Friday, November 2, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.37: Immature Interest in Growing Old

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
evaṁ gate sūta nivartayāśvān śīghraṁ gṛhāṇyeva bhavān-prayātu |
udyāna-bhūmau hi kuto ratir-me jarā-bhave cetasi vartamāne || 3.37

Being so, O charioteer, turn back the horses!

Take us home, good sir, quickly!

For what pleasure can there be for me in parkland

While the reality of growing old is occupying my mind?"

The opening word of today's verse, evam, mirrors the evam in the last pāda of yesterday's verse, the translation of which I shall change, for the sake of conformity, to “Even as it witnesses it so before its very eyes.”

Evaṁ gate means “It being so,” and at the same time it might mean “you being so.” Evaṁ gata might be intended to point, in other words, to one or more of the several possible meanings of tathā-gata, “one who has arrived thus,” “one who has gone thus,” “one from whom [faults] are gone,” “one in whom absence is thus,” “one who has arrived at the state like this,” “one who has arrived at reality,” and so on. Expressed thus in the words "[you] being so," Aśvaghoṣa's intention might be to remind an independently-minded individual who is endeavouring to make the Buddha's teachings his own, that the ultimate aim is not so much to drive one's own chariot as to let one's own chariot be driven by... by what? Maybe by evaṁ gate, one who is such, or it which is so.

If we track back to earlier on in the canto to where the driver is introduced, there is some evidence to suggest that Aśvaghoṣa was portraying the charioteer as one who was such, i.e, one grown old, a mature man. The primary evidence is in the word aklība, which I translated as assertive (contrasting the assertive driver to the submissive horses), but which originally means “not emasculated” or “not lacking in testicles” i.e. complete: 
Yoked to four calm submissive horses bearing golden trappings, / With an assertive driver at the reins, a complete man of knowledge and integrity (aklība-vidvac-chuci-raśmi-dhāram), was the golden carriage which he then ascended. // SN3.8 //

In the 2nd pāda the prince asks to be taken home quickly or rapidly (śīghram). Evidently something has changed. Before the prince was progressing away from the palace in a dignified manner, slowly and gradually (śanaiḥ śanaiḥ; 3.10), while the women rushed around on all sides barging about. Now it is the prince who is in a rush. It seems to raise the question of exactly what establishment of the bodhi-mind is – a change for the better or a change for the worse? Are the prince's original features now beginning to emerge? Or is the prince, on the contrary, losing his original mind? 

In theory, no doubt, establishment of the bodhi-mind is something to celebrate -- light a candle, burn a stick of incense, and whisper a prayer of thanks to buddhas of the pure land. But Aśvaghoṣa's writing forces us to be ever alert, if we weren't already, to the irony which resides in the gap between Buddhist theory and the actual process of a bloke who sits.

This being so, an irony that Aśvaghoṣa may have in mind in the 2nd and 3rd pādas is that this change that has taken place in the prince's body and mind is now taking the prince in a direction which is opposite to the direction that the Buddha will later follow and recommend others to follow. The prince wishes to go home, eschewing pleasure in parkland, whereas the Buddha will leave home and practice pleasant practices in parklands and gardens like the famous park called Jetavana, “Jetri's Wood,” where the Buddha is said to have passed 19 out of the 45 rains retreats between his enlightenment and his death.

Ostensibly the prince's establishment of the bodhi-mind is being described as it is conventionally understood, as something that grew out of the Buddha's recognition of universal suffering. But I have long had my own doubts about this conception, stemming particularly from an encounter with a so-called monk with a 3rd-world money-seeking mentality who I met in Thailand in 1988. This individual in a yellow-red robe approached me wanting to know what had brought me to Buddhism, what experience of suffering I had had. My strong intuition was that he did not give a monkey's willie what had brought me to Buddhism; he just wanted to make a connection that might be materially useful for him. Furthermore, from my side, I was not aware that my original optimistic desire to grasp Zen enlightenment had got anything to do with suffering. His mental conception of what "establishing the bodhi-mind" was, gleaned from listening to Buddhists, did not tally at all with my own actual experience. 

