Saturday, June 30, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.61: Sitting Somewhere Good Enough

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Sālā)
dhātry-aṅka-saṁviṣṭam-avekṣya cainaṁ devy-aṅka-saṁviṣṭam-ivāgni-sūnum |
babhūva pakṣmānta-vicañcitāśrur-niśvasya caiva tridivonmukho 'bhūt || 1.61

As he watched him sitting in the lap of a nurse,

Like the son of Agni sitting in the lap of divine nymphs,

Asita's tears dangled on the ends of his eyelashes,

And, taking a deep breath, he looked up towards the heavens.

In 1.59 the king's baby son is desribed as dhātry-aṅka-gatam, which I translated two days ago as “sitting on his mother's lap.” My reasoning was that dhātrī literally means “female supporter,” and since this includes the meaning of both “nurse” and “mother,” and a mother's lap is the most natural one for a baby to sit on, it might be natural to assume that Aśvaghoṣa had the baby's natural mother in mind. One counter-argument is that if Aśvaghoṣa had meant to refer specifically to the baby's mother, he might have used the compound mātry-aṅka-gatam.

Today's verse seems to provide a still stronger argument against understanding dhātrī to mean the baby's natural mother.

EBC identifies the son of Agni as Skanda, EHJ in a footnote also identifies the son of Agni as Skanda, who was nursed successively by Svāhā, by Pārvati, and by a group of divine mothers. PO agrees that the son of Agni, the fire god, probably means Skanda, and refers the reader to an analysis of Skanda's birth by WD O' Flaherty in Śiva the Erotic Ascetic (1981).

In BC1.88 Aśvaghoṣa himself alludes to the birth of “the six-faced one” i.e. Skanda aka Kārttikeya. “According to one legend,” the MW dictionary states, “[Skanda/Kārttikeya] was son of Śiva without the intervention of Pārvatī , the generative energy of Śiva being cast into the fire and then received by the Ganges, whence [Skanda/Kārttikeya] is sometimes described as son of Agni and Gaṅgā ; when born he was fostered by the six kṛttikās, and these offering their six breasts to the child he became six-headed."

Today's verse, then, seems strongly to suggest that Aśvaghoṣa wanted to emphasize that the Buddha was nursed not only by his mother but also by another woman or women, as was six-mouthed Kārttikeya who in the ancient legend had six wet-nurses.

So then the question is why Aśvaghoṣa wished to emphasize that the infant prince was nursed by a woman or women other than his mother.

The first answer to this question that sprung into my mind relates to the principle that a child does not need to be nurtured by a perfect mother, but just needs to be nurtured by a woman who is good enough.

I heard this principle while listening to Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4 a couple of years ago while I was in France – where I tend to listen to BBC Radio 4 Long Wave indiscriminately (even including, when I get my timing wrong, the daily service). Googling “good-enough mother” leads to this Wikipedia entry on Donald Winnicott.

Going further back, I remember discussing on a previous blog what Alice Miller had written to the effect that many children who were abused by their natural parents go on to become abusers, but some abused children do not, providing that they come into contact with “an enlightened witness.”

Digging deeper for meaning in today's verse that might relate to the great thing which is sitting, I decided to change the translation of saṁviṣṭa from “resting” to “sitting” -- noting that one meaning of the root √viś is “to be absorbed into,” so that saṁviṣṭa can be understood to mean “resting” and “sitting together with” and at the same time “being totally absorbed in.”

In that case, today's verse can be read as an expression of the principle of not fussing about a place to become absorbed in sitting.

Dogen said that a quiet room – not necessarily the inner sanctum of a great Zen master on a remote mountain – is good for sitting-dhyāna. It may be that, in similar vein, Aśvaghoṣa is saying in today's verse that a woman's lap – not necessarily the lap of baby's natural mother – is good for a baby to sit on.

dhātry-aṅka-saṁviṣṭam (acc. sg. m.): sitting in his nurse's lap
dhātrī: f. " female supporter " , a nurse; midwife; mother; the earth
aṅka: m. hook, curve, the curve in the human , especially the female , figure above the hip (where infants sitting , astride are carried by mothers hence often = " breast " or " lap ")
saṁviṣṭam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. resting , reposing , sleeping ; seated together with (instr.)
saṁ- √ viś: to approach near to , associate or attach one's self to ; to enter into ; to merge one's self into ; to lie down , rest , repose in or upon ;
√ viś: to enter , enter in or settle down on , go into ; pervade ; to be absorbed into (acc.) ; to sit down upon (acc. or loc.)
avekṣya = abs. ava-√īkṣ: to look at, behold
ca: and
enam (acc. sg. m.): him, this (enclictic pronoun)

devy-aṅka-saṁviṣṭam (acc. sg. m.): sitting in Devī's lap
devī: f. a female deity , goddess; N. of nymph beloved by the Sun
iva: like
agni-sūnum (acc. sg. m.): the son of Agni; [Skanda/ kārttikeya ]
skanda: " Attacker " , N. of kārttikeya (q.v. , son of śiva or of agni ; he is called god of war as leader of śiva's hosts against the enemies of the gods ; he is also leader of the demons of illness that attack children , also god of burglars and thieves)
kārttikeya: N. of son of śiva and pārvatī (popularly regarded as god of war , because he leads the gaṇas or hosts of śiva against the demon hosts; accord. to one legend he was son of śiva without the intervention of pārvatī , the generative energy of śiva being cast into the fire and then received by the Ganges , whence he is sometimes described as son of agni and gaṅgā ; when born he was fostered by the six kṛttikās, and these offering their six breasts to the child he became six-headed)
kṛttikā: f. pl. N. of a constellation (the Pleiads , originally the first , but in later times the third lunar mansion , having agni as its regent ; this constellation , containing six stars , is sometimes represented as a flame or as a kind of razor or knife ; in mythol. the six kṛttikās are nymphs who became the nurses of the god of war , kārttikeya).

babhūva = 3rd pers. sg. perf. bhū: to be, become ; arise , come into being , exist , be found , live , stay , abide
pakṣmānta-vicañcitāśruḥ (nom. sg. m.): with tears dangling on the ends of his eyelashes
pakṣma: m. eye-lash
anta: end
vicañcita: dangling
cañc: to leap , jump , move , dangle , be unsteady , shake
aśru: n. a tear

niśvasya = abs. ni- √ śvas: to draw in the breath , inspire ; to hiss , snort &c
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
tridivonmukhaḥ (nom. sg. m.) looking up to heaven
tri-diva: n. the 3rd or most; sacred heaven , heaven (in general)
unmukha: mfn. raising the face , looking up or at
abhūt = 3rd pers. sg. aorist. bhū: to be, become

見生未曾想 流涙長歎息

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