Sunday, August 19, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.19: A Good Enough Mother Causes a Child to Grow

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Kīrti)
tataḥ kumāraṁ sura-garbha-kalpaṁ snehena bhāvena ca nirviśeṣam
mātṛ-ṣvasā mātṛ-sama-prabhāvā saṁvardhayām-ātmajavad-babhūva || 2.19

Then the prince whose peers were the progeny of gods,

Was brought up by the unconditional means
of love and affection: 

His mother's sister, who was like his mother in her power, 

Caused him to grow as if he were her own son. 

Like many of Aśvaghoṣa's verses, today's verse has the object in the 1st pāda, an adverbial phrase in the 2nd pāda, the subject in the 3rd pāda, and the all-important verb in the 4th pāda – the prince, with love, his mother's sister caused to grow. The problem with changing the order to sound more normal in English – his mother's sister brought up the prince with love – is that an underlying philosophical progression is obscured. This is what happened in yesterday's verse, when discussion of how the prince rivalled “a divine seer” was moved from the 1st pāda in Aśvaghoṣa's original to the 2nd line in my 4-line translation.

As a compromise in today's verse, I have translated the verb saṁvardhayām babhūva twice, as “brought up” in the 2nd line and as “caused to grow” in the 4th line. Thus, though the elegance of Aśvaghoṣa's original sentence is diminished, the above translation at least has the virtue of maintaining the four-phased progression that underlies the four pādas of Aśvaghoṣa's Sanskrit.

The 1st pāda, as also the 1st pāda of yesterday's verse (though in my translation I could not help but move “Which could rival that of a divine seer,” to the 2nd line), relates to comparison with gods, or the divine.

The 2nd pāda is antithetical to the first in bringing the discussion back down to earth, where even the most divine of babies need, before all else, unconditional love.

In providing this love in practice, the 3rd pāda suggests – providing the tough love centred on discipline and the meaning of “No” --  the prince's maternal aunt was good enough. She was as much of a figure of majesty and authority (prabhāvā), a force to be reckoned with, as the baby's natural mother would have been.

The real import of the verse, however, is concentrated in the 4th pāda which says that she brought him up, or caused/allowed him to grow. She nurtured a process that would culminate, about 35 years later, in the Buddha's teaching of a way to eradicate the faults that start with thirsting.

saṁvardhayām-ātmajavad-babhūva means “[his mother's sister] brought him up as her own son,” which is the statement of an important historical fact in the Buddha's biography.

At the same time, saṁvardhayām babhūva  means “she caused him to grow,” which is a point to reflect upon in an epic story of awakened action.

Today's verse has caused me, for one, to reflect again, as the end of Saundara-nanda Canto 16 also caused me to reflect, that understanding the four noble truths is the culmination of a process of growth.

This process of growth, as I was arguing yesterday, is centred on sitting-meditation in which a round cushion is pushing up the sitting bones, away from the centre of the earth, and a floor or the ground beneath a sitting mat, similarly, is pushing up the knees. If the process of progressing towards understanding of the noble truths is not centred on sitting-meditation – if it is centred, for example, on religious or academic study of ancient texts – then it is some other process, and not the growth process that Māyā's sister nurtured.

In preparing this comment on Saturday evening, I finished by quoting these words spoken by the Buddha to Nanda at the end of  Saundara-nanda Canto 16:
After ploughing and protecting the soil with great pains, a farmer gains a bounteous crop of corn; After striving to plumb the ocean's waters, a diver revels in a bounty of coral and pearls; / After seeing off with arrows the endeavour of rival kings, a king enjoys royal dominion. So direct your energy in pursuit of peace (śāntaye), for in directed energy (vīrye), undoubtedly, lies all growth (sarva-rddhayaḥ)." // SN16.98 //
In this verse, the Buddha tells Nanda where growth lies – in energy (vīrye) directed in the direction of peace/cessation (śāntaye). But digging deeper, I asked myself, as I slept and as I sat, what is growth itself?

The epic story of saundara Nanda, beautiful Joy, it is generally accepted in the world of Buddhist studies, is a story of religious conversion. But is it fuck a story of religious conversion. It is a story of individual growth. So for an impractical fool who likes to ask himself stupid questions like “What is growth?”, the epic story of beautiful Nanda should provide some clues.

The main clue that sprang into my mind as I sat was this verse from Canto 12:
It was for growth (vṛddhaye)  in him of a better way that the shock happened -- / Just as the verb "to grow" is listed [after "to happen"] in the lexicon recited by students of grammar. // SN12.9 //
The shock in question arose out of  Nanda's realization of the folly of his pursuit of a reward in heaven, or in other words, the folly of thirsting for an object which, even if it really existed, could only ever be impermanent.

What clue does this offer about what growth is?

Not much of a clue. It rather serves to remind what growth is not. Growth is not getting stuck on thirsting for some object, based on a wrong assumption that something might remain constant.

As always seems to happen these days when I ask myself a “What is?” question, the conclusion I come to is that I don't know. I don't know what growth is, any more than I know what the right thing is that does itself. If I have learned anything in experience it is what getting stuck is, i.e. what growth is not.

How does a good-enough mother cause a child to grow? She doesn't, not directly. She does not know how. Resorting to a spanner and micrometer and trying to engineer perfection is doomed never to produce the desired result. ('Don't you see that if you get perfection today, you will be farther away from perfection than you have ever been?') Rather she uses the unqualified, indiscriminate, unconditional means of love and affection – thereby giving the right thing the best possible chance of doing itself.

How does a Zen practitioner cause himself to grow? He doesn't, not directly. He does not know how – any more than he knows how to breathe, or how to walk, or how to sit upright.

Here endeth, for the present, my irreligious ramblings on the subject of growth.

tataḥ: ind. then
kumāram (acc. sg.): m. the prince
sura-garbha-kalpam (acc. sg. m.): equal to a child of the gods
sura-garbha: m. a child of the gods
sura: god
garbha: m. the womb; a foetus or embryo , child , brood or offspring
kalpa: (ifc.) equal to

snehena (inst. sg.): m. blandness , tenderness , love , attachment to , fondness or affection
bhāvena (inst. sg.): m. manner of being , nature , temperament , character ; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling; love , affection , attachment
ca: and
nirviśeṣam (ind.):  equally, alike; mfn. showing or making no difference , undiscriminating , without distinction; nirviśeṣa n. absence of difference , indiscriminateness , likeness

mātṛ-ṣvasā (nom. sg.): f. a mother's sister
mātṛ-sama-prabhāvā (nom. sg. f.): with power like his  mother's
sama: (comp.) like in or with regard to anything
prabhāva: m. might , power , majesty , dignity , strength , efficacy

saṁvardhayām babhūva = 3rd pers. sg. periphrastic causative perfect saṁ- √ vṛdh:  to cause to grow , rear , bring up , foster , cherish
ātmajavat: like her own son
ātmaja: m. " born from or begotten by one's self " , a son
-vat: an affix added to words to imply likeness or resemblance , and generally translatable by " as " , " like "

大愛瞿曇彌 見太子天童
徳貎世奇挺 既生母命終
愛育如其子 子敬亦如母 

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