Friday, July 27, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.88: Party Time

⏑⏑⏑⏑⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−− Puṣpitāgrā
bhavanam-atha vigāhya śākya-rājo bhava iva ṣaṇ-mukha-janmanā pratītaḥ |
idam-idam-iti harṣa-pūrṇa-vaktro bahu-vidha-puṣṭi-yaśas-karaṁ vyadhatta || 1.88

Headlong into his palace, then, dived the Śākya king,

Happy as Bhava at the birth of six-faced Kārttikeya.

“Do this! Do that!” 

he commanded, his face brimming with joy, 

As he made arrangements 

for all sorts of lavishness and splendour.

Six-faced Kārttikeya was the son of the fire-god Agni, aka Bhava, mentioned before in BC1.61.

The irony that I read in today's verse is that Gautama Buddha, as Aśvaghoṣa has described him in Saundara-nanda, shining like the sun, far from being six-faced, was the least two-faced human being in history.

Sitting in lotus, it seems to me, does not necessarily stop a person from being two-faced, any more than it stops a person from being optimistic, or from making the mistake of falling into any kind of -ism, such as Theravada Buddhism, for example, or Zen Buddhism. But sitting in lotus has inherent in it a lengthening and widening direction, which can be summarized as “thinking up,” so that the tendency that is originally associated with sitting in lotus is away from numbers like two and six, and towards the number one. 

Today's and tomorrow's verse are part of the flourish with which the canto of a kāvya poem customarily ends. The whole series of nine verses from 1.80 written in the Puṣpitāgrā metre are part of that flourish. But Aśvaghoṣa as I read him has used that customary poetic flourish to camouflage an ironic attack on all things religious. And yesterday, albeit so stealthily that his enemies might never even notice, Aśvaghoṣa's attack on religion drew to a climax when he radioed in the coordinates for a bomb drop very close to home, on both of the original schools of Buddhism.

Thus when EHJ opined that “Our first task is obviously to determine the sect or school to which he [Aśvaghoṣa The Buddhist] belonged,” he had not noticed that Aśvaghoṣa had already dropped a bomb on that doubt forever, by very subtly denigrating not only the elders who trailed behind but also the members of applauding samghas, great and small.

How is it that the teaching of the Buddha, no more than a hundred years after the Buddha's death, could have got divided into two? One way of understanding this massive howler on the part of those who recognized two groups, one called called the Sthavira-vādins and another called the Mahā-saṁghikas,  was that the howler was a manifestation of a failure to appreciate the real meaning of the number one. 

If I speak from my own experience, when I was at primary school I was generally thought of as being “top of the class,” partly as a result of being ranked number one at end-of-year exams. Then when I skipped a year and went to a selective secondary school I was no longer number one academically, but I had the experience of captaining school rugby teams up to under-16 level. Somehow these experiences ingrained in me an idea that it is important for me to be number one.

But in the Buddha's teaching this idea of being number one is just an idea to be abandoned. When one sees this idea as it is, it is tied up with both the tendencies that Aśvaghoṣa quietly denigrates in yesterday's verse – namely (1) the Sthavira-vādin tendency to assign importance to hierarchy, to the senior over the junior; and (2) the Mahā-saṁghika tendency to assign importance to the group over the individual.

The antidote to the poison of an idea like being number one, the Buddha tells Nanda at the end of Saundara-nanda Canto 14, is to practise being aware at some solitary place:
In this manner, my friend, repair to a place suited for practice, free of people and free of noise, a place for lying down and sitting; / For by first achieving solitude of the body it is easy to obtain solitude of the mind. // 14.46 // The man of redness, the tranquillity of his mind unrealized, who does not take to a playground of solitude, / Is injured as though, unable to regain a track, he is walking on very thorny ground. // 14.47 // For a seeker who fails to see reality but stands in the tawdry playground of objects, / It is no easier to rein in the mind than to drive a foraging bull away from corn. // 14.48 // But just as a bright fire dies down when not fanned by the wind, / So too, in solitary places, does an unstirred mind easily come to quiet. // 14.49 // One who eats anything at any place, and wears any clothes,Who dwells in enjoyment of his own being and loves to be anywhere without people: / He is to be known as a success, a knower of the taste of peace and ease, whose mind is made up -- He avoids involvement with others like a thorn. // 14.50 //
As a tendency, then, following the Buddha's teaching encourages us to drop off the idea of being number one in a hiearchical sense, or within a group context, and to realize a deeper and more real meaning of the number one, in connection with realizing the one great purpose (Lotus Sutra:  一大事 因縁), by naturally becoming one piece ( 一片). 

