Sunday, August 26, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.26: A True Woman

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Haṁsī)
kulāt-tato 'smai sthira-śīla-yuktāt-sādhvīṁ vapur-hrī-vinayopapannām
yaśodharāṁ nāma yaśo-viśālāṁ vāmābhidhānāṁ śriyam-ājuhāva || 2.26

Then he summoned for him,
from a family of steadfast integrity,

A true woman,
the possessor of fine form, modesty and discipline,

A woman full of glory
whose name was Yaśodharā, “Bearer of Glory” --

In the shape of such a woman
did the king invoke Śrī, goddess of fortune.

Today's verse conveys another important point in the Buddha's biography, in introducing Yaśodharā, who would be the mother of the Buddha's son Rāhula.

EHJ points out that the wording śriyam-ājuhāva “suggests invocations to Śrī of which Buddhists did not approve." Sounds interesting. 

I see a richer vein of irony, however in the 2nd pāda, which, understood superficially, could easily be translated in such a way as to offend a feminist.

Going strictly by the dictionary, the 2nd pāda might be understood as describing Yaśodharā as “a chaste and virtuous woman / a faithful wife, endowed with a beautiful figure, modesty and good breeding.”

EB Cowell, translating in the 1890s went with “a bride possessed of beauty, modesty, and gentle bearing.” 

EH Johnston in the 1930s followed EBC in regard to the meaning of vapus (beauty), hrī (modesty) and vinaya (gentle bearing) but in his understanding of the meaning of sādhvī he went further in the direction of identifying female virtue with virginity: “a maiden... virtuous and endowed with beauty, modesty and gentle bearing.”

P Olivelle in 2007 went in similar vein with “a virtuous maiden...endowed with beauty, modesty, and good bearing.”

The description of Yaśodharā as sādhvīṁ vapur-hrī-vinayopapannām, however, could just as easily be understood as subverting the chauvinist conception of an ideal bride.

Though the Monier-Williams dictionary defines sādhvī only as “a chaste or virtuous woman, faithful wife,” sādhvī is simply the feminine of sādhu, which MW defines primarily as “a good or virtuous or honest man.” So setting aside impermanent cultural conceptions of what an ideal wife might look like, I think the best translation of sādhvī, and the one that Aśvaghoṣa really intended, is simply “a true woman.”

vapus which on the surface might be taken as suggesting a beautiful female figure – whether in the shape of an egg-timer, as per the 1950s ideal, or in the shape of a thin twig – could also be taken as describing the fine form of a well-coordinated woman of action like an athlete or swimmer or practitioner of sitting-meditation.

Accepting that hrī means modesty, which of the three meanings of modesty given in the dictionary should we think Aśvaghoṣa was pointing to as an attribute of a true woman: 1. humility: unwillingness to draw attention to your own achievements or abilities 2. sexual reserve: reserve in appearance, manner, and speech, especially in relation to sexual matters; or 3. shyness: lack of confidence or assertiveness, with a tendency to embarrass easily? If we follow the route of easy understanding, then 2. and 3. would seem relevant to the description of a blushing virgin bride. But I think what Aśvaghoṣa really had in mind was only 1., that is, modesty as humility.

And among the many meanings of vinaya -- which EBC and EHJ translate as “gentle bearing” and PO translates as “good bearing” – is discipline, in which context vinaya is used in several places in Saundara-nanda without any sense of anything airy-fairy or feminine like “gentle bearing,” viz:
Even lesser creatures moved there in the some subdued manner as the stags, / As if from their ascetic protectors they had learned the rules of discipline (vinaya) // 1.13 //
Tall they were like golden columns, lion-chested, strong-armed, / Worthy of their great name and royal insignia and good upbringing (vinaya). // 1.19 //
Possessed of good conduct, discipline (vinaya), prudence and industry, Bearing the big umbrella for duty's sake, not to pander to the power of the senses, / He guarded that realm, surrounded by his brothers, Like roaring Indra guarding heaven with his retinue of storm-gods. // 1.62 // 
And so the wheel of dharma -- whose hub is uprightness, whose rim is constancy, determination, and balanced stillness, / And whose spokes are the rules of discipline (vinaya) -- there the Seer turned, in that assembly, for the welfare of the world. // 3.11 // 
And so, seeing that he had made a vessel of the ruler of men, through the wealth of his accomplishments, / And that the townsfolk also were amenable, the Guide gave voice to the dharma and the discipline (vinaya). // 3.26 // 
Even one there who had been given over to ends like wealth / Was now content with free giving, discipline (vinaya), and restraint: he also fared well, not straying from the true path. // 3.40 //
For the man of spirit and noble birth; for the man who cherishes honour and strives to earn respect; / For the man of grit -- better death for him than life as a backslider (cyuta-vinayasya). // 8.57 //
Finally, upapanna is from the root upa-√pad, which means to go towards, reach, gain possession of. So in the 2nd line “possessed of” and “endowed with” are perfectly literal translations of -upapannām but, at the risk of splitting hairs, those translations do tend to paint Yaśodharā as the recipient of gifts from nature, whereas some sense may be read in the original word upapanna of qualities that Yaśodharā, as a true woman – and not necessarily a chaste and virtuous maiden who is passively endowed with characteristics that men deem to be desirable in a woman – has gone towards, has reached, has gained possession of, has made her own.

