Thursday, July 19, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.80: A Not-White One Going on the Way of the Wind

⏑⏑⏑⏑⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−− Puṣpitāgrā
atha munir-asito nivedya tattvaṁ suta-niyataṁ suta-viklavāya rājñe |
sa-bahu-matam-udīkṣyamāṇa-rūpaḥ pavana-pathena yathāgataṁ jagāma || 1.80

And so the sage Asita, having let the reality be known,

Having caused the king, who was worried about his child,
to know the inevitable reality tied to having a child,

-- While people, with varying degrees of appreciation,
looked up at his excellent form --

Went as he had come, on the way of the wind.

Six short syllables like galloping hooves, or like the brisk footsteps of an enlightened sage walking away, signify that with today's verse the metre changes, as the end of the canto is approached, from the 11 syllable Upajāti to the 12-13 Puṣpitāgrā formation.

But some things never change. None of the long-suffering readers of this blog (whose number on a good day, according to the page view stat, makes it into double figures) will be surprised if I start this comment with the words, “On the surface...”

On the surface, nivedya tattvaṁ suta-niyataṁ simply means “made known the truth of what his son was destined for,” or more simply still, “told the truth about his son.”

Hence, EBC: “having made known the real fate which awaited the prince to the king who was thus disturbed about his son”;
EHJ: “when he had made known the truth about his son to the king who was troubled about him”;
PO: “having declared the truth about his son to the king, much distraught about his son.”

In the translations of EHJ and PO, niyatam thus simply means “connected with” or in short “about” -- so tattvaṁ suta-niyataṁ means “the truth about his son” and the connotation in niyatam of something inevitable is lost. In EBC's translation this sense of inevitability is conveyed by the word "fate" and in the Chinese translation by the character   , which means "inevitably."

But the deeper intended meaning of the 2nd pāda might be that Asita caused the king to know or to wake up to, to see for himself and face up to, the reality that inevitably confronts every father who witnesses a beautiful birth of a new-born child. On the one side is a sense of possibilites, of potential; on the one side are a father's dreams. On the other side is a sense of what could go wrong; on the other side are a father's fears.

The brahmins basically limited their predictions to the former side, saying to the king in effect, “In our unbiased expert opinion, based on an objective study of the relevant literature, it could go one of two ways: either your son will become a supreme seer or else a great king. And it's not that we are after your money or anything, but if you would like to fill some bags for us with gold rupees, you will find our empty saddle-bags over there.”

From Asita, in contrast, the king is not only given information that he might like to hear, and nor he is simply informed of something that is bound to happen in future. Rather he is caused to reflect upon the reality of what it is to be a father. He is caused to reflect that, here and now, even the king can't always get what he wants, but the world might get what it needs. And this causes the king to rejoice, as he should. At the same time, this also causes the king in his unenlightened state to be overcome with fear or agitation, to be confused, perplexed, bewildered, alarmed, distressed – in short, worried, viklava

From the king, for his part, Asita seeks nothing. As he walks away, his feet lightly but surely placed on the earth, one foot in front of the other, he is unburdened by bags of treasure or by psychological baggage. Therefore any person with eyes is able to look up at him admiringly, perceiving that Asita – as he walks like a man, with feet on the ground, not as he flies like a fairy -- is going up. And so the not-white one walks away, just as he came, on the way of the wind.

And from within the crowd of onlookers, a member of the Śakya clan with ancestral roots in distant Birmingham turns to his mate and remarks “Sound bloke that Asita, wasn't he?” And his mate replies, “Better than that bunch of brahmin snobs who buggered off with their bags full of gold, that's for bloody sure.”

On the surface, again, when Aśvaghoṣa describes the crowd of onlookers as sa-bahu-matam, this means “with great reverence.” But digging deeper into the dictionary one finds an alternative definition of bahu-matam, one which subverts “with great reverence.” The alternative definition of sa-bahu-matam as “possessing many different opinions,” seems to me to describe the crowd in a democratic spirit, not as a great amorphous blob of believing onlookers, like superstitious Tibetans gawping and cringing as the Dalai Lama passes by, but rather as many real individuals possessing many different ways of thinking, but none of them able fully to appreciate Asita, even as they look up at him admiringly – because, as the Lotus Sutra records, nobody but a buddha, together with a buddha, is fully able to appreciate a buddha.

In addition to the "On the surface.." and "Digging deeper..." modus operandi, something else that never changes is the difficulty of translating four Sanskrit pādas that naturally follow a four-phased philosophical progression, into four English lines that reflect that progression and yet sound natural in English. 

Hence, my translation of today's verse is a compromise. If I were to render it so that it lent itself better to being read aloud, it might be better translated in two lines:
And so having caused the worried king to know the inevitable reality tied to having a child, / The sage Asita went as he had come, on the way of the wind, while individuals looked up, with varying degrees of appreciation, at his excellent form.//1.80//
But with due attention to its progression through four phases, and with no obligation to write English that sounds like English, or to keep it short, I should like to translate today's verse like this:

And so the sage Asita, “the Not-White One,”
having caused the reality to be known --

(The inevitable reality tied to having a child)
to the child-worried king,

While his excellent form was being looked up at,
amid much individual thought and varying degrees of appreciation --

Went as he had come, on the way of the wind.

