Thursday, September 6, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.37: Non-Buddhist Virtues (ctd) – Bathing In & Drinking In the Right Stuff

          −−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Indravajrā)
sasnau śarīraṁ pavituṁ manaś-ca tīrthāmbubhiś-caiva guṇāmbubhiś-ca
vedopadiṣṭaṁ samam-ātmajaṁ ca somaṁ papau śānti-sukhaṁ ca hārdam || 2.37

To cleanse body and mind, he bathed

In the waters of sacred bathing places,
and in the waters of merit;

And at one and the same time, he imbibed
what is prescribed in the Vedas
and what is produced from within:

The soma-juice and the ease of a tranquil heart.

In today's verse, as I read it, Aśvaghoṣa is inviting the reader/listener/reciter to buy a dummy, not once but twice. In order not to buy the dummy we have to be awake to  Aśvaghoṣa's true intention.

If today's verse, to use another metaphor, is like two clues in a cryptic crossword puzzle, the comment which follows below is like my answer to that crossword puzzle.

So if you prefer to work it out for yourself, and come up with your own answer, then stop reading the comment here and go back and ponder the Sanskrit and/or the translation, and see if you can work out for yourself how Aśvaghoṣa was throwing a dummy, and what his real intention was. Then check lower down the page and see if we came to the same conclusion.

Putting the solution to a puzzle at the bottom of the page (generally written upside-down), was a feature of the puzzles page in the Beano, a comic I used to read 45 years ago, when my weekly copy would be delivered early in the morning to our house in Dad's Lane in Kings Heath, Birmingham. I would get up early and read it before going to school, invariably beginning with Dennis the Menace -- one of my earliest role models -- and his faithful pooch Gnasher. 

If anybody has got a complete collection of Beanos from circa 1967 or 1968, you should find somewhere on the puzzles page something along the following lines, from a certain M. Cross, Birmingham, who I seem to remember won a prize of 10-shillings – the first honest money I ever earned.

Go from DUST to GOLD in 6 easy steps (answer at the bottom of the page).


If you are still wondering what I mean when I say that Aśvaghoṣa was throwing the dummy, there may be a clue in the following translations by three eminent Buddhist scholars, each of who bought the dummy.

EB Cowell:
He bathed to purify his body and mind with the waters of holy places and of holy feelings; and at the same time he drank the soma-juice as enjoined by the Veda, and the heartfelt self-produced happiness of perfect calm.

EH Johnston:
“He bathed to purify his body with the waters of the sacred bathing-places and his mind with the waters of the virtues, and at the same time he drank soma as enjoined by the Vedas and observed in his heart the self-produced bliss of religious tranquillity.”

P Olivelle:
“To cleanse his body he bathed with water from sacred fords, and to cleanse his mind he bathed with the waters of virtue; he imbibed the Soma that is prescribed by the Vedas, along with the tranquil bliss of heart produced by himself.

EBC didn't buy the first dummy but bought the second. EHJ totally bought them both, followed in due course by PO.

The first mistake is to think that the waters of a sacred bathing place cleanse the body and not the mind, whereas the waters of merit/virtue cleanse the mind and not the body. EBC, at least, avoided separating body and mind in this way, though why he translated guṇa as “holy feelings” is another question.

The second mistake is to assume that what is prescribed in the Vedas is the soma, the juice of cool exhileration, whereas what arises from within is tranquillity-ease of the heart (śānti-sukhaṁ hārdam).

Why did Aśvaghoṣa invite these mistakes? I think firstly because he wanted to give each reader/listener the opportunity, or the enjoyment, of successfully navigating a way around his traps, starting with the easier one and then progressing to the more difficult one.

Secondly Aśvaghoṣa was aware that, in so navigating, we would be caused to think for ourselves, to examine the easy assumptions of self and others, and to go on asking questions.

For example, does having a bath or a shower cleanse the body, or the mind, or both? And does a meritorious act like, say, giving clear directions to a stranger who is lost, cleanse the mind, or the body, or neither? Is it possible to cleanse the body without cleansing the mind at one and the same time? Is it possible, conversely, to cleanse the mind without cleansing the body?

Do the Vedas in fact prescribe only the drinking of soma? Or do the Vedas, in fact, also advocate imbibing śānti-sukhaṁ hārdam, the tranquillity-ease of the heart? And if the Vedas do advocate the latter, do they give any practical indication of how to work in that direction? Are the Vedas concerned with means and end? Or do they just specify the end without due consideration of the proper means? How about the Buddha's teaching in, say, Saundara-nanda, the Epic Story of Beautiful Joy? Is the Buddha concerned with both means and end? Or is he only concerned with the means and not interested at all in any end? 

Of general significance for a follower of Aśvaghoṣa is what exactly Aśvaghoṣa meant by the soma, a word that appears so often in his writing, especially in its derivative form saumya, used by the Buddha many times in the vocative case, when addressing Nanda, to mean “my friend.”

