Monday, July 2, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.63: The Importance of Being Steadfast

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
alpāntaraṁ yasya vapuḥ surebhyo bahv-adbhutaṁ yasya ca janma dīptam |
yasyottamaṁ bhāvinam-āttha cārthaṁ taṁ prekṣya kasmāt-tava dhīra bāṣpaḥ || 1.63

“On beholding him
whose form is little different from the gods,

Whose shining birth was wonderful in many ways,

And whose purpose, you said,
was destined to be of the highest order,

Why, O steadfast soul, would you shed tears?

Today's verse may best be read in light of how the brahmins previously reasssured the king that the young prince would live to become a great man, in either the sphere of spiritual religion or the sphere of earthly power:
“The criterion, then, is neither age nor descent; anyone anywhere may attain pre-eminence in the world. / For, among kings and seers, sons have achieved various things that forebears failed to achieve.” //1.46// The king, being thus cheered and encouraged by those trusted twice-born provers, / Banished from his mind awkward doubt and rose to still greater heights of joy. //1.47// And so upon those truest of the twice-born, he joyfully bestowed riches, along with hospitality, / Wishing “May the boy become a king as prophesied and retire to the forest in his old age.”//1.48//
The joy that the brahmins caused the king to feel, by telling him what he wanted to hear, evidently, was as fleeting as the joy to be had in the kind of heavenly fling referred to in Saundara-nanda Canto 11, whose title is “Negation of Heaven.”

Somehow the words of the brahmins who happily received the king's riches and hospitality seem to carry less weight for the king than the tears dangling on the eyelashes of Asita, an individual who was devoted to sitting in the forest, and not interested in receiving riches from the king.

The king senses that Asita is truly a man of prajñā (lit. pre-knowing), and so when he sees tears welling in Asita's eyes, the king is sincerely afraid that Asita's tears may forewarn the prince's premature demise.

The gifts the king gratefully gave to the brahmins, evidently, never signified at all that the king really trusted the brahmins. When Aśvaghoṣa called the brahmins “trusted twice-born provers,” he did so with a characteristically large pinch of irony. But the question asked in today's verse, and the stammering king's manner of asking it, show whose judgement the king really trusted.

The king really trusted not the brahmin yes-men but the steadfast Asita.

An opposition that runs through all of Aśvaghoṣa's writings is that between the virtue of being dhīra (steadfast, steady, constant, resolute, calm) and the fault of being calātman (fickle-minded, flimsy, flighty, unsteady, easily swayed, made of chocolate).

As the example of Asita shows, however, being dhīra does not mean being too serious or heavy. On the contrary, it is because of Asita's steadfastness that, unlike the brahmins who come burdened with the expectation of reward and leave burdened by the king's riches, Asita comes and goes on the way of the wind.

A friend of mine in Alexander work who went to see the Dalai Lama while he was on tour in England recently, told me that in a Q & A session, somebody asked with great gravitas what was the secret of true happiness. The Dalai Lama's response, my friend reported back approvingly, indicated that it helped not to take things too seriously.

This exchange is like the first two-parts of a four-part koan of the kind Dogen comments upon in Shobogenzo, the study of which led my teacher to come up with his "theory of four philosophies," or "three philosophies and one reality."

Going further, then, the secret of true happiness might be to crack on steadfastly, using oneself well in the process, with a meaningful job.

And in the final analysis, truly steadfast souls in the house of the buddha-ancestors generally tend towards what is expressed in BC1.52 as āsana-stha, being devoted to sitting.

If this sounds preachy, it is only because I tend to use this blog to preach to myself.

alpāntaram (nom. sg. n.): little different from
alpa: mfn. little
antara: n. difference
yasya (gen. sg.): of whom
vapuḥ (nom. sg.): n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty
surebhyaḥ (abl. pl.): m. a god , divinity , deity

bahv-adbhutam (nom. sg. n.): having many wonders; being extra-ordinary in many ways
bahu: many
ad-bhuta: mfn. extra-ordinary; supernatural , wonderful , marvellous; n. a marvel , a wonder , a prodigy
yasya (gen. sg.): of whom
ca: and
janma (nom. sg.): n. birth
dīptam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. blazing , flaming , hot , shining , bright , brilliant , splendid

yasya (gen. sg.): of whom
uttamam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. highest, uppermost
bhāvinam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. about to be , future , imminent , predestined , inevitable (often used as fut. tense of √ bhū)
āttha = 2nd pers. sg. pf. of the defect. √ah: to say, speak; to state or declare with reference to (acc.)
ca: and
artham (acc. sg.): m. aim, purpose ; advantage , use , utility; business ; meaning

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
prekṣya = abs. pra- √īkṣ: to look at , view , behold , observe
kasmāt: ind. where from? whence? why? wherefore?
tava (gen. sg.): of you
dhīra (voc. sg.): steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave
bāṣpaḥ (nom. sg.): m. tears

容貎極端嚴 天人殆不異
汝言人中上 何故生憂悲

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