Friday, June 22, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.53: The King's Request – Tell Me What to Do!

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Indravajrā)
dhanyo 'smy-anugrāhyam-idaṁ kulaṁ me yan-māṁ didṛkṣur-bhagavān-upetaḥ |
ājñāpyatāṁ kiṁ karavāṇi saumya śiṣyo 'smi viśrambhitum-arhasīti || 1.53

“Fortunate am I and favoured is my family

In that you, Beauty-Possessed Man, have come to see me.

Let me know, O moonlike man of soma, what I should do.

Please believe in me, for I am ready to be taught.”

In today's verse again, the king treats Asita in a way that is very different from how he treats the brahmins.

In the earlier exchange, the king asks a question in which he expresses a doubt and the brahmins try to allay that doubt, saying, in so many words, “We understand causation. Trust us.” In that exchange the ancient Indian brahmins were like brahmin academics of today who continue to believe in the underlying truth of classical economics and who say to policymakers: “We understand causation. Trust us.”

In this exchange on the contrary, the king does not pose an intellectual question; rather, he makes a request, when he says to Asita, like a would-be apprentice seeking to learn a practical discipline under a master of that discipline: “Trust me.”

Digging deeper (by which I mean snoring for seven hours and then sitting for an hour), ājñāpyatāṁ kiṁ karavāṇi is exactly the question I asked Gudo Nishijima when I first met him in his office 30 years ago, when he was a 62-year old Buddhist teacher and I was a 22-year old martial artist -- “Tell me what to do.” I didn't want to be told any abstract stuff. “I'm a sportsman and a fighter in search of Zen enlightenment– show me what I should do.” Gudo proceeded to launch into a lecture on “the four philosophies” of idealism, materialism, action and reality.

“Tell me what to do,” again, is what new Alexander pupils say. “I know I've got poor posture. I would like to have good posture. Show me what to do. Preferably give me some physical exercises that I can go home and practise.”

Asita, as will be revealed in the coming series of verses, does not in fact tell the king what he should do. Rather, Asita tells the king the truth as Asita sees it and then goes, as he came, on the way of the wind.

A friend of mine who is an Alexander Technique teacher and a professional musician told me a story which I love about a conversation he was having with fellow members of his orchestra, on the subject of how much everybody charged for one-to-one music lessons on their particular instrument. A certain grumpy Hungarian remained silent. When asked how much he charged, he replied tersely, “£200 for half an hour.” “Wow! That is a lot! How many pupils do you have?” László smiled: “None!”

dhanyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. bringing or bestowing wealth , opulent , rich; fortunate, happy
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be
anugrāhyam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. to be favoured or furthered
idam (nom. sg. n.): this
kulam (nom. sg.): n. a herd, multitude; a race , family , community , tribe , caste , set , company ; a house ; a noble or eminent family or race
me (gen. sg.): my

yat: that
mām (acc. sg.): me
didṛkṣuḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. wishing to see, wishing to visit
bhagavān = nom. sg. bhagavat: m. possessing fortune , fortunate , prosperous , happy; glorious , illustrious , divine , adorable , venerable
upetaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. come to, come near

ājñāpyatām = imperative passive causative ā- √ jñā: to order , command , direct
kim (interrogative pronoun): what
karavāṇi = 1st pers. sg. imperative kṛ: to do
saumya (voc.): " resembling the moon " , placid , gentle , mild (saumya voc. = " O gentle Sir! " " O good Sir! " " O excellent man! " as the proper mode of addressing a Brahman )

śiṣyaḥ (nom. sg.): m. “to be taught”; a pupil , scholar , disciple
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be
viśrambhitum = inf. vi- √ śrambh: to confide , be confident , trust in or rely on (loc.)
arhasi (2nd pers. sg. arh): you should
iti: “....,” thus.

時王白仙人 我今得大利
勞屈大仙人 辱來攝受我
諸有所應爲 唯願時教勅

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