Wednesday, October 10, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.14: Hello Girls!

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
tāḥ srasta-kāñcī-guṇa-vighnitāś-ca supta-prabuddhākula-locanāś-ca |
vṛttānta-vinyasta-vibhūṣaṇāś-ca kautūhalenānibhṛtāḥ parīyuḥ || 3.14

Impeded by slipping girdles and strings,

With the bleary eyes of those roused from deep sleep,

And having put on their unfolded splendour as events unfolded,

The girls, unabashed in their eager desire, circled around.

The dozen verses from 3.13 to 3.24 present a vivid description of the women of Kapilavastu gathering on the balconies and rooftops of great houses to watch the prince pass along the king's highway. In yesterday's verse, following on from 3.12, I took the women (striyaḥ) to symbolize practitioners gathering in their shared eager desire to meet Buddha.

The same symbolism can, at a pinch, be read into today's verse, in which case, below the surface, it might be intended to suggest an early morning scene at a place where many practitioners, having gathered together for practice, have been required at short notice to convene in a meditation hall, with barely enough time to do up the strings which keep the corner of a traditionally-sewn robe from falling off the left shoulder.

On the one hand, peeking ahead to 3.15 I see no chance of such symoblism being read into that verse. At the same time, sitting-meditation and walking-meditation as Aśvaghoṣa describes it in Saundara-nanda is generally a solitary affair, practised by an individual who has retired into the forest.

On the other hand, in Canto 5 of Saundara-nanda there is mention of a vihāra, which (the MW dictionary informs us) “was originally a hall where the monks met or walked about”:
And so the Sage led him, lover of garlands of pearls and flowers, whom the month of Spring, Love's friend, had appropriated, / To a playground where women were a broken amusement -- to the vihāra, beloved as a pleasure-ground of learning. // SN5.20 //
Perusing EHJ's translation from the Tibetan of the latter chapters of Buddhacarita, in search of further descriptions of robed individuals coming together and circling around, in the 28th and final chapter there is mention of five hundred arhats coming together after the Buddha's death, together with a great assembly of practitioners (Chinese: 大衆), to listen to Ānanda reciting the sūtras.

EHJ's translation of the verses in question is as follows:
28.59 Then in course of time the five hundred Arhats assembled in the town marked by the five mountains, and on the side of the mountain collected the Sage's sermons in order properly to establish the Law again.
28.60 The disciples, deciding that it was Ānanda who had heard all the sections from the Great Seer, asked the Vaideha Sage with the agreement of the assembly to repeat the doctrine.
The Chinese text, with Willemen's translation is as follows:

時五百羅漢 永失大師蔭
恇然無所恃 還耆闍崛山
集彼帝釋巖 結集諸經藏
一切皆共椎 長老阿難陀
如來前後説 巨細汝悉聞
鞞提醯牟尼 當爲大衆説

28.61. At that time, five hundred arhats had forever lost the protection of their great teacher. They were afraid, having no one on whom to rely, and returned to Mount Gṛdhrakūṭa. They gathered at the cliff [dwelling] of Lord Śakra and assembled the treasury of scriptural texts.28.62. All together they promoted the elder Ānanda. “From the first to the last expositions of the Tathāgata, great and small, you have heard them all! Vaideha muni, proclaim them for the great assembly!”

Having written the above comment and slept on it, it occurred to me this morning that the present series of verses might be intended as an ironic description of the usual group behaviour, not of arhats, but of groups of monks who are not yet (or who are never likely to be) arhats.

Understood in that light, the point of the last line of yesterday's verse ("with assent from their masters"),  is to highlight the fact that the practitioners who are being satirized are not yet masters of themselves. 

Thus, when I went to bed last night my provisional title for today's blogpost was the somewhat pretentious “Unfolding Splendour,” which sounds like a sanctimonious description, by a bloke who is failing to sound like himself, of the wearing of a Buddhist "ritual robe." But when I woke up this morning, the phrase that was foremost in my mind was an ironic term that, in a previous life, I heard rugby forwards use as a collective noun for those relatively less rugged individuals who inhabit the back line of a rugby team -- namely, “the girls.” 

I tentatively submit, then, that in today's verse, Aśvaghoṣa, who is purportedly a poet concerned with religious conversion, but who is really a rugged Zen individual, is gently ripping the piss out of religious types who congregate together with their eager communal agenda.

Such a reading fits so well with my own irreligious, individual-affirming standpoint that I am even suspicious of it myself. 

Verse by verse, then, like good scientists, let us see how such a reading stands up in light of the objective evidence of the original Sanskrit text.

