Sunday, August 12, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.12: Strong Social Fabric (III) – Pious Good Works

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Indravajrā)
udyāna-devāyatanāśramāṇāṁ kūpa-prapā-puṣkariṇī-vanānām
cakruḥ kriyās-tatra ca dharma-kāmāḥ pratyakṣataḥ svargam-ivopalabhya || 2.12

Gardens, temples, and ashrams,

Wells and drinking fountains, lotus-ponds and woods,

Lovers of dharma established there
as acts of religious sacrifice --

Almost as if they had seen heaven with their own eyes.

If the picture of Kapilavastu that Aśvaghoṣa is painting is, as I argued yesterday, nothing like so affirmative towards religion as people are prone to think, neither is Aśvaghoṣa's thinking a humourless variation on the theme of a grimly dogmatic secularism.

What is being expressed in today's verse, as I read it, is rather the kind of tolerance that is born of abandoning dogmatism. Aśvaghoṣa possibly felt, along with Deng Xiapong, that it doesn't matter whether it is a tabby cat or a black cat – a cat that catches mice is a good cat.

That said, I cannot help detecting a note of irreligious cynicism, or sardonic humour, in the word iva, which means “as if” or “almost.”

Today's verse is reminiscent of a verse in the 1st canto of Saundara-nanda which also features an inflection from praty-akṣa (“present before the eyes”) in combination with iva (“as if” / “almost”):
Even in the face of a precarious immunity to rebirth and notwithstanding inconsistencies in their time-honoured texts, / There and then, as if seeing with their own eyes (pratyakṣiṇa iva), the great ascetics practised asceticism. // SN1.14 //
In the final analysis, there is invariably something unreal, or pretend, in action based on belief in what somebody else – like a prophet or a great teacher – said.

Religious people have never stopped believing in heaven, almost with the conviction of somebody who saw heaven with his or her own eyes. But in reality nobody has seen heaven with his or her own eyes, because in reality there is no such place as heaven.

The difference between seeing with one's own eyes, and almost seeing with one's own eyes, doesn't sound that great. But in that little unobtrusive word iva, Aśvaghoṣa is quietly pointing not so much to a gap as to a gulf or a chasm.

Buddhist scholars say that Aśvaghoṣa was concerned with religious conversion. But that view is totally wrong. When a dewdrop reflects the moon and sky, to use Dogen's famous metaphor, nothing gets converted from anything to anything else. Dewdrops really exist down here on earth and we have all seen them with our own eyes. The moon and sky exist up there in the sky and we have all seen them with our own eyes. Heaven does not come into it, except in the deluded thoughts of religious believers -- and the sardonic musings of old cynics like Aśvaghoṣa.

The Chinese translator, by the way, manifesting again his non-doing agenda (the bastard!), seems to follow again the principle of "if in doubt, describe things as arising of themselves/ naturally / spontaneously." Hence he describes the temples, shrines, wells and fountains as 自然生 "arising of themselves." Aśvaghoṣa's point, on the contrary, was that those things did not arise of themselves: they arose out of a religious agenda.

udyāna-deva-āyatana-āśramāṇāṁ (gen. pl.): gardens, temples, and ashrams
udyāna: n. the act of going out ; a park , garden ; purpose, motive
devāyatana: n. " the dwelling of a god " , a temple
āyatana: n. resting-place , support , seat , place , home , house , abode
āśrama: mn. ( √śram) , a hermitage , the abode of ascetics ,
√śram: to exert oneself

kūpa-prapā-puṣkariṇī-vanānām (gen. pl.): wells, drinking fountains, lotus-ponds and groves
kūpa: m. hole, a pit well
pra-pā: f. a place for supplying water , a place for watering cattle or a shed on the road-side containing a reservoir of water for travellers , fountain , cistern , well
puṣkariṇī: f. a lotus pool , any pool or pond
vana: n. a forest , wood , grove , thicket , quantity of lotuses or other plants growing in a thick cluster (but in older language also applied to a single tree)

cakruḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. kṛ: to do
kriyāḥ (acc. pl.): f. doing , performing , performance , occupation with (in comp.) , business , act , action , undertaking , activity , work , labour; a religious rite or ceremony, sacrificial act, sacrifice ; religious action , worship
tatra: ind. there
ca: and
dharma-kāmāḥ (nom. pl.): lovers of dharma; those desirous of dharma
dharma-kāma: mfn. loving justice , observing right
kāma: n. (ifc.) desirous of , desiring , having a desire or intention

praty-akṣa-taḥ: ind. before the eyes , visibly , perceptibly ; evidently , clearly , plainly
svargam (acc. sg.): m. heaven
iva: like, as if, almost
upalabhya = abs. upa- √ labh: to seize , get possession of , acquire , receive , obtain, find; to perceive , behold , hear

天廟諸寺舍 園林井泉池
一切如天物 應時自然生

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