Saturday, October 6, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.10 Plodding the Royal Road, In Public View

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Sālā)
kautūhalāt-sphītataraiś-ca netrair-nīlotpalārdhair-iva kīryamāṇaḥ |
śanaiḥ śanai rāja-pathaṁ jagāhe pauraiḥ samantād-abhivīkṣyamāṇaḥ || 3.10

And while eyes that bulged with curiosity,

Covered him, like so many halves of blue lotuses,

He travelled the royal road, quietly and calmly,

Viewed on all sides by the townsfolk.

Today's verse, I am guessing, presages descriptions of the Buddha that appeared in the  latter cantos of Buddhacarita, the original Sanskrit of which has been lost.

That being so, rāja-patham, which ostensibly means “the king's highway,” again really means “the royal road,” which is a metaphor for a life constantly punctuated by sitting-dhyāna.

In the 1st phase, people's eyes grow as big as their face because of the mental phenomenon of curiosity or vehement desire (kautūhala). The description of eyes bulging with curiosity therefore naturally belongs in the 1st pāda.

In the 1st phase, as described yesterday, flowers and moons tend to be depicted as generic abstractions which are perfect and full. In the 2nd phase, on the contrary, flowers and moons tend to be pictured as concrete, individual things which are imperfect and not full. The word ardha (“half”) in the 2nd pāda can be understood in this light.

In the 3rd pāda, taking “the royal road” to be a metaphor for the path travelled by the Buddha after his enlightenment, my first thought, selecting among various dictionary definitions of √gāh (to dive into, to penetrate, to roam), was to translate jagāhe as “he roamed” rather than “he dove into” or “he penetrated.” But since “he roamed” would not fit the ostensible description of the prince travelling along the king's highway, I decided to translate jagāhe non-committally as “he travelled.”

The 4th pāda as I read it points to a historical fact about how the Buddha lived his life after his enlightenment, which is to say that he lived his life in the public gaze.

The Buddha memorably tells the as yet unenlightened Nanda:
One who eats anything at any place, and wears any clothes, Who dwells in enjoyment of his own being and loves to be anywhere without people: / He is to be known as a success, a knower of the taste of peace and ease, whose mind is made up -- He avoids involvement with others like a thorn. // SN14.50 //
After Nanda has made the four noble truths his own, however, the Buddha changes his tune:
Deemed to be higher than the highest in this world is he who, having realized the supreme ultimate dharma, / Desires, without worrying about the trouble to himself, to teach tranquillity to others. // SN18.56 // Therefore forgetting the work that needs to be done in this world on the self, do now, stout soul, what can be done for others. / Among beings who are wandering in the night, their minds shrouded in darkness, let the lamp of this transmission be carried. // SN18.57 // Just let the astonished people in the city say, while you are standing firm, voicing dharma-directions, / 'Well! What a wonder this is, that he who was a man of passion is preaching liberation!' // SN18.58 //

Having written the gist of the above comment last night, and also watched a film documentary on BBC4 about musical all-rounder and all-round good egg Jeff Lynne, in my sleep and in my sitting this morning the 3rd pāda of today's verse in particular seemed to be calling out for further digging.

Jeff Lynne, who in my youth I knew, though not personally, as a fellow supporter of Birmingham City Football Club, is very much in the public eye at the moment as he is promoting some music he has been producing, quietly and calmly, for the past several years. It has been impossible to turn on the TV for the past couple of days without being confronted by Jeff's hairy visage. In the documentary JL was celebrated by such worthies as Paul McCartney and Tom Petty for being a modest bloke whose devotion to music making, at least these days, has got little or nothing to do with desire for fame or greed for money. Paul McCartney described JL as being notable for his balance, and balanced is indeed how JL came across. He came across, as King Śuddhodana comes across in Aśvaghoṣa's writing, as a non-Buddhist epitome of the universal virtue which is quiet, modest and constant devotion to some dharma. In JL's case the non-Buddhist dharma in question would appear to be the making -- quietly, modestly, steadily -- of popular music. 

Reflecting thus, I considered changing the translation of jagāhe from "he travelled" to "he plodded" – in order to convey a sense of slow, steady, constant work. "Plod," however, has a connotation of heaviness which does not fit. "He dove into" has the merit of conveying a sense of devotion, but "he dove into the royal road" does not seem to fit either, and so I have provisionally settled on "he trod," conscious of the fact that the original Sanskrit jagāhe contains a much richer vein of meanings.

My intention now in discussing Jeff Lynne is not to build a statue to the hairy Blues fan and found a new religion of Jeffism, but is rather to stimulate awareness in self and others of what balance is and how it might be possible to cultivate it. 

For example, to what extent is a bloke's balance genetic? To what extent is it rooted in good functioning of the ear? To what extent does it arise from a bloke having a good relationship with his father? To what extent does it arise from being brought up and educated without the imparting of any lofty, immodest pretensions?

On these four counts, Jeff Lynne would indeed seem to score highly. But if these were the sole determinants of balance, many of us would be utterly screwed. We might as well give up and turn to the bottle.

Today's verse, as I read it, as also last night's documentary, as I recall it, point to another determinant of balance, and one that can give all of us a shred of hope. The shred of hope is implicit in the relation between √gāh, meaning to devote oneself or to plod on, and śanaiḥ śanaih expressing quietness, calmness, balance.

kautūhalāt (abl. sg.): n. curiosity ; interest in anything , vehement desire for
sphītataraiḥ (ins. pl. n.): exceedingly enlarged, wide open
sphīta: mfn. swollen , enlarged
-tara: (an affix forming the compar. degree of adjectives)
ca: and
netraiḥ (inst. pl.): n. the eye (as the guiding organ)

nīlotpalārdhaiḥ (ins. pl. n.): blue lotus halves
nīlotpala: n. a blue lotus
ardha: mn. the half
iva: like
kīryamāṇaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. kṝ: to pour out , scatter , throw , cast , disperse ; to throw up in a heap , heap up ; to strew , pour over , fill with , cover with

śanaiḥ: ind. quietly , softly , gently , gradually , alternately
śana: (prob. connected with √ śam) , quiet , calm , soft (only in instr. pl. śanais q.v.)
√ śam: to become tired , finish , stop , come to an end , rest , be quiet or calm or satisfied or contented
rāja-patham (acc. sg.): m. the king's highway , a main road , public road or street
jagāhe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. gāh: to dive into , bathe in , plunge into (acc.) , penetrate , enter deeply into (acc.); to roam , range , rove

pauraiḥ (inst. pl.): m. townsfolk
samantāt: ind. on all sides
abhivīkṣyamāṇaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. abhi-vi-√īkṣ: to look at , view , perceive ; to examine

觀者挾長路 側身目連光
瞪矚而不瞬 如並青蓮花 

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