Saturday, June 23, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.54: The Sound of an Empty Vessel

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Sālā)
evaṁ nṛpeṇopamantritaḥ san-sarveṇa bhāvena munir-yathāvat |
sa vismayotphulla-viśāla-dṛṣṭir-gambhīra-dhīrāṇi vacāṁsy-uvāca || 1.54

Being bidden like this by a ruler of men,

The sage, with his whole being, [responded] appropriately;

He whose expansive eye was,
in his state of wonderment, wide open,

Voiced words whose sound was deep and sonorous:

A truth that is readily apparent in today's verse, as I read it, is that the more open a man's mind is, the fuller and more resonant his voice tends to be.

Digging deeper, we might find buried here not only two but four elements of practice, namely (1) the preservation of psycho-physical integrity, in (2) making an appropriate response to a challenging stimulus, in such a way as ultimately to (3) abandon all views, and (4) express the truth roundly and fully, in one's own words and voice.

On the subject of acting with one's whole being (sarveṇa bhāvena), a sage named FM Alexander wrote:
"The fact to be faced is that the human self was robbed of much of its inheritance when the separation implied by the conception of the organism as 'spirit,' 'mind' and 'body' was accepted as a working principle, for it left unbridged the gap between the 'subconscious' and the conscious. I venture to assert that if the gap is to be bridged, it will be by means of a knowledge, gained through practical experience, which will enable us to inhibit our instinctive, 'subconscious' reaction to a given stimulus, and to hold it inhibited while initiating a conscious direction, guidance, and control of the use of the self that was previously unfamiliar."

With the words sarveṇa bhāvena (“with his whole being”), I venture to assert, Aśvaghoṣa is continuing to praise the attitude of Asita, and contrasting it with the attitude of the aformentioned brahmins.

EHJ understood that sarveṇa bhāvena (“with all cordiality”) described the attitude of the king; hence he translated “When the sage was invited in this befitting fashion by the king with all cordiality,...”

From where I sit, EHJ failed to hit the target in his translation because of studying the Buddha's teaching only as an excellent Sanskrit scholar and not with an effort of his own whole being. To study the Buddha's teaching with one's whole being might mean, for example, sitting in lotus as an act of accepting and using the whole self. Or it might mean, for another example, the act of bowing before a guru:
Having thus had pointed out to him the path of what is, Nanda took that path of liberation. / He bowed with his whole being (sarveṇa bhāvena) before the Guru and, with a view to abandoning the afflictions, he made for the forest. // SN17.1 //

Digging deeper still, I think today's verse might be intended to contain not only the essential elements of practice but also elements of the autobiography of Aśvaghoṣa himself. If as some ancient records suggest Aśvaghoṣa was indeed summoned by a hitherto genocidal king of the Kuṣāṇ empire to serve at his royal court, then I suppose that Aśvaghoṣa might not have responded half-heartedly. He might rather have deemed it appropriate, while sheltering under the protection of the powerful king, to devote his whole being to making a record for future generations of the essential elements of the Buddha's teaching – making, in other words, the very best that he could of a bad job.

So the main point that I am making, as usual, mainly to myself, is that Zen practice is never done in the perfect vacuum of the other monastery, but is generally akin to making the best of whatever cards one has been dealt. Contrary to the divided view of the aforementioned brahmins, the Buddha's teaching is not followed in the rarified atmosphere of a separate religious sphere but is followed in the wonderful world, wherein, for every generation, difficult stimuli are presented by genocidal rulers, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, direct marketers, dangerous drivers, debt bubbles, current account deficits, mass unemployment, consumer price inflation, clients who cancel their appointments at the last minute or who fail to show up, gurus who get things wrong, crowing cockerels, low-flying aircraft, et cetera.

evam: ind. thus
nṛpeṇa (inst. sg.): m. protector of men, king
pa: mfn. guarding , protecting , ruling
upa-mantritaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. called near or hither ; summoned , invited , persuaded ; addresssed
san = nom. sg. m. pres. part. as: to be

sarveṇa (inst. sg.): all
bhāvena (inst. sg.): m. being; love, affection ; the seat of the feelings or affections , heart , soul , mind (parituṣṭena bhāvena , with a pleased mind)
muniḥ (nom. sg.): m. the sage
yathāvat: ind. according to what is right , properly , correctly; duly , rightly , suitably , exactly

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
vismayotphulla-viśāla-dṛṣṭih (nom. sg. m.): his wide eye opened wide in wonderment
sa-vismayotphulla-viśāla-dṛṣṭih (nom. sg. m.): his wide eye opened wide in wonderment
sa-: (possessive prefix)
vismaya: m. wonder , surprise , amazement
utphulla: mfn. blown (as a flower); wide open (as the eyes)
viśāla: mfn. spacious , extensive , broad , wide , large ; great , important , powerful , mighty , illustrious , eminent
dṛṣṭi: f. seeing, sight, view, eye

gambhīra-dhīrāṇi (acc. pl. n.): deep-sounding and sonorous
gambhīra = gabhīra: mfn. deep in sound , deep-sounding , hollow-toned ; profound , sagacious , grave , serious , solemn , secret , mysterious
dhīra: mfn. steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave ; deep , low , dull (as sound)
vacāṁsi (acc. pl.): n. speech, voice, word
uvāca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vac: to speak, say

如是勸請已 仙人大歡喜

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