Wednesday, October 24, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.28: Looking Afresh at an Old Man

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
ka eṣa bhoḥ sūta naro 'bhyupetaḥ keśaiḥ sitair-yaṣṭi-viṣakta-hastaḥ |
bhrū-saṁvṛtākṣaḥ śithilānatāṅgaḥ kiṁ vikriyaiṣā prakṛtir-yad-ṛcchā || 3.28

Who is this man, O charioteer, that has appeared

With hair all white, hand clasping a stick,

Eyes sunken into his brows, limbs flaccid and body stooped:

Is this disordered state his original condition? 
Is it a chance occurrence?

Another, more informal, way of translating the 4th pāda of yesterday's verse, tatraiva niṣkampa-niviṣṭa-dṛṣṭiḥ, would be: “looking that bugger right in the eye.”

Yesterday I heard somebody (Bruce Forsyth on Desert Island Discs to be specific) state his view that “old age is a state of mind.” Similar takes on old age are that “forty is the new thirty,” “seventy is the new fifty,” and so on.

People who espouse such views, as I hear them, are no different from King Śuddhodhana who tried in vain to sweep all symptoms of suffering under the carpet.

White hair, wobbly balance, diminishing vital organs, and loss of postural tone, are totally impervious to stupid people's views and opinions about them.

The prince who will be Buddha is totally free of such views on old age. He is not even burdened by the concept “old age.”

Thus he is able to ask, without any preconceptions, when he sees the old man, “What the hell is that all about?” In so doing, he causes us readers and listeners to ask afresh what the strange terror, which we have heard listed among the triple Buddhist terrors of “aging,” “sickness” and “death,” really is.

About 25 years ago a Zen teacher confessed to me that he didn't fear death, but he feared old age.

As a problem, old age cannot be solved, not even by the brainiest people on our planet. If very wealthy Americans give money to scientists in the hope that they might find the cure for aging, just like scientists found a way to put a man on the moon, those wealthy Americans are deluding themselves.

I think the Buddha's teaching is not that the problem of old age can be solved, but rather that the terror of old age can be solved. How? I don't know. But the first step might be not to be in denial about it – not to see it as another problem to sweep under the carpet.

If I personalize today's comment, I would say that what I fear most, and the problem I have spent much of my life sweeping under the carpet, is fear itself. And by fear I don't mean something primarily psychological.

Using today's verse as a template, then, I should ask, while looking the bugger squarely in the eye:

Who is this frightened baby, O would-be driver of his own chariot, who appears,
With face all red, hands splayed out,
Eyes wide open, limbs hyper-tonic and body hyper-extended:
Is this disordered state the baby's original condition? Is it a chance occurrence?

kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who?
eṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. this one
bhoḥ: an interjection or voc. particle commonly used in addressing another person or several persons = O! Ho! Hallo! , in soliloquies = alas!
sūta (voc. sg. m.): a charioteer , driver , groom , equerry , master of the horse (esp. an attendant on a king)
naraḥ (nom. sg.): m. man
abhyupetaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. approached , arrived at

keśaiḥ (inst. pl.): ) m. the hair of the head
sitaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. white
yaṣṭi-viṣakta-hastaḥ (nom. sg. m.): with hand clinging to a stick
yaṣṭi: n. " any support " , a staff , stick
viṣakta: mfn. hung to or on or upon , hung or suspended to , hanging or sticking on or in , firmly fixed or fastened or adhering to (loc.)
hasta: hand

bhrū-saṁvṛtākṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): with eyes sunken behind his eyebrows
bhrū: f. an eyebrow, brow
saṁvṛta: mfn. covered , shut up; concealed ; suppressed
akṣa: n. (ifc) the eye
śithilānatāṅgaḥ (nom. sg. m.): his limbs flaccid and body stooped
śithila: mfn. loose , slack , lax , relaxed , untied , flaccid , not rigid or compact
ānata: mfn. bending , stooping , bowed
aṅga: n. a limb of the body; the body

kim: (interrogative particle)
vikriyā: f. transformation , change , modification , altered or unnatural condition
eṣā (nom. sg. f.): this
prakṛtiḥ (nom. sg.): f. " making or placing before or at first " , the original or natural form or condition of anything
yad-ṛcchā (nom. sg.): f. self-will , spontaneity , accident , chance

此是何等人 頭白而背僂
目冥身戰搖 任杖而羸歩
爲是身卒 變 爲受性自爾 

1 comment:

Mike Cross said...

In light of later verses, this one needs to be translated in such a way that it could be describing not only a generic decrepit old man but also an individual non-buddha. Hence:

Who is this man, O charioteer, that has appeared

With hair all white, hand firmly gripping a staff,

Eyes concealed below his brow, limbs loose and bending:

Is this strange transformation his original condition?
Is it a chance occurrence?