The latter translation would better serve the purpose of suggesting:
(1) A non-buddha pointing a finger towards the moon;
(2) The concrete unromantic reality of being a human being which invariably involves even a great king in troublesome family involvements;
(3) The truth that excellent uprightness, in sitting and standing, is difficult for ordinary people to appreciate – and possibly also the principle that truly excellent form, whether manifested by Usain Bolt on the running track or by a Zen master on a round cushion, is the result of a lot of thoughtful work on the part of the individual practitioner, and is not just natural talent.
(4) The transcendent reality of action.

People say that Aśvaghoṣa and Kālidāsa are the two great writers of Sanskrit kāvya poetry, the Shakespeares of Sanskrit. I know nothing about Kālidāsa. But it seems to me that any literary pundit who wishes to make a judgement about how great a poet Aśvaghoṣa was, might have to do an awful lot of digging before getting to the bottom of Aśvaghoṣa's writing. There are always so many more layers to Aśvaghoṣa than initially meet the eye. Even after writing such a long comment, I suspect I have barely scratched the surface of today's verse. But I am at least in possession of my own metaphorical spade. Whereas trying to get anywhere near the bottom without being devoted to sitting might be like trying to dig without a spade. 

Were there also such hidden depths to Kālidāsa's writing? I very strongly doubt it. Literary folk fail to appreciate that even if they called Aśvaghoṣa the one and only Shakespeare of Sanskrit, they would still in their ignorance be insulting Aśvaghoṣa -- because only one who comes and goes on the way of the wind is fully able to appreciate the way of one who comes and goes on the way of the wind.

atha: ind. and so, then
munih (nom. sg.): m. the sage
asitah (nom. sg.): m. Asita
nivedya = causative abs. ni- √ vid: to tell , communicate , proclaim , report , relate
√ vid: to know
tattvam (acc. sg.): n. true or real state , truth , reality

suta-niyatam (acc. sg. n.): invariable for a son/child
suta: m. son, child ; (sutau du. = " son and daughter ")
niyata: mfn. tied to; connected with; fixed , established , settled , sure , regular , invariable , positive , definite
niyata: [Apte] 9. forming the subject of consideration;
suta-viklavāya (dat. sg. m.): who was perplexed about his son
viklava: mfn. overcome with fear or agitation , confused , perplexed , bewildered , alarmed , distressed
rājñe (dat. sg.): m. king

sa-bahu-matam: ind. with great reverence ; with much thought; possessing many different opinions
sa-: possesive prefix
bahu-mata: mfn. much thought of , highly esteemed , valued ; having many different opinions
udīkṣyamāṇa-rūpaḥ (nom. sg. m.): his form being looked up to
udīkṣyamāṇa = pres. part. passive ud- √ īkṣ to look up to ; look at , regard , view , behold
rūpa: n. form , shape , figure ; handsome form , loveliness , grace

pavana-pathena (inst. sg.) on the way of the wind
pavana: wind
pathin: m. a way , path , road , course (lit. and fig.)
yathāgatam: ind. as he came
jagāma = 3rd pers. sg. perf. gam: to go

爾時彼仙人 向王眞實説
必如王所慮 當成正覺道
於王眷屬中 安慰衆心已
自以己神力 騰虚而遠逝


Mike Cross said...

Yesterday's post, incidentally, garnered a grand total of 7 page views.

It is a good job I am writing this blog primarily for my own benefit, otherwise I might get discouraged!

Jordan said...

Hey Mike,

If you wanted more page views, I think you would implement strategies in order to garner them.

You might even google "how to get more traffic on my blog." and become thoroughly discussed with the various suggested means whereby.

While seven people might be lucky enough to see the value of your efforts here, most people are blind to it.

Semper fi

Mike Cross said...

Ha! Thanks, Jordan. Just checking you were still there.

I'm not sure that seven is even enough to count as a cult following.

But I am happy at least to have one shaven-headed cult follower!

My aim is to brainwash you with progressively longer and more rambling comments, until eventually you lose all capacity for independent thought....

Dorella Belle said...

I like that Asita comes and goes "with" the wind.
Google pointed me Ecclesiastes 3.5:
"As you do not know the path of the wind, or know how life (or the spirit) Enters the body being formed"
"John 3:8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

It seems that Asita is not only able to "listen" to the wind and follow it but that this "listen-follow" in him has become the same effortless act and you cannot separate his movement from that of the "wind"

To have found so interesting your new translation has surprised me
although I do not expect you to be very happy about this!! ;)

Mike Cross said...

What seems to make me most happy these days, on the way of the old waster, is an afternoon nap.