Thursday, September 27, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.1: Eating a Painted Rice-cake

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
tataḥ kadā-cin-mṛdu-śādvalāni puṁs-kokilonnādita-pādapāni |
śuśrāva padmākara-maṇḍitāni gītair nibaddhāni sa kānanāni || 3.1

Then, one day, to places carpeted with tender grass

Where trees resounded with a cuckoo's calls,

To places adorned with profusions of lotuses, he went --

To forests fabricated in songs.

The old Nepalese manuscript and EBC's manuscripts have as the first word in the 4th pāda śīte, “in the cold.” Hence EBC's translation: On a certain day he heard of the forests carpeted with tender grass, with their trees resounding with the kokilas, adorned with lotus-ponds, and which had been all bound up in the cold season.

Might śīte nibaddhāni “chained in cold” mean something along the lines of “frozen in Jack Frost's grip”?

Based on the Chinese and Tibetan translations, EHJ amended śīte (“in cold”) to gītaiḥ (“with songs”) and translated “he listened to songs celebrating the forests.”

The Chinese translation of tomorrow's verse does indeed describe skilled women causing the prince to be informed by music and songs (伎女因奏樂 弦歌告太子) and the prince listening to the music (太子聞音樂).

Either way, whether with śīte or with gītaiḥ, the 4th pāda of today's verse seems designed to deliver one of Aśvaghoṣa's characterstic punchlines – that is to say a line which confounds any expectations the previous three pādas might have caused us to have. Aśvaghoṣa's builds that sense of expectation, again characterstically, by not specifying the main subject of the verse (kānanāni [acc. pl.] “forests”) until the very end. Thus, our clever and imaginative human brains, which are so adept at filling in gaps and jumping to conclusions, expect to arrive with the prince at a sunny forest glade, but that expectation is confounded – either by the cold hand of Jack Frost, or, more likely, by the realization that the forest we were beginning to picture was itself only a figment of the young prince's imagination.

The four main elements of today's verse are (1) soft grass, (2) cries of cuckoos, (3) lotuses, and (4) forests, in that order. Looking for order in this order, my first thought was that softness is perceived through the tactile sense, birdsong through the auditory sense, and lotuses through the visual (and possibly also olfactory) sense, whereas the totality of the forests is reflected as a function of all the senses. Thinking developmentally, that sequence adds up.

Thinking in sitting, likewise, that sequence adds up – the tactile/propioceptive sense of appropriate tension or tone in the muscles being the first sense whose unreliability is liable to get in the way of the right thing doing itself.

The verb śru, however, is nowhere defined as expressing either the tactile or the visual sense; it seems to express the auditory sense (to hear), as well as the mental function (to learn about). So translating śuśrāva in four parts as “he felt... he heard... he saw... and he learned of,” might be straying too far from the original Sanskrit. At the same time, the Apte dictionary defines the first meaning of śru as to go, and so I have utilized that ambiguity in the above translation, which I hope captures the spirit that Aśvaghoṣa intended, causing us to ask ourselves, as Dogen also caused us to ask ourselves, whether a painted rice cake can cure hunger.

I think it all depends on who is doing, or not doing, the painting.

tataḥ: ind. and so, from that, thence
kadā-cit: ind. at some time or other , sometimes , once
mṛdu-śādvalāni (acc. pl. n.): abounding in soft grass
mṛdu: mfn. soft , delicate , tender , pliant
śādvala: mfn. abounding in fresh or green grass , grassy , verdant , green; n. sg. and pl. a place abounding in young grass , grassy spot , turf

puṁs-kokilonnādita-pādapāni (acc. pl. n.): trees resounding with the crying out of cuckoos
puṁs-kokila: m. the male of the Indian cuckoo
unnādita: resounding with crying out
nādita: mfn. made to resound ; ifc. sounding with , reverberant
unnāda: m. crying out , clamour
pāda-pa: m. "drinking at foot or root " , a tree
śuśrāva = 3rd pers. sg. perf. śru: to hear , listen or attend to anything (acc.) ; hear or learn anything about (acc.). Apte: 1. to go; 2. to hear; 3. to be attentive

padmākara-maṇḍitāni (acc. pl. n.): adorned with rich sources of lotuses
padma: m. a lotus
ākara: m. one who scatters i.e. distributes abundantly ; accumulation , plenty , multitude; a mine ; a rich source of anything
ā- √kṝ: to scatter or sprinkle over , give abundantly
maṇḍita: mfn. adorned , decorated

gītaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. singing , song
śīte (loc. sg.): n. cold , coldness , cold weather
nibaddhāni (acc. pl. n.): mfn. mfn. bound , fettered , chained , tied ; covered with , veiled in (instr.) ; shut up , closed , obstructed ; constructed , built; ; composed , written down ; committed , intrusted
nibaddha: m. (in music) a partic. instrument
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
kānanāni (acc. pl.): n. (said to be fr. √kan, to be pleased) a forest , grove

外有諸園林 流泉清涼池
衆雜華果樹 行列垂玄蔭
異類諸奇鳥 奮飛戲其中
水陸四種花 炎色流妙香

[next verse]
伎女因奏樂 弦歌告太子
太子聞音樂 歎美彼園林
内懷甚踊悦 思樂出遊觀
猶如繋狂象 常慕閑曠野 


Jayarava Attwood said...

Hi Mike

nibaddha can also mean 'accompanied by, furnished, adorned'. The context reinforces this by the use of maṇḍita which is clearly 'adorned'. With gītair in the instrumental plural, I'm puzzled as to why you did not translate "a forest furnished with songs". This makes better sense of the text.


Jayarava Attwood said...

Also padmakāra is 'a lotus pond'.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jayarava,

I think the important point, in the wider context, is that the prince was inspired, or excited, in the first instance not by the forest itself but by an idea of the forest, as conveyed in song.

Just as we cause small children to believe in Father Christmas when they are very young, to add to their joy of Christmas, only for them to realize when they are older that Father Christmas was only an idea, so there was a time for the Buddha-to-be to be excited by ideas, but then later on as the Buddha he would teach the abandonment of ideas.

This Canto is titled "Arising of Excitement," and so I think Aśvaghoṣa was thinking from the outset about how excitement arises, stimulated by an idea.

Jayarava Attwood said...

Ah. OK I see how you are trying to use 'fabricated'. Don't think it works though.

Where does the Buddha teach the abandonment of ideas?

Mike Cross said...

If it made you stop and think, it served its purpose.

Check out SN Canto 15. The clue might tbe in the title.