Sunday, August 5, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.5: Politics & Economics (V) – Good Energy Production

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−  Upajāti (Sālā)
puṣṭāś-ca tuṣṭāś-ca tathāsya rājye sādhvyo 'rajaskā guṇavat-payaskāḥ
udagra-vatsaiḥ sahitā babhūvur-bahvyo bahu-kṣīra-duhaś-ca gāvaḥ || 2.5

Equally in his kingdom,
well-fed and well-satisfied,

Well-disposed, dustless,
and overflowing with goodness,

There were,
together with their lanky young, 

Many cows, 
which also yielded abundant milk. 

Judging from the opening line of today's verse, one might expect the subject to be zen masters who are enjoying their simple life. This expectation is permitted by the grammar of puṣṭāḥ and tuṣṭāḥ. which can be either masculine or feminine.

In the 2nd pāda, however, the hope of an original new interpretation is somewhat dashed by sādhvyah (“well-disposed”), which – like a girlfriend's neck manifesting a suspicious love-bite – is feminine. (The masculine would be sādhavaḥ.) By the time we get to guṇavat-payaskāḥ (“having excellent milk”), the game appears to be up: Aśvaghoṣa was obviously talking not about male zen masters but about female cows.

But wait a minute. Denial is a wonderful and powerful thing. Yes, payas does suggest milk, but originally payas (from √ pī, to swell, overflow) means any fluid, and it carries a secondary, metaphorical meaning of vital spirit or power. Is it possible that Aśvaghoṣa, many centuries ahead of his time, was challenging the assumption that zen masters couldn't be referred to in the feminine?

And udagra-vatsaiḥ, though it seems to mean “gangling calves,” could also mean “upward-pointing offspring” – i.e., students who practise upright sitting.

So is it possible after all to read today's verse as a veiled description of women zen masters who are enjoying their simple life and transmitting the dharma to students not by the inferior means of tapping away at a keyboard but by the traditional means of sitting and living together?

With hopes thus revived, I arrive -- like a bloke coming home to find his girlfriend's belongings all gone -- at the final pāda. 

Because the subject of a Sanskrit sentence can come just as easily at the end as at the beginning of the sentence, Aśvaghoṣa has been able to keep me dangling in aspirational suspense until the very last word in the verse, where the subject is finally and undeniably specified as bahvyaḥ gāvaḥ, many cows.

Such, with cruel disregard for my fancy hopes, is reality. Aśvaghoṣa was evidently talking about cows.

But then again, why is the penultimate word of the verse ca (also)?

On the surface Aśvaghoṣa was evidently talking about cows. But beneath the surface? I don't know for sure. But it seems to me that every verse that Aśvaghoṣa wrote is an invitation to dig deeper.

None of us is born cynical or with a highly attuned sense of irony: these are things that each of us has to learn. 

At the age of 10 I skipped a year between primary and secondary school, with the result that I went from being top of the class and strong at games to the youngest and most innocent boy at a school where, despite the school's high academic reputation, teaching methods left a lot to be desired. I joined an after-school judo club where the teacher was an older boy who knew nothing about judo. When it came time for our first grading, he told us not to resist too much but to allow ourselves to be thrown by our opponent, to put on a good show for the more senior judo instructor who was coming in to grade us. I took this instruction too literally, and allowed myself to be thrown backwards like a rag doll, and since nobody had bothered to teach us how to fall properly, I landed on my extended right arm. I remember this event now because my right elbow, which has given me problems on and off over the years, was keeping me awake last night, still throbbing with pain after more than 40 years, as if to punish my former innocence and remind me that whatever else I wish to avoid, the first thing I wish to avoid is being a teacher who doesn't know the score.

The secret of Zazen, sitting-dhyāna, sitting-meditation, according to the Japanese zen master Dogen is summed up in three Chinese characters 非思量 (Jap: HI-SHIRYO). According to my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima,  非思量 means [action which is] different from thinking. "To realize what action is, we need not think anything and need not feel anything. Just to sit keeping the spine straight vertically is action itself."

It sounds good even now, and when I heard it I believed it totally, hook, line and sinker. I believed it so much I wanted to devote my whole life to it. But over the years this attitude of innocent belief came to be tainted, as I got to know Gudo Nishijima better and, under his guidance, studied Dogen's words for myself in their original form.

Latterly, as I began to understand what FM Alexander meant by what he called “thinking in activity,” I came to realize that the of 非思量 is the same as the of 非仏 HI-BUTSU, “non-buddha.” A non-buddha is a real buddha, not what people expect buddha to be.

非思量, I came gradually to realize, means “non-thinking,” that is, thinking, but not what people understand by thinking.

