Monday, October 29, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.33: Growing Old

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
āyuṣmato 'py-eṣa vayaḥ-prakarṣo niḥsaṁśayaṁ kāla-vaśena bhāvī |
evaṁ jarāṁ rūpa-vināśayitrīṁ jānāti caivecchati caiva lokaḥ || 3.33

The present span of life of you who are so full of life

Will also in future, through the power of time, surely run its course.

The world knows that growing old thus destroys beautiful appearances,

And yet the world desires it.”

Today's verse is a consideration of what jarā “growing old” might really mean. As such the verse – beautiful though it appeared on first reading of others' translations of it – turns out in reality not to have been what it seemed.

The gist of the ostensible meaning is that the charioteer is (1) telling the prince a simple, undeniable fact, and (2) describing a situational irony. The simple fact (1) is that you too will inevitably grow old and die. The irony (2) is that all the world knows that old age destroys beauty and yet all the world desires it.

Hence EBC:
"It [old age] will come without doubt by the force of time through multitude of years even to my long-lived lord; all the world knows thus that old age will destroy their comeliness and they are content to have it so."

“Inevitably by force of time my long-lived lord will know this length of his days. Men are aware that old age thus destroys beauty and yet they seek it.”

And PO: 
“Though you're blessed with long life, without a doubt, by force of time, you too will become old; In this manner old age destroys beauty; people know this and still they desire it.”

The above translations of the first two pādas, in their attempt to bring out the ostensible meaning, on closer investigation, seem to me to stray from being literal translations. If I attempt a more literal translation of the first two pādas that brings out the ostensible meaning, I need to use square brackets, thus: 
“Even for one who is so full of life, this your present lifespan, through the force of time, will inevitably be [of limited duration].”

If we forget about the ostensible meaning and just translate literally, the result is something like this: 
 “This present lifetime of you who are so full of life also, through the power of time, is bound to exist in future.”

Ah hah!

Understood like this eṣa vayaḥ-prakarṣaḥ, “this present lifetime,” in the 1st pāda is an expression in the 1st phase of the eternity of “the Tathāgata's Lifetime.” "The Tathāgata's Lifetime" is the title of the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, 如来寿量 (Jap: NYORAI-JURYO). The chapter is quoted at length in Shobogenzo, including in Shobogenzo chap. 71 Nyorai-zenshin, The Whole Body of the Tathāgata. The Lotus Sutra records the enlightened Buddha proclaiming, for example:
“It is very far in the distant past since I became buddha. [My] lifetime is countless asaṁkheya kalpas, eternally existing and not perishing. Good sons! The lifetime which I have realized by my original practice of the bodhisattva-way is not even yet exhausted but will still be twice the previous [astronomically large] number [of kalpas].”
And again in verse:
In order to save living beings,
As an expedient method I manifest nirvāṇa,
Yet really I have not passed away,
Constantly abiding here preaching the Dharma,
I am always living at this place....
If this all sounds a bit much for those of us who fucking love science, the 2nd pāda, antithetically, expresses another side to “growing old” – namely, the maturation of cause and effect in the concrete reality of space-time. This is the kind of movement through the infinite ocean of time that has been considered in depth by the likes of Albert Einstein.

In the interests of preserving the irony which I am sure Aśvaghoṣa intended, I have translated bhavī in the 2nd pāda as “it will run its course in future,” but the more literal meaning is simply, as per the Lotus Sutra, “it is bound to exist.”

So when we rip away the surface appearance of the 2nd pāda, the charioteer can be seen to be predicting that in 2,500 years time, through the reality of that space-time which is governed absolutely by the law cause and effect, the whole body of the Tathāgata will still be visible in grass and trees and clouds, and audible in the sounds of sparrows and smoke alarms.

The central irony of today's verse, then, is contained in the 3rd pāda, which ostensibly expresses what the world knows – that old age destroys beauty – but which really expresses what the world does not know – that becoming more mature in one's understanding of the human condition, and developing more fully as a human being, involves ripping away surface appearances and seeing things as they really are. That is basically what every verse of Aśvaghoṣa's writing is encouraging us and training us to do – not to be fooled by the surface appearance, but by each taking hold of his or her own metaphorical spade, to get to the bottom of everything.

And so wearily, having got up in the middle of the night to grapple with today's verse, I arrive at the final irony expressed in the 4th pāda, which is namely that even though people see growing old only as a terrifying prospect and remain ignorant about the possibility of growing truly old, everybody tends to aspire nonetheless to live to a ripe old age. In short, we are all prone to fear old age, but that doesn't stop us from being greedy for it.

Instead of aspiring to live to a ripe old age, in view of the Buddha's teaching in the Lotus Sutra, might it be wiser to aspire to meet what Chinese Zen masters called (Jap: KOBUTSU), an old/eternal buddha?

Speaking from bitter experience, I would say:  No, definitely not. Aspiring to drink a quiet cup of tea might be a wiser course, or aspiring to sweep up leaves, or aspiring to have a refreshing nap.

āyuṣmataḥ (gen. sg. m.): mfn. possessed of vital power , healthy , long-lived ; m. " life-possessing " , often applied as a kind of honorific title (especially to royal personages and Buddhist monks)
āyus: n. life , vital power , vigour , health , duration of life , long life
api: ind. and , also , moreover , besides , assuredly , surely (often used to express emphasis , in the sense of even , also , very)
eṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): this , this here , here (especially as pointing to what is nearest to the speaker e.g. eṣa bāṇaḥ , this arrow here in my hand ; eṣa yāti panthāḥ , here passes the way ; eṣa kālaḥ , here i.e. now , is the time ; etad , this here i.e. this world here below)
vayaḥ-prakarṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): duration of life
vayas: n. energy (both bodily and mental) , strength , health , vigour , power , might ; vigorous age , youth , prime of life , any period of life , age
prakarṣa: m. pre-eminence , excellence , superiority , excess , intensity , high degree (often ifc. e.g. adhva-pr° , a great distance R. ; kāla-pr° , a long time); length of time , duration
vayaḥ-pramāṇa: n. measure or duration of life , age

niḥsaṁśayam: ind. undoubtedly , certainly , surely
kāla-vaśena (inst. sg.): through the force/power of time
vaśa: m. authority , power , control; -ena " by command of , by force of , on account of , by means of , according to ")
bhāvī = nom. sg. m. bhāvin: mfn. about to be , future , imminent , predestined , inevitable (often used as fut. tense of √ bhū)

evam: ind. thus , in this way , in such a manner , such; (it is also often used like an adjective [e.g. evaṁ te vacane rataḥ , rejoicing in such words of thine ; where evam = evaṁ-vidhe]); sometimes evam is merely an expletive ; according to lexicographers evam may imply likeness (so), sameness of manner (thus), assent (yes , verily), affirmation (certainly , indeed , assuredly), and be used as an expletive.
jarām (acc. sg.): f. aging, old age
rūpa-vināśayitrīm (acc. sg. f.): beauty-destroying
rūpa: n. form , shape , figure ; handsome form , loveliness , grace , beauty ,
vi-nāśayitṛ: mfn. one who destroys , a destroyer

jānāti = 3rd pers. sg. jñā: to know
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
icchati = 3rd pers. sg. iṣ: , to endeavour to obtain , strive , seek for ; to desire, wish, long for
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
lokaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the world, mankind

御者又答言 尊亦有此分
時移形自變 必至無所疑
少壯無不老 擧世知而求 

No comments: