api ca śata-sahasra-pūrṇa-saṁkhyāḥ sthira-balavat-tanayāḥ sahema-śṅgīḥ |
anupagata-jarāḥ payasvinīr-gāḥ svayam-adadāt-suta-vṛddhaye dvijebhyaḥ || 1.84
Again, cows numbering fully a hundred thousand,
With strong, sturdy calves and gilded horns,
Unimpaired by age or infirmity,
yielding milk in abudance,
He freely gave to the twice-born brahmins,
with a view to his son's advancement.
EHJ points in today's verse and in 1.89 to a play on the word vṛddhi (prosperity, growth, advancement), which, EHJ notes, means technically 'the impurity caused by childbirth.'
PO refers to a parallel in the Upaniṣads (Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad 3.1.1), where King Janaka gives one thousand cows, to each of whose horns are tied ten pieces of gold.
The attention of educated brahmins of Aśvaghoṣa's day, like the attention of Indophile scholars of recent times, was most probably drawn primarily to such puns and allusions.
With their attention thus drawn, ancient Indian brahmins along with modern scholars who are fans of brahmanism, are not liable to be offended by the real message of today's verse, which as I read it is one that subverts the ancient beliefs and practices of the brahmanical tradition.
Aśvaghoṣa is neither attacking the king's generosity nor attacking the king's desire to see his son prosper and advance. What Aśvaghoṣa as I hear him is attacking, albeit indirectly and through nothing more violent than irony, is the false perception or belief in the king's mind of a causal linkage between giving to the brahmins and securing the desired advancement of his son.
Aśvaghoṣa's irony is concentrated in the last pāda, which tells us that the king gave freely, willingly, spontaeously (svayam) because of a purpose or agenda, namely, for his son's advancement (suta-vṛddhaye).
So just as yesterday's verse causes us to question what purity of mind really is, today's verse is asking us to consider what act of giving is truly free, willing, spontaneous, and what act of free giving is obstructed or hindered or tainted by some personal agenda.
Pondering this problem in my sleep, I woke up asking myself what example I could think of giving that is truly free, spontaneous, natural. One example that sprang to mind from many years ago was my wife breast-feeding our sons. Then it occured to me that when Aśvaghoṣa asked himself for a natural example of free giving, he also might have thought of the example of a mammalian mother giving her milk. And this might by why at the centre of today's verse are a hundred thousand cows with calves, each overflowing with milk.
Today's verse then, as I read it, is all about giving, freely or otherwise. On the surface it relates to brahminism and to a legend in the brahmanical tradition. But digging deeper it goes to the heart of sitting-zen, and to the heart of a person's efforts to serve the buddha-ancestors – activities which, in practice if not in theory, are very easily tainted by the expectation that ultimately there might be something in it for me.
On the surface the king's great act of giving is exemplary behaviour, and the cows are incidental. But digging deeper, the king's behaviour is irrational, superstitious, religious, and it is the cows in today's verse who are the true examplars of free giving.
These truths are not revealed to me without me digging for them. But when I dig them out and leave them on public display they don't seem to have anything to do with me. There they just are – fucking brilliant in themselves. Waiting for some non-brahmin non-Buddhist to come along with a spade and dig them out, all Aśvaghoṣa's nuggets were already there, untarnished by hundreds of years of neglect, shining with a brilliance that keeps on surprising. And what surprises me more is that people don't seem particular interested. Yesterday's post, for example, attracted 8 page views. A somewhat hopeful sign, however, is that India has just overtaken Japan on the new visitor counter – about time, too. Come on, India, wake the fuck up! This is your long-lost, irreligious cultural heritage that I am excavating for you.
In return what can I expect? Some kind of statue perhaps, on a Himālayan peak, of me posing heroically at a keyboard, neck craning forward to read a computer screen? Or maybe a statue of me sitting in full lotus, at which brahmins and Buddhist scholars can come along and throw rotten tomatoes.
api ca: and also, again
śata-sahasra-pūrṇa-saṁkhyāḥ (acc. pl. f.): amounting to fully a hundred thousand
śata-sahasra: n. sg. or pl. a hundred thousand (the counted object may be in gen. or in apposition or comp.)
śata: n. a hundred
sahasra: n. a thousand
pūrṇa: mfn. filled , full ; complete , all , entire ; n. fulness , plenty , abundance
saṁkhyā: f. a number , sum , total (ifc. " amounting to ")
sthira-balavat-tanayāḥ (acc. pl. f.): with hardy and strong calves
sthira: mfn. firm , hard , solid , compact , strong
bala-vat: mfn. possessing power , powerful , mighty , strong
tanaya: n. posterity , family , race , offspring , child
sahema-śṛṅgīḥ (acc. pl. f.): with golden horns
sa: (possessive prefix)
heman: n. gold ; gold piece
śṛṅga: n. ifc. f(ā or ī) horn
anupagata-jarāḥ (acc. pl. f.): mfn. not impaired by old age or infirmity
upagata: mfn. arrived, happened
jara: mfn. ( √ jṝ) becoming old; m. the act of wearing out , wasting
√jṝ: to make old or decrepit ; to cause to grow old ,
payasvinīḥ (acc. pl. f.): mfn. abounding in sap or milk
payas: n. ( √pī, to overflow) any fluid or juice , (esp.) milk , water , rain
gāḥ (acc. pl.): f. cow
svayam: ind. self , one's self, of or by one's self , spontaneously , voluntarily , of one's own accord
adadāt = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect dā: to give
suta-vṛddhaye (dat. sg.): for his son's welfare
vṛddhi: f. growth , increase , augmentation , rise , advancement , extension , welfare , prosperity , success , fortune , happiness
dvijebhyaḥ (dat. pl.): to the twice-born