As I said to my wife first thing this morning, having been caused by my painful elbow to reflect on cause and effect, I don't want to teach anybody anything, apart from what I truly know not to be false. And that not false teaching is just to sit in full lotus, in some solitary place – preferably a place like a forest like this one where we are now, that is overflowing with good energy – letting the head, arms, and legs release out of a lengthening and widening back.

“Letting” is a word whose meaning has to be dug for. The head cannot be forced to release out of the back. But one can learn to think it out. The same applies to arms and legs. The direction “send the knees forwards and away,” is a reminder to think the legs out of the pelvis, as opposed to everybody's habit of pulling the legs in. 

Aśvaghoṣa predated the disagreement between Gudo Nishijima and me – two stubborn and stupid people – about the real meaning of  非思量, and so it is perhaps only natural to find that he has nothing specific to say about it. I suppose that when I first started reading Aśvaghoṣa's words, I was sort of hoping to find evidence to corroborate my “non-thinking” as opposed to Gudo's “[action which is] different from thinking.” 

I haven't found any such evidence. What I do find, in every verse, is encouragement to keep on digging deeper.

It is as if Aśvaghoṣa is saying to me across the centuries: “No, Gudo never got to the bottom of it, and you haven't got to the bottom of it either.” 

Finally, speaking of superficial interpretations, since starting on Canto 2, I have been forgetting to include the Chinese translations of Buddhacarita at the bottom of each post, below the Sanskrit vocabulary list. In rectifying this omission, I am reminded again about how useless, or worse than useless, the Chinese translation was and is as a representation of Aśvaghoṣa's writings, with all their deeper ironies. (The mirror principle? Always!)

The one area where the Chinese translator is strong is in bringing out the non-doing aspect, so that in  2.2 treasures "emerge out of the ground of themselves" (自然從地出), in 2.3 the elephants "arrive of themselves, without being called" (不呼自然至),  and in 2.4 the horses "at the right time, arrive of themselves"  (應時自然至).  

If anything, the Chinese translation over-emphasizes the non-doing aspect. Thus, in 2.3 Aśvaghoṣa describes the elephants as stationing themselves "without the making of any effort at all"  (vināpi yatnāt), and this sense is captured accurately enough by the Chinese characters 自然, "of themselves/ naturally/ spontaneously/ effortlessly."  But in extending this description to verses 2.2 and 2.4, and describing the treasures and elephants also as emerging/arriving of themselves, it is as if the Chinese translator has some kind of taoist non-doing agenda that he can't help imposing on his translation. Disgusting behaviour. (The mirror principle again? Never fails!)

puṣṭāḥ (nom. pl. m./f. ): mfn. nourished , cherished , well-fed , thriving , strong , fat , full , complete , perfect , abundant , rich , great , ample
ca: and
tuṣṭāḥ (nom. pl. m./f. ): mfn. satisfied , pleased
ca: and
tathā: so also, likewise, equally
asya (gen. sg.): his
rājye (loc. sg.): n. kingdom , country , realm

sādhvyaḥ = nom. pl. f. sādhu: mfn. leading straight to a goal , hitting the mark , unerring; well-disposed , kind , willing , obedient
arajaskāḥ (nom. pl. f. ): mfn. dustless , without the quality called rajas ; free from impurity (others, "meek, gentle")
guṇavat-payaskāḥ (nom. pl. f.): producing excellent milk, exuding good energy, overflowing with goodness
guṇavat: mfn. endowed with good qualities or virtues or merits or excellences , excellent , perfect
payaska: mfn (ifc.) = payas: any fluid or juice , (esp.) milk , water , rain ; semen virile , (met.) vital spirit , power , strength

udagra-vatsaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): gangling calves, upward-pointing offspring , lanky young
ud-agra: mfn. having the top elevated or upwards , over-topping , towering or pointing upwards , projecting; tall ; increased , large , vast , fierce , intense
vatsa: m. (prob. originally , " yearling " , fr. a lost word vatas) a calf , the young of any animal , offspring , child (voc. vatsa often used as a term of endearment = my dear child , my darling) ; a son, boy
sahitāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. accompanied or attended by , associated or connected with , possessed of (instr.)
babhūvur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect bhū: to be

bahvyaḥ = nom. pl. f. bahu: many, much, abundant
bahu-kṣīra-duhaḥ (nom. pl. f.): yielding abundant milk
kṣīra: n. milk
duh: mfn. milking, yielding, granting
ca: and, also
gāvaḥ = nom. pl. go: m. an ox; f. a cow ; (pl.) cattle , kine , herd of cattle

純色調善牛 肥壯形端正
平歩淳香乳 應時悉雲集

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