Friday, July 20, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.81: An Avuncular Enlightened Witness

⏑⏑⏑⏑⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−− Puṣpitāgrā
kṛta-mitir-anujā-sutaṁ ca dṛṣṭvā muni-vacana-śravaṇe ca tan-matau ca |
bahu-vidham-anukampayā sa sādhuḥ priya-sutavad-viniyojayāṁ-cakāra || 1.81

One who, having beheld his younger sister's son,
knew the score,

Saw to it that the sage's direction
should be listened to and given thought;

[This uncle] in many different ways, with empathy,
being himself straight and true,

Saw to this as if for his own beloved son.

There is very little correspondence between today's verse and the Chinese translation, which seems to make the king  into the subject of both this and the following verse, and to lump the two verses together. The confusion, in my opinion, is probably because the Chinese translator didn't get the gist of Aśvaghoṣa's original verse.

EHJ, who also failed to get Aśvaghoṣa's gist, noted that “This verse is almost certainly spurious, since C [the Chinese translation] would hardly omit a point of such purely Buddhistic interest.”

The real point of today's verse as I read it is to highlight once again the principle I referred to in my comment to 1.61; namely, that even a baby son whose mother dies when the infant still needs a mother and whose father is neurotically troubled by burdensome hopes and fears, can still develop healthily in the benevolent presence of female and male enlightened witnesses, such as the female nurse mentioned in 1.59 and 1.61, and such as the male uncle described in today's verse.

All I can say about “the point of purely Buddhistic interest” that EHJ sees, is that after 30 years of placing my arse on a round black cushion four times a day, as a follower of the Buddha, I do not know what the hell EHJ is going on about. EHJ seems to be talking as scholar in the know addressing other scholars in the know, as scholars are wont to do. I don't belong to that club. On the other hand, when it comes to knowing the score, I dare say that I know the score better than EHJ ever knew the score – because knowing the score, as a follower of the Buddha and as a follower of Aśvaghoṣa, is essentially a matter of placing one's arse every day on a round black cushion and following that direction which, in exact opposition to the gravitational pull towards the centre of mother earth, is always straight and true (not that I, in my unskillful attempts to follow that direction, am always – or often – straight and true).

So if muni-vacana means “the sage's direction,” the direction is primarily straight up, and if muni-vacana means “the sage's word” the word is “up.” Listening to it (śravaṇe) means obeying it. And giving thought to it (tan-matau) means not trusting one's own feelings around it, which are liable to be faulty, but thinking it.

In regard to the meaning of bahu-vidham, “in many different ways,” I have a book in front of me titled “What Babies and Children Really Need,” written by Sally Goddard Blythe who together with her husband Peter Blythe trained me 14 years ago in the diagnosis of immature primitive reflexes. The “many different ways” are reflected in the book's many headings, which include:

Benefits of a Natural Birth; 
Midwives & Helpers; 
Advantages of Breast-feeding for the Baby; 
Reflexes – Training for Life;
Tummy Time; 
Vestibular Stimulation; 
Why is the Development of Balance so Important?
Infants – Explorers of Space; 
The Importance of Interaction; 
Matching Sounds to Gestures; 
Communication of Affect; 
Stages of Language Development; 
Music, Reading & Writing; 
Reading Aloud; 
Emotional Development; 
The Role of Discipline in Establishing Self-regulation; 
Being a Consistent Parent; 
Mealtimes Matter; 
Rough-and-Tumble Play. 

