Tuesday, August 28, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.28: Consideration of Causation

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Vāṇī)
kiṁ-cin-manaḥ-kṣobha-karaṁ pratīpaṁ kathaṁ-na paśyed-iti so 'nucintya
vāsaṁ nṛpo vyādiśati sma tasmai harmyodareṣv-eva na bhū-pracāram || 2.28

“How might he not see the slightest unpleasantness

That could cause disturbance in his mind?”

Reflecting thus, the king assigned him a residence

Up in the very bowels of the palace,
away from the bustle on the ground.

The story of how Śuddhodhana, King of the Śākyas, tried to insulate his son from all unpleasantness, and thereby accidentally caused the Śākya prince to focus his mind on suffering, has been told and retold through the ages in many languages.

For me, just this way is how I wish to hear it. Not in Pali, not in the broken English of a Japanese master, not in the fluent English of an eloquent native speaker of English, but just in the Sanskrit poetry of the buddha-ancestor named Aśvaghoṣa.

I wish to sift through every single word that Aśvaghoṣa wrote, rigorously, and extract whatever gold I am able to extract.

I read somewhere that in an article for Tricycle magazine, Norman Fischer described the Nishijima/Cross translation as “rigorous,” as distinct from the other complete translations of Shobogenzo that are “pious” and “poetic.” I take that as a complement, because pious I sure as hell am not and neither is being poetic my primary aim. But rigorous I do aspire to be – in the style of Frederique the builder, who faced with the choice between taking a short-cut and doing a job properly would invariably conclude “Pas de choix.” Frederique is, in the words of my French neighbour, exigeant -- exacting, rigorous. A couple of years ago, when Frederique knocked a big hole in a stone wall for us in order to put in some patio doors, I was totally impressed and inspired by his degree of exigeance, or rigour. So thank you for that Norman. I haven't read the Tricycle artice, but I hope credit was given where credit was due to the translation that was first -- the Editio Princeps, as EH Johnston referred to EB Cowell's translation of Buddha-carita. 

In a spirit of unrelenting rigour, then, the first thing to notice is that the phrase manaḥ-kṣobha-kara in the 1st pāda of today's verse is repeated in Canto 17 of Saundara-nanda, in connection with the stages of sitting-meditation:
Distanced from desires and tainted things, containing ideas and containing thoughts, /Born of solitude and possessed of joy and ease, is the first stage of meditation, which he then entered. // SN17.42 // Released from the burning of the bonfire of desires, he derived great gladness from ease in the act of meditating -- / Ease like a heat-exhausted man diving into water. Or like a pauper coming into great wealth. // 17.43 // Even in that, he realised, ideas about aforesaid things, and thoughts about what is or is not good, / Are something not quieted, causing disturbance in the mind (manaḥ-kṣobha-karān), and so he decided to cut them out. // 17.44 //
There is a certain irony at play, then, in the king's question. There is more meaning than the king himself realizes in his question -- How not to cause disturbance in the mind?  In trying to answer it, the king resorts to the end-gaining strategy of stimulus avoidance, whereas Nanda in his sitting-meditation cuts out the disturbance at its cause, by directing himself back to his original state of unitary awareness and, in so doing, gradually giving up the ideas and thoughts that have been creating the disturbance: 
For, just as waves produce disturbance in a river bearing a steady flow of tranquil water, /  So ideas, like waves of thought, disturb the water of the one-pointed mind (cittāmbhasaḥ kṣobha-karā vitarkāḥ// 17.45 // And just as noises are a source of bother to one who is weary, and fallen fast asleep, / So do ideas become bothersome to one who is indulging in his original state of unitary awareness. // 17.46 // And so gradually bereft of idea and thought, his mind tranquil from one-pointedness, / He realised the joy and ease born of balanced stillness -- that inner wellbeing which is the second stage of meditation. // 17.47 //
EH Johnston (whose work, for all his failings as a non-practitioner, I nonetheless appreciate very much, like Freddo the builder, as an excellent mirror of rigour) notes that the harmya is properly the upper part of the palace. So I have translated harmyodareṣv eva as “up in the very bowels of the palace.”

This phrase brings to mind the canto title anta-puraḥ-vihāraḥ, which EHJ translates as “Life in the Palace” but which I provisionally intend to translate as “Exploring Within the Battlements” (see also comment to BC2.9). On the surface, anta-puraḥ-vihāraḥ suggests the prince's sexual explorations, not only with Yaśodhara but also with other courtiers skilled in the erotic arts. But I think the exploring Aśvaghoṣa really had in mind was exploration of cause and effect, by poet and by reader/listener.

