Wednesday, September 19, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.50: Brightness

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Chāyā)
ajājvaliṣṭātha sa puṇya-karmā npa-śriyā caiva tapaḥ-śriyā ca
kulena vttena dhiyā ca dīptas-tejaḥ sahasrāṁśur-ivotsiskṣuḥ || 2.50

And so this pious man of pure karma blazed

With the majesty of a ruler of men, 
and with the glow of hot austerity.

Made brilliant by good family, conduct and sense,

He was like the thousand-rayed sun, 
desiring to emit its brightness.

What is the brightness of which buddha-ancestors speak?

I don't know, but I think the first three pādas of today's verse are a kind of exploration of its causes.

The suggestion in the 1st pāda is that the first cause of brightness is not to do wrong. Hence King Śuddhodhana is described as puṇya-karmā, which means a virtuous or pious man. At the same time, puṇya-karmā might be intended to suggest a religious man, a maker of merit who is concerned with keeping his karma pure for the purpose of receiving a future reward, for example, in heaven.

The 2nd pāda, as I read it, is therefore designed to subvert this namby-pamby conception with two much more materialistic expressions of the causes of brightness. Real brightness, the 2nd pāda suggests, is not something spiritual but something arising from power, energy, intense effort.

The 3rd pāda says to both previous pādas, who might be seen as squabbling with each other, “No, it is not that.” In a practical spirit of reason, compromise and synthesis, the 3rd pāda says that both nature and nuture (represented by kula, family) are determinants, but so also is a person's own autonomous action (vṛtta) important, and in the middle way between determinism and freewill a factor like good sense (dhī) might be difficult to put on one side or the other.

In comparing the King to the thousand-rayed sun (sahasrāṁśuḥ), Aśvaghoṣa reinforces the impression that in praising the virtues of the Buddha's father, who by definition pre-dated the Buddha, his real intention is to describe the virtues of Gautama Buddha as universal, or non-Buddhist. Those real virtues of Buddha are as universal, as irreligious, and as non-Buddhist  as, for example, the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Dogen said that mountains belong to people who love mountains. By the same logic, the sun might have belonged in antiquity to the Aztecs or to the ancient Japanese – but not to one group at the expense of the other. I think partly because the virtues of the sun are not Buddhist but universal, Aśvaghoṣa uses the sun three times in Saundarananda as a symbol of the Buddha:
To people possessed by ends, serving many and various paths, / Splendour had arisen that seemed like the sun: Gautama was like the sun, dispelling darkness. // SN3.16 // 
He walked over water as if on dry land, immersed himself in the soil as though it were water, / Rained as a cloud in the sky, and shone like the newly-risen sun. // SN3.23 // 
One woman there, however, on glancing through a round side-window on the upper storey of the palace, / Had seen the Sugata, the One Gone Well, going away -- like the blazing sun emerging from a cloud. // SN4.28 //
So ostensibly the 4th pāda describes King Śuddhodhana as bursting with fiery energy, or as desiring to shine forth, but below the surface it might be intended to suggest the desire of the King's son, Gautama Buddha. And on a still deeper level, whether Aśvaghoṣa intended it or not, I read the 4th pāda as an autobiographical expression of Aśvaghoṣa himself, whose crafting of poetry like this should not be denigrated as a work of religion or literature, but should rather be appreciated as brightness emitted by somebody ineffable, who practised the backward step of turning his light and letting it shine.

ajājvaliṣṭa = 3rd pers. sg. aorist intenstive jval: to burn brightly , blaze , glow , shine
atha: ind. and so, then
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
puṇya-karmā (nom. sg. m.): mfn. acting right , virtuous , pious
puṇya: mfn. auspicious , propitious , fair , pleasant , good , right , virtuous , meritorious , pure , holy , sacred
karman: n. act, action ; any religious act or rite (as sacrifice , oblation &c , esp. as originating in the hope of future recompense and as opposed to speculative religion or knowledge of spirit); former act as leading to inevitable results , fate (as the certain consequence of acts in a previous life)

nṛpa-śriyā (inst. sg.): with the majesty of a ruler of men
nṛpa: m. ruler/protector of men; king
śrī: f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory , beauty , grace , loveliness; prosperity , welfare , good fortune , success , auspiciousness , wealth , treasure , riches ; high rank , power , might , majesty , royal dignity
ca: end
eva: (emphatic)
tapaḥ-śriyā (inst. sg.): with the radiant light of hot austerity
tapas: n. warmth , heat ; religious austerity , bodily mortification
ca: and

kulena (inst. sg.): n. a race , family , community , tribe ; house ; a noble or eminent family or race; high station
vṛttena (inst. sg.): n. action, conduct (esp. virtuous conduct) – see BC2.40
dhiyā ( f. thought , (esp.) religious thought , reflection , meditation , devotion , prayer; understanding , intelligence , wisdom
ca: and
dīptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. blazing , flaming , hot , shining , bright , brilliant , splendid

tejaḥ (acc. sg.): n. (often pl.) the sharp edge (of a knife &c ) , point or top of a flame or ray , glow , glare , splendour , brilliance , light , fire ; clearness of the eyes ; the bright appearance of the human body (in health) , beauty
sahasrāṁśuḥ (nom. sg.) m. 'thousand-rayed', the sun
sahasra: n. a thousand
aṁśu: m. a ray, sunbeam
iva: like
utsisṛkṣuḥ (nom. sg.): m. (from desid. ut-√ sṛj, to let loose, emit) desirous of emitting
ut-√ sṛj: to let loose , let off or go ; to set free ; to pour out , emit , send forth ; to bring forth , produce , create

熾然修勝業 王勝梵行勝
宗族財寶勝 勇健伎藝勝 
明顯照世間 如日千光耀

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