Implicit in today's verse, then, as I would like to read it, is Aśvagahoṣa's recognition that a woman, through her own efforts, can be the possessor of fine form, modesty, and discipline. If, however, she has some unexamined idea of “possessing fine form” and works directly to realize that end – for example, by going to the gym or having plastic surgery or going to an Alexander teacher to improve her posture – that is end-gaining, which is never a reliable means of possessing fine form.

A reliable means is an indirect route, beginning with recognition and giving up of the idea or expectation or desire which triggers the end-gaining which causes energy to be directed down old pathways associated with the generation of suffering.

These days I am quite alert to end-gaining tendencies, in others. Preventing myself from barging about unskilfully, however, continues to prove difficult.

kulāt (abl. sg.): n. family
tataḥ: ind. then
asmai (dat. sg.): for him
sthira-śīla-yuktāt (abl. sg. n.): possessed of solid integrity
sthira: mfn. firm, hard, solid; steadfast; n. steadfastness , stubbornness , resistance
śīla: n. habit , custom , usage , natural or acquired way of living or acting , practice , conduct , disposition , tendency , character , nature ; good disposition or character , moral conduct , integrity , morality , piety , virtue
yukta: mfn. set to work , made use of , employed , occupied with , engaged in , intent upon (instr. loc. or comp.); furnished or endowed or filled or supplied or provided with , accompanied by , possessed of (instr. or comp.); (ifc.) added to , increased by (e.g. catur-yuktā viṁśatiḥ , twenty increased by four i.e. 24); (ifc.) connected with , concerning ; (ifc.) subject to , dependent on; fit , suitable , appropriate , proper , right , established , proved , just , due , becoming to or suitable for (gen. loc. or comp.)

sādhvīm (acc. sg.): f. a chaste or virtuous woman , faithful wife
sādhu: straight, true ; leading straight to a goal , hitting the mark ; straightened , not entangled (as threads) ; well-disposed , kind , willing , obedient
vapur-hrī-vinayopapannām (acc. sg. f.): endowed with fine form, modesty, and mild manners / monastic discipline
vapus: mfn. having form or a beautiful form ; n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty
hrī: f. shame , modesty
vinaya: m. leading , guidance , training (esp. moral training) , education , discipline , control ; m. (with Buddhists) the rules of discipline for monks ; m. good breeding , propriety of conduct , decency , modesty , mildness
upapanna: mfn. one who has approached a teacher (as a pupil); one who has obtained or reached; endowed with , possessed of , furnished with
upa- √ pad: to go towards ; to reach , obtain , partake of ; to enter into any state

yaśodharām (acc. sg.): f. 'maintaining or preserving glory'
nāma: ind. by name
yaśo-viśālām (acc. sg. f.): full of glory
yaśas: n. beautiful appearance , beauty , splendour , worth ; honour , glory , fame , renown
viśāla: (ifc.) abundant in , full of

vāmābhidhānām (acc. sg. f.): with “beautiful woman” for a name
vāmā [EHJ]: f. a beautiful woman , any woman or wife
vāma: mfn. lovely , dear , pleasant , agreeable , fair , beautiful , splendid , noble; n. a lovely thing , any dear or desirable good (as gold , horses &c ) , wealth , fortune
tulya [EBC]: equal to , of the same kind or class or number or value , similar , comparable , like
tāma [2 manuscripts]: mfn. terrifying, horrible
abhidhāna: n. telling , naming , speaking , speech , manifesting; a name , title , appellation , expression , word ; putting together , bringing in close connection
abhi- √ dhā: to put on or round, to cover; to explain, set forth, name
śriyam (acc. sg.): f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory , beauty , grace , loveliness ; N. of lakṣmī (as goddess of prosperity or beauty and wife of viṣṇu , produced at the churning of the ocean , also as daughter of bhṛgu and as mother of darpa)
ājuhāva = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ā- √ hve: to call near , invoke, invite , summon , cite

廣訪名豪族 風教禮義門
容姿端正女 名耶輪陀羅
應嫂太子妃 誘導留其心

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