One of the last, but by no means least important, of Sally's sub-headings is

Why Children Need Fathers: 
The fact that it is relevant to include a section on the importance of father love is a reminder of how much and how quickly the world has changed in the last 60 years. As the process of conception can be carried out without the father being present, with more couples electing to live together and start families without formalizing their parental relationship in marriage, and with same-sex couples starting families, the concept that children need a parent of each sex not only in their creation but in their daily lives is treading on sensitive territory.... Fathers are important because they are not the same as mothers. While mothers tend to be more nurturing and attentive to emotional distress in their children, fathers tend to be more practical, helping their child to overcome negative or 'childish' emotions. Mothers tend to provide security and avoid risk, while fathers encourage their children to extend the scope of security, to explore, to discover, and to become self-reliant.... Fathers tend to be more willing to stretch boundaries of safety and teach their children how to master new situations and life skills. This is important for developing self-confidence. Mothers tend to be more tolerant and understanding of childish behaviour, whereas fathers bring a more 'worldly' response, being less accepting of the reasons behind the behaviour and expecting the child to conform. This is closer to how a child is treated when he is outside the home, not only at playgroup, school, and when out shopping but also when he grows up and moves into the workplace... Boys need mothers to nurture their emotional side to help them relate to others and form loving relationships later on, but they need fathers to grow into their masculinity with confidence, to learn strength, self-control, and fair play in the world beyond the home.
The point that Sally makes here is a hardly a “point of purely Buddhistic interest.” If I express the point in my own words, all living things for their healthy development have two most basic needs which are, namely, a source of energy and a sense of direction. It is as true for the tree growing in my front garden as it is for me who can see the tree from where I sit. Mothers furnished with breasts and female emotions tend to be good at nurturing a child's energy; but a growing boy also needs some bloke – if not his father then an uncle who knows the score or some other enlightened male witness – to give him a sense of what direction to grow in. And the primary way that the male role model transmits this direction is through his own example. Hence sa sādhuḥ, “being himself straight and true.” 

Grammatically, it may be more accurate to take sa sādhuḥ “he who was straight and true,” i.e. “the male enlightened witness,” as the subject of the verse, and kṛta-mitiḥ, “knowing the score,” as an adjectival phrase. Hence EBC, EHJ and PO all make sa sādhuḥ the subject, which they translate as “the saint” (EBC/EHJ) or “that holy man” (PO). To reinforce this sense of somebody who was straight and true in a religious sense (as opposed to the developmental and directional sense which I see) each translated anukampā as “compassion.” Hence:
EBC: “the saint, filled with compassion,”
EHJ: “the saint... in his compassion”
PO: “that holy man... in his compassion.”
But etymologically anu-√kamp, if I understand its elements correctly, originally means “to shake alongside,” i.e. to be in sympathy with, or to empathize with. So I think what Aśvaghoṣa is expressing in today's verse with anukampayā is nothing so feminine and religious as what tends to be conveyed by the word “compassion,” but more the sort of non-risk-averse, rough-and-tumble empathy that Sally calls “father love.”

kṛta-mitiḥ (nom. sg. m.): having attained accurate knowledge
miti: f. measuring , measure , weight; accurate knowledge , evidence
anujā-sutam (acc. sg.): m. the son of his younger sister
anu-ja: mfn. born after , later , younger
anujā: f. a younger sister
ca: and
dṛṣṭvā = abs. dṛś: to see, behold

muni-vacana-śravaṇe (loc. sg. n.): to listen to the sage's words
muni: m. the sage
vacana: n. speech , sentence , word ; n. advice , instruction , direction , order , command
śravaṇa: n. the act of hearing
ca: and
tan-matau (loc. sg. f.): to consider them
mati: f. devotion ; thought , design , intention , resolution , determination , inclination ; esteem , respect , regard ; memory , remembrance
ca: and

bahu-vidham: ind. diversely , in several directions
anukampayā (inst. sg.): f. compassion
anu- √ kamp: to sympathize with, be compassionate
√ kamp: to cause or make to tremble , shake
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
sādhuḥ (nom. sg.): m. a good or virtuous or honest man ; m. a holy man , saint , sage , seer; mfn. straight , right ; leading straight to a goal , hitting the mark , unerring
priya-suta-vat: ind. as if [his own] beloved son
priya: mfn. beloved, dear
suta: m. son
vat: an affix added to words to imply likeness or resemblance

viniyojayām cakāra (3rd pers. sg. periphrastic perfect): to do an assigning, to have someone do something, to charge someone with doing something, to see to it
vi-ni- √ yuj: to unyoke , disjoin , loose; to assign , commit , appoint to , charge or entrust with , destine for (dat. loc. , or artham)
cakāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kṛ: to do, make

爾時白淨王 見子奇特相
又聞阿私陀 決定眞實説

於子心敬重 珍護兼常念


Dorella Belle said...

And if we assume that the father of the king has died (the grandfather of Buddha) and the subject is the uncle of the king? It seems that the king itself, despite being a king, needs some advice from a father-like figure in this juncture.
He knows the king and his fears and tell him to think about the words of Asita...

my two cents

Mike Cross said...

Dorella, your suggestion is laughable. Ha! Ha!

Mike Cross said...

No, your suggestion is baseless and wrong. You are a non-Buddhist.

Mike Cross said...

No, wait a moment. Of course what you said is true, but that is what I myself pointed out some years ago and have been saying all along.