Thursday, October 18, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.22: Stuck In the Middle With Us

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Bhadrā)
taṁ tāḥ kumāraṁ pathi vīkṣamāṇāḥ striyo babhur-gām-iva gantu-kāmāḥ |
ūrdhvonmukhāś-cainam-udīkṣamāṇā narā babhur-dyām-iva gantu-kāmāḥ || 3.22

As down they gazed at the prince upon the road,

The women seemed to wish to go to earth;

And the men, as up they looked at him, with upturned faces,

Seemed to wish to go to heaven.

In Saundara-nanda Canto 17 Aśvaghoṣa describes as follows Nanda's investigation of the principle of there being, in this great big open system called “the world,” no separate self (nirātmakam).
And insofar as separateness is a construct, there being no-one who creates or who is made known, / But doing arises out of a totality, he realised, on that account, that this world is empty. //SN17.20 // Since the throng of humanity is passive, not autonomous, and no one exercises direct control over the workings of the body, / But states of being arise dependent on this and that, he found, in that sense, that the world is devoid of self (nirātmakam). // SN17.21 //
Then in Canto 18 Nanda reports back to the Buddha the results of this investigation:
In a birth, I perceive earth and the other elements, but in earth and those other elements, I perceive no self at all. / On that basis, there is no attachment in me to those elements; my orientation is equal with regard to my body and outside. // SN18.14 //

Today's verse can be read in such a context as part of a series of verses in which, by describing the singular prince (taṁ kumāram) in his splendid isolation on top of his golden carriage, mid-way between heaven and earth, and describing the women jostling each other (paraspara/anyonya) in their mutually excited eagerness, Aśvaghoṣa explores what it is to be an individual self, what it is to belong to a group, and what it is to be in the middle.

At the same time, as I worked on today's verse yesterday, the verse seemed to be asking to be treated as a little poem in its own right, and so -- even though I haven't got round yet to preparing the more analytical 4-line translations of Buddha-carita into the form of a 2-line translation to be read aloud -- I had a bash at translating today's verse in iambic metre... whereupon, in a spirit of wishing to praise and thank fellow diggers in the trenches everywhere, the following couple of questions arose: 

The prince who would be Buddha calmly sits
on golden wheels. But what of blood and sweat
and tears of slaves in chains who mined the salt
that arab merchants traded in for gold?

And what of blood and sweat of men with picks
and spades who washed the dirt and dug the coal
that fed the fire that made the many one?

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
tāḥ (nom. pl. f.): they, the girls
kumāram (acc. sg.): m. the prince
pathi (loc. sg.): m. the path, road
vīkṣamāṇāḥ = nom. pl. f. pres. part. vi- √īkṣ: to look at, see, behold ; to look upon

striyaḥ (nom. pl.): f. woman
babhur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. bhā: to shine forth , appear , show one's self ; to appear as , seem , look like , pass for (nom. with or without iva)
gām (acc. sg.): f. the earth
iva: like
gantu-kāmāḥ (nom. pl. f.): desiring to go
gantum = inf. gam: to go
kāma: n. (ifc.) desirous of , desiring , having a desire or intention

ūrdhvonmukhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with faces turned upwards
ūrdhva: mfn. rising or tending upwards
unmukha: mfn. raising the face , looking up or at
ca: and
enam (acc. sg. m.): him, that one
udīkṣamāṇāḥ = nom. pl. m. pres. part. ud- √ īkṣ: to look up to ; to look at

narāḥ (nom. pl. m.): the men
babhur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. bhā: to appear
dyām (acc. sg.): f. heaven, the sky
iva: like
gantu-kāmāḥ: (nom. pl. m.): desiring to go

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