Thursday, September 20, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.51: Difficult Rites

−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Buddhi)
svāyaṁbhuvaṁ cārcikam-arcayitvā jajāpa putra-sthitaye sthita-śrīḥ
cakāra karmāṇi ca duṣkarāṇi prajāḥ siskṣuḥ ka ivādi-kāle || 2.51

having devoutly caused to be chanted
those chants of praise attributed to Svayam-bhū,
“The Spontaneously Arisen,”

He of enduring majesty muttered a prayer
for his son's enduring existence

And performed difficult karmic rites --

Like Ka, in the beginning, desiring to create creatures.

Today's verse as I read it is yet another one that is laden with irreligious irony.

In the 1st pāda, Svayam-bhū, “The Spontaneously Arisen,” or “the Self-Existent,” is an epithet of Brahman, who is defined in the MW dictionary as: the brahma or one self-existent impersonal Spirit , the one universal Soul (or one divine essence and source from which all created things emanate or with which they are identified and to which they return) , the Self-existent , the Absolute , the Eternal (not generally an object of worship but rather of meditation and knowledge).

Why does Aśvaghoṣa make use of the epithet “Spontaneously Arisen” or “Self-Existent”? Is it because he affirmed a priori belief in the Causeless Cause? That somehow would not sit so well with the exploration being conducted in this canto, within the battlements of cause and effect. Or is it, on the contrary, because Aśvaghoṣa did not believe for a moment in any "self-existent" causeless cause?

Again, in the 2nd pāda, does Aśvaghoṣa allow the possibility that a prayer offered to “The Spontaneously Arisen” might cause said “Spontaneously Arisen” to engage in a spot of divine intervention that defies the normal working of cause and effect? Or is it rather Aśvaghoṣa's intention to suggest that such hopeful or expectant muttering of prayers is the irrational act of a deluded person?

In the 3rd pāda, I have understood karmāṇi in the sense of “any religious act or rite (as sacrifice, oblation et cetera, especially as originating in the hope of future recompense).” I think that when Aśvaghoṣa describes such acts or rites as “difficult,” he uses “difficult” in the sense that a Japanese estate agent of the 1980s would use the word “difficult,” with much sucking of teeth, when a foreigner walked into his shop wishing to rent a flat. In that context, “a bit difficult” (chotto muzukashi) meant in other words “Not a cat in hell's chance, mate. On your way.”

In the 4th pāda, Ka is the name of a creator god, or of ten creator gods, first created, logically enough, by the One Self-Existent, Spontaneously Arising, Brahman. Ka is also the name of the first consonant of the Sanskrit alphabet.

So there might be a parallel here with the Biblical assertion that “In the beginning was the word. And the word was God.”

If you believe that, you might believe anything. For Aśvaghoṣa, as I read him, to accept such belief would be, in the words of a Japanese estate agent, chotto muzukashi, “a bit difficult.”

Digging deeper, what is the relation between today's verse and the Zen teaching of the buddha-ancestors? I think the relation is a purely negative one. That is to say, today's verse is provided for contrast. Like the words of the striver in Saundarananda Cantos 8 & 9, the behaviour of the king in today's verse gives the reader/listener the opportunity to exercise his or her critical faculties and say “No, it is not that.”

In many religions, in the beginning was the Word, and the aim is to know that sacred Word and let it be known.

But the essence of the Zen teaching of buddha-ancestors, as transmitted in Japanese by Dogen, is:
Give up the intellectual work of investigating sayings and chasing words.
Learn the backward step of turning [your own] light and letting it shine. 
Body and mind will fall away spontaneously/naturally and your original features will appear.

If King Śuddhodhana in today's verse was like a creator god, in the beginning, desiring to bring something into being by a religious means related with a sacred Word, then the direction of the King's effort, it seems to me, was totally opposite from the direction advocated by Dogen.

