Sunday, June 24, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.55: Affectionate Appreciation Befits a Benevolent Dictator

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Mālā)
mahātmani tvayy-upapannam-etat priyātithau tyāgini dharma-kāme |
sattvānvaya-jñāna-vayo-'nurūpā snigdhā yad-evaṁ mayi te matiḥ syāt || 1.55

“This befits you, great and noble soul that you are,

Hospitable, generous, and dharma-loving,

That you should show towards me,
reflecting your character, family, wisdom and vitality,

Such affectionate appreciation.

This verse, as I read it, contains at least a couple of buried teachings.

The first is a very indirect practical pointer to any great ruler of men who might happen to be listening or reading, along the lines of “If there is a sage whose teaching you affectionately appreciate, then such appreciation reflects well on you, and it is appropriate for you to show yourself to be hospitable, generous and dharma-loving.”

The second truth, buried much deeper below the surface, under a thick layer of irony, is the principle that only a person devoted to sitting really appreciates a person who is devoted to sitting (āsana-stham; BC1.52).

Reading between the lines, I suppose that if there was any mighty tyrant who had expressed his affectionate appreciation of Aśvaghoṣa, Aśvaghoṣa would certainly not have been lying if he pleased the tyrant by saying that the tyrant's expression of affectionate appreciation reflected well on the tyrant himself. But in the back of his mind Aśvaghoṣa might also have been conscious of the fact that the tyrant had never truly appreciated his devotion to sitting, even in a dream. 

Again, the king's appreciation is described as snigdhā, attached, affectionate, tender, loving. Recently the Dalai Lama has been on tour in the UK, filling arenas with adoring fans like a rock and roll star. But from where I sit that kind of affectionate appreciation of a person, on its own, does not amount to much. If it led people to be devoted to sitting, that would be a different thing.

At the end of Saundarananda, when Nanda compares himself to a baby elephant extricated from a mire, his overriding emotion seems to be one not of affection towards the Buddha but of gratitude. The Saundarananda is not, I have argued, a story of religious conversion, but it is a story of Nanda's redemption or salvation or liberation. And what redeemed him, what redeems any of us, is not so much affectionate appreciation of a person as sincere devotion to an action, primarily sitting. What really redeemed, saved, and liberated Nanda, in the final analysis, was devotion to sitting (āsana-stham), with his whole being (sarveṇa bhāvena).

On the surface, then, Asita's affirmation of the king looks strongly affirmative. But Aśvaghoṣa's writing is always an invitation to dig deeper – and not only intellectually but with one's whole being (sarveṇa bhāvena), through being devoted to sitting (āsana-stham).

mahātmani (loc. sg. m.): mfn. " high-souled " , magnanimous , having a great or noble nature , high-minded , noble ; highly gifted , exceedingly wise ; eminent , mighty , powerful , distinguished
tvayi (loc. sg.): to you
upapannam (nom. sg. n.): fit , suited for the occasion , adequate , conformable
etat (nom. sg. n.): this

priyātithau (loc. sg. m.): devoted to guests; hospitable
priya: mfn. fond of attached or devoted to (ibc. e.g. priya-devana , " fond of playing ")
atithi: m. a guest , a person entitled to hospitality
tyāgini = loc. sg. m. tyāgin: mfn. sacrificing , giving up; liberal; free-giving; m. a donor
dharma-kāme (loc. sg. m.): mfn. loving justice , observing right

sattvānvaya-jñāna-vayo-'nurūpā (nom. sg. f.): befitting your goodness, knowledge, and prime of life
sattva: n. true essence , nature , disposition of mind , character; vital breath , life , consciousness , strength of character , strength , firmness , energy , resolution , courage , self-command , good sense , wisdom , magnanimity; the quality of purity or goodness
anvaya: m. following , succession; connection , association , being linked to or concerned with; descendants , race , lineage , family.
jñāna: n. knowing , becoming acquainted with , knowledge , (esp.) the higher knowledge
vayas: n. energy (both bodily and mental) , strength , health , vigour , power , might; n. vigorous age , youth , prime of life , any period of life , age
anurūpa: mfn. following the form , conformable , corresponding , like , fit , suitable; adapted to

snigdhā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. sticky; adhesive , attached , affectionate , tender , friendly
yad: that
evam: ind. thus, such
mayi (loc. sg.): to me
te (gen. sg.): of/in you
matiḥ (nom. sg.): f. devotion; thought , design , intention , resolution , determination , inclination , wish , desire ; the mind , perception , understanding , intelligence , sense , judgement
syāt (3rd pers. sg. optative as): there might be

善哉常勝王 衆徳悉皆備
愛樂來求者 惠施崇正法
仁智殊勝族 謙恭善隨順

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