A clue was offered in Aśvaghoṣa's portrayal of the king in the 2nd canto of Saundara-nanda, where the king's soma-like qualities of coolness and mildness were contrasted with the fiery energy with which he cut down his number one enemy, the arrogant other:
In the presence of gurus, and obeying the rule, he caused the soma to be measured out on time, as a cool, mild man of soma (saumyaḥ [nom. sg.]), / And yet, with intense ardour, with fiery energy, he saw the enemy army cut down to size. // 2.36 //
Soma literally means juice. So can we understand that what is prescribed in the Vedas and at the same time what arises from within (vedopadiṣṭaṁ saman ātmajam) is not only the ease of a tranquil heart but also some kind of juice?

And if so, what are the characteristics of this vital juice that arises from within? Coolness for sure. But could exhilaration be included as well? I think if I were discussing today's verse with Gudo Nishijima he wouldn't have any doubt what the soma-juice symbolized. He would have said it symbolized the balanced state of the autonomic nervous system, in which the parasympathetic nerves (root of coolness) and sympathetic nerves (root of exhilaration) were both working well. And broadly speaking he might not have been wrong, on this point at least.

So for an interpretative translation of soma, “the juices of cool exhilaration,” might not be far off the mark.

In any event, the point that is established in today's verse, at least to my satisfaction, is that Aśvaghoṣa saw such juices not only as something extracted from a plant on the outside, but also as something that can, when the conditions are right, start flowing within the self.

A couple of weeks ago my wife went to Japan to spend three weeks with her father, and left me here in France to look after her dog. This afternoon I will take the dog to the vet's in Domfront, prior to travelling back to England on Monday in order to pick my wife up from Heathrow airport on Tuesday. So before venturing from my forest lair to go to the vet's this afternoon, I will scrub this stinking bag of skin thoroughly with soap, under a hot shower. Whether I shall bathe in the waters of merit, or imbibe what is prescribed in the Vedas, I somehow doubt. But scrubbing myself under the shower: that much I can do.

Can an ordinary shower be called a tīrtha (“sacred bathing place”)? Yes, for sure. A tīrtha means a bathing place, any bathing place. Then why is it necessary to call it a “sacred” place?

My answer to that question, which is a question I asked myself when pondering the translation of the 2nd pāda, is that it is not necessarily the place which is sacred. The act of bathing might be sacred.

Praise be to Proctor & Gamble!

sasnau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. snā: to bathe , perform the ceremony of bathing or certain prescribed oblations (esp. on returning home from the house of a religious preceptor , or on concluding certain vows &c)
śarīram (acc. sg.): n. the body
pavitum = inf. pū: to make clean or clear or pure or bright , cleanse , purify , purge
manaḥ (acc. sg.): n. the mind
ca: and

tīrthāmbubhiḥ (inst. pl. n.): with the waters of a sacred bathing-place
tīrtha: n. a passage , way , road , ford , stairs for landing or for descent into a river , bathing-place , place of pilgrimage on the banks of sacred streams , piece of water
ambubhiḥ (inst. pl): n. water
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
guṇāṁbubhiḥ (inst. pl. n.): with the waters of virtue
guṇa: m. good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
ca: and

vedopadiṣṭam (acc. sg. m.): prescribed in the Vedas
veda: m. knowledge; N. of certain celebrated works which constitute the basis of the first period of the Hindu religion
upadiṣṭa: mfn. specified , particularized ; taught , instructed; prescribed , commanded &c
samam: ind. in like manner , alike , equally , similarly; together with or at the same time with or in accordance with
ātmajam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. self-originated
jan: to generate , beget , produce , create , cause
ca: and

somam (acc. sg.): m. juice , extract , (esp.) the juice of the soma plant ; , (also) the soma plant itself (said to be the climbing plant Sarcostema Viminalis or Asclepias Acida , the stalks [aṁśu] of which were pressed between stones [adri] by the priests , then sprinkled with water , and purified in a strainer [pavitra] ; whence the acid juice trinkled into jars [kalaśa] or larger vessels [droṇa] ; after which it was mixed with clarified butter , flour &c , made to ferment , and then offered in libations to the gods [in this respect corresponding with the ritual of the Iranian Avesta] or was drunk by the Brahmans , by both of whom its exhilarating effect was supposed to be prized ; it was collected by moonlight on certain mountains [in RV. x , 34 , 1, the mountain mūja-vat is mentioned] ; it is sometimes described as having been brought from the sky by a falcon [śyena] and guarded by the gandharvas ; it is personified as one of the most important of Vedic gods , to whose praise all the 114 hymns of the 9th book of the RV. besides 6 in other books and the whole SV. are dedicated ; in post-Vedic mythology and even in a few of the latest hymns of the RV. [although not in the whole of the 9th book] as well as sometimes in the AV. and in the Br. , soma is identified with the moon [as the receptacle of the other beverage of the gods called amṛta , or as the lord of plants cf. indu , oṣadhi-pati] and with the god of the moon) ; the moon or moon god ; nectar
papau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pā: to drink
śānti-sukham (acc. sg. n.): peace and ease; the ease of peace of mind
śānti: f. tranquillity , peace , quiet , peace or calmness of mind; indifference to objects of pleasure or pain; cessation
sukha: n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness
ca: and
hārdam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. relating to or being in the heart

恒水沐浴身 法水澡其心
祈福非存己 唯子及萬民

Answer to today's quiz question:

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