Wednesday, July 4, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.65: Approaches to Immortality

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Sālā)
apy-akṣayaṁ me yaśaso nidhānaṁ kac-cid-dhruvo me kula-hasta-sāraḥ |
api prayāsyāmi sukhaṁ paratra supto 'pi putre 'nimiṣaika-cakṣuḥ || 1.65

Again, will the repository of my glory be immune to decay?

I hope the extending hand of my family is secure!

Shall I depart happily to the hereafter,

Keeping in my son, even while I sleep, one eye open?

Thirty-five years ago the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins published The Selfish Gene, a book whose title he considered in retrospect to have been unfortunate. In the foreword to the book's 30th-anniversary edition, Dawkins adimitted that it might have been better to call the book The Immortal Gene.

I confess I haven't read the book, but the central argument seems to be that “the fundamental unit of selection, and therefore of self-interest, is not the species, nor the group, nor even, strictly, the individual. It is the gene, the unit of heredity.”

The thoughts expressed in today's verse by King Śuddhodana seem, on the surface, to be an ancient precursor to Dawkins' argument. The one eye which the king hopes to keep open in his baby son is the king's genetic inheritance, another eye being kept open by the baby's mother, Queen Māyā.

If you are a bloke with the surname is Khan, there is every chance that you are one of the 1-in-200 men in the world today who are thought to be direct descendants of Genghis. So in a sense Genghis Khan, via his Y chromosomes, has kept an eye open in you.

Digging deeper, Dogen wrote that the teacher he met in China around 1225 had gouged out Bodhidharma's eyeball better than anybody else had in the previous four or five hundred years.

What Dogen actually wrote was not "Bodhidharma" but  "the Buddha-Patriarch," or "the Buddha-Ancestor(s)," but I remember it as Bodhidharma because that is how my teacher originally understood and translated it.

So the question that arose in my sitting this morning was: Whose eye did Bodhidharma gouge out?

The Wikipedia entry on “selfish gene” asserts that “from the gene-centred view it follows that the more two individuals are genetically related, the more sense (at the level of the genes) it makes for them to behave selflessly with each other.” Thus, in spite of the attitude of “I, me, mine,” selfishness which seems to be reflected in the first two pādas of today's verse by the repetition of me (my / of me), King Śuddhodana did do a good job of bringing up not only his oldest son but also his younger son by another queen, Nanda – so that these two sons of King Śuddhodana (not to mention his grandson Rāhula) were able to gouge out the eyeballs of great sitting sages like Asita, who may be taken as an emissary of the Seven Ancient Buddhas. 

The irony suggested by today's verse (and confirmed in Canto 2 where the king's selfish/selfless behaviour is described in detail) may be that King Śuddhodana thus succeeded spectacularly well in his desire for immortality, keeping one eye open forever, but not in the way that he had in mind.

I remember about 10 years ago reading a good paper by Sarah Shaw in which she pointed out, if memory serves, that in ancient writings cakṣu means the eye not so much as organ of sight as instrument of practice. 

This view of Sarah Shaw, who struck me as a thoroughly nice person when I met her briefly, is in some sense correct. But digging deeper, if I were to say that sitting in full lotus is an instrument of abandoning all views -- an undecaying, indestructible, immortal instrument -- that also would be a view to drop off. 

I like to see myself as a miner of Aśvaghoṣa's gold, with dusty face and sharp spade in hand. But if there is anybody in the next four or five hundred years who truly gouges out Aśvaghoṣa's eyeball, I think he or she might look at my efforts with disdain, and say that I was a lazy self-indulgent pussy who spent too much time pottering around a keyboard and not enough time with philosophical scalpel in hand, sitting. 

api: and, again
akṣayam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. exempt from decay , undecaying
kṣaya: m. loss , waste , wane , diminution , destruction , decay , wasting or wearing away
me (gen. sg.): my
yaśasaḥ (gen. sg.): n. beautiful appearance , beauty , splendour , worth ; honour , glory , fame , renown
nidhānam (nom. sg.): n. putting or laying down , depositing , keeping , preserving ; place for depositing anything , receptacle ; anything laid up , a store , hoard , treasure

kac-cid: (ind.) particle of interrogation; or kaccid may be translated by " I hope that "
dhruvaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. fixed , firm , immovable , unchangeable , constant , lasting , permanent , eternal ; settled , certain , sure
me (gen. sg.): my
kula-hasta-sāraḥ (nom. sg. m.): the stretching out of the hand of my family
kula: m. family,
hasta: m. hand
sāra: m. (1) (fr. √ sṛ) course , motion; stretching out , extension; (2)
mn. the core or pith or solid interior of anything ; firmness , strength, power , energy ; the substance or essence or marrow or cream or heart or essential part of anything , best part , quintessence (ifc. = " chiefly consisting of or depending on &c

api: and, again
prayāsyāmi = 1st pers. sg. future pra- √i: to go out or away , depart (this life , with or without asmāl lokāt , or itas) , die
sukham: ind. easily , comfortably , pleasantly , joyfully ,
paratra: ind. elsewhere , in another place , in a future state or world , hereafter

suptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. asleep
api: even
putre (loc. sg.): m. son
animiṣaika-cakṣuḥ (nom. sg. m.): with one eye open
animiṣa: mfn. not winking , looking steadily , vigilant ; open (as eyes or flowers)
eka: one
cakṣu: eye

若有勝子存 國嗣有所寄
我死時心悦 安樂生他世
猶如人兩目 一眠而一覺

No comments: