Friday, August 24, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.24: The Merit of Finding the Middle

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Kīrti)
vayaś-ca kaumāram-atītya madhyaṁ samprāpya bālaḥ sa hi rāja-sūnuḥ
alpair-ahobhir-bahu-varṣa-gamyā jagrāha vidyāḥ sva-kulānurūpāḥ || 2.24

For, having passed through the early stage of life 
and arrived at the middle, 

The young prince 

Grasped in a few days
subjects that took many years to master --

Fields of learning that befitted his family's station. 

Two of the three manuscripts upon which EB Cowell based his text omitted the 2nd pāda of today's verse. Comparing EBC's manuscripts with the Tibetan translation led EHJ to conclude that the old Nepalese manuscript (of which EBC's manuscripts were copies) had the first three syllables of the 2nd pāda correctly, the next two partially, while the rest of the pāda was obliterated. Hence, on the basis of the Tibetan translation, EHJ amended the first two pādas to:
vayaś-ca kaumāram-atītya samyak saṁprāpya kāle pratipatti-karma, 
(EHJ: "He passed through infancy and in course of time duly underwent the ceremony of initiation.”)

From where I sit, an amendment that causes the word madhyam, the middle, to be dropped in favour of pratipatti-karma “a ceremony of initiation / rite of admission,” is not a favourable development.

In today's verse as I read it, before EHJ's amendment, madhyam has hidden meaning. And I do not share EHJ's evident confidence that the Tibetan translator was fully awake to such matters.

On the surface madhyam means “the period of middle youth.” Hence EBC's translation, “When he had passed the period of childhood and reached that of middle youth...”

But I think what Aśvaghoṣa really intended with madhyam was to indicate that, having developed well in infancy and childhood (having “passed through all the developmental milestones,” to use the jargon), with his senses thoroughly nourished through playing with his toy carts et cetera, the young prince was well balanced, and this was the fundamental basis of his excellent learning ability.

Today's verse, then, is biographical and at the same time it expresses a universal principle about learning, which is that development is primary and education is secondary. Or, to put it another way,  balance forms the base of the learning pyramid.

“Fields of learning that befitted his family's station” (vidyāḥ sva-kulānurūpāḥ) presumably includes the statecraft alluded to earlier in this canto s (BC2.3, 2.6) with its concept of the concentric maṇḍalas of enemies, friends, and neutral -- the kind of thing that British brahmins of today study as part of their Philosophy, Politics & Economics degrees before endeavouring to clamber up the greasy pole of politics.

A field of learning that befits my family's station, I would like to think, is how to use a spade in such a way that digging strengthens rather than weakens the back. Studying such problems does not cause a person to know how to sit, but it can deepen one's understanding of how not to sit.

vayaḥ (acc. sg.): n. youth, any period of life, age
ca: and
kaumāram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. (fr. kumārá) juvenile , youthful , belonging to a youth ; n. childhood , youth (from birth to the age of five)
atītya = abs. ati-√i: to pass by, elapse ; to pass through
madhyam (acc. sg.): n. the middle, centre
[samyak: ind. in one or the same direction, in one line, straight; completely , wholly , thoroughly ; correctly , truly , properly , fitly , in the right way or manner , well , duly]

saṁprāpya = abs. sam-pra- √āp: to reach or attain fully to , arrive at ; to get , obtain , acquire , partake of , incur , undergo
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
hi: for
rāja-sūnuḥ (nom. sg.): m. king's son, prince
[kāle: ind. (loc.) in time, at the proper time
pratipatti-karma (acc. sg.): n. a concluding rite or ceremony
pratipatti: f. gaining; admission , acknowledgment ; conclusion
karman: n. action, act; rite]

alpaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): mfn. small, a few
ahobhiḥ = inst. pl. ahan: n. a day
bahu-varṣa-gamyāḥ (acc. pl. f.): to be mastered over many years
bahu: mfn. many
varṣa: m. the rains; a year (commonly applied to age)
gamya: mfn. to be gone or gone to , approachable , accessible , passable , attainable; to be perceived or understood , intelligible , perceptible

jagrāha = 3rd pers. sg. perf. grah: to grasp, to take possession of , to receive into the mind , apprehend , understand , learn
vidyāḥ (acc. pl.): f. knowledge, science , learning , scholarship , philosophy
sva-kulānurūpāḥ (acc. pl. f.): appropriate to his family
sva-kula: n. one's own family or race
kula: n. herd, family, noble family, high station
anurūpa: mfn. following the form , conformable , corresponding , like , fit , suitable

修學諸術藝 一聞超師匠

No comments: