Saturday, October 20, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.24: Not Playing Hard to Get

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
ayaṁ kila vyāyata-pīna-bāhū rūpeṇa sākṣād-iva puṣpa-ketuḥ |
tyaktvā śriyaṁ dharmam-upaiṣyatīti tasmin hi-tā gauravam-eva cakruḥ || 3.24

“He of arms so lengthened and full, so they say,

Who is like a flower-bannered god of love in his manifest form,

Will give up royal sovereignty and pursue dharma.”

Thus the women conferred on him the full weight of their estimation.

A recent paper (by Petersen & Sznycer, published in Pyschological Science, and featured in the science section of this week's Economist), found that the strength of a man's opinion on the subject of redistribution of resources tended to depend on his physical strength. As a proxy for physical strength the researchers took the circumference of the flexed biceps of an individual's dominant arm. Previous work, the Economist assures us, has shown that bicep circumference is an accurate proxy for strength – though I have known one or two martial artists whose power emanating from their centre might falsify this general conception.

In any event, the 1st pāda of today's verse can be read as expressing the male object of female desire as the stereotype of a strong man – taking Schwarzenegger-like arms as a proxy for all-round strength.

The 2nd pāda can be taken as antithetical to the 1st pāda in suggesting that the women were interested in more than ticking of generic boxes likes “strong-armed man” and “love god”: they appreciated the particular excellence of the form which the prince (vidyotamāno vapuṣā pareṇa; “with his supremely fine form shining forth”; BC2.27) was presenting before their eyes.

A flower-bannered god of love (puṣpa-ketuḥ) means a figure as romantic as Kāma, the disembodied god of love who pops up in several verses in Saundara-nanda Canto 7:
Amid the wealth of flowers of the month of flowers, assailed on every side by the flower-bannered god of love, / And with feelings that are familiar to the young, he stayed in a vihāra but found no peace. // SN7.2 // 
When his favourite female drowned in the waters of the Ganges, King Jahnu, his mind possessed by disembodied Love, / Blocked the flow of the Ganges with his arms, as if he were Mount Maināka, the paragon of non-movement.// SN7.40 // 
Again, when the avatar Saunandakin took away his Urvaśī, "She of the Wide Expanse," the wife whom, like the wide earth, Soma-varman had made his own, / 'Moon-Armoured' Soma-varman whose armour, so they say, had been virtuous conduct, roamed about grieving, his armour pierced by mind-existent Love. // 7.42 //
Flower-bannered Kāma is also known as “Disembodied Love” and “the Mind-Existent,” so the story goes, because when Śiva was doing his damnedest to concentrate, in the Brahmanical tradition, on ascetic practice, his mind kept wandering instead in the direction of the lovely Pārvatī. The frustrated Śiva vented his wrath on Kāma, the god of love, whom he consigned to an existence without a body.

The 3rd and 4th pādas, as I read them, have Aśvaghoṣa's characteristic dry humour running through them, suggesting that a generic strong arm and individual good looks are all very well, but in the final analysis what a woman really wants – the object that really earns the full weight of her estimation – is what she can't have.

In Japanese there is a particular phrase for this kind of desire: nai mono nedari, the persistent longing after something impossible to attain.

FM Alexander, like Aśvaghoṣa, had no medical or academic qualifications, but again like Aśvaghoṣa he was way ahead of the likes of Sigmund Freud in his practical grasp of the psychology of desire.

The technique that bears Alexander's name is becoming increasingly professionalised and pseudo-scientific. Because of a back-pain trial that has gained some credence in medical and academic circles, everybody nowadays seems to think Alexander work is all about back pain; whereas truly it is all about a struggle against unconsciousness. It is, as FM himself said, “the most mental thing there is.”