This realization has got nothing to do with elders or juniors in a hierarchy and nothing to do with others in a group. It has to do with a one-to-one transmission from Gautama Buddha.

Coming back to today's verse, I think Aśvaghoṣa made the description of the king's exuberance as vivid as he did, for a particular reason, akin to a pickpocket's subterfuge.

Looking back on it, the celebratory hugs of the guy you briefly encountered on a high night out, when after a few drinks your face and his face were brimming with happiness, only begin to make sense in the cold light of the morning after, when you realize that some bastard has picked your pocket.

The real money, using that allegory, was contained in yesterday's verse, and today's verse is primarily part of the pickpocket's subterfuge.

Or to go back to the bomb-dropping analogy, it is as if -- in order to drown out the sounds of B52 engines, dropping bombs and flying ordinance -- an orchestra is starting up, and Aśvaghoṣa is belting out a song of happiness and joy, lavishness and splendour.

Another image that springs to mind is of a Buddhist academic and an investigative journalist, with notebooks in hand, coming to interrogate Aśvaghoṣa. Their burning question is this: 

“Did you really intend, Reverend Patriarch, to allude with the words sthavira and saṁgha to the infamous schism that took place at the 2nd Council, around 100 years after the Buddha's death?”

Aśvaghoṣa takes the notebooks, replaces them with glasses of champagne, blows into a blowout party trumpet and cries:

“This is a joyful occasion to celebrate the Buddha's birth. Let's party!”

bhavanam (acc. sg.): n. a place of abode , mansion , home , house , palace , dwelling
atha: and so, then
vigāhya = abs. vi- √ gāh: to plunge or dive into , bathe in , enter , penetrate , pervade , betake one's self into (acc. or loc.)
śākya-rājaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the Śākya king

bhavaḥ (nom. sg.): m. 'being, birth, becoming ; well-being , prosperity , welfare , excellence'; name of Agni; name of a deity attending on rudra and frequently connected with śarva (later N. of śiva or a form of śiva)
iva: like
ṣaṇ-mukha-janmanā (inst. sg.): the birth of six-faced Kārttikeya
ṣaṇ-mukha: 'having six mouths or faces', name of Kārttikeya, son of śiva and pārvatī (popularly regarded as god of war , because he leads the gaṇas or hosts of śiva against the demon hosts; accord. to one legend he was son of śiva without the intervention of pārvatī , the generative energy of śiva being cast into the fire and then received by the Ganges , whence he is sometimes described as son of agni and gaṅgā ; when born he was fostered by the six kṛttikās, and these offering their six breasts to the child he became six-headed)
janman: n. birth
pratītaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. satisfied , cheerful , glad , pleased 

idam: this , this here , referring to something near the speaker ; ind. in this manner
iti: “....,” thus
harṣa-pūrṇa-vaktraḥ (nom. sg. m.): his face full of joy
harṣa: m. bristling; joy , pleasure , happiness
pūrṇa: mfn. filled with
vaktra: n. " organ of speech " , the mouth , face ,

bahu-vidha-puṣṭi-yaśas-karam (acc. sg. m.): the effecting of all sorts of opulence and splendour
bahu-vidha: mfn. of many sorts or kinds , manifold , various
puṣṭi: f. well-nourished condition , fatness , plumpness , growth , increase , thriving , prosperity , wealth , opulence , comfort;
yaśas: n. beautiful appearance , beauty , splendour , worth ; honour , glory , fame
kara: mfn. a doer , maker , causer , doing , making , causing , producing; m. the act of doing , making &c
vyadhatta = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect vi- √ dhā: to distribute , apportion , grant , bestow ; to put in order , arrange , dispose , prepare , make ready ; to perform , effect , produce , cause , occasion , make , do

如摩醯首羅 忽生六面子
設種種衆具 供給及請福
今王生太子 設衆具亦然

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