Sunday, September 23, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.54: Digging Multi-Layered Dharma

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Bālā)
evaṁ sa dharmaṁ vividhaṁ cakāra sadbhir-nipātaṁ śrutitaś-ca siddham
dṣṭvā katha putra-mukhaṁ suto me vanaṁ na yāyād-iti nāthamānaḥ || 2.54

Thus he practised the dharma of many strata

Which the good alight upon, 
and penetrate through listening,

All the time asking himself:

“Now that my son has seen the face of his son,
how might he be stopped from going to the forest?”

Aśvaghoṣa's description of dharma in the 1st pāda as vividhaṁ (EHJ: “manifold”) sounds at first reading as if Aśvaghoṣa might have in mind not only the one buddha-dharma which is sitting, but “various observances” (EBC) or “various acts of dharma” (PO). But Aśvaghoṣa's real intention might be to draw our attention back to the fact that the word “dharma” covers a multitude of sins, from “religion” and “religious duty” through to totally irreligious parking of one's arse on a round black cushion. The point might be, then, that there are not many kinds of dharma, but one dharma which as a word is ambiguous, and as the reality of sitting is multi-layered and multi-dimensional.

On the surface, the daily practice of sitting-meditation might look like a kind of religious duty. Digging somewhat deeper, a bloke who actually sits might rudely say words to the effect of “Is it hell a religious duty.” But there might be levels much deeper than that – like not saying anything at all but just sitting. And deeper still there might be not thinking anything at all but just sitting.

Understood like that, the first two pādas fit well with the mining metaphor, if we take vividhaṁ to mean mani-fold in the original sense of having many folds, or layers, or strata.

The word nipātam (“alighted upon”) is used to describe the dharma not only in the 2nd pāda of today's verse but also in the last canto of Aśvaghoṣa's epic story of Beautiful Joy:
For it is not commendable for a backslider, after falling from the dharma alighted on by ancestors (bhraṣṭasya dharmāt pitṛbhir-nipātād), to proclaim his lineage. // SN18.31 //
The expression "alighted upon" suggests to me a certain lightness or indirectness -- the suggestion being that we have arrived at dharma like the dharma of Aśvaghoṣa which we are excavating now, not so much from having striven to get our dirty paws on it but rather as the result of good karma that must have accumulated, largely unbeknowns to us, over the short, medium, and very long term.

Since the dictionary defines śruti-taḥ as “according to sacred or revealed knowledge, in respect of or according to sacred precept,” it is understandable that previous translators have translated śrutitaś-ca siddham as if it were something religious-sounding; hence, EBC: “and established from revelation”; EHJ: “and is established through revelation”; PO: “ordained by scripture.”  But Aśvaghoṣa's dharma as I dig it is not like that.

evam: ind. thus
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. dharma
vividham (acc. sg. m.): mfn. of various sorts , manifold , divers; ind. variously;
cakāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kṛ: to do, practise

sadbhih = inst. pl. sat: m. a good or wise man , a sage ; m. good or honest or wise or respectable people
nipātam = acc. sg. m. past part. ni- √ pat: to fly down , settle down , descend on (loc.) , alight
śruti-taḥ: ind. according to sacred or revealed knowledge , in respect of or according to sacred precept
śruti: f. hearing , listening ; that which has been heard or communicated from the beginning , sacred knowledge orally transmitted by the Brahmans from generation to generation , the veda
-taḥ: (ablative suffix)
ca: and
siddham (acc. sg. m.): mfn. accomplished , fulfilled , effected , gained , acquired ; admitted to be true or right , established , settled , proved

dṛṣṭvā = abs. dṛś: to see
katham: ind. how?
putra-mukham (acc. sg.) his son's face
sutaḥ (nom. sg.): m. son
me (gen. sg.): my

vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest
na: not
yāyāt = 3rd pers. sg. opt. ya: to go to, enter
iti: “...,” thus
nāthamānaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. seeking help , suppliant
nāth: to seek aid , approach with prayers or requests (loc.) ; to ask , solicit , beg for

今王生太子 隨心恣五欲
唯願樂世榮 不欲令學道

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