Saturday, November 17, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.52: Summoning Mistresses of Pleasure

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
snehāc-ca bhāvaṁ tanayasya buddhvā saṁvega-doṣān-avicintya kāṁś-cit |
yogyāḥ samājñāpayati sma tatra kalāsv-abhijñā iti vāra-mukhyāḥ || 3.52

Attentive, out of attachment, to his son's state of mind,

And heedless of any faults associated with nervous excitement,

He summoned to be present there well-practised women

Who, being adept in subtle skills, were mistresses of deferred pleasure.

My first reading of the first two pādas of today's verse, following on from what I wrote about yesterday's verse, is that they continue in the vein of criticising King Śuddodhana.

On further reflection, I began to wonder if Aśvaghoṣa's secret intention was to allude to the actual behaviour of a real person he knew – somebody like, for example, the 11th ancestor in India, Puṇyayaśas.

In the latter case, I might have to go back and reconsider whether I have demonstrated in my comments to the last couple of verses what I tend to deride in others, namely, grabbing for the ostensible meaning while overlooking the real, hidden meaning.

In support of the latter suspicion, saṁvega (“nervous excitement”) is ostensibly a bad thing, a thing asssociated with faults, but it also seems to be Aśvaghoṣa's way of describing the arising of the bodhi-mind, the will to awakening; hence his choice of the title of the present canto saṁvegotpatti, “The Arising of Nervous Excitement,” or in short “Nervous Excitement.”

If such hidden meaning is intended in today's verse, then the 3rd and 4th pādas are exceptionally difficult to understand.

My tentative solution is to suspect that Aśvaghoṣa might wickedly be comparing the Zen ancestors to vāra-mukhyāḥ, which ostensibly means “the best of harlots,” or “royal courtesans.”

This somewhat outrageous interpretation is reached (1) by taking rasānataram (“a different enjoyment”) in yesterday's verse as an allusion to the enjoyment of sitting-meditation – enjoyment which is best got by going out and turning the light of one's attention in, as opposed to the kind of sensual enjoyment which is got by staying in and turning one's senses out; and consquently (2) by understanding vāra-mukhyāḥ (dictionary: royal courtesans) in today's verse as containing a play on vāra, from the root √vṛ, which means to choose, and to keep back. If √vṛ means to choose, then vāra expresses something choice or exquisite, like a high-class mistress of pleasure, but if √vṛ means to keep back, then vāra expresses something that subtly circumscribes or restrains, like a Zen master's detached awareness.

Translating vāra-mukhyāḥ as “mistresses of deferred pleasure” is an attempt to capture the ambiguity thus understood.

The progression of the four pādas of today's verse, then, becomes as follows:

(1) The 1st pāda is about mind attending to mind.
(2) The 2nd pāda is antithetical to the 1st pāda, expressing healthy refusal to worry about mental matters. (“Go into movement without a care in the world!” to quote the words of a mistress of deferred pleasure of my former acquaintance.)
(3) The 3rd pāda relates to that practice (yoga) which yokes or brings together subject and object, mind and physical matter, thesis and anti-thesis, thereby resulting in presence in the here and now (tatra). (Not by trying to be present, as in immature attempts at mindfulness; more by being present to trying.)
(4) The 4th pāda is one of those punchlines which, like the punchline of a good joke, defies our expectations and shakes the tree of views.

There are a couple of views in particular that today's verse thus seems to encourage us to drop off. 

 The conventional Buddhist wisdom is that pursuit of sensual enjoyment, in the company of women, is something to be abandoned in favour of Zen sitting-meditation as a form of religious ascetic practice. 

So the first view to drop off, following on from yesterday's verse, is that Zen sitting-meditation is a form of religious ascetic practice. It is better understood as rasānataram, “a different enjoyment.” 

