Monday, September 24, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.55: A Cause of Realization of Dharma (as an unintended consequence)

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Ārdrā)
rirakṣiṣantaḥ śriyam-ātma-saṁsthāṁ rakṣanti putrān bhuvi bhūmi-pālāḥ
putraṁ narendraḥ sa tu dharma-kāmo rarakṣa dharmād-viṣayeṣu muñcan || 2.55

Desiring to preserve their own personal power,

On this earth, 
keepers of the earth guard against their sons.

But this dharma-loving lord of men 
had guarded his son from dharma,

By letting him loose among sensual objects.

The Old Nepalese manuscript in the 1st pāda has ātma-saṁsthā (before sandhi = ātma-saṁsthāḥ) which, as it stands, describes the guardians of the earth as “self-contained” (EBC: “prudent kings of the earth”). With the addition of one easy-to-miss dot, however, ātma-saṁsthā becomes ātma-saṁsthāṁ, in which case it describes sovereignty/power as “personal” (EHJ: “personal sovereignty”).

The 1st pāda of today's verse belongs to the first phase because it expresses what kings want, what they wish for, what they desire, what they suffer for. They wish, in short, to preserve (rakṣ = guard) their own power.

The 2nd pāda, as I read it, expresses an objective historical truth which is antithetical to the kind of general, child-like conception that the brains of rulers and plebs alike are liable to start with. Just as we are liable in the first instance to think of the moon as something golden and full shining in the night sky, so too are we liable to think of a king and his sons as being one big happy royal family. But sometimes when we emerge from the den wherein we have been skulking all morning and look up at the blue sky, there the moon is shining unexpectedly white; and sometimes keepers of the earth – with or without good reason – see their sons and daughters as a threat, Shakespeare's story of King Lear being a case in point. As an oft-repeated development in history,  seeing their sons as a threat, kings on this earth (bhuvi), i.e., in the realm of objective fact, keep a wary eye on (rakṣ = guard against) their sons.

In the 3rd pāda Aśvaghoṣa moves the discussion into the area of the specific, the individual, and the concrete. He states a historical fact which is different from both the thesis and the anti-thesis of the 1st and 2nd pādas. The historical fact in question is that King Śuddhodana tried to suppress any interest his son Sarvārtha-siddha might have in renouncing his claim to his father's kingdom in order to go to the forest in the ancient ascetic tradition and seek the truth.

I have argued that the vihāra, “Exploring,” of the canto title suggests the real aim of the catno which is exploration of causality. The 4th pāda points to the other, ostensible meaning intended by the vihāra, “Exploring,” of the canto title, which is namely that the Buddha was enabled to explore sensual objects – specifically the experts in erotic addiction of BC2.30 – with a degree of freedom that is generally not afforded to mere plebs.

Today's verse, as the penultimate verse of the canto titled “Exploring Within the Battlements,” is thus drawing the canto to a conclusion.

The gist of the verse, and the gist of the whole canto, is the first half of a great big irony. The irony is namely that the king's effort to cause the prince to be attached to the sensual and  material realms had the unintended consquence of causing the young prince to resolve to seek the truth, or dharma. In that sense, the canto is an exploration of causation, and the primary cause being explored, as the cause of a great irony, is expressed in the 3rd pāda in terms of a lesser irony – the king who loved dharma tried to prevent his son from becoming interested in dharma.

Yesterday's verse touched on the multifarious nature of dharma, i.e., the multiplicity of meanings of the word dharma, and the many levels, strata, and dimensions of dharma as religion, as duty, as authority, as nature, as traditional observances, as reality itself, and as the ultimate reality of sitting.

Today's verse again causes us to consider what Aśvaghoṣa meant when he wrote “this dharma-loving lord of men had guarded his son from dharma.”

The king as Aśvaghoṣa has portrayed him is a lover of dharma as religion, as his kingly duty, as his kingly authority and sovereignty, and as traditional observances. He is also a lover of the ascetic dharma of the great ascetic Asita, which, unduly austere though it might have been, was a dharma rooted in sitting. This latter dharma is the kind of dharma that the king wished to guard his son from – the kind of dharma that required a prince to renounce his kingdom and go into the forest for ascetic practice.

The dharma of sitting, as the example of Asita demonstrated in Canto One, pre-dated the Buddha. What Dogen takes pains to establish in Shobogenzo is that the Buddha established the Buddha-dharma as the Buddha-dharma, and this dharma is the dharma that has been transmitted from the time of the Seven Ancient Buddhas down to the present. This dharma, in a word, is sitting.

For the 13 years I lived and sat in Japan, trying to get my dirty paws on the truth that Dogen was endeavoring to transmit, I strove to realize the Buddha-dharma as the Buddha-dharma. I thereby gave the Buddha-dharma very little chance to realize itself. I failed to appreciate clearly, if at all, that the Buddha-dharma tends to realize the Buddha-dharma by itself, naturally and spontaneously, except when it is prevented from doing so – just like energy spreading out in accordance with the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

My own uptight efforts were a demonstration of the sad irony that striving to realize the Buddha-dharma is the very thing that prevents the Buddha-dharrma from realizing itself as the Buddha-dharma.

So if I were to express my mistaken experience in a great big autobiographical poem that literary people thought was a masterpiece of literature, one of whose functions was to alert readers and listeners against making the same kind of mistake that I made, I suppose it would suit my purpose to make ample use of irony. It might also suit my purpose to include a character in the story who was the very personification of striving. Sadly, however, I totally lack the necessary talent as a creative writer to accomplish such a job.

But wait a minute! A truly great exponent of the Buddha-dharma named Aśvaghoṣa seems to have written just such a poem already, whose title is Saundara-nanda. Now there's a stroke of luck!

rirakṣiṣantaḥ = nom. pl. m. pres. part. desid. rakṣ: to guard , watch , take care of , protect , save , preserve (" from " abl.) ; to rule (the earth or a country) ; to guard against , ward off , keep away , prevent , frustrate , injure
śriyam (acc. sg.): f. high rank, power, majesty, sovereignty
ātma-saṁsthāṁ (acc. sg. f.): mfn. based on or connected with the person; personal
ātma-saṁsthāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. based on or connected with the person; self-contained
ātman: self, the whole person
saṁstha: mfn. standing together , standing or staying or resting or being in or on , contained in ; being in or with , belonging to ; partaking or possessed of (comp.)

rakṣanti = 3rd pers. pl. rakṣ: guard, watch; to guard against
putrān (acc. pl.): m. son
bhuvi (loc. sg.): f. earth
bhūmi-pālāḥ (nom. pl.): m. " earth-guardian " , a king
pāla: m. a guard , protector , keeper ; protector of the earth , king, prince

putram (acc. sg.): m. son, child
narendraḥ (nom. sg.): m. “man-lord”, king
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
tu: but
dharma-kāmaḥ (nom. sg. m.): being a lover of dharma

rarakṣa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. rakṣ:
dharmāt (abl. sg.): m. dharma
viṣayeṣu (loc. pl.): m. object ; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
muñcan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. muc: to loose , let loose , free , let go , slacken , release , liberate ; to spare, let live ; to set free , allow to depart
amuñcat = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect muc

今王生太子 隨心恣五欲
唯願樂世榮 不欲令學道

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