What I can say for the present is that yesterday, before it struck me that it is a send-up, today's verse had me perplexed. But now that the verse strikes me as a send-up, it makes me want to laugh. More than that, it encourages me to keep going it alone. But most of all, it makes me regret too much time I have wasted over the years acting like a big girl's blouse -- as if all those years playing school rugby (which, in its own way, was seriously competitive) taught me nothing. 

tāḥ (nom. pl. f.): they, those women
srasta-kāñcī-guṇa-vighnitāḥ (nom. pl. f.): impeded by the slipped strings of girdles
srasta: mfn. fallen , dropped , slipped off
kāñcī: f. (fr. √kac, to bind) a girdle (especially a woman's zone or girdle furnished with small bells and other ornament)
guṇa: m. string, thread
vighnita: mfn. impeded , stopped , prevented , obstructed
ca: and

supta-prabuddhākula-locanāḥ (nom. pl. f.): with the bleary eyes of one roused from deep sleep
supta: n. sleep, deep sleep
prabuddha: mfn. awakened , awake , roused
akula: mfn. confounded , confused , agitated , flurried
locana: n. " organ of sight " , the eye
ca: and

vṛttānta-vinyasta-vibhūṣaṇāḥ (nom. pl. f.): with ornaments put on at the tidings
vṛttānta: m. " end or result of a course of action " , occurrence , incident , event , doings , life; (also pl.); course , manner , way (in which anything happens or is done); tidings , rumour , report
vinyasta: mfn. put or placed down &c
vi-ny- √ as: to put or place down in different places , spread out , distribute ; to place or lay on,
vibhūṣaṇa: n. decoration , ornament ; n. splendour , beauty
ca: and

kautūhalena: n. curiosity , interest in anything , vehement desire for ; anything causing curiosity , any unusual phenomenon
anibhṛtāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. not private , not reserved , immodest , bold , public
nibhṛta: mfn. borne or placed down , hidden , secret ; firm, immovable ; fixed , settled , decided
parīyuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perfect: pari- √i: to go about , move in a circle

In the present series of verses in BC Canto 3, incidentally, the Chinese translation goes off at such a tangent that it is no longer even possible to say with confidence which Chinese verse correspond to which verse of the original Sanskrit.

The verse reproduced below, for example, is translated by Willemen as follows:
“One did not waste time gathering the six domestic animals. Material possessions were not important enough to safeguard and no one made fast the doors. They hurried to the side of the road.”

六畜不遑收 錢財不及斂
門戸不容閉 奔馳走路傍


gniz said...

Hello Mike. I have gone away for a very long time and now returned, having been reading your blog for a few days/weeks now.

Interesting to me (and me only), I used to be very bored by your translations and only came on your blog to debate you and argue about differences of opinion relating to silly soap opera stuff.

Recently, I've found myself coming back to READ your translations. I don't know why they appeal to me now and not at all before. Sometimes, it seems as though I understand some of what you're talking about--it seemed like gibberish to me before.

Go figure.

In any case, I wanted to give my own (probably incorrect take) on some of the last few stanzas you've translated.

Going back to this one: "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."

I think the description of how He traveled quietly and calmly versus the description today of these sort of giggling, bleary eyed girls all dressed up and flitting about...tells an important story.

Lately, it has become slightly more apparent to me that much of what goes on "out there" in the world is very much a reflection of our "inside" world.

So in my reading of these recent cantos, Asvaghosa could be just as clearly delineating the internal state of one who is living an awakened life.

While this awakened person may have many voices in his head "flitting about" or congregating, saying one thing or another--the important part of him is being awake and attentive and moving slowly and deliberately through this ridiculous, silly world.

Thus, the awakened part of this person brings the rest of the subjects right into line, and all they can do is marvel at his prowess and command.

Now, I admit this reading is clearly designed to fit my own ends (and thus, as you say, should be regarded with suspicion)--I still would be curious to hear your take on it.



Mike Cross said...

Hi Aaron,

The comment I already prepared for tommorrow's verse begins like this:

If the idealistic thesis is expressed in 3.10 as “travelling the royal road, quietly and calmly,” today's verse as I read it contains the cynical anti-thesis, which is a lot of people engaging unconsciously in the activity which infamous Alexander dragon Margaret Goldie used to call “barging about.”

So, yes, I also see that opposition as key, between one individual's quiet and calm plodding along the royal road, and the hasty jostling of a bunch of girls.

If I said I thought your reading was right, or good, I am afraid you might fall off your chair and do yourself an injury. So I won't say that.

But comparing your understanding with the understandings manifested in the translations of EBC, EHJ, and PO, your reading seems to me to be less superificial -- in other words, seems to show more evidence of digging with your own spade, than theirs.

But I suspect that there are deeper layers of understanding still, compared with which you and I have barely scratched the surface.

So if we jumped up and down and sprinted along the royal road, excitedly punching the air, that might be premature.

All the best,