EH Johnston evidently bought the ostensible meaning so completely that he felt justified in amending the old Nepalese manuscript's jarā-bhave to jarā-bhaye, which he translated as “the fear of old age” – hence, “For how can I take my pleasure in the garden, when the fear of old age rules in my mind?”

The original jarā-bhave is a more challenging term to translate. If we take bhava to mean “becoming,” jarā-bhava simply means “growing old.” If we take bhava to mean “arising from,” jarā-bhava means “arising from growing old” (hence EBC: “the thoughts arising from old age”). If we take bhava to mean “well-being, excellence (= śreyas),” then jarā-bhava means something very different indeed from the ostensible meaning, along the lines of “the excellence of growing old” or “the better state of being which is growing old.” In the end I have taken jarā-bhava as equivalent to jara-bhāva, “the reality of growing old.”

Whichever one of these meanings is taken, jarā-bhava as I read it does not express aging as a terror; again, as in previous verses, it expresses growing old as the culmination of a process of human development.

For the prince, however, “growing old” as thus understood -- as the long-term effect of following a better way, or as a reality – is not anything he himself has experienced first hand. Even if he calls it a reality, it is not yet for him a reality; it is only a concept – just as Zen enlightenment was only a concept for me when I set off for Japan 30 years ago (and so Zen enlightenment has remained, I might add, though I have picked up one or clues along the way about Zen delusion).

In conclusion, then, if we understand jarā-bhava to express growing old as a mature state, the prince is very far from being in that state (though the driver of the chariot might be in it). The immature mind of the prince is occupied with growing old as an end, whereas the mind of one who has grown truly old – having gone like this (evaṁ gate) – might be more occupied with attending afresh to a means in the present moment, like a charioteer holding his horses.

evam: ind. thus , in this way , in such a manner , such ; in classical Sanskrit evam occurs very frequently , especially in connection with the roots vac , " to speak " , and śru , " to hear " , and refers to what precedes as well as to what follows [e.g. evam uktvā , having so said ; evam evai*tat , this is so ; evam astuorevam bhavatu , be it so , I assent ; asty evam , it is so ; yady evam , if this be so ; kim evam , how so? what is the meaning of it? what does this refer to? mai*vam , not so! evam - yathā or yathā - evam , so - as])
gate (loc. sg.): come to , approached , arrived at , being in , situated in ; gone to any state or condition
sūta (voc. sg.): m. charioteer
nivartaya = 2nd pers. sg. causative imperative ni- √ vṛt: to turn back
aśvān (acc. pl.): m. horse

śīghram: ind. quickly, speedily, rapidly
gṛhāṇi (acc. pl. n.): a house , habitation , home  ; m. pl. a house as containing several rooms
eva: (emphatic)
bhavān (nom. sg. m.): your honour , your worship , your lordship or ladyship , you (lit. " the gentleman or lady present ")
prayātu = 3rd pers. sg. imperative pra- √ yā: to go forth , set out , progress , advance towards or against , go or repair to

udyāna-bhūmau (loc. sg.): in the park / garden / royal garden
udyāna: n. the act of going out; walking out; a park , garden , royal garden
bhūmi: f. the earth , soil , ground; a place
hi: for
kutaḥ: ind. wherefore? why? from what cause or motive? how?
ratiḥ (nom. sg.): f. pleasure , enjoyment
me (gen. sg.): of me

jarā-bhave (loc. sg.): the state of being which is old age ; the excellence which is growing old ; growing old
bhava: m. coming into existence , birth , production , origin (= bhāva ifc. = arising or produced from , being in , relating to); becoming , turning into (comp.) ; being , state of being , existence , life ; well-being , prosperity , welfare , excellence (= śreyas )
bhāva: m. true condition or state , truth , reality
jarā-bhaye (loc. sg.): fear of old age, the terror of aging
bhaya: n. fear , alarm, dread, apprehension; fear of (comp); terror
cetasi (loc. sg.): n. consciousness , intelligence , thinking soul , heart , mind
vartamāne = loc. sg. to turn , turn round ; to take place ; to hold good , continue in force

菩薩謂御者 宜速迴車還
念念衰老至 園林何足歡 

No comments: