Tuesday, July 17, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.78: The Enlightened King Dismisses Dejection

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
iti śrutārthaḥ sasuhṛt-sadāras-tyaktvā viṣādaṁ mumude narendraḥ |
evaṁ-vidho 'yaṁ tanayo mameti mene sa hi svām-api sāravattām || 1.78

Thus enlightened,
in the company of his wife and friends,

The king dismissed dejection and rejoiced;

For, thinking “Such is this son of mine,”

He saw his son's excellence as also being his own.

Today's verse begins with another phrase from the root śru, namely iti śrutārthaḥ, which means “thus informed,” or “thus, as one who heard/listened/learned etc.”

My first attempt at translating the first yuga-pāda was “Thus informed, the king with his wife and friends dismissed dejection and rejoiced.” Then I thought that “informed” didn't give enough of a sense of the root śru. Unable to come up with a better alternative, and somehow dissatisfied with “informed,” I thought I would simply follow EBC in translating iti śrutārthaḥ as “Having heard these words...”

Digging deeper through a sleepless night, I realized that what Aśvaghoṣa is really intending to express in today's verse is the king's delusion, or ignorance. That being so, the translation of iti śrutārthaḥ that hits the target might be “Thus enlightened.”

Once that irony is grasped, sasuhṛt-sadāraḥ begins to take on meaning. For truly speaking who in the history of devotion to sitting has ever been enlightened in the company of his wife and friends?

If studying Aśvaghoṣa's writing teaches us anything, it might be the wisdom of reading between the lines, rather than always taking words at face value.

Reading between the lines of today's verse, I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention was that the king heard what Asita said and the king rejoiced because the king felt śrutārthaḥ – he felt he had learned something from listening to what Asita said; but in fact the king only heard the words of Asita. Asita came and went on the way of the wind, in which time the king temporarily enjoyed a spring in his step, but did he really learn anything at all from Asita? Today's verse, as I read it, suggests not. The king, in the company of wife and friends and the various Buddhist scholars who have translated Asita's words from Sanskrit into English, has totally missed the chance to be enlightened by Asita. None of them has understood yet why Aśvaghoṣa describes Asita (in BC1.80) as having come and gone on the way of the wind.

When he came and went on the way of the wind, what kind of non-white, I wonder, was Asita, “the Not-White One.” Was he some kind of fake, like a choc-ice, a coconut, or a Bounty bar, who was not-white on the outside but white on the inside? Conversely, was he a sub-species of white nigger, who was white on the outside but not-white on the inside?

Or was Asita's non-whiteness the non-whiteness of an individual who was non-white through and through, totally transcending any kind of stereotype such as black or white, or kosher Buddhist or non-Buddhist, or choc-ice or white nigger, or Brahmin, or ascetic? 

Is England footballer John Terry a racist? I don't know but I sense that he is not much of one, whatever foul and abusive language he is accustomed to using. Calling somebody “a bastard” or other insult, prefaced by “black” or “white” or “yellow,” it seems to me, can easily be the manifestation of a bad habit of language rather than of a prejudice against an individual on the basis of his or her race. Reaching unthinkingly for a familar phrase like “black bastard” or “bloody yid” or “slant-eyed son of Nippon” is just the kind of stupid thing I might do myself in my ignorance, if an individual who had offended me happened to be, say, black or Jewish or Japanese.

Probably you won't find any media commentator making such a confession, for fear of losing their job or position. It is safer for such types to stay on the side of political correctness, putting on a facade of being whiter than white. "There is not a racist bone in my body," said George Bush Snr on the election trail, sounding quite convincing. But I noticed that when he came as US president to visit Japan, Bush seemed to express his real feelings by throwing up at a state dinner. Maybe it was in fact just a coincidental stomach bug, nothing psychological. But given that George Bush was a prisoner of the Japanese in WWII, that racist war without mercy, who could blame him for continuing to harbour just a bit of politically uncorrect anti-Japanese sentiment?  

To make a racist insult against somebody -- as John Terry was accused in a court of law of doing when he called an opposing player a black so and so, or as Rio Ferdinand was accused of doing in the media by sharing in a joke about a friend of his being “a choc-ice” -- it seems to me, is a kind of ignorance. I am not defending ignorance. But rather than trying to legislate ignorance out of others, it might be more valuable to see it in myself. I myself am by no means whiter than white. That is for damn sure. I have been known to say things to my wife, who is Japanese, along the lines of “I fucking hate Japs.” It is a kind of ignorance and at the same time an expression of dislike of certain things about Japanese culture that have frustrated me over the years. My wife, hoisting me on my own petard, is liable to respond to such outbursts by referring to the mirror principle, and pointing out that in some respects I can be more Japanese than the objects of my ire. Of course when I say that I hate Japs I don't mean that I hate all Japanese as individuals. After all, my own sons are Japs; and I in my ignorance, like the deluded king, am proud of my own sons.

In today's verse the king rejoices to see his own excellent son as a regular chip off the old block. This would seem to be a natural enough emotion for any father. And yet, on the way of the wind, so the Buddha seems to say to Nanda in Saundara-nanda Canto 15, with stony objectivity, there is no real basis for any kind of parochial concern for people perceived to be of one's blood. Hence:
Among beings dragged by our own doing through the cycle of saṁsāra / Who are our own people, and who are other people? It is through ignorance that people attach to people. // 15.31 // For one who turned on a bygone road into a relative, is a stranger to you; / And a stranger, on a road to come, will become your relative. // 15.32 // Just as birds in the evening flock together at separate locations, / So is the mingling over many generations of one's own and other people. // 15.33 // Just as, under any old roof, travellers shelter together /And then go again their separate ways, so are relatives joined. // 15.34 // In this originally shattered world nobody is the beloved of anybody. /Held together by cause and effect, humankind is like sand in a clenched fist. // 15.35 //For mother cherishes son thinking "He will keep me," / And son honours mother thinking "She bore me in her womb." // 15.36 // As long as relatives act agreeably towards each other, / They engender affection; but otherwise it is enmity. // 15.37 // A close relation is demonstrably unfriendly; a stranger proves to be a friend. / By the different things they do, folk break and make affection. // 15.38 // Just as an artist, all by himself, might fall in love with a woman he painted, / So, each generating attachment by himself, do people become attached to one another. // 15.39 // That relation who, in another life, was so dear to you: / What use to you is he? What use to him are you? // 15.40 // With thoughts about close relatives, therefore, you should not enshroud the mind. / There is no abiding difference, in the flux of saṁsāra, between one's own people and people in general. // 15.41 //
What the king expresses in the 2nd yuga-pāda of today's verse, then, is just a delusion, an ignorant thought enshrouding his mind. Only having got that point does one get the irony of Aśvaghoṣa describing the king, in the company of his wife and friends, as iti śrutārthaḥ, “thus enlightened.”

iti: “....,”
śrutārthaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who has heard anything (gen.); m. any matter ascertained by hearing
sa-suhṛt having friends or kinsfolk
sa-dāraḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. accompanied by a wife

tyaktvā = abs. tyaj: to abandon, leave behind ; to let go , dismiss , discharge
viṣādam (acc. sg.): m. drooping state , languor , lassitude ; dejection , depression , despondency (esp. as the result of unrequited love); disappointment , despair
mumude = 3rd pers. sg. perf. mud: to be merry or glad or happy , rejoice
narendraḥ (nom. sg.): m. 'man-lord'; king

evaṁ-vidhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. of such a kind , in such a form or manner , such
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this
tanayaḥ (nom. sg.): m. son
mama (gen. sg.): of mine
iti: “....,” thus

mene = 3rd pers. sg. perf. man: to think, deem, regard as
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
hi: for
svām (acc. sg. f.): his own
api: also, even
sāra-vattām (acc. sg.): f. hardness (of an arrow) ; force , strength , steadfastness
sāra-vat: mfn. hard , solid , firm , strong , steadfast ; substantial , nourishing (as food) ; valuable , precious ; having pith or sap
sāra: m. 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 ; wealth , property , goods , riches ; mfn. hard , firm solid, strong ; precious , valuable ; good , sound , best , excellent ; sound (as an argument , thoroughly proved)

王及諸眷屬 聞彼仙人説
知其自憂歎 恐怖悉以除
生此奇特子 我心得大安

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