Sunday, July 1, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.62: The King's Attachment Begets Fear & Cowering

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Sālā)
dṛṣṭvāsitaṁ tv-aśru-pariplutākṣaṁ snehāt-tanū-jasya nṛpaś-cakampe |
sa-gadgadaṁ bāṣpa-kaṣāya-kaṇṭhaḥ papraccha sa prāṅjalir-ānatāṅgaḥ || 1.62

But when the ruler of men beheld Asita all teary-eyed,

Attachment to his own flesh and blood 

caused the king to shudder:

Stammering, choking back astringent tears,

With his cupped hands held before him, 

and his body bent low, he asked:

Today's verse brings to mind what the Buddha tells Nanda in Saundara-nanda Canto 5:
I do not see any pleasure which might not, by turning into something else, become pain. / Therefore no attachment (prasakti) bears scrutiny -- unless the grief is bearable that arises from the absence of its object. // SN5.44 //
In that verse the Buddha speaks in general terms of prasakti (adherence, attachment), whereas in today's verse Aśvaghoṣa speaks specifically of the king's sneha (tenderness, love, affection, attachment) for his son, but the principle is the same: attachment to any object, whether material or abstract, carries in its train the fear of losing, or failing to attain, said object.

One phenomenon which is ever worthy of observation along these lines is fear of being wrong. Fear of being wrong, it seems to me, having investigated the problem over a number of years in the laboratory of my own deluded self, is very often rooted in an aberrant Moro reflex. At the same time, fear of being wrong can only trigger an aberrant Moro reflex so long as the fearful subject remains attached to the idea of being right – a delusory object if ever there was one.

This caused FM Alexander, who understood the problem with unrivalled perspicacity, to comment:
“You wait to feel out whether you are right or not. I am giving you a conception to eradicate that. Directly you don't care whether you're right or not the impeding obstacle is gone.”
Alexander is famous for saying “Let the neck be free.” And people are prone to think that in the technique which bears Alexander's name there might be some kind of physical knack, a set of physical exercises or something that would be good for establishing and maintaining appropriate tone in the muscles of the neck. But Alexander himself said, in so many words, that letting the neck be free was the most mental thing there is – because letting the neck be free has to do, primarily, with not being unduly attached to objects.

The Sanskrit word kaṇṭha means both neck/throat and voice. So the 3rd pāda might be translated along the lines of “Stammering, his neck tensed by an astringent sap of tears” -- a choked voice and a tensed neck amounting in the final analysis to one and the same thing.

These constant references of mine to FM Alexander do not arise from any particular fish that I ever had to fry as a professional Alexander teacher. My university degree was in Accounting & Financial Management. I went to Japan wishing to be enlightened so as ultimately to be an effective manager of people and resources, whereupon I was taught not to seek any enlightenment outside of sitting. That is how I came to stumble upon the discoveries of FM Alexander, out of a misconceived desire to understand how to sit.

I could say that my interest in Alexander work sprang accidentally from sitting – which is maybe why my interest is drawn to five characters in the Chinese translation which, though they don't seem to bear any correspondence with the original Sanskrit as it has been transmitted to us, say that the king 不覺從坐起 “unconsciously arose from sitting.”

A penultimate observation is on the meaning of kaṣāya in the 3rd pāda. As an adjective kaṣāya means (1) astringent in flavour or taste or (2) yellow-red in colour; and as a noun means (1) an astringent juice or sap, (2) a yellow-red colour, (3) dirt or filth, (4) a stain, (5) defectiveness (of which, according to Buddhists, there are five marks), (6) attachment to worldly objects, (7) emotion, and (8) a yellow-red robe. In calling the robe whose form was set by the Buddha a kaṣāya, then, whoever chose that term was choosing a term that had many connotations, most of which are negative. The kaṣāya in the 3rd pāda of today's verse could be translated in many ways, picking up on one or more of the above meanings, but in each case the connotation would be negative. 

Finally to get down, following a lot of digression and a bit of overnight digging/snoring, to the nub of the matter, the nub of the matter might be this: Asita, in his thirst for dharma, is able to emote more freely, so that tears dangle on the ends of his eyelashes. The king, in contrast, in his attachment to his own flesh and blood, stifles his tears. Even though the king is a ruler of men, his attachment to his own flesh and blood causes him to show the humble attitude of a beggar, hands held out and body bent down.

The orientation of sitting, dharma-thirsty Asita, whose breathing is free and deep and whose eyes are turned skyward, is up. The orientation of the supplicating, Gautama-loving king, whose tight neck is choking back tears, is down.

The robe called a kaṣāya is ever liable to be seen as some kind of religious object and appropriated by tight-necked Gautama-worshipping or monk-worshipping Buddhists. But a kaṣāya might more properly belong on the back of a bloke like Asita, who is devoted to objects less than he is devoted to sitting. 

dṛṣṭvā = abs. dṛś: to see
asitam (acc. sg.): m. Asita
tu: but
aśru-pariplutākṣam (acc. sg. m.): his eyes flooded with tears
aśru: n. a tear
paripluta: mfn. bathed; flooded , immersed , overwhelmed
akṣa: n. [only ifc.for akṣi] the eye.

snehāt (abl. sg.): m. blandness , tenderness , love , attachment to , fondness or affection for (loc. gen. , or comp.)
tanū-jasya (gen. sg.): m. ('born of his body') a son
nṛpaḥ (nom. sg.): m. protector of men , king
cakampe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kamp: to tremble , shake

sa-gadgadam (ind.): mfn. with stammering (voice)
bāṣpa-kaṣāya-kanṭhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): with a neck/throat/voice of tear-defects, choking back astringent tears
bāṣpa: m. tears
kaṣāya: mfn. astringent; mn. an astringent flavour or taste ; mn. an astringent juice ; mn. a yellowish red colour (as of a robe); stain; defect , decay , degeneracy; m. emotion , passion
kaṇṭha: m. the throat, neck ; the voice

papraccha = 3rd pers. sg. perf. prach: to ask
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
prāñjaliḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (pra + añjali) joining and holding out the hollowed open hands (as a mark of respect and humility or to receive alms)
ānatāṅgaḥ (nom. sg. m): with body bowed
ānata: mfn. bending , stooping , bowed
aṅga: n. a limb, the body

王見仙人泣 念子心戰慄
氣結盈心胸 驚悸不自安
不覺從坐起 稽首仙人足


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

I could procrastinate for England (if they let me)...

In verse 1.46 you read tāni tāni, kṛtāni and akṛtāni as neuter plural accusatives - similarly khyātāni and karmāṇi in 1.45. I read them as neuter plural nominatives. Who's right?

And a misprint in verse 1.52 which I guess you noticed but just copied: ivantidevaḥ - should be ivāntidevaḥ

My apologies for not mentioning these inconsequentials at the time.

That’s a load off!


Mike Cross said...

Thanks Malcolm.

Israeli "settlers," and Islaamic fundamentalists who feel justified in flogging those fellow residents of Timbuktu who like a drink, are a couple of examples that spring to mind.

All the best,