Wednesday, October 17, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.21: Congested Beauty, In the Eye of the Uncongested Beholder

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Sālā)
vātāyanānām-aviśāla-bhāvād-anyonya-gaṇḍārpita-kuṇḍalānām |
mukhāni rejuḥ pramadottamānāṁ baddhāḥ kalāpā iva paṅka-jānām || 3.21

Through the narrowness of the windows,

The women's ear-rings overlapped each other's cheeks,

So that the faces of those most gorgeous of girls seemed

Like tied-together bunches of lotus flowers.

EHJ thought that today's verse “with its repetition of previous ideas and words can hardly be authentic.”

I don't subscribe to EHJ's view. As already noted, repetition of ideas and words – like, for example, anyonya, "each other," to suggest the congested and cramped state of mutual interaction that existed between the women – is part of Aśvaghoṣa's modus operandi. 

We who seek the freedom of that which is not congested and cramped seem to need constant reminding that the freedom we seek lies in a direction which is opposed to the direction in which faults habitually take us. I do anyway, for one. Which is why I always seem to be saying the same thing in these comments, constantly reminding myself that end-gaining on the basis of faulty sensory appreciation, is not it.

Whether it is authentic or not, what could there be in a verse like today's to interest an iron man of Zen?

The answer, I think, is an antidote to the kind of grim end-gaining determination evinced by the Buddhist striver who expresses his dourly pessimistic view of female beauty in his tirade against women in Saundara-nanda Canto 10:
Day after day, by means of ablutions, garments, and jewels, they prettify an ugliness / Which you, with eyes veiled by ignorance do not see as ugliness: you see it as beauty. // 8.48 // Or else you do see that their bodies are foul but intelligence is lacking in you: / For the fragrant task in which you are engaged is extinction of the impurity that originates in them. // 8.49 // Cosmetic paste and powder, garlands, gems and pearls, gold and fine fabric: / What have these fine things, if fine they are, got to do with women? Let us examine what inherently in women is so immaculate. // 8.50 // Dirty and unclothed, with her nails and teeth and body-hair in their natural state: / If she were like that, your Sundarī, whose name means 'Beautiful Woman,' surely wouldn't be such a beautiful woman to you now. // 8.51 // What man who was capable of disgust would touch a woman, leaking and unclean like an old bucket, / If she were not scantily clad in skin as thin as a flying insect's wing? // 8.52 // If you see that women's bodies are bony skeletons wrapped around with skin / And yet you are forcibly drawn by passion, truly then, Love is immune to disgust and lacking in all restraint. // 8.53 // In nails and in teeth, in skin, and in hair, both long and short, which are not beautiful, you are inventing beauty. / Dullard! Don't you see what women originally are made of and what they originally are? // 8.54 //
The virtue which is at the heart of the Buddha's teaching, vīrya, directed energy, manly endeavour, and tapas, asceticism, are like chalk and cheese. Superficially, at least in the old days, a cake of chalk looked similar to a cake of cheese. But if a person dug into a cake of chalk with the intention of eating some with his daily bread, he would find nothing nutritious in there.

The striver's miserable, beauty-negating view is never a true expression of vīrya; it is the view of the grimly determined ascetic, the Buddhist tapasin

Nowhere in Saundara-nanda does Aśvaghoṣa spell it out for us that he, Aśvaghoṣa, considers the striver's view to be false. But it is apparent from verses like today's verse that Aśvaghoṣa and the striver saw things totally differently.

For the striver, women are inherently not beautiful. Aśvaghoṣa in contrast celebrates beauty in all its manifestations, including the beauty of a female form and the beauty of a female face. But above all Aśvaghoṣa celebrates that beauty, to be found without and within, which is associated with freedom from the befouling faults.

That is the freedom toward which I, for one, am directing myself. As I do so, I seem to need to keep reminding myself every day that the freedom I want cannot be grasped in an end-gaining way. Aśvaghoṣa's suggestion is rather to make constant, quiet, gradual progress, little by little, śanair-śanaiḥ, on one's own royal road.

Reminding myself is primarily a matter of regularly parking my backside on a round black cushion. At the same time, in the matter of reminding myself what is important, I find that repetition of the same old words also comes in handy -- words like, for example: 

I wish to allow my neck to be free
To allow the head to go forward and up
To let the spine lengthen and the back widen
While sending the knees forwards and away....

vātāyanānām (gen. pl.): n. " wind-passage " , a window , air-hole ; n. a balcony , portico , terrace on the roof of a house
aviśāla-bhāvāt (abl. sg.): the being narrow, narrowness
viśāla: mfn. spacious , extensive , broad , wide , large
bhāva: being

anyonya-gaṇḍārpita-kuṇḍalānām (gen. pl.): with ear-rings overlapping each other's cheeks
anyonya: mfn. mutual, each other
gaṇḍa: m. the cheek
arpita: mfn. inserted , fixed ; thrown , cast into (loc. ; said of an arrow); placed in or upon ; (said of a document or of a sketch) transferred to (a plate or portrait i.e. , " engraved " or " painted ") ; offered , delivered , entrusted
√ṛ: to go , move , rise , tend upwards ; to go towards , meet with , fall upon or into , reach , obtain ; to hurt , offend ; to move , excite , erect , raise ; Caus. arpayati , to cause to move , throw , cast ; to cast through , pierce ; to put in or upon , place , insert , fix into or upon , fasten ; to place on , apply ; to direct or turn towards ; to deliver up , surrender , offer , reach over , present , give
kuṇḍala: n. a ring , ear-ring

mukhāni (nom. pl.): n. the mouth , face , countenance
rejur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. rāj: to reign; to be illustrious or resplendent , shine , glitter ; to appear as or like (iva)
pramadottamānām (gen. pl. f.): excellent women
pramadā: f. a young and wanton woman , any woman
uttama: mfn. uppermost , highest ; best , excellent (often ifc.)

baddhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. bound , tied , fixed , fastened , chained , fettered ; hung
kalāpāḥ (nom. pl.): m. (fr. √āp) " that which holds single parts together " , a bundle , band
iva: like
paṅka-jānām (gen. pl.): n. " mud-born " , a species of lotus , Nelumbium Speciosum (whose flower closes in the evening) ; mfn. lotus-eyed

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