Friday, November 16, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.51: An Earth Possessor's Stupidity

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (ddhi)
yadā ca śabdādibhir-indriyārthair-antaḥpure naiva suto 'sya reme |
tato bahir-vyādiśati sma yātrāṁ rasāntaraṁ syād-iti manyamānaḥ || 3.51

But when his son took no delight in the sounds of voices,

Or in the other sensory stimuli,
within the battlements of the women's apartments,

Then he gave the order for another excursion outdoors,

Thinking that this might be a different enjoyment.

In general King Śuddodhana is portrayed in both Saundara-nanda and in Buddha-carita in a favourable light, as a father who wanted the best for his sons, and who worked tirelessly in that direction. But the implicit message of today's verse, as I read it, is to highlight that, the altruism of King Śuddodhana, as a possessor of the earth, was both selfish and stupid.

The king wanted the best for his sons, which is a positive thing, a virtue. The selfishness lies in the fact that he wanted the best for them because they were his sons. This I think is what Aśvaghoṣa is hinting at by repeated use of phrases like suto 'sya (his son) in today's verse and tasmai sutāya (for his son) in yesterday's verse.

Contrast the universal compassion of the Buddha that Aśvaghoṣa describes in Saundara-nanda canto 3:
Awake to the one great ageless purpose, and universal in his compassion (anukampayā vibhuḥ), / He proceeded, in order to display the eternal deathless nectar, to the city sustained by the waters of the Varaṇā and the Asī – to Vārāṇasī. // SN3.10 // And so the wheel of dharma -- whose hub is uprightness, whose rim is constancy, determination, and balanced stillness, / And whose spokes are the rules of discipline -- there the Seer turned, in that assembly, for the welfare of the world. // SN3.11 // "This is suffering; this is the tangled mass of causes producing it; / This is cessation; and here is a means."
The stupidity lies in blindly and stubbornly persisting with an approach that has served well in other instances in the past but now has repeatedly failed to work. Mighty possessors of the earth are ever liable to manifest this kind of stupidity, instead of having the wit to think out a new approach. Thus are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle.

The Alexander teacher Patrick Macdonald described this kind of stupidity nicely in a discussion of what FM Alexander called “endgaining”:
The best results are gained when a pupil can disassociate himself from what is happening, as if he were standing on one side watching someone else being taught.... Alexander named the opposite of this kind of behaviour “endgaining” (i.e. the desire to bring about the end in view, however wrong the means might be)... He showed that if a new kind of result was wanted, a new set of means would have to be used. This was not a startling new discovery; it had been said before. But it needs constant repetition, as there is still a world-wide belief, against all evidence, that new results can be brought about by the same old methods.
Contrast the flexibility of approach advocated by the Buddha in Saundara-nanda canto 16:
Holding gold in the mouth of a furnace, a goldsmith in this world blows it at the proper time, / Douses it with water at the proper time, and gradually, at the proper time, he leaves it be. // SN16.65 // For he might burn the gold by blowing at the wrong time, he might make it unworkable by plunging it into water at the wrong time, / And he would not bring it to full perfection if at the wrong time he were just to leave it be. // SN16.66 // Likewise, for garnering as also for calming, as also when appropriate for leaving well alone, / One should readily attend to the appropriate factor; because even diligence is destructive when accompanied by a wrong approach." // SN16.67 //Thus, on retreat from muddling through, and on the principle to come back to, the One Who Went Well spoke to Nanda; /And knowing the varieties of behaviour, he detailed further the directions for abandoning ideas. // SN16.68 // Just as, for a disorder of bile, phlegm, or wind -- for whatever disorder of the humours has manifested the symptoms of disease -- / A doctor prescribes a course of treatment to cure that very disorder; so did the Buddha prescribe for the faults: // SN16.69 // It may not be possible, following a single method, to kill off bad ideas that habit has so deeply entrenched; / In that case, one should commit to a second course but never give up the good work. // SN16.70 //
The Buddha is speaking here in the context of using a particular nimitta (cause, stimulus, factor) in the work of bhāvana (development, cultivation, working on oneself as if one were a field).

Whereas the king is seeking to influence his son's behaviour from the outside (bahiḥ), by keeping him inside and exposing him to external stimuli, and now by sending him outside, the Buddha's teaching is to work on oneself from the inside, using a nimitta as an agent of growth.

So perhaps  Aśvaghoṣa's intention is to draw a contrast between effort from the outside to keep a person in, and effort from the inside to get a person out. 

yadā: ind. when
ca: and, but
śabdādibhiḥ (inst. pl.): m. sounds/voices and the like
śabda: m. sound , noise , voice , tone , note
ādi: ifc. beginning with, and so on
indriyārthaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. an object of sense (as sound , smell , &c ) , anything exciting the senses
indriya: sense
artha: object, thing

antaḥpure (loc. sg.): n. the king's palace , the female apartments , gynaeceum
antar: ind. within
pura: n. fortress ; the female apartments , gynaeceum
na: not
eva: (emphatic)
sutaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a son , child , offspring
asya (gen. sg.): his
reme = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ram: to delight , make happy , enjoy carnally ; to stand still , rest , abide , like to stay with (loc. or dat.) ; to be glad or pleased , rejoice at , delight in , be fond of (loc. instr. or inf.)
tataḥ: ind. (correlative of yadā) then
bahiḥ: ind. outside
vyādiśati = 3rd pers. sg. vy-ā- √ diś: to point out separately ; to prescribe ; to appoint , assign , despatch to any place or duty , direct , order , command
sma: (joined with a pres. tense or pres. participle to give them a past sense)
yātrām (acc. sg.): f. going , setting off , journey , march , expedition ; festive train, procession

rasāntaram (nom. sg.): n. difference of taste (-vid mfn. knowing different tastes or flavours) ; another pleasure or enjoyment ; different passion or emotion
rasa: m. taste , flavour
antara: n. (ifc.) , different , other , another
syād = 3rd pers. sg. opt. as: to be ; to turn out , tend towards any result , prove (with dat.) ;
iti: “...,” thus
manyamānaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. man: to think

晝夜進聲色 其心未始歡

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