The second view to drop off is that the place of women in Aśvaghoṣa's picture is primarily as objects of male sexual desire, or as a playground for male fun. The implicit suggestion in the 4th pāda of today's verse is that, when it comes to being adept in the kind of subtle skills which the teaching of sitting-meditation requires, women have certain advantages over men – or at least that men have certain disadvantages compared with women. My own experience, as a testoserone-fuelled man who has been taught both by testoserone-fuelled men and by women with much lower levels of testoserone, is that, when it comes to being adept in the kind of subtle skills which sitting-meditation requires, women can indeed make much better teachers than men.

Neither here am I trying to be politically correct. Just as an honest statement of my own experience, Gudo Nishijima's approach to right posture was terribly crude, direct and (to me at least) unhelpful. Marjory Barlow's approach to liberating the body from the whole pernicious idea of "right posture," was supremely subtle, indirect and helpful. He was a master of end-gaining, of trying to feel right. She was a true mistress of restraint.

Somebody might justifiably ask me: After all those thousands of hours Gudo Nishijima spent sitting opposite from you patiently answering every damn stupid question that came into your unenlightened mind, this is how you repay him?

And my answer is: Yes, this is the only way. By telling the truth as best I can, warts and all. Otherwise the whole pain-filled endeavour really would have been a waste of time. 

snehāt (abl. sg.): m. blandness , tenderness , love , attachment to , fondness or affection for (loc. gen. , or comp.)
ca: and
bhāvam (acc. sg.): m. state , condition , rank; true condition or state , truth , reality ; manner of acting , conduct , behaviour ; any state of mind or body
tanayasya (gen. sg.): m. a son
buddhvā = abs. budh: to wake , wake up , be awake ; to observe , heed , attend to (with acc. or gen.) ; to perceive , notice

saṁvega-doṣān (acc. pl. m.): faults associated with fluster/excitement
saṁvega: m. violent agitation , excitement , flurry
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
rāga-doṣān (acc. pl. m.): faults associated with passion
rāga: m. colour , hue , tint , dye , (esp.) red colour , redness ; any feeling or passion , (esp.) love
doṣa: m. fault , vice , deficiency , want , inconvenience , disadvantage ; damage, harm
avicintya (abs. a-vi- √ cint): not heeding, disregarding
vi- √ cint: to perceive , discern , observe ; to think of , reflect upon , ponder , consider , regard , mind , care for

yogyāḥ (acc. pl. f): mfn. fit for the yoke ; useful , serviceable , proper , fit or qualified for , able or equal to , capable of (gen. loc. dat. inf. with act. or pass. sense , or comp.)
samājñāpayati = 3rd pers. sg. causative sam-ā- √ jñā: to order , command , direct , authorize
sma: (joined with a pres. tense or pres. participle to give them a past sense [e.g. praviśanti sma , " they entered "])
tatra: ind. there

kalāsu (loc. pl.): f. a small part of anything , any single part or portion of a whole , esp. a sixteenth part ; a division of time (said to be 1÷900 of a day or 1-6 minutes) ; a term for the seven substrata of the elements or dhātus of the human body (viz. flesh , blood , fat , phlegm , urine , bile , and semen) ; an atom (there are 3015 kalās or atoms in every one of the six dhātus , not counting the rasa , therefore in all 18090); any practical art , any mechanical or fine art ; skill , ingenuity ; ignorance; a low and sweet tone
abhijñāḥ (acc. pl. f): mfn. knowing , skilful , clever
iti: thus
vāra-mukhyāḥ (acc. pl.): f. the chief of a number of harlots , a royal courtezan
vāra: (1) m. (fr. √ vṛ, to cover) keeping back , restraining ; anything which covers or surrounds or restrains , a cover ; anything which causes an obstruction , a gate , door-way; (2) a moment , occasion , opportunity; (3) m. (fr. √vṛ, to choose) choice ; m. anything chosen or choice or exquisite
vārā: f. a harlot , courtezan
mukhya: mfn. being at the head or at the beginning , first , principal , chief , eminent (ifc. = the first or best or chief among)

王自出遊歴 更求勝妙園
簡擇諸婇女 美艷極恣顏
諂黠能奉事 容媚能惑人 

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