Friday, October 5, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.9: Stellar Means

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Mālā)
tataḥ prakīrṇojjvala-puṣpa-jālaṁ viṣakta-mālyaṁ pracalat-patākam |
mārgaṁ prapede sadṛśānuyātraś-candraḥ sanakṣatra ivāntarīkṣam || 3.9

And so a road bestrewn with masses of flowers in full bloom,

Along which wreaths hung down and flags fleetingly fluttered,

He entered, with suitable backing,

Like the moon entering the sky in the company of stars.

Flowers in the 1st pāda belong to the first phase because they are flowers in full bloom – as flowers are invariably depicted by little children.

A cynical old bugger who has lost the innocence of his youth, on the contrary, when asked to picture a flower, might picture a scene at a cemetery or a memorial service, where wreaths are laid and hung, and where the fleeting fluttering of flags serves as a reminder to all of approaching death. Thus are the flowers described in the 2nd pāda, as I read it.

In the 3rd pāda sadṛśānuyātraḥ ostensibly means “with a worthy/suitable retinue” (EBC/EHJ). But anuyātrā, in addition to its primary meaning of “retinue” has a secondary meaning of “that which is required for a journey.” So insofar as the road (mārgam) is a metaphor for the ultimate teaching of the Buddha, then the metaphorical meaning of sadṛśānuyātraḥ might be “being suitably equipped with necessities” or “being in possession of the appropriate means-whereby” for travelling that road.

In metaphor of the 4th pāda, the/a moon is a person or a sitting-practitioner – but what kind of moon did Aśvaghoṣa have in mind? The kind of golden full moon a child would picture? I think not. A white half or crescent moon of the kind beloved of cynics and skeptics? No, because that kind of moon, shining in a blue sky, is not backed by stars.

In metaphor of the 4th pāda, again, the sky is a road or a path – but evidently not a single track. Aśvaghoṣa's sky, evidently, was much broader than that. 

More unfathomable still is what Aśvaghoṣa intended to symbolize by the stars? In light of the ambiguity of  sadṛśānuyātraḥ, did he secretly intend to compare the stars to a means?

The Buddha said his ultimate teaching was a road or path (mārga-satya), and he also said it was a means (upāya):
"This is suffering; this is the tangled mass of causes producing it; / This is cessation; and here is a means (ayam upāya)." Thus, one by one, this supreme set of four, // SN3.12 // The seer set out.
When the Buddha said ayam upāya, “here is a means,” how wide did he intend the meaning of ayam “this/here” to be? Wide enough to include the stars, for example? Wide enough to include the sky? Today's verse, as I read it, suggests so.

Is there a sense that the stars can be a means of cessation? Again, I think so.

But in that case what Aśvaghoṣa means by stars is not what astrologists or astronomists mean by the stars – any more than what Aśvaghoṣa means by not letting go (in BC3.7) is what psychologists mean by not letting go, and any more than what Aśvaghoṣa means by gold (in BC3.8) is what economists mean by gold.

People (including yours truly) are prone to think that the teaching of the buddha-ancestors should be all about letting go, and not so much about the stars, and still less about gold. But digging every day for the deeper meaning in Aśvaghoṣa's words causes us to suspect that this might be a wrong and biased view, an idea to be abandoned – in short, a view.

"What is your view on gold?" Zen practitioner A asks Zen practioner B. 

"I am not interested in gold.  I am interested in letting go. I am interested in the gap beween human thought and reality," practitioner B replies. 

"You do have a view on gold," practitioner A insists. "It is just that you haven't examined it yet. You haven't even recognized it yet as a view."

tataḥ: ind. then
prakīrṇojjvala-puṣpa-jālam (acc. sg. m.): strewn with nets/multitudes of flowers in full bloom
prakīrṇa: mfn. scattered , thrown about , dispersed;
ujjvala: mfn. blazing up , luminous , splendid ; lovely, glorious; full-blown
puṣpa: flower
jālam n. a net ; (chiefly ifc.) collection, multitude

viṣakta-mālyam (acc. sg. m.): with hanging wreaths/garlands
viṣakta: mfn. hung to or on or upon
mālya: n. a wreath , garland , chaplet
pracalat-patākam (acc. sg. m.): with fluttering flags
pracalat: mfn. moving , trembling , shaking ; going , proceeding far or much ; circulating , being current or customary ; prevailing , being recognized (as authority or law)
patāka: m. (" flying ") , a flag or banner

mārgam (acc. sg.): m. the track of a wild animal , any track , road , path ,
prapede = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra- √ pad: to go forwards set out for , resort to , arrive at , attain , enter (with acc.)
sadṛśānuyātraḥ (nom. sg. m.): having a suitable retinue
sadṛśa: conformable , suitable , fit , proper , right , worthy
anuyātrā: f. retinue , attendance; that which is required for a journey.

candraḥ (nom. sg.): m. the moon
sanakṣatra (nom. sg. m.): with its asterism ; together with the stars
sa: (possessive prefix)
nakṣatra: n. a star or any heavenly body ; n. sg. sometimes collectively " the stars " ; n. an asterism or constellation through which the moon passes , a lunar mansion AV. &c &c (27 , later 28 , viz. śraviṣṭhā or dhaniṣṭhā , śata-bhiṣaj , pūrva-bhadrapadā , uttara-bhadrapadā , revatī , aśvinī , bharaṇī , kṛttikā , rohiṇī or brāhmī , mṛga-śiras or āgrahāyaṇī , ārdrā , punarvasū or yāmakau , puṣya or sidhya , āśleṣā , maghā , pūrva-phalgunī , uttara-phalgunī , hasta , citrā , svātī , viśākhā or rādhā , anurādhā , jyeṣṭha , mūla , pūrvā*ṣāḍhā , uttarāṣāḍhā , abhijit , śravaṇa)
iva: like
antarīkṣam (acc. sg.): n. the intermediate space between heaven and earth ; the atmosphere or sky

街巷散衆華 寶縵蔽路傍
垣樹列道側 寶器以莊嚴
繒蓋諸幢幡 繽紛隨風揚

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