Monday, June 25, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.56: Accepting Treasure and Using It Wisely

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Bālā)
etac-ca tad-yena nṛpa-rṣayas-te dharmeṇa sūkṣmeṇa dhanāny-avāpya |
nityaṁ tyajanto vidhivad-babhūvus-tapobhir-āḍhyā vibhavair-daridrāḥ || 1.56

This, moreover, is the means whereby
those seers who were rulers of men,

On garnering riches, by the subtle method,

And constantly giving those riches away,
in a principled manner, 

Became flush with austerities and bereft of luxuries.

On the surface, what Asita seems to be saying in this verse is that the King's attitude of adoring appreciation is the very dharma by which royal seers have given their palaces and crown jewels away – as if the most important thing for a royal seer to accomplish were a once-and-for-all religious act of renouncing his riches. In this reading of today's verse, the first word etad (“this”) refers to the King's adoring appreciation – a royal seer's adoring attachment to a sage is the means that enables him to give away his wealth.

Digging deeper, another way of reading today's verse emerges if one takes etad to mean THIS, i.e. “this very devotion to sitting which I, Asita, being absorbed here and now in the action of sitting in the lotus posture, am demonstrating to you, with my whole being, going up to breathe out and going up to breathe in again, constantly accepting and using the treasure of the self.”

In translating nṛpa-rṣayas-te (EHJ: “those royal seers,” PO: “those royal sages”) the vitally important thing about those seers might be not so much their royal status as their practical function as rulers and protectors of their subjects – which is the literal meaning of nṛpa, “governor of men.”

A ruler of men who garners riches “by the subtle method” (dharmeṇa sūkṣmeṇa) might be one who raises taxes in order to build communal irrigation ditches and granaries, as opposed to one who employs the direct method of slaughtering neighbouring populations and plundering their treasuries. And constantly giving those riches away might mean, for example, regularly releasing grain from communal granaries, and distributing it to deserving recipients.

The principle in question, then, whether in sitting or in governing, might be the principle of balance between accepting and using, or taxing and spending. And “in a principled manner,” (vidhi-vat) might mean not just flinging wealth away but distributing it wisely, so as not to reward the undeserving but to benefit the deserving.

Examples of managers of men today who would seem to be adhering to this principle, accumulating wealth in order to give it away wisely, are Warren Buffet and Bill Gates in the US. A counter-example from my own country might be the old woman of royal status but no political power whom people call the Queen, or her son Charles, for whom keeping it in the family rather than giving it away has evidently been priority number one. I cannot really blame those two as individuals, however. In a way, they are victims of the social station into which they were born. Much more blameworthy are the brahmins of Balliol College who with their air of effortless superiority have inhabited the upper echelons of British academia, policy-making and finance, and overseen the formation of a massively overblown financial sector and a correspondingly massive debt bubble. Future generations of Brits who create wealth by making discoveries and designing and making stuff, providing they don't flee the country like rats deserting a sinking ship, before they can think about distributing wealth wisely, will have to use large fractions of it to pay off debts accumulated for fighting other people's wars and paying single mothers to bring up fatherless children.

Googling “accumulating wealth to give it away” led me to a webpage with a quote from “The Gospel of Wealth” written by the grand-daddy of philanthropy, a real manager of men named Andrew Carnegie:
“This then is held to be the duty of the man of wealth. First: to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him, and after doing so, to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is strictly bound as a matter of duty, to administer in the manner which in his judgment is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community.

The man of wealth must become a trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer. Those who would administer wisely must indeed be wise. For one of the serious obstacles to the improvement of our race is indiscriminate charity. It were better for mankind that the millions of the rich were thrown into the sea than so spent as to encourage the slothful, the drunken, the unworthy.”

etat (nom. sg. n.): this
ca: and
tad (nom. sg. n.): that
yena (inst.): by which ; by means of which , by which way
nṛpa-rṣayaḥ (nom. pl. m.): m. king-seers, royal sages
nṛpa: m. man-ruler, king
pa: mfn. protecting, ruling
rṣi: m. seer
te (nom. pl. m.): those

dharmeṇa (inst. sg.): m. dharma, method, law
sūkṣmeṇa (inst. sg. m.): mfn. minute , small , fine , thin ; acute, subtle
dhanāni (acc. pl.): n. any valued object , (esp.) wealth , riches , (movable) property , money , treasure , gift
avāpya = abs. ava-√āp: to reach , attain , obtain , gain , get

nityam: ind. always , constantly , regularly , by all means
tyajantaḥ = nom. pl. m. pres. part. tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit ; to let go, give up, give away
vidhivat: ind. according to rule , duly
babhūvuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. bhū: to be, become

tapobhiḥ (inst. pl.): n. austerities, ascetic practices
āḍhyāḥ (nom. pl.): mfn. rich or abounding in , richly endowed or filled or mixed with (instr.)
vibhavaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. power , might , greatness , exalted position ; m. (also pl.) wealth , money , property , fortune ; m. luxury , anything sumptuary or superfluous
daridrāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. poor , needy , deprived of (instr. )



Jundo Cohen said...

Dear Chodo Mike,

Jordan posted your audio files at our Sangha a few days ago, and I have been reading your translations as your published them here these past years. A Herculean Non-Effort, thank you for these.

Gassho, Jundo

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for the encouragement -- glad to be of service.