Wednesday, August 1, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.1: Politics & Economics (I)

 −−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Sālā)
ā janmano janma-jarānta-gasya tasyātmajasyātma-jitaḥ sa rājā
ahany-ahany-artha-gajāśva-mitrair-vṛddhiṁ yayau sindhur-ivāmbu-vegaiḥ || 2.1

The king, following the birth of his self-begotten

– The self-conquering son
who would get to the bottom
of begetting and aging --

Day by day waxed mightier
by dint of wealth, elephants, horses and allies,

As a river develops by dint of its tributaries.

The 6th of the 55 palm leaves of the old Nepalese manuscript (which was the primary source for the text published by EH Johnston in the 1930s) ends with the 6th syllable of the 1st pāda. This syllable is actually je in the old Nepalese manuscript: it needed to be amended to ja to fit the metre, in which the 6th syllable is short. Since EHJ did not have access to the 7th and 8th leaves, from here to 2.35 he relied upon EB Cowell's text. EBC's text published in the 1890s was based on three manuscripts that preserved the transcript which Amṛtananda took from leaves 7 and 8, in around the 1830s, before those leaves were lost. I am making a file to show all the variants, which I will publish in due course on my webpage. The broad textual point is that for the first 35 verses in this canto, the text is more open to doubt than for those verses where EHJ had direct access to the old Nepalese manuscript.

The beginning of this canto is tied to the end of the last canto by the word vṛddhi, “growth, development, prosperity,” originally translated in 1.89 as “happy event.” In order to preserve the linkage, I have changed the translation of vṛddhi in 1.89 to “happy development,” and translated vṛddhiṁ yayau in today's verse as both “waxed mightier” and “develops.”

The next five verses expand on the elements cited in today's verse by describing the king's acquisition of treasures (2.2), elephants (2.3), horses (2.4) cows (2.5), and friends/allies (2.6). The 1st phase of Canto 2 continues along these lines, portraying in the rosiest light the circumstances in King Śuddhodana's kingdom following the prince's birth, so that the child was called Sarvārtha-siddha, Accomplisher of Every Aim (2.17) – because his birth was like the last piece in a perfect jig-saw. The 2nd phase of Canto 2 begins with the description in 2.18 of the premature death of Māyā, the infant prince's mother.

So the main point of today's verse is to introduce a somewhat idealized picture of Kapilavastu around the time of the Buddha's birth. Even in painting a rosy picture of a prospering kingdom, however, Aśvaghoṣa does not stop at considering prosperity in the abstract.

“Religious problems,” my teacher Rev. Gudo Nishijima used to say “are economic problems.” That made sense to me when I was a young bloke, with a degree in Accounting & Financial Management but without much real experience of anything. Nowadays I am not inclined to accept that there is any such thing as a religious problem which is anything other than a delusion. But financial problems there are, economic problems there are, political problems there are, and ecological problems there are. This I think is why Aśvaghoṣa makes a point of discussing prosperity in the concrete terms of wealth, elephants, horses, and allies (artha-gajāśva-mitraih).

Would you like to know my opinion about the ordination of women bishops in the Church of England? I honestly could not give a flying fuck. I am continuing to monitor with interest, however, the price of gold in US dollars.

Political problems are economic problems. Economic problems are financial problems. Ecological problems are political and economic and financial problems. But religious problems are only delusions.

Aside from this main point, today's verse contains Aśvaghoṣa's first description in his own words -- in his role as narrator – of who the Buddha was. In Canto 1 Aśvaghoṣa praised the Buddha accurately through the mouth of Asita, thereby suggesting indirectly his affirmation of Asita, via the principle that only a buddha knows a buddha. But here in today's verse Aśvaghoṣa praises the Buddha in his own words as self-conquering (ātma-jit) and getting/going to the bottom/end of begetting/birth and aging (janma-jarānta-ga).

So today's verse stimulates me to think what it really means to conquer oneself, or to be the master of oneself. And as usual, after some reflection on my own chequered past, I come to the conclusion that I do not know what it means to conquer myself.... though I have picked up along the way some clues about what is to defeat myself.

I continue day by day to defeat myself on many levels. But the most basic and essential way in which I defeat myself is by pulling various parts of my self (head, back, arms, legs) in towards my pelvis. I don't do it as grossly and misguidedly as I used to do, in the days when I actually did all these things on purpose, guided by a deeply faulty sense of what it was to sit upright. In those days I was like a kind of laboratory experiment for how to set up a conflict between different centres of oneself – head, heart, and hara.

Any kind of religious belief, or religious idea, is liable to stimulate end-gaining, or what the Buddha calls thirsting (tṛṣṇā). And in a person of faulty sensory appreciation, end-gaining always sets up a conflict between head, heart, and hara. But this, as I see it, is not a religious problem. It is a problem whose root cause is thirsting and whose symptoms are bad habits of posture.

In conclusion then, I still wouldn't claim to know how to conquer myself, any more than I would claim to know how to sit in a good posture. But I have experienced during Alexander work the stopping off at source of certain self-defeating tendencies. This stopping, associated with the awesome power of saying NO, is sometimes associated further with a release of water from the eyes and the opening up of one's whole respiratory mechanism.

I never get tired of recommending people who are interested in the teachings of the Buddha-ancestors to look for themselves into what FM Alexander discovered. Alexander work is a big help in the effort to get to the bottom of what teachers like Aśvaghośa and Dogen were really saying.

ā: ind. (with a following abl.) up to , to , as far as ; from
janmanaḥ (abl. sg.): n. birth
janma-jarānta-gasya (gen. sg.): getting to the end of birth and aging
janman: n. birth
jarā: f. old age
anta-ga: mfn. going to the end , thoroughly conversant with

tasya (gen. sg. m.): his
ātmajasya (gen. sg.) m. "born from or begotten by one's self " , a son
ātma-jitaḥ = gen. sg. m. ātma-jit : mfn. master of one's self
ātman: m. self
jit: mfn. ifc. winning , acquiring, conquering
ji: to win or acquire (by conquest or in gambling) , conquer (in battle) , vanquish (in a game or lawsuit) , defeat , excel , surpass ; to conquer (the passions) , overcome or remove (any desire or difficulties or diseases); to be victorious , gain the upper hand
sa (nom. sg. m.): he, the [king]
rājā (nom. sg.): m. king

ahani = loc. sg. ahar: a day
ahany ahani: day by day
artha-gajāśva-mitraiḥ (inst. pl.): with wealth, elephants, horses, and friends
artha: utility; thing; substance , wealth , property , opulence , money
gaja: an elephant
aśva: horse
mitra: m. a friend , companion , associate ; n. an ally (a prince whose territory adjoins that of an immediate neighbour who is called ari , enemy)

vṛddhim (acc. sg.): f. growth , increase , augmentation , rise , advancement , extension , welfare , prosperity , success , fortune , happiness
yayau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. yā: with the acc. of an abstract noun = to go to any state or condition , become , be
sindhuḥ (nom. sg.): m. a river , stream (esp. the indus, and in this sense said to be the only river regarded as m. ); m. the country around the indus (commonly called Sindh )
iva: like
ambu-vegaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. a current of water
ambu: n. water
vega: m. a violent agitation ; a stream , flood , current

時白淨王家 以生聖子故
親族名子弟 群臣悉忠良 
象馬寶車輿 國財七寶器
日日轉増勝 隨應而集生 

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