Monday, October 15, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.19: Flowers In Space

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Vāṇī)
vātāyanebhyas-tu viniḥsṛtāni paras-parāyāsita-kuṇḍalāni |
strīṇāṁ virejur-mukha-paṅkajāni saktāni harmyeṣv-iva paṅka-jāni || 3.19

And yet, as they emerged from the windows,

Ear-rings setting each other aflutter,

The women's lotus faces looked

Like flowers of mud-born lotuses
that had attached themselves to the grand mansions.

According to EHJ the suggestion is that the windows are ponds and the earrings are birds among the lotuses. I buy that. Aśvaghoṣa is portraying the scene as one of beauty, like a lotus pond with gorgeous birds fluttering on and around beautiful flowers.

Hence the point of tu (“but,” “and yet”) in the 1st pāda is to indicate that, in spite of the fact that the women were making a racket by barging about, there was still something very beautiful in their behaviour – at least when observed with a detached eye, like that of the calmly proceeding prince.

A line in Shobogenzo that springs to mind, in similar vein, is the last line of a verse quoted in chapter 43, Kuge, “Flowers in Space.” The poem finishes with the following reflections:
By trying to get rid of interferences, we redouble the disease.
To go after the truth also is wrong.
In following worldly circumstances there are no hindrances.
Nirvāna, and living-and-dying, are just flowers in space.
Today's verse also points to the possibility of finding beauty amid the jostling and barging of everyday life-and-death. And yet (tu), repeated use of paraspara (“each other”) continues to  hint at the contrast between those who unconsciously excite and are unconsciously excited by each other, and the quiet, calm, slow, conscious progress of an individual who is not going after the truth – as exemplified by the one woman who was different and by the prince progressing slowly and quietly along the royal road.

Similarly, in Saundara-nanda Canto 4, paraspara and anyonya are repeatedly used to describe the effect that Nanda and Sundarī had on each other: 
Having eyes only for each other's (paraspara) eyes, minds hanging on each other's (paraspara) words, / Mutual (paraspara) embraces rubbing away the pigments that scented their bodies, the couple carried each other (paraspara) away. //SN 4.9 //
By building up each other's (anyonya) passion, the pair gave each other (anyonya) sexual satisfaction; / And by playfully teasing each other (anyonya) during languid intervals, they gladdened each other (anyonya) again. // SN4.11 //
When Aśvaghoṣa repeatedly uses the same word, he wishes to draw our attention to something. That being so, in the present series of verses we should consider why he three times  (in 3.16, 3.17, and 3.19) uses the particle  tu, “but.”  I think the repeated use of tu is intended to underline that the story is not a story with only one side.

On one side is one principle, like the primacy of the individual;  tu, on the other side it is balanced by an opposing principle, e.g. mutual interdependence of open systems within a wider open system -- like flowers and birds and bees co-existing in a lotus pond. 

Aśvaghoṣa, in other words,  is sticking up for the individual, but as the fundamental unit of practice, and not in an ideological way. He is advocating individualism no more than he is advocating any other kind of -ism.

And even though Aśvaghoṣa is not advocating individualism, he is, as I read him, always championing the principle of constant effort by the fundamental unit of practice, which is one individual human being.

A skeptic could say, with justification, that I have found in Aśvaghoṣa's writing exactly what I wanted to find, which is a buddha-ancestor sticking up for the individual and subverting the whole idea of group practice, saṁgha politics, sectarian theories, and all the rest of it. The truth is that even if I might have hoped to find such championing of the individual, I never expected to find it. Aśvaghoṣa keeps surprising me with how ahead he is even of our times. Whatever -ism comes after post-modernism, I dare say Aśvaghoṣa will be found already to have negated it.

In conclusion, then, the present series of verses describing a bunch of women barging about in their eagerness to watch the prince passing quietly and calmly by, does not ostensibly have anything to do with the practice of sitting-meditation.

The gold standard for such practice, according to Dogen, however, is the samādhi of accepting and using the self.

Accepting the self involves being prepared to accept that one is wrong. Using the self (as opposed to being used up, for example, by unconscious reactions to this and that stimulus) involves an iron determination to keep directing one's energy not there and not there. 

Accepting the self without using the self is not it, and neither is using the self without accepting the self. Lying in bed all day is not necessarily it. And neither is manically squashing a zafu all day like some deranged Japanese bastard who seems to have learned how to sit on a military parade-ground. 

What is vital is kṣamā (patience, forbearance; see SN16.38). Tu, what is equally vital is vīrya (energy, manly endeavour; see SN16.93) – and vice versa.

What does that mean in practice? It might mean, for example, sitting on a round cushion and sending one's legs out of one's pelvis like one's life depended on it, while taking care that such constant manly exertion does not cause the air passing through the nostrils to be anything other than totally silent.

“The past was exhalation and inhalation,” wrote Dogen, “and the present is exhalation and inhalation. This we should maintain and rely upon, as the Flower of Dharma which is too fine to think about.”

vātāyanebhyaḥ (abl. pl.): n. " wind-passage " , a window ; n. a balcony , portico , terrace on the roof of a house
tu: but
viniḥsṛtāni (nom. pl. n.): mfn. gone forth or out , issued forth
vi-niḥ- √ sṛ: to go forth , issue out , spring from (abl.)

paras-parāyāsita-kuṇḍalāni (nom. pl. n.): with earrings exerting themselves upon each other (?);
[EBC: with their earrings coming into mutual proximity; EHJ: mutually setting their earrings in perpetual commotion; PO: their earrings rubbing against each other]
paras-para: mfn. mutual , each other's
āyāsita: n. exertion, endeavour
kuṇḍala: n. ear-ring

strīṇām (gen. pl): f. woman
virejur = 3rd pers. pl. perf: to reign ; to be illustrious or eminent , shine forth , glitter; to appear as (nom.)
mukha-paṅkajāni (nom. pl. n.): " face-lotus " , a lotus-like face [given in MW as masculine]
mukha: n. the mouth, face, countenance
paṅkaja: n. " mud-born " , a species of lotus , Nelumbium Speciosum (whose flower closes in the evening); mfn. lotus-eyed

saktāni (nom. pl. n.): mfn. clinging or adhering to , sticking in (loc.) ; belonging to (gen.); fixed or intent upon , directed towards , addicted or devoted to , fond of , engaged in , occupied with (loc.)
sañj: to cling or stick or adhere to , be attached to or engaged in or occupied with (loc.) ; to be attached or fastened , adhere , cling , stick; to be devoted to or intent on or occupied with (loc.)
harmyeṣu (loc. pl.): n. a large house , palace , mansion , any house or large building or residence of a wealthy person
iva: like
paṅka-jāni (nom. pl.): n. " mud-born " , a species of lotus
paṅka: mud , mire , dirt , clay ; moral impurity , sin

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