When Buddhist scholars suggest that Aśvaghoṣa's intention was to present the Buddha's teaching as the consummation of Brahmanism, I could not disagree more. I think those eminent Buddhist scholars, because they are not inclined to park their arses on a round black cushion and observe the central irony of Zen practice (which is that trying to get one's original features to appear, on the basis of deluded beliefs, is the essence of not being yourself), have totally failed to notice Aśvaghoṣa's pervasive use of irony.

svāyaṁbhuvam (acc. sg.): m. "son of svayam-bhū " , N. of various sages (esp. of the first manu , of marīci , atri , nārada &c ) ; mfn. relating to svayam-bhū or the Self-existent , derived from the Self-existent (i.e. brahman)
svayam-bhū: mfn. self-existing , independent
svayam: ind. self ; of or by one's self spontaneously , voluntarily , of one's own accord
bhū: mfn. becoming , being , existing , springing , arising; f. the act of becoming or arising ; f. the place of being , space , world or universe
ca: and
ārcikam mfn. relating to the ṛg-veda or connected with a ṛc-verse ; n. N. of the sāma-veda
ṛc: f. praise , verse , esp. a sacred verse recited in praise of a deity (in contradistinction to the sāman [pl. sāmāni] or verses which were sung and to the yajus [pl. yajūṁṣi] or sacrificial words , formularies , and verses which were muttered); sacred text ; the collection of the ṛc verses
sāma-veda: m. "veda of chants " , N. of one of the three principal vedas; it contains a number of verses or stanzas nearly all of which [except about 78] occur in the ṛg-veda and which , modified in various ways , are chanted , mostly , by the udgātṛ priests at soma sacrifices; the saṁhitā of the sāma-veda consists of two parts ; the first , called ārcika, contains 585 verses disjoined from their proper sequence in the ṛg-veda and arranged in 59 daśatis or decades....
arcayitvā = abs. causative ṛc: to cause to shine ; to honour or treat with respect
ṛc/arc: to shine; to praise, sing; to honour or treat with respect

jajāpa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. jap: to utter in a low voice , whisper , mutter (esp. prayers or incantations); to pray to any one (acc.) in a low voice; to invoke or call upon in a low voice
putra-sthitaye (dat. sg.): for the continuance of his son's life
sthiti: f. standing upright or firmly , not falling ; continuance in being , maintenance of life , continued existence (the 2nd of the three states of all created things , the 1st being utpatti , " coming into existence " , and the 3rd laya , " dissolution ") , permanence , duration ; duration of life
sthita-śrīḥ (nom. sg. m.): he whose majesty/sovereignty was established
sthita: mfn. standing; being or remaining or keeping in any state or condition ; lasting ; firm , constant , invariable ; established
śrī: f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory ; prosperity , welfare , good fortune , success , auspiciousness , wealth , treasure , riches (śriyā , " according to fortune or wealth ") , high rank , power , might , majesty , royal dignity

cakāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kṛ: to do
karmāṇi (loc. pl.): 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)
ca: and
duṣkarāṇi (loc. pl. n.): mfn. hard to be done or borne , difficult , arduous ; rare ; doing wrong , behaving ill , wicked , bad

prajāḥ (acc. pl.): f. procreation; offspring , children , family , race , posterity , descendants , after-growth (of plants); a creature , animal , man , mankind
sisṛkṣuḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. Desid. of √sṛj) wishing to let flow or emit; wishing or purposing to create
kaḥ (nom. sg.): m. N. of prajāpati or of a prajāpati; of brahman
prajāpati: m. " lord of creatures " , N. of savitṛ , soma , agni , indra &c ; m. a divinity presiding over procreation , protector of life ; m. lord of creatures , creator RV. &c &c (N. of a supreme god above or among the Vedic deities [ RV. (only x , 21 , 10) AV. VS. Br. ] but in later times also applied to viṣṇu , śiva , Time personified , the sun , fire , &c , and to various progenitors , esp. to the 10 lords of created beings first created by brahmā , viz. marīci , atri , aṅgiras , pulastya , pulaka , kratu , vasiṣṭha , pracetas or dakṣa , bhṛgu , nārada [ Mn. i , 34 ; cf. IW. 206 n. 1] , of whom some authorities count only the first 7 , others the last 3)
ka: the first consonant of the alphabet , and the first guttural letter;
iva: like
ādi-kāle (loc. sg.): m. primitive time
ādi: m. beginning , commencement

所以爲王者 將爲顯其子
顯子爲宗族 榮族以名聞
名高得生天 生天爲樂已  

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