Tuesday, August 21, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.21: Home Is Where the Good Heart Is

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Haṁsī)
tato mahārhāṇi ca candanāni ratnāvalīś-cauṣadhibhiḥ sagarbhāḥ
mṛga-prayuktān-rathakāṁś-ca haimān-ācakrire 'smai suhṛd-ālayebhyaḥ || 2.21


 ⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Haṁsī)
tato mahārhāṇi ca candanāni ratnāvaliś-cauṣadhibhiḥ sagarbhā
mṛga-prayuktā rathakāś-ca haimā nācakrire 'smai suhṛd-ālayebhyaḥ || 2.21


Then precious preparations of sandalwood, 

And a string of jewels with herbs inside them, 

And little golden carts drawn by deer, 

Were brought to him, from the homes of good-hearts. 

Sandalwood, besides its associations with religious worship, is a symbol in Sanskrit of what is most highly valued; hence mention of it naturally belongs to the 1st pāda – because the 1st phase of the dialectic method of buddha-ancestors is where subjective value is accommodated.

Strings of jewels with herbs inside them can be understood as representing what is more valuable from an objective and utilitarian standpoint. If I wished to buy, let's say, a tractor, I might be better off trying to buy it with diamonds or emeralds than with boxes of sandalwood incense or bottles of sandal oil. At the same time, jewels were sometimes thought to have medicinal properties, and jewels with herbs inside were presumably all the more efficacious.

Little golden carts drawn by deer suggests to me the kind of toy that is valuable not only because it is golden but also because it stimulates a child to get down on his hands and knees and study movement, or action.

On the surface, since su-hṛd (lit. "good-hearted") means a friend, and ālaya means a house,  suhṛd-ālayebhyaḥ means “from the houses of friends.” Digging deeper, I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention might be to suggest that these gifts came out of the homes/repositories of the benevolent, i.e. from a place of good-heartedness. In other words they were true or real gifts, given freely, not with expectation of getting something back in return. For that reason, although it would be more natural in English to begin the verse with “They brought to him from the houses of friends,” I have preferred to translate today's verse as above, maintaining the four-phased progression which underlies many if not most of Aśvaghoṣa's four-pāda verses.

In Shobogenzo the 4th phase invariably relates to the reality of sitting-meditation, which Dogen describes as a backward step. And a backward step has to do with coming home, a place where all hearts might originally be good.

Usually we assume that growth has to do with something increasing; but, on the basis of cool reflection, that assumption might be an idea to drop off. When we learn the backward step, which has to do with coming home, it might be that growth has to do with something diminishing, or fading to nothing.

If somebody steals something from me, my instinct is to feel a mental barrier against giving to that grasping person anything more benevolent than cause for painful reflection. Conversely if somebody freely gives something to me, it might be the most natural thing in the world for me to want to give that person something back, without any thought of “what's in it for me?”

In those terms, if a mental barrier to giving were to crumble, that crumbling, ironically, might be a kind of growth.

Understood like that, today's verse which on the surface appears to have nothing to do with sitting-meditation might be intimately related with the essence of the sitting-meditation of full-grown buddha-tathāgatas which, at least in principle, is not impeded by any remnant of  the old barrier of “what's in it for me?”

I heard on the radio a couple of days ago a feature about “chuggers” who approach people on the street asking them to sign up for regular charity donations, paid by direct debit. If you sign up to donate, say, £8 per month, the first 12 months of your donations goes to the chugger who reeled you in. The advice that was given on the radio programme was that the appropriate response to an aggressive approach by a chugger would be along the lines of “No, thank you. I have already given today.” Or “No, thank you. I am not able to give today.” My own instinct would be more along the lines of “Fuck off, hypocrite.” (The mirror principle? But of course, because I hate nothing more than seeing blind end-gaining in others.)

Since chuggers give the charities that employ them a bad name, why do charities persist in using chuggers? "Because," those charities say, "they work." "They work" means "the chuggers cause us to gain our end, which is raising charitable donations." It is the grossest possible example of the ignorance that FM Alexander described as "end-gaining."

For another subtler example, in countries like Thailand, monks encourage lay people to earn merit by giving freely to support the life of monks. The weakness in this somewhat religious modus operandi is that giving that is done to earn merit is not free giving; it is not giving out of the true repository of good-heartedness. And dharma that is preached with a view to getting donations is not true dharma.

This work by Aśvaghoṣa was a true act of free giving, realized nearly 2000 years ago, out of a buddha's repository of benevolence.

e = mc2 might be a more recent example of a great act of free giving.

Today's verse causes me to ask, in the end, what is free giving?

As usual, in response to a "What is...?" question, I come to the conclusion that I don't know what it is. But giving which is tainted by a greedy expectation of getting something back, surely is not it.

tataḥ: ind. then
mahārhāṇi (nom./acc. pl. n.): mfn. very worthy or deserving , very valuable or precious , splendid  ; n. white sandal-wood
ca: and
candanāni (nom./acc. pl. n.): mn. sandal (Sirium myrtifolium , either the tree , wood , or the unctuous preparation of the wood held in high estimation as perfumes ; hence ifc. a term for anything which is the most excellent of its kind)

ratnāvalīḥ (acc. pl. f.): strings of jewels
ratnāvaliḥ (nom. pl. f.): a string of jewels
ratna: n. a gift , present , goods , wealth , riches; n. a jewel , gem
āvali:  f. a row , range ; a continuous line, series
ca: and
oṣadhibhiḥ (inst. pl.): f. (etym. doubtful ; probably fr. oṣa above , " light-containing ") a herb , plant , simple , esp. any medicinal herb ; a remedy in general
oṣa: mfn.  ( √uṣ, to burn) burning , shining
sa-garbhāḥ (acc. pl. f.): mfn. pregnant , impregnated by (abl. or instr.)  ; (a plant) whose leaves are still undeveloped
sa-garbhā (nom. sg. f.): ibid.

mṛga-prayuktān (acc. pl. m.): harnessed to deer
mṛga-prayuktāḥ (nom. pl. m.): harnessed to deer
mṛga: m. a forest animal or wild beast , game of any kind , (esp.) a deer
prayukta: mfn. yoked , harnessed
rathakān (acc. pl.): m. a small chariot or cart
rathakāh (nom. pl.): m. a small chariot or cart
ca: and
haimān (acc. pl. m.): mfn. golden , consisting or made of gold
haimāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. golden , consisting or made of gold

na [not]
ācakrire = 3rd pers. pl. perf. (middle voice).  ā- √ kṛ: to bring near or towards ; [middle voice] to drive near or together (as cows or cattle)
asmai (dat. sg. m.): to him
su-hṛd-ālayebhyaḥ (abl. pl.): out of homes/repositories of the benevolent
su-hṛd: m. " good-hearted " , " kindhearted " , " well-disposed " , a friend , ally
ālaya: m. and n. a house , dwelling ; a receptacle , asylum   (often ifc. e.g. himālaya , " the abode of snow. ")
 ā- √lī: to come close to  ;  to settle down upon  ; to stoop , crouch

無價栴檀香 閻浮檀名寶
護身神仙藥 瓔珞莊嚴身 
附庸諸隣國 聞王生太子

1 comment:

Mike Cross said...

Interpreting ācakrire as passive, and all elements (except the instrumental ablative compounds) as nominative:

tato mahārhāṇi ca candanāni ratnāvaliś-cauṣadhibhiḥ sagarbhā |

mṛga-prayuktā rathakāś-ca haimā ācakrire 'smai suhṛd-ālayebhyaḥ || 2.21