Monday, September 17, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.48: Giving Petitionary Practices the Bird

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Indravajrā)
putrasya me putra-gato mamaiva snehaḥ kathaṁ syād-iti jāta-harṣaḥ
kāle sa taṁ taṁ vidhim-ālalambe putra-priyaḥ svargam-ivārurukṣan || 2.48

By what means might there occur in my son
this same attachment to a son as I have?”

Thus joyfully scheming,

The king devoted himself in good time
to this and that prescribed practice,

As if he were an “offspring-loving” putra-priya bird
aspiring to soar to heaven.

EBC translated the 4th pāda: “like one who fondly loves his son and is about to rise to heaven.”

My first intuition, accepting this gist and following a similar line of thought to the one discussed yesterday, was to translate the 4th pāda:
Like one bound for heaven [i.e. a teacher who is going to die] who, in his fondness for his offspring [i.e. his students], intended to keep going up [e.g. intended to die while sitting or standing, as the ultimate example of direction of energy].”

On reflection, however, such an interpretation does not fit well with the reliance on various religious rites apparently described in the 3rd pāda.

Aśvaghoṣa's intention may instead have been, characteristically, to hide in the 4th pāda a punchline that subverts an ostensible airy-fairy meaning.

Just such an interpretation is made possible by the fact that “fondness for offspring” (putra-priya) is the name of a kind of bird. So I think in conclusion that Aśvaghoṣa's primary intention was to portray in a comical light the king's vaulting devotion to petitional religious practices.

The difficulty that remains in translating a verse like today's verse is that Aśvaghoṣa was portraying King Śuddhodana as very altruistic (something commendable), at least in his devotion to his son, and at the same time as highly irrational (something risible), in his reliance on religious rites to secure desired outcomes.

If I take the 4th pāda as affirmation of the king's altruism, then it brings to my mind tear-jerking memories of visiting my Alexander head of training when he was at death's door and yet still attending to the one great matter in Alexander work which is not pulling down, but going up. Again, it brings to mind the story told by Matthieu Ricard of the famous Tibetan teacher who earned a living in a past life as a hunter but who was transformed by the sight of a dying doe that he had shot, licking her new born offspring even as she took her last breaths.

Thoughts like these can be energizing – just as thoughts of their beloved prophet Mohammed so easily energy Muslim rabbles when they perceive that their prophet has been insulted. If they piss me off, which they do, that must be the mirror principle working. And on reflection I also am not immune from allowing myself to be fired up with righteous indignation.

When I park my arse on a round black cushion early in the morning, however (or not so early this morning, if I am truthful), this is not the kind of thinking I start with. At least it wasn't this morning. My first constructive thought this morning was a very clear one, which is that I am sitting here primarily to practise not doing and non-doing. I am not here primarily to do anything altruistic, or to pray for anything, or to inspire anybody, or to be inspired. I am here primarily NOT to pull my legs into my pelvis, for which purpose altruistic thoughts can easily become counter-productive, turning into pernicious worries.

In conclusion, remembering Tendo Nyojo's words, “We should sternly guard against being intoxicated by a twirling flower,” and since I cannot see a way to preserve any ambiguity intended in Aśvaghoṣa's original words, I think it is definitely best to read the 4th pāda as poking fun at the king's lack of appreciation of cause and effect, and so I have translated the verse accordingly.

putrasya (gen. sg.): m. son
me (gen. sg.): of me, my
putra-gataḥ (nom. sg. m.): for a son, directed towards a son
-gata: mfn. gone to; relating to , referring to , connected with (e.g. putra-gata sneha , love directed towards the son)
mama (gen. sg.): of me, my
eva (emphatic)

snehaḥ (nom. sg.): m. blandness , tenderness , love , attachment to , fondness or affection for
katham: ind. how
syāt = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be , live , exist , be present ; to take place , happen;
iti: “thus,”...
jāta-harṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.):
jāta: mfn. born; happened
harṣa: m. erection (esp. of the hair in a thrill of rapture or delight) ; joy , pleasure , happiness

kāle (loc. sg.): in time, seasonably
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
taṁ tam (acc. sg. m) this and that , various , different
vidhim (acc. sg.): m. a rule , formula , injunction , ordinance , statute , precept , law , direction (esp. for the performance of a rite as given in the brāhmaṇa portion of the veda , which accord. to Sa1y. consists of two parts , 1. vidhi , " precepts or commandments " e.g. yajeta , " he ought to sacrifice " , kuryāt , " he ought to perform " ; 2. artha-vāda , " explanatory statements " as to the origin of rites and use of the mantras , mixed up with legends and illustrations) ; any prescribed act or rite or ceremony ; method , manner or way of acting , mode of life , conduct , behaviour ; a means , expedient for ; any act or action , performance , accomplishment , contrivance , work
ālalambe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ā- √ lamb: to hang from ; to lay hold of , seize , cling to ; to rest or lean upon; to support , hold ; to give one's self up to
√ lamb: to hang down , depend , dangle , hang from or on (loc.)

putra-priyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. dear to a son; m. " fond of offspring " , name of a kind of bird
svargam (acc. sg.): m. heaven
iva: like
arurukṣan = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect desiderative ruh: to ascend, mount, rise ; to reach to , attain (a desire); to grow together or over , cicatrize , heal (as a wound)

太子既生子 愛子與我同
不復慮出家 但當力修善
我今心大安 無異生天樂


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

I've got no problem with the observation that kings - even the altruistic kings of future buddhas - might scheme, but I just can't see "joyfully scheming" in jāta-harṣaḥ. I can see "excited," "aroused, "enthused" and so forth, but not "...scheming".

Not a choice of words that remotely pisses me off, you understand. More a convenient excuse to say "Hi. Still checking in daily. Thanks for keeping going."

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Malcolm,

I translated jāta-harṣaḥ as "joyfully." The "scheming" is how I understood what is implied by iti. iti expresses that such were the thought processes of the king. So what kind of thought processes were they? What kind of thinking was the king doing?

In my book he was scheming or machinating, working out a means by which he expected he might gain an end he had in mind.

But if you can see better ways of translating iti, I am open to suggestions.

Anyway, it is good to hear from you again -- thanks for the encouragement as always.

jiblet said...

Ah, I see! Fair enough. No suggestions :)