iti nara-pati-putra-janma-vṛddhyāṁ sa-jana-padaṁ kapilāhvayaṁ puraṁ tat |
dhana-da-puram-ivāpsaro-'vakīrṇaṁ muditam-abhūn-nala-kūbara-prasūtau || 1.89
iti buddha-carite mahā-kāvye bhagavat-prasūtir-nāma prathamaḥ sargaḥ || 1 ||
Thus at the happy event
which was the birth of the king's son,
That city named after Kapila,
along with surrounding settlements,
Showed its delight,
just as the city of the Wealth-Giver,
spilling over with celestial nymphs,
Became delighted at the birth of Nala-kūbara.
The first canto, titled “A Beautiful Birth,”
in an epic story of awakened action.
EBC, EHJ and PO all have -vṛddhyā (inst. sg.) at the end of the 1st pāda. The amendment to -vṛddhyāṁ (loc. sg.), however, only requires the adding of a dot, and mirrors the grammar of -prasūtau at the end of the verse.
As mentioned in the comment to BC1.84, EHJ sees a play here on the word "vṛddhyā, which means technically 'the impurity caused by childbirth,' jananāśauca. Ceremonial impurity is not ordinarily a cause of pleasure, but in this case it was so."
I think the reason EHJ focused on such a technical irrelevance is that he missed the real point Aśvaghoṣa has been making, albeit very indirectly, throughout this opening canto. That point has been to highlight the hypocrisy of the kind of religious behaviour that tends to be construed as sacred, selfless, self-sacrificing, sincere, but which upon investigation is seen to be self-serving. Not only the aristocratic brahmins who told the king what they thought he wanted to hear, but also those groups of sycophantic subjects lower down the ancient Indian food-chain who applauded the king on his way to the palace, were all on a par with those citizens who followed the cult of Kubera, the heroic protector of precious metals, minerals, jewels and wealth generally. Here is an image gleaned from the internet of that unlikely hero (who is usually depicted as a dwarfish figure with a large paunch):
Would the citizens of the city of Kubera have rejoiced with such unbridled climactic exuberance if Kubera, here called dhana-da,“the Wealth Giver,” had not been so richly endowed with precious metals and jewels? One suspects that Aśvoghoṣa suspects not.
This verse, then, as I read it, is yet another ironical expression of Aśvoghoṣa's irreligious cynicism.
And it is in this light that I read the phrase apsaro-'vakīrṇam which at first glance seems simply to mean “filled with celestial nymphs” -- hence EBC: “crowded with heavenly nymphs;” EHJ: “thronged with Apsarases;” PO: “thronging with apsarases.” But I suspect that apsaro-'vakīrṇam might really be intended to convey a connotation of the spilling of semen, as per the first definition of avakīrṇa in the MW dictionary. So at one end of the spectrum of translations I considered is a translation that hints at this connotation, like “spilling over with celestial nymphs,” and at the other extreme is a translation that makes this connotation explicit, like “where semen would be spilled over celestial nymphs.” In the middle might be a translation along the lines of “spending itself on celestial nymphs.”
The vital philosophical point to grasp, as I see it, is that celestial nymphs are the ultimate objects of male pursuit, and from a cynical standpoint that is all those nymphs have ever been – illusory objects. In reality no city has ever been inhabited by any celestial nymph who was anything more solid than a masturbatory fantasy.
For this reason, I decided upon “nymph-absorbed," which at least has the merit, I reasoned, of bringing out the sense of celestial nymphs as objects – even if the more concrete connotation is lost of the strewing of semen. On further reflection, however, I went back to the more ambiguous “spilling over with celestial nymphs."
In the colophon, buddha-carita ostensibly means The Life of Buddha (EBC), Acts of the Buddha (EHJ), or Life of the Buddha (PO). But, as he states explicitly at the end of Saundara-nanda, Aśvaghoṣa was not concerned with anything so much as he was concerned with conveying teaching that might lead every reader in the direction of cessation (vyupaśāntaye; SN18.63). Elucidating a principle to work to in practice, and not historical accuracy, was Aśvaghoṣa's primary aim. For that reason, I should like provisionally to translate buddha-carite mahā-kāvye as “in the epic story of the action of an awakened man," or as “in the epic story of awakened action."
Because Aśvaghoṣa's primary intention is to tell a universal story of a man's awakening and subsequent enlightened action, he is concerned every step of the way with that fundamental obstacle to awakening which is the tendency to pursue ends or objects directly, unmindfully, relying on feelings that are faulty. This is the tendency, or habit, that FM Alexander called “end-gaining.”
I think Aśvaghoṣa observed that when ancient Indian brahmins and courtiers and humble subjects rejoiced at happy events in the lives of their rulers, such rejoicing was not entirely spontaneous. It was rather somewhat contrived, artificial, based upon some end-gaining agenda. For an outstanding modern-day example of the non-spontaneity to which I refer, we need look no further than the exagerrated public displays of emotions that seem to grip the people of North Korea, at least when the camera is on them. What could be further from awakened action?
Awakened action, as we saw in the epic story of beautiful joy (saundara-nande mahā-kāvye) is not the ugly unconscious striving of somebody in pursuit of an object. It is rather the beautiful action of somebody who has ceased the direct, end-gaining pursuit of all objects. This cessation of end-gaining, I think, is essentially what Aśvaghoṣa means in SN18.63 by vyupaśānti, cessation.
Cessation does not mean to stop doing things. Rather it means to stop triggering into action wrong inner patterns deep in the brain and nervous system. These wrong inner patterns are the “doing” which, in the practice of non-doing, we aim to prevent, or to stop off at source.
nara-pati-putra-janma-vṛddhyām (loc. sg.) at the positive development which was the birth of the son of the lord of men
nara-pati: m. 'man-lord,' king
putra: m. son
janman: n. birth
vṛddhī: f. growth , increase , augmentation , rise , advancement , extension , welfare , prosperity , success , fortune , happiness
sa-jana-padam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. having the same country , a fellow-countryman
sa: (possessive prefix)
jana-pada: m. sg. or pl. a community , nation , people (as opposed to the sovereign) ; sg. an empire , inhabited country
kapilāhvayam (nom. sg. n.): named after Kapila
āhvaya: m. appellation , name (generally ifc.)
puram (nom. sg.) n. the ciy
tat (nom. sg. n.): that
dhana-da-puram (nom. sg. n.): the city of the 'Wealth-Giving' Kubera
dhana-da: m. 'wealth-giving', N. of kubera [chief of the evil beings or spirits or darkness having the N. vaiśravaṇa; (afterwards) the god of riches and treasure (regent of the northern quarter which is hence called kubera-guptā diś) (he is regarded as the son of viśravas by iḍaviḍā , the chief of the yakṣas , and a friend of rudra ; he is represented as having three legs and only eight teeth]
iva: like, as
apsaro-'vakīrṇam (nom. sg. n.): spilling over with celestial nymphs ; having spent itself on celestial nymphs
apsaras: f. celestial nymph
avakīrṇa: mfn. who has spilt his semen virile , i.e. violated his vow of chastity , poured upon , covered with , filled
ava- √ kṝ : to pour out or down , spread , scatter ; to spill one's semen virile ; to bestrew , pour upon , cover with , fill
muditam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. delighted , joyful , glad
abhūt = 3rd pers. sg. aorist bhū: to be, become ; to manifest , exhibit , show , betray;
nala-kūbara-prasūtau (loc. sg.): at the birth of Nala-kūbara
nala-kūbara: m. N. of a son of kubera
prasūti: f. birth
buddha-carite (loc. sg.): the action of an awakened man; awakened action
buddha: mfn. awakened; the buddha
carita: mfn. " practised " , in comp.; n. going , moving , course ; n. acting , doing , practice , behaviour , acts , deeds , adventures
mahā-kāvye (loc. sg.): in the epic story
bhagavat-prasūtiḥ (nom. sg. m.): a beautiful birth
bhaga-vat: mfn. possessing fortune , fortunate , prosperous , happy; glorious , illustrious , divine , adorable , venerable ; holy (applied to gods , demigods , and saints as a term of address); m. " the divine or adorable one ", name of viṣṇu-kṛṣṇa
bhaga: good fortune , happiness , welfare , prosperity ; dignity , majesty , distinction , excellence , beauty , loveliness
-vat: (possessive suffix)
prasūti: f. procreation , generation , bringing forth (children or young) , birth
nāma: ind. by name
prathamaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the first
sargaḥ (nom. sg.): m. canto, chapter