Wednesday, September 5, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.36: Non-Buddhist Virtues (ctd.) - Serving A Dharma

−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Buddhi)
bhaṁ bhāsuraṁ cāṅgirasādhidevaṁ yathāvad-ānarca tad-āyuṣe saḥ
juhāva havyāny-akṛśe kṛśānau dadau dvi-jebhyaḥ kṛśanaṁ ca gāś-ca || 2.36

To the shining constellation 
whose regent is the planet Āṅgirasa

He religiously recited a song of praise,
for his son's long life.

In a fiery fire of Agni, he offered what was to be offered.

And to the twice-born brahmins he gave both gold and cows.

As far as I can remember, I was already fairly cynical about religion before starting work on translating Aśvaghoṣa. But there is no doubt, in any case, that over the past four years I have become more cynical than I ever was before. Others can judge for themselves, but my own sense is that Aśvaghoṣa's writing has trained my critical faculties, so that whereas before I saw irony here and there, nowadays I can hardly read a single word that Aśvaghoṣa wrote without seeing irony behind it.

King Śuddhodhana's devout service of a Hindu dharma is described in several verses in the 2nd canto of Saundara-nanda. On the surface, insofar as those descriptions belong to a portrayal of the king's virtues, those verses and today's verse can be understood as affirming that to serve dharma, or to serve a dharma, is a virtue.

The irony comes in when one begins to realize that, in their religious efforts to serve a particular dharma, religious people invariably go against the true universal dharma.

This tendency is manifested in the behaviour of the king who makes a totally bogus causal connection between offering a traditional prayer to a cluster of stars with Jupiter in their midst and ensuring the long life of his son. The king's attitude is pure superstition. His mind is typical of superstitious minds everywhere that imagine bogus causal connections between god-fearing means and some selfish end.

Understood like this, today's verse is not only affirming the service of a dharma but is also mercilessly ripping the piss out of the service of a dharma – insofar as that dharma is a religious and superstitious one, carried out with a personal agenda to the fore.

In their effort to serve their particular dharma, which they call True …... -ism, or True ….. -ity, or True ....-aam, religious people easily commit a-dharma (un-dharma, id-dharma, anti-dharma, the very opposite of dharma, bad dharma). When their religious belief is contradicted by evidence, they distrust the evidence, and carry on regardless with behaviour that is not what it purports to be. 

Richard Gombrich says that Buddhism is different from other religions. Gudo Nishijima said that True Buddhism is not a religion.

I say that the Buddha's teaching is not a religion, and that Gudo Nishijima, my teacher, fell in his old age into religious hypocrisy, and on that basis did me an  a-dharma. A symptom of that a-dharma  has been manifested for the past 6 years in the listing of the Nishijima/Cross translation on Amazon, in which Nishijima is credited at the author and Cross as contributor. It is not so much the lack of credit that has continued to bother me, as the difficulty of seeing clearly, in terms of cause and effect, how the hell such a thing happened. That effect has been there for anybody to see, for the last 6 years. That effect is only a symptom, but it is glaring symptom showing itself in the most public of arenas, the Amazon marketplace. So what were the causes of that effect? 

The fact that Aśvaghoṣa's writing seems to keep pointing me back to is the ever-presence in human life of irony, one aspect of which is “incongruity between what actually happens and what might be expected to happen, especially when this disparity seems absurd or laughable.”

The ultimate irony might be that serving a dharma turns into serving a-dharma. That is what I was endeavoring to clarify with the blog I kept for a time, before starting this one, whose title was ERRATA, and whose tag line was: Who turned freedom into its opposite? 

From where I sat, the agents who were instrumental in Gudo acting out his delusion were all people who he had made his "dharma-heirs." In their minds, they were simply serving his dharma -- like the obedient members of any religious cult. But from where I sat what was going on was clearly the service of  a-dharma. A tough lesson indeed. 

A-dharma is defined in the dictionary as “unrighteousness, injustice, irreligion, wickedness.” That definition is ironic in itself, given that Aśvaghoṣa's dharma is full of irreligion and the wickedness of his irony.

Of the above dictionary definitions, I see "injustice" as closest to a-dharma. But the essence of a-dharma, as I see it, lies in going against cause and effect, which is just what the king in today's verse is doing, at least at the level of his understanding. At the level of his action, the king is not being portrayed as practising bad karma. But he is being portrayed, as I see him, as practising bad dharma.

