Saturday, November 3, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.38: Being & Nothingness

    ⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Chāyā)
athājñayā bhartṛ-sutasya tasya nivartayām-āsa rathaṁ niyantā |

tataḥ kumāro bhavanaṁ tad-eva cintā-vaśaḥ śūnyam-iva prapede || 3.38

And so at the behest of the child of his master,

The tamer of horses turned the chariot around;

Then into the palace, that real piece of royal real estate,
the prince went,

In the thrall of anxious thought,
as if he were going into emptiness.

Niyantā, “a man who restrains [horses]” is another word for a charioteer; at the same time one of the ten epithets of Gautama Buddha was puruṣa-damya-sārathi, “the leader [driver in the same chariot] of persons to be tamed.” The first two pādas thus seem to reinforce the sense that the charioteer represents a complete, mature man, one grown truly old, a buddha; at the same time these first two pādas convey a sense of one who, far from being on his high horse, is readily obliging, being compliant even towards the wishes of a child.

The word for palace in the 3rd pāda is bhavana, which means (1) palace, and (2) coming into existence, realization. In the 4th pāda, therefore, śūnyam iva prapede, “he went as if into emptiness” is a play on this second meaning of bhavana, which points to real existence as opposed to emptiness. This sense of something real, as opposed to an immaterial figment of somebody's mind, is emphasized by tad eva (“that very;...” or “that right royal...”). 

As a result of reading and reciting a revered sacred text like the Heart Sutra, Buddhists in China and Japan are liable to discuss the oneness of form and emptiness, or of being and nothingness, and so Aśvaghoṣa's joke in today's verse seems to have pre-empted that kind of philosophical discussion, and to have subverted it even before the ink was dry on the Chinese characters 色即是空, 空即是色.

色即是空, 空即是色 
“Form is just emptiness; emptiness is just form.”

Dogen, following in Aśvaghoṣa's footsteps, saw things somewhat differently. For him 
色即是, 空即是

“Form is just form; emptiness is just emptiness.”

Today's verse reminds me of Aśvaghoṣa's description in Saundara-nanda Canto 17 of nirvāna, which he compares several times to a bit of nothing – i.e. the absence of like and dislike, the absence of danger, the absence of chains and bars, the absence of peril on the sea, the absence of darkness, the absence of illness, the absence of debt, the absence of hostile forces, and finally the absence of famine: 
Nothing is dear to me, nor offensive to me. There is no liking in me, much less disliking. / In the absence of those two, I am enjoying the moment, like one immune to cold and heat. // SN17.67 // Like gaining safety after great danger; like gaining release after long imprisonment; / Like having no boat and yet gaining the far shore, after a mighty deluge; and like gaining clarity, after fearful darkness; // SN17.68 // Like gaining health out of incurable illness, relief from immeasurable debt, / Or escape from an enemy presence; or like gaining, after a famine, plentiful food: // SN17.69 // Thus have I come to utmost quiet, through the quieting influence of the teacher. / Again and repeatedly I do homage to him: Homage, homage to the Worthy One, the Realised One! // SN17.70 //
But really speaking what is famine? Famine is the absence of food. And so what is the absence of famine? The absence of the absence of food, is simply food.

The Torah says (Deuteronomy 8:3), "Man does not live by bread alone but by all which comes from the mouth of God."

Judging from today's verse, I don't think Aśvaghoṣa would necessarily subscribe to that view. 

 The present canto is describing the prince becoming flustered as the consciousness awakens in him that there is more to life than receiving the favours of the most gorgeous women a king can muster. There is the possibility of growing truly old. In order for any of us to pursue that possibility, material things like food and lodging are absolutely necessary. But do we also need to attend to that which comes from the mouth of God? Again, is it vital to go deeply into the Mahāyana Buddhist doctrine of śūnyatā?

If your aim is to get a Ph. D. in Buddhist studies, the answer to that last question is very probably: Yes.

atha: then, and so
ājñayā (inst. sg.): f. order , command
bhartṛ-sutasya (gen. sg. m.): the son of his protector
bhartṛ: m. one who bears or carries or maintains ; a preserver , protector , maintainer , chief , lord , master
suta: m. a son , child , offspring
tasya (gen. sg. m.): that, him

nivartayām-āsa = 3rd pers. sg. periphrastic perf. ni- √ vṛt: to turn back
ratham (acc. sg.): m. chariot
niyantā (nom. sg.): m. who or what holds in or restrains or governs or tames , &c ; m. a restrainer , governor , tamer (esp. of horses) , charioteer

tataḥ: ind. then, and so
kumāraḥ (nom. sg.): m. the prince
bhavanam (acc. sg.): n. a place of abode , mansion , home , house , palace , dwelling; n. coming into existence , birth , production; n. the place where anything grows
tad (acc. sg. n.): that
eva: (emphatic) real, right royal

cintā-vaśaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. in the thrall of anxious thought
cintā: f. thought , care , anxiety , anxious thought
vaśa: m. power, control, dominion; ifc. , " by command of , by force of , on account of , by means of , according to "
śūnyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. empty ; n. a void , vacuum , empty or deserted place , desert; n. (in phil.) vacuity , nonentity , absolute non-existence (esp. with Buddhists)
iva: like
prapede = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra- √ pad: to go forwards set out for , resort to , arrive at , attain , enter (with acc.); to fly to for succour , take refuge with (acc.); to fall upon , attack , assail; , partake of , share in (acc.) ; to adopt or embrace (a doctrine)

受命即風馳 飛輪旋本宮
心存朽暮境 如歸空塜間

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