olivelle is reputed to be can get it so spectacularly wrong? And how come such a foul-mouthed ignoramus as Mike Cross admittedly is can point so clearly to the good professor's blunder? There is only one criterion, and it is expressed in today's verse as āsana-stham, which means “being devoted to sitting.”

In order to let the point be made less directly, I have translated āsana-stham in today's verse as “absorped in sitting,” rather than as "devoted to sitting," but Aśvaghoṣa's real intention was not only to describe a momentary scene but also to hint at what has supreme value in the house of buddha-ancestors, and that is simply sitting.

The point to understand from today's verse is that in the house of the buddha-ancestors, since the time of the Seven Ancient Buddhas, there has not necessarily been any cash, but there has been sitting, and there has been water.

Today's verse is so important I wish I could have written a shorter comment. But being tired from yesterday's journey back from France, I can only manage another unduly wordy one.

tataḥ: ind. then
nṛpaḥ (nom. sg.): m. protector of men , prince , king
tam (acc. sg. m.): him, that
munim (acc. sg.): m. sage
āsana-stham (acc. sg. m.): abiding in sitting
āsana: n. sitting , sitting down ; seat, place
stha: mfn. standing , staying , abiding , being situated in ; occupied with , engaged in , devoted to performing , practising

pādyārghya-pūrvam (ind.): with water for washing the feet and water of welcome
pādya: mfn. relating or belonging to the foot ; n. water used for washing the feet
arghya: mfn. " valuable "; deserving a respectful reception (as a guest); belonging to or used at the respectful reception of a guest ; n. water offered at the respectful reception of a guest
pūrvam: ifc. in the sense of " with "
pratipūjya = abs. prati- √ pūj : to return a salutation , reverence , salute respectfully , honour , praise , commend , approve
samyak: ind. in one or the same direction ; correctly , truly , properly , fitly , in the right way or manner , well , duly

nimantrayām-āsa = 3rd pers. sg. periphrastic perfect ni- √ mantr: to invite or entertain with (instr.) or offer anything to (acc.)
yathā: ind. according to, as ; according to what is right , properly , correctly (= yathāvat)
upacāram: m. approach , service , attendance; act of civility , obliging or polite behaviour , reverence

purā: ind. before , formerly , of old
vasiṣṭham (acc. sg.): m. " the most wealthy " , N. of a celebrated Vedic ṛṣi or sage (owner of the " cow of plenty ")
sa (nom. sg.): he
iva: like
antidevaḥ (nom. sg.): m. “being in the presence of the gods , near the gods,” N. of an ancient king and sage

安處正法座 加敬尊奉事
如安低牒王 奉事波尸吒

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