EHJ identifies the constellation referred to in the 1st pāda as Puṣya (see BC1.9), whose divinity is Bṛhaspati (i.e. the planet Jupiter), son of Āṅgiras (hence called Āṅgirasa). PO notes further: “The astronomical text Bṛhatsamhitā of Varahara-mihira (ch. 48) prescribes that the king should take a bath during the full moon falling within Puṣya, considered the most powerful of the constellations, so as to assure the prosperity of his family and subjects.”

Wearing the hat of a post-modernist scholar of ancient Indian belief systems, one would be obliged to assign all due respect to the time-honoured tradition. But not wearing any hat, I think it is a load of old baloney, and the old cynic Aśvaghoṣa, as I read him, secretly thinks so too.

A famous aphorism from Chinese Zen which can be taken as an expression of dry cynicism is Unmon's observation along the lines that when he was young and impressionable, mountains temporarily ceased to be mountains, whereas in his maturity he was no longer deluded about mountains, so that mountains were mountains.

I get a sense of that kind of dryness, or resignation, in the 3rd and 4th pādas, with (1) the repetition of the two words, juhāva havyāni (he offered offerings), from the root √hu, to offer; (2) the plays on kṛśa; and (3) the resigned description of the brahmins (supposedly top of the Hindu tree by dint of their superior knowledge) being gifted with the cream of a society's resources, gold and cows.

The function of the 4th pāda, as I read it, is to hammer home the point that the king served a dharma that was utterly different from the Buddha-dharma. Aśvaghoṣa has already made us aware in Canto One that the twice-born brahmins who served a Hindu dharma were not averse to walking away with gifts from a grateful monarch, but of what possible use might gold and cows have been to a wandering beggar of the Buddha's time who followed the Buddha-dharma? No use at all. For a bhikṣu of the Buddha's time, to receive gifts of gold and cows would have been a-dharma – not so much unrighteous or unjust as nonsensical. As nonsensical as praying to a star for a child's long life.

bham (acc. sg): n. a star , planet , asterism , lunar asterism or mansion
bhāsuram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. shining , radiant , bright , splendid
ca: and
āṅgirasādhidevam (acc. sg. n): whose presiding deity is the planet Āṅgirasa
āṅgirasa: mfn. descended from or belonging or referring to the Angirases or to aṅgiras ; m. a descendant of aṅgiras; m. especially N. of bṛhaspati ; m. the planet bṛhaspati i.e. Jupiter
adhideva: m. a presiding or tutelary deity
adhi: ind. , as a prefix to verbs and nouns , expresses above , over and above , besides
deva: m. a god

yathāvat: ind. duly , properly , rightly , suitably , exactly
yathā: ind. according to what is right , properly , correctly (= yathāvat)
ānarca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ṛc: to praise
ṛc: f. praise , verse , esp. a sacred verse recited in praise of a deity
tad-āyuṣe (dat. sg.): for the long life of him [his son]
āyuṣa: n. ifc. = āyus , duration of life
saḥ (nom. sg. m.): he

juhāva = 3rd pers. sg. perf. hu: to sacrifice (esp. pour butter into the fire) , offer or present an oblation (acc. or gen.) to (dat.) or in (loc.) , sacrifice to , worship or honour (acc.) with (instr.)
havyāni (acc. pl.): n. anything to be offered as an oblation , sacrificial gift or food
akṛśe (loc. sg. m.): mfn. not emaciated ; unimpaired
kṛśa: mfn. lean , emaciated , thin , spare , weak , feeble ; small , little , minute , insignificant
kṛśānau (loc. sg. m.): m. " bending the bow " , N. applied to a good archer ; N. of agni or fire ; (hence) fire

dadau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. dā: to give
dvi-jebhyaḥ (dat. pl.): m. “twice born,” brahmin
kṛśanam (acc. sg.): n. a pearl , mother-of-pearl ; gold
ca: and
gāḥ (acc. pl. m./f.): m. bull; f. cow
ca: and

事火奉諸神 叉手飮月光

1 comment:

Mike Cross said...

When first published this post contained the sentence, "Gudo Nishijima, my teacher, was a typical religious hypocrite." On reflection, that was just another instance of the mirror principle, whereby I use "the other" as a mirror on which to observe a tendency I haven't yet transcended in myself.