What this canto, as I read it, is really all about, is exploration of the workings of cause and effect. 

On the surface, the explorer means the young Śākya prince, but I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention is that the explorer should be the listener or reader who, following Aśvaghoṣa's own example, hears the Buddha's story neither as religious revelation or transmission of a sacred word, nor primarily as an act of a poet's creative imagination, but primarily as a story that was crafted on the unshakeable foundation of cause and effect, and a story that every practitioner is required to work out for himself or herself, on the unshakeable foundation of cause and effect.

In today's verse, as in Canto 17 of Saundara-nanda, manaḥ-kṣobha-kara, means “causing disturbance in the mind.” And the practical question, accepting the truth that the right thing everywhere tends to do itself, might mainly be how not to do that.

The not doing of that is the essence of the 3rd noble truth.

And a way of not doing that is the 4th noble truth, whose essence might be expressed in the Alexander maxim “Direction is the truest form of inhibition.”

The 1st noble truth might be expressed as recognition, or acceptance, of the fact that human minds everywhere are subject to being disturbed.

And the 2nd noble truth might be expressed as recognition, or acceptance, of the fact that such disturbance has a cause.

When push comes to shove, it seems to me, neither piety nor poetry are the slightest bit of use in understanding the four noble truths – though Aśvaghoṣa evidently saw poetry as a useful sweetener to help people swallow the bitter pill.

There again, in the canto title, anta-puraḥ-vihāraḥ, or “Exploring Within the Battlements,” among various meanings of vihāra are wandering around for fun, or roaming about. So, in the final analysis, being unrelentingly rigorous about the exploration might also not be it. Being overly rigorous might indeed be a cause of disturbance in the mind.

kiṁ-cit: somewhat, a little
manaḥ-kṣobha-karam (acc. sg. n.): a cause of disturbance in the mind
manas: mind
kṣobha: m. shaking , agitation , disturbance , tossing , trembling , emotion
kara: mfn. a doer , maker , causer ; m. the act of doing , making &c (ifc. ; cf. su-kara, “doing good” &c );
pratīpam (acc. sg. n.) : mfn. " against the stream " , " against the grain " , going in an opposite direction , meeting , encountering , adverse , contrary , opposite , reverse ; displeasing , disagreeable

katham: how?
na: not
paśyet = 3rd pers. sg. optative paś: to see (with na " to be blind ") , behold , look at , observe , perceive , notice ; to live to see , experience , partake of, undergo , incur
iti: “....,” thus
saḥ (nom. sg.): m. he
anucintya = abs. anu- √ cint: to meditate, consider

vāsam (acc. sg.): m. staying , remaining (esp. " overnight ") , abiding , dwelling , residence , abode
nṛpaḥ (nom. sg.): m. 'ruler of men,' the king
vyādiśati = 3rd pers. sg. present vy-ā- √ diś: to point out separately ; to point out , show , explain , teach ; to prescribe, enjoin ; to appoint , assign , despatch to any place or duty , direct , order , command (with dat. loc. , or prati)
sma: ind. a particle perhaps originally equivalent to " ever " , " always " and later to " indeed " , " certainly " , " verily " , " surely " (it is often used pleonastically ; it is also joined with a pres. tense or pres. participle to give them a past sense [e.g. praviśanti sma , " they entered "] )
tasmai (dat. sg. m.): for him

harmyodareṣu (loc. pl.): in the bowels of the palace
harmya: n. a large house , palace , mansion , any house or large building or residence of a wealthy person
udara: n. the belly , abdomen , stomach , bowels ; the interior or inside of anything
eva: (emphatic)
na: not
bhū-pracāram (acc. sg. m.): a place for going around on the ground,
bhū: f. the act of becoming or arising; f. the place of being , space , world or universe (also pl.) ; f. earth (as a substance) , ground , soil , land ;
pracāra: m. roaming , wandering ; coming forth , showing one's self; a playground , place of exercise ; pasture-ground , pasturage (= Vishn2. xviii , 44 , where Sch. " a way or road leading from or to a house ") Cf. bhikṣa-cāra: mfn. going about begging , a mendicant

瑰艷若天后 同處日夜歡
爲立清淨宮 宏麗極莊嚴

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