Tuesday, July 3, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.64: Every Father's Fear

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Ārdrā)
api sthirāyur-bhagavan kumāraḥ kac-cin-na śokāya mama prasūtaḥ |
labdhā kathaṁ-cit salilāñjalir-me na khalv-imaṁ pātum-upaiti kālaḥ || 1.64

Will the prince, O One Full of Fortune,
be blessed with long life?

Heaven forfend that he was born for my sorrow!

Am I in my cupped hands somehow to have gained water,

Only for Death to come and drink it?

I haven't read the book Ulysses by James Joyce but I have learned a bit about it through my usual window on the world while I am in France, BBC Radio 4. Apparently Joyce said, shortly after the publication of Ulysses, "For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal."

Joyce here is expressing a realization which would not have been news to Aśvaghosa. Hence saundara-nanda mahā-kāvya, “The Epic Poem 'Handsome Nanda,'” is the particular story of Gautama Buddha's half brother, and at the same time it might be the story of anybody's path to enlightenment -- “An Epic Story of Beautiful Joy.”

Similarly, buddha-carita mahā-kāvya, “The Epic Poem 'Life of the Buddha'” is the biography of Gautama Buddha himself, and at the same time it might be the story of a path that is open to anybody -- “An Epic Story of Awakened Action.”

Thus in Canto 17 of his epic story of beautiful joy, in describing Nanda's progress (or regress) through four stages of sitting-meditation, Aśvaghoṣa expresses a universal principle about joy:
And on reaching that stage, in which the mind is silent, he experienced an intense joy that he had never experienced before. / But here too he found a fault, in joy, just as he had in ideas. // 17.48 // For when a man finds intense joy in anything, paradoxically, suffering for him is right there. /
And in the present Canto of his Epic Poem 'Life of the Buddha,' Aśvaghoṣa is describing a particular instance of what any father, royal or common, is liable to experience upon witnessing a beautiful birth: intense joy at a child's timely birth and at the same time, paradoxically, deep fear of the child's premature death.

On the surface, then, today's verse may not seem to have much to do with sitting-Zen. But read in the light of Aśvaghoṣa's own description of four stages of sitting-Zen, today's verse might have a lot to do with sitting-Zen.

Just as Shobogenzo, “The True-Dharma-Eye Treasury,” can be understood as an expression of sitting-Zen itself, so Saundara-nanda, “Beautiful Joy,” can be understood as an expression of sitting-Zen itself, and so Buddha-carita, “Awakened Action,” can be understood as an expression of sitting-Zen itself, in which sitting can take us to a place beyond unconscious positive and negative emotions like joy and fear.

Walking through the forest, however, means walking in the forest. And walking in the forest, depending on the particular path that an individual choses, can bring him or her close to trees and birds that are not generic trees and birds but that are particular, individual, different. In Saundarananda Canto 10, Aśvaghoṣa calls such trees and birds anye.  Anya means individual, odd, different, not what people necesarily expect. 

When I woke up this morning and after several minutes my conscious brain got in gear to the point where I could recall today's verse in Sanskrit, the above paragraph was asking me to write it down.

But then when I sat I could see that the point I have really been wanting, for several years, to get around to making is this: various commentators have discussed whether Aśvaghoṣa is more of a monk or more of a poet, or in other words, less of an individual or more of an individual. But the dichotomy as I see it is an utterly false one to apply to Aśvaghoṣa. It is an insult to Aśvaghoṣa. Aśvaghoṣa described himself as a bhikṣu, a beggar, a monk. But as a generic term, Buddhist monk covers a multitude of sins. Some Buddhist monks are devoted to sitting. Some are not. Some Buddhist monks Dogen described as dogs with human faces. Aśvaghoṣa was a buddha-ancestor. That means one thing and one thing only: he, like Asita, was devoted to sitting (āsana-stha). Just as trees have roots and leaves, just as birds have beaks and wings, and just as fathers have joy and fear, this is the generic quality that buddha-ancestors have. Male or female, gay or straight, yellow or brown, writing from left to right or writing from right to left, or never writing anything, every buddha-ancestor since before the time of Gautama Buddha has been devoted to sitting. Because a buddha-ancestor is devoted to sitting and only to sitting, a buddha-ancestor might be the most individual thing there is.

This, I suspect, is the reason why Aśvaghoṣa chose to call the hero of the first canto of his epic story of awakened action, the non-monk Asita, “the Not-White One.”

api (correlative of api in 1.65): and, as well as, again
sthirāyuḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. long-lived
sthira: mfn. firm, strong, durable, long-lastsing
āyus: n. life , vital power , vigour , health , duration of life , long life
bhagavan (voc. sg.): mfn. possessing fortune , fortunate , prosperous , happy; holy (applied to gods , demigods , and saints as a term of address , in voc. bhagavan)
kumāraḥ (nom. sg.): m. prince

kac-cid: kac-cid is also used , like the simple kad , as a particle of interrogation (e.g. kaccid dṛṣṭā tvayā rājan damayantī , was damayantī seen by thee , O king?) or kaccid may be translated by " I hope that "
na: not
śokāya (dat. sg.): m. sorrow , affliction , anguish , pain , trouble , grief
mama (gen. sg.): my
prasūtaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. born

labdhā = 3rd pers. sg. periphrastic future: labh: to gain, obtain
kathaṁ-cit: (ind.) some how or other , by some means or other , in any way , with some difficulty , scarcely
salilāñjaliḥ: (nom. sg.): m. a handful of water
salila: water
añjali: m. the open hands placed side by side and slightly hollowed ; a libation to the Manes (two hands full of water , udakāñjali); a measure of corn , sufficient to fill both hands when placed side by side , equal to a kuḍava.
me (gen. sg.): of me

na khalu: (ind.) by no means , not at all , indeed not
imam (acc. sg. m.): this
pātum = inf. pā: to drink , quaff , suck , sip , swallow
upaiti = 3rd pers. sg. upa- √i: to go or come or step near , approach , arrive at
kālaḥ (nom. sg.): m. time (as leading to events , the causes of which are imperceptible to the mind of man) , destiny , fate ; time (as destroying all things) , death

將非短壽子 生我憂悲乎
久渇得甘露 而反復失耶 

將非失財寶 喪家亡國

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