It has to be the most mental thing there is because, as Alexander correctly observed, with a dryness of which Aśvaghoṣa would have approved: The most difficult things to get rid of are the ones that don't exist.

ayam (nom. sg. m.): this one, he
kila: ind. (a particle of asseveration or emphasis) indeed , verily , assuredly ; " so said " " so reported "
vyāyata-pīna-bāhur (nom. sg. m.): with lengthened and full arms
vyāyata: mfn. opened , expanded ; long
pīna: mfn. swelling , swollen , full , round , thick , large , fat , fleshy , corpulent, muscular
bāhu: mf. the arm

rūpeṇa (inst. sg.): n. any outward appearance or phenomenon or colour (often pl.) , form , shape , figure ; handsome form , loveliness , grace , beauty , splendour
sākṣāt: ind. (abl. of sākṣa, ) with the eyes , with one's own eyes ; before one's eyes , evidently , clearly , openly , manifestly ; in person , in bodily form , personally , visibly , really , actually
iva: like
puṣpa-ketuḥ (nom. sg. m.): " characterized by flower " , the god of love
ketu: m. bright appearance ; sign , mark , ensign , flag , banner

tyaktvā = abs. tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit ; to give up, surrender
śriyam (acc. sg.): f. royal power, majesty
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. dharma
upaiṣyati = 3rd pers. sg. future upa- √iṣ: to tend towards , endeavour to attain
iti: “thus,”...

tasmin (loc. sg. m.): towards him
hi: for
tāḥ (nom. pl. f.): those women
gauravam (acc. sg.): n. weight ; importance , high value or estimation ; n. gravity , respectability , venerableness ; n. respect shown to a person
eva (emphatic)
cakrur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. kṛ: to do, make


gniz said...

Hello, Mike.

This may be somewhat off topic to today's verses (or maybe not).

In the past, you have spoken of the militaristic sitting mindset that so many people bring to the practice of zen.

It seems to me, as of right now, that the kinds of militaristic or overly aggressive forms of practice are perhaps some of the worst abuses in terms of what we are trying to undertake here.

Recently, it seems to me that consciousness is least present when my body is tense--and tension is caused mainly be fear.

I wonder why so many so-called masters or supposed gurus use fear and intimidation to inspire their followers.

Perhaps it is because by doing so they encourage the opposite tendency of that which they claim to want to impart on their charges.

And as well, it seems to me that in relation to myself, the worst thing I can do is make this practice of "allowing consciousness to happen" into something overly serious, overly rigorous, frightening and dull.

I have a feeling that Alexander knew that once we "allow" the body to be itself, we then can allow the next important step to be taken far more easily.

This can be done far less painfully when we are without tension than it can when we use fear and intimidation tactics on ourselves, creating all sorts of unnecessary mental and physical gymnastics that only serve to block that which we are trying to let in.

Of course, I am interested in whether this fits in with your experience or not, Mike. And I apologize for the off-topic comment here.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Aaron,

Now you are talking the talk of true allowing (as opposed to fearful doing) which I am always talking on this blog, and which is never off topic in any verse that Aśvaghoṣa wrote, at least in my book.

Part of the cosmic irony that I was discussing yesterday, however, is that just when we are most vociferious in talking the talk, the gap is liable to be greatest between talking the talk and walking the walk.

If it is any consolation, Aśvaghoṣa recognized that tendency in himself, when he signed off as the author of Saundara-nanda by referring to himself as mahā-vādinaḥ, which means "talker of the great talk," or "great talker of the talk."

But behind Aśvaghoṣa's self-deprecatory epithet, I have no doubt, there was a whole lot of walking the walk.

gniz said...

Hi Mike.

Thanks for your words. You appear to me to be correct, in that, when I am talking (or writing) of my "great insights" I am more likely than ever to be full of crappola.

Could it be as simple as this; that by communicating my point, I am usually more concerned with being right (and thus creating unnecessary tension and blocking consciousness)?

Unfortunately, i've found lately that almost everything i do (but sitting still) tends to create those tensions. Including talking.

However, I do feel that with practice, everything (including writing, communicating etc) can be done with the same ease as sitting still and letting this happen...

But I know that I am still way too concerned with being right, and so for that, thirty lashes! I will commence my punishment post haste.