Thursday, October 11, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.15: Barging About

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
prāsāda-sopāna-tala-praṇādaiḥ kāñcī-ravair-nūpura-nisvanaiś-ca |
vitrāsayantyo gṛha-pakṣi-saṅghān-anyonya-vegāś-ca samākṣipantyaḥ || 3.15

With the banging of feet on platform steps,

With jingling of girdles and jangling of anklets,

They sent congregations of house sparrows fluttering,

And each derided the others for their haste.

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.”

“Stop barging about,” Margaret Goldie used to say. “Come to quiet.”

What does it mean “to come to quiet”?

It is as easy to answer that question as it is to describe a bit of nothing – which is why in the present series of verses, Aśvaghoṣa as I read him is describing instead what it means to barge about.

The tile of this canto is saṁvegotpattiḥ, “the arising of perturbation,” which EHJ translated as “The Prince's Perturbation.” But the perturbation which Aśvaghoṣa is now describing is not perturbation arising in the prince. It is perturbation arising from the end-gaining minds of people in a hurry to see the prince. This is precisely the kind of perturbation that fearsome Alexander teacher Margaret Goldie used to censure as “barging about.”

Aśvaghoṣa is opposing on one side the barging about of women and on the other side the calm and quiet progress of one man along the royal road. Maybe more accurately, he is contrasting the barging about of women on two sides and the calm and quiet progress of one man in the middle.

One way of reading these verses is that Aśvaghoṣa wrote them recognizing something in himself which was proceeding quietly and calmy along the royal road, and something else in himself that was hasty, unconscious, and at odds with others, and so in the spirit of “all things and matters are real form,” he honestly acknowledged a gap in himself between how he would have liked to be and how he actually was, and thus accepted all sides of himself – both rugged individual and big girl's blouse.

In such a reading, however, there might be too much of the big girl's blouse. Such a reading might be the reading of the insightful pyschologist sitting in his upholstered armchair, rather than the non-view of a man of action who actually manifests in his actions the virtue of vīrya, direction of energy. Such a reading might be a kind of apology for wimping out. Vīrya, in contrast, is cognate with virility: it expresses direction of energy as a manly virtue (not that women cannot manifest it as well).

In rough activities like playing rugby, or training in the martial arts, and equally in challenging activities like Alexander work and regular daily sitting, one is always faced with a choice. If an impulse to wimp out arises, the choice is whether to follow it or to override it. In rugby, for example, a player who is prone to take the former route will tend not to be selected for the team. In Alexander work when the wimpish impulse wins out, the result is what Majory Barlow used to call "backsliding." 

Sometimes children with immature reflexes, especially boys, because they stand out for their lack of coordination, are the sort of children who are liable to get bullied in the playground. If their parents bring them to me for help, my job is simply to get those boys directing their energy better – nothing too caring, nothing too compassionate, nothing too psychological.

Weak energy attracts bullying. So if we don't want to be bullied, by human bullies, or by life itself – whether we are a man or a woman, a boy or a girl – there is nothing for it but to man up. The virtue of manning up, in Sanskrit, is known as vīrya, which means manliness, or direction of energy.

In the 1st pāda, as in 3.6, Aśvaghoṣa is playing with the ambiguity of prāsāda, which literally means “sitting on a conspicuous seat,” and hence a platform for spectators, or sitters, to sit on. At the same time prāsāda means the terrace of a lofty building. And the final definition of prāsāda given in the MW dictionary is “(with Buddhists) the monks' hall for assembly and confession” -- in other words, the hall of a vihāra.

Thus in the 2nd pāda of today's verse, kāñcī-ravair-nūpura-nisvanaiḥ ostensibly refers to the jingling of the bells that ornamented women's girdles and the jangling of ankle bracelets worn by women. But I think the real target of Aśvaghoṣa satire when he wrote of “the jingling of girdles and jangling of anklets” was not women; it was monks of his acquaintance who barged about in a vihāra, due to a chronic deficit of the virtue of vīrya, manly direction of energy.

In the 3rd pāda Aśvaghoṣa uses the word saṁgha to describe a flock of birds. As I have noted before, Aśvaghoṣa seems to like to use the word saṁgha in this way, as a collective noun, e.g. for mountain men, or for birds. But in the verses I have translated so far he never once uses the word saṁgha in the sense in which it is commonly used today, by people who think of Buddhism as a religion, to mean “a Buddhist congregation.”

The Alexander teacher Margaret Goldie, enemy of “barging about” that she was, devoted her life to manly direction of energy. How many hundreds of thousands of times did she make the decision not to barge about, but rather to give her orders: “Let the neck and shoulders release, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while letting the hips be free”?

And yet, in the fearsome censoriousness of Margaret Goldie, if truth be told (though I never met her in person), some of the perturbation she was censuring must have been deeply at play. Thus, according to the mirror principle, it ever was -- as conspicuously expressed by Aśvaghoṣa in the 4th pāda of today's verse.

prāsāda-sopāna-tala-praṇādaiḥ (inst. pl.): with the clatters of their feet on steps to their elevated perches
prāsāda: m. (lit. “sitting forward” sitting on a seat in a conspicuous place); a lofty seat or platform for spectators , terrace; the top-story of a lofty building ; (with Buddhists) the monks' hall for assembly and confession
sopāna: n. stairs , steps , a staircase , ladder to (gen. or comp.)
tala: m. n. the sole of the foot
praṇāda: m. a loud sound or noise (esp. expressive of approbation or delight) , shout , cry , roar , yell , neigh &c

kāñcī-ravaiḥ (inst. pl.): with rustling of girdles, with jingling of girdle bells
kāñcī: f. girdle, corset
rava: m. a roar , yell , cry , howl; song, hum; clamour ; thunder ; any noise or sound (e.g. the whizz of a bow , the ringing of a bell &c )
nūpura-nisvanaiḥ (inst. pl.): with tinklings of ankle bracelets
nūpura: mn. an ornament for the toes or ankles or feet , an anklet
nisvana: m. sound , noise , voice
ca: and

vitrāsayantyaḥ = nom. pl. f. pres. part. causative vi- √ tras: to cause to tremble
gṛha-pakṣi-saṅghān (acc. pl. m.): flocks of house-birds; congregations of winged ones inhabiting houses
gṛha: m. a house, the inhabitants of a house, family
pakṣin: m. a bird or any winged animal
saṁ-gha: m. (fr. sam + √ han) " close contact or combination " , any collection or assemblage, crowd , host , number ; any number of people living together for a certain purpose , a society , association , company , community ; a clerical community , congregation , church

anyonya-vegān (acc. pl. m.): each other's haste
anyonya: mfn. one another , mutual
vega: m. impetuosity , vehemence , haste , speed , rapidity , quickness , velocity
ca: and
samākṣipantyaḥ = nom. pl. f. pres. part. sam-ā- √ kṣip: to throw together , heap or pile up ; to move violently , toss about (lips , arms &c ) ; to drive away , expel ; to insult , mock , ridicule

No comments: