Sunday, July 22, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.83: Purely Petitional Offerings

⏑⏑⏑⏑⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−− Puṣpitāgrā
daśasu pariṇateṣv-ahaḥsu caiva prayata-manāḥ parayā mudā parītaḥ |
akuruta japa-homa-maṅgalādyāḥ parama-bhavāya sutasya devatejyāḥ || 1.83

More than that, when ten days were up,

With a purified mind,
and filled with the greatest gladness,

He performed mutterings,
fire oblations, ritual movements

And other acts of religious worship,
for the ultimate well-being of his son.

The first point to consider in today's verse is its relation with yeserday's verse. An easy and convenient understanding is that today's verse simply expands on yesterday's verse. In this case the somewhat inconvenient caiva at the end of the 1st pāda might simply be translated as a colon or dash at the end of 1.82, or else ignored. EBC and PO followed the latter tack, not translating  caiva, presumably on the basis that both ca and eva may sometimes be used merely as expletives. EHJ, however, who always manifests as a translator the merit of endeavoring to translate every one of Aśvaghoṣa's words, begins his translation, “And, when the ten days were fulfilled....”

If today's verse is simply an explanation of what was meant in yesterdays' verse by jāta-karma, a birth rite, then EHJ's “And” sticks out like a sore thumb and any English editor would recommend it to be dropped. But I follow EHJ in suspecting that when Aśvaghoṣa uses words that seem to be superfluous, the fault is not in Aśvaghoṣa as a poet but rather in the reader or translator who fails to get the point of the word judged to be superfluous. So in my first stab at translating today's verse I went with “Again, when the ten days were up.” But probably like EHJ when he wrote “And,” I had no clear idea of what my “Again,” might mean.

Then when I woke up this morning and recited today's verse from memory, Aśvaghoṣa's caiva seemed to have been doing some digging of its own through the night. It was asking me to translate it as “More than that,...”

Why was caiva asking to be translated as “More than that...”? I think in the background there is Aśvaghoṣa's affirmation in yesterday's verse of a rite of birth, as a natural impulse, like a rite of mourning as practised by elephants in their element. But acts of religious worship like mutterings, fire oblations and fortune-seeking ritual movements are something more artificial, something added on by supersitious human beings. So in the background to today's verse, as I read it, is a certain skepticism towards things religious.

Even before the above thought processes had taken place, the very first thing that sprang into my mind stimulated by today's verse was the image of naturalist David Attenborough on Graham Norton's chatshow. DA was responding to an observation by Kathy Burke about children today being on the one hand over-protected, and on the other hand being readily able to access on the internet images of “a frog shagging a donkey.” Good old David responded to this proposition of a frog mating with a donkey like the true scientist he is -- by opening his eyes wide and starting to make entries in an imaginary notepad.

That may be the spirit in which Aśvaghoṣa is relating in today's verse the performance of religious actions, observing those actions with a certain detached interest and classifying them in a certain order, beginning with verbal mutterings, progressing through the chemical reality of combustion, and on into the realm of bodily movement.

The irony in today's verse centres on two phrases which describe the king as prayata-manāḥ (“with a purified mind”) and describe his actions as parama-bhavāya sutasya (“for the ultimate well-being of his son”).

As is clarified in this ancient sutra quoted by Dogen in Shobogenzo chap. 87, when offerings are served to buddhas with a thought that there might be something in it for me and mine, those efforts do not receive the affirmation of buddhas, precisely because the practitioner's motivation is not pure.

Prayata literally means “outstretched,” and, by extension, sincere or pure. In particular prayata was used to express the sincerity or purity of a mind that had been well prepared for a solemn brahminical rite. And such preparation is alluded to in today's verse by mention of the ten day period following the birth of a child during which immediate family members were considered impure, and therefore ill-prepared to perform sacred rituals.

These various meanings of prayata are illusrated by three instances where Aśvaghoṣa uses the term in Saundara-nanda:
The Incomparable Vessel was offering his own vessel, to reap a fruit in the human world, / And so Nanda, outstretched (prayataḥ), held the bowl with lotus-like hands, which were better suited to the holding of a bow. // 5.12 //

For those brought up well are ashamed of unpleasant occurrences going on in the mind, /As one who is bright, young and good-looking is ashamed of unsightly, ill-prepared (a-prayataiḥ) objects hanging around his neck. // 16.76 //

By first directing the whole body up, and thus keeping his awareness turned towards the body, / And thus integrating in his person all the senses, there he threw himself all-out (prayataḥ) into practice. // 17.4 //
In Shobogenzo Dogen asserts that sincerity is the very body-and-mind of the buddha-ancestors. In that spirit Aśvaghoṣa in today's verse, as I read it, is asking us to consider what sincerity, or purity of mind, really is.

I don't know what it is. But what it isn't, evidently, is me performing some supposedly sacred act with the question in the back of my mind, “What's in it for me?”

So today's verse as I read it is a kind of mirror that Aśvaghoṣa is holding up to brahmins and followers of the buddha alike. Ignorant brahmins among Aśvaghoṣa's audience are liable to remain blissfully ignorant, looking approvingly at what they see of themselves in Aśvaghoṣa's mirror. Devout Buddhists, along with Buddhist scholars and the like, probably won't see much to interest them in the mirror, thinking that the verse lacks any “point of Buddhistic interest” (to use EHJ's phrase).

For those who dig deeper the challenge might be just to see whatever is reflected, warts and all – somewhat in the manner of the veteran naturalist -- and not react.

To see and not react. No more than that.

daśasu = loc. pl. n. daśan: ten
pariṇateṣu (loc. pl. n.): mfn. bent down; developed , ripened , mature , full-grown , perfect ; full (as the moon) ; set (as the sun)
ahaḥsu = loc. pl. ahan: n. a day
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)

prayata-manāḥ (nom. sg. m.): with a sincere mind, with a mind prepared for a solemn rite
prayata: mfn. outstretched , far-extended ; piously disposed , intent on devotion , well prepared for a solemn rite (with loc. or ifc.) , ritually pure; self-subdued , dutiful , careful , prudent
manas: mind
parayā (inst. sg. f.): mfn. better or worse than , superior or inferior to , best or worst , highest , supreme , ultimate
mudā = inst. sg. mud: f. joy , delight , gladness , happiness
parītaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. surrounded , encompassed , filled , taken possession of, seized (with instr.)

akuruta = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect kṛ: to do, make ; to give an order , commission
japa-homa-maṅgalādyāḥ (acc. pl. f.): including the muttering of prayers, the casting of ghee into fires, and ceremonies to bring good luck
japa: m. muttering prayers , repeating in a murmuring tone passages from scripture or charms or names of a deity , &c , muttered prayer or spell
homa: m. the act of making an oblation to the devas or gods by casting clarified butter into the fire; oblation with fire , burnt-offering , any oblation or sacrifice
maṅgala: n. happiness , felicity , welfare , bliss; anything auspicious or tending to a lucky issue (e.g. a good omen , a prayer , benediction , auspicious ornament or amulet , a festival or any solemn ceremony on important occasions &c; a good old custom
√ maṅg: to go , move
√ maṅk: to move or to adorn
ādi: beginning with , et cetera , and so on

parama-bhavāya (dat. sg. m.): for the highest prosperity
parama: mfn. chief , highest , primary , most prominent or conspicuous ; (in comp.) very much , excessively , excellently , in the highest degree
bhava: m. coming into existence , birth; becoming ; worldly existence , the world (= saṁsāra ) ; (with Buddhists) continuity of becoming (a link in the twelvefold chain of causation) ; well-being , prosperity , welfare , excellence (= śreyas )
sutasya (gen. sg.): of his son
devatejyāḥ (acc. pl.): f. sacrifice to a deity
devatā: f. godhead , divinity (abstr. & concr.); image of a deity , idol
ijyā: f. (from √ yaj) a sacrifice , making offerings to the gods or manes ; f. a gift , donation ; f. worship , reverence
√ yaj: to worship , adore , honour (esp. with sacrifice or oblations)

生子滿十日 安隱心已泰
普祠諸天神 廣施於有道

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