Sunday, September 16, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.47: A Patriarch's Desire

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Upendravajrā)
atheṣṭa-putraḥ parama-pratītaḥ kulasya vddhiṁ prati bhūmi-pālaḥ
yathaiva putra-prasave nananda tathaiva pautra-prasave nananda || 2.47

And so having had the son he desired,
and feeling satisfaction of the highest order

At the extension of his house,
a keeper of the earth, 

Just as he had rejoiced at the delivery of a son,

Rejoiced equally at the delivery of a son of his son.

Sometimes I have the sense that this translation is doing itself, in chinks opened up by sitting, in spite of the aching and groggy presence of a moaning minnie like me. 

Yesterday morning I was putting some boards down along a side of the loft that I had not bothered doing when I boarded the loft several years ago. It is not the kind of job that invites living in the moment and relishing every second; it is more the kind of job that invites end-gaining, while looking forward to a shower and change of clothes. Thus it was that I didn't get round to sitting for the 2nd time yesterday until mid-afternoon, by which time I was sorely in need of an afternoon nap, so I gave up sitting after 15 minutes and had a nap. But about one minute into that session of what is called in Japanese namakura zazen (“sitting-meditation with a blunt sword”), the following comment formed itself in my mind:

In Sanskrit there is no distinction between the definite article (“the”) and the indefinite article (“a”).

That is as far as I got yesterday with working on today's verse. After having a nap, I sat again for 40 minutes and then went back to boarding the loft. By the time I had finished in the loft my wife had made dinner and I felt sorely in need of a beer, or two. So the day finished with another cursory 15 minutes of namakura zazen before Match of the Day, in the middle of which I entered involuntarily into the land of nod.

It was not a good day in terms of devotion to sitting or in terms of paying attention to this translation.

Consequently, I woke up this morning with muscular aches and pains in places unbefitting an Alexander teacher, and a headache, not having given due consideration either to the use of myself or to today's verse. At the same time I knew that the verse had already sort of unlocked  itself for me in that first minute of namakura zazen, during which it hit me that on the surface bhūmi-pālaḥ (“earth-keeper”) means “the King” (definite article) but Aśvaghoṣa's real intention was to express, partly autobiographically, the reality of a real keeper of the earth (indefinite article), i.e. a Zen patriarch.

The 1st pāda, then, can be read as expressing what a Zen patriarch subjectively desires and what gives him or her supreme satisfaction.

The 2nd pāda has a strongly materialistic tone which is antithetical to idealistic conceptions of a how a Zen patriarch ought to be. As a matter of historical fact, when Bodhidharma came from India in the west to China in the east, he did not float to China on a cloud; he sailed over the sea in a ship and went, for a start, to visit the nominal Keeper of the Eastern Lands at that time, whose name was Emperor Wu.

The 3rd and 4th pādas, as I read them, might again express a fact that Aśvaghoṣa recognized very happily in his own experience, which is that a good investment in one generation can continue to pay dividends in successive generations, with no dimunition of joy on the part of the original investor. (Warning: Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, and investments may go down as well as up.)

If I look to Saundarananda for evidence to support the above view of what a Zen patriarch desires, the evidence might be found in Canto 18.
And so like a young initiate who mastered the Vedas, like a trader who turned a quick profit, / Or like a royal warrior who conquered a hostile army, a success, Nanda approached the Guru. // 18.1 // For it is pleasant, at a time when wisdom has been fully realized, for teacher to see student, and for student to see teacher, / Each thinking, "Your toil has rewarded me"; for which same reason the wish to see Nanda arose in the Sage. // SN18.2 //
Then, after listening to him who had emerged already out of heedlessness, after hearing his firmness and his testimony / And a clarity consistent with the gist of dharma, the Sage boomed at him like a thundercloud: // 18.21// "You who stands firm in the dharma which is loved by those who study it, stand up! Why are you fallen with your head at my feet? /The prostration does not honour me so much as this surefootedness in the dharma. // 18.22 // Today you may fittingly proclaim that King Śuddhodana is your father. / For it is not commendable for a backslider, after falling from the dharma alighted on by ancestors, to proclaim his lineage. // 18.31 // How great it is that you have reached the deepest tranquillity, like a man making it through a wasteland and gaining possession of treasure. / For everybody in the flux of saṁsāra is afflicted by fear, just like a man in a wasteland. // 18.32 // 'When shall I see Nanda settled, given over to the living of a forest beggar's life?', / So thinking, I had harboured from the start the desire to see you thus. What a wonderful sight you are for me to behold! // SN18.33 //

A final point is that prasave (from pra-√su) in the 3rd and 4th pādas seems on the surface to mean “birth,” in which case the √su means to beget. But since what delighted the Buddha in Nanda was his ending of birth, prasave is better understood as “being set in motion,” in which case the √su is a different root altogether and it means not to beget but to go, to get moving. So I think the meaning Aśvaghoṣa really wanted to convey 
is that a Zen patriarch rejoices to see a student getting going, launching himself into independent activity. But for a word that preserves the ambiguity of the original Sanskrit, “delivery,” though less dynamic than “being set in motion,” might be the best option.

atha: ind. and so, then
iṣṭa-putraḥ (nom. sg. m.): having the wished-for son
iṣṭa: mfn. sought, wished, desired
putra: m. son
parama-pratītaḥ (nom. sg. m.): being fully convinced, having satisfaction of the highest order
parama: mfn. most distant, extreme, highest; n. (also parama- in comp. ;) very much , excessively , excellently , in the highest degree
pratīta: mfn. recognized; convinced of anything , trusting in , firmly resolved upon (comp.); satisfied , cheerful , glad , pleased

kulasya (gen. sg.): n. family ; the residence of a family , seat of a community; a house; a noble or eminent family or race
vddhim (acc. sg.): f. growth , increase , augmentation , rise , advancement , extension , welfare , prosperity , success
prati: ind. towards
bhūmi-pālaḥ (nom. sg.): m. " earth-guardian " , a king , prince
pāla: m. a guard , protector , keeper ; protector of the earth , king.

yathā: ind. just as
eva: (emphatic)
putra-prasave (loc. sg. m.): at the birth of his son
putra: m. son, child
prasava: m. (fr. pra-√su [to go]) setting or being set in motion ; stimulation , furtherance , aid; m. (fr. pra-√su [to beget]) begetting , procreation , generation , conception , parturition , delivery , birth , origin; augmentation , increase ; offspring , posterity
nananda = 3rd pers. perf. nand: to rejoice , delight , to be pleased or satisfied with , be glad

tathā: ind. so, likewise
eva: (emphatic)
pautra-prasave (loc. sg. m.): at the birth of his grandson
pautra: m. a son's son , grandson
nananda = 3rd pers. perf. nand: to rejoice , delight , to be pleased or satisfied with , be glad

白淨王自念 太子已生子
歴世相繼嗣 正化無終極

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