Sunday, November 25, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.60: Back to Square One

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
tataḥ sa dhīro 'pi narendra-sūnuḥ śrutvaiva mṛtyuṁ viṣasāda sadyaḥ |
aṁsena saṁśliṣya ca kūbarāgraṁ provāca nihrādavatā svareṇa || 3.60

Then, mild-mannered though he was, as the son of the best of men,

On learning of dying, he sank back and down, instantly deflated,

And, bringing his shoulder into contact
with the tip of the pole of the yoke of the chariot,

He asserted in a sonorous voice:

On first reading, today's verse might seem to parallel BC3.45, in which the prince is described, upon hearing the truth, as mentally dejected, and wearied by emotional agitation: 
Mentally dejected to listen to this truth, he trembled like the moon reflected in ripples of water; / And, emoting with compassion, he uttered these words, in a somewhat feeble voice: //BC3.45//
If we read today's verse as following a similar tack, then sa dhīro 'pi might be translated “resolute though he was,” contrasting with viṣasāda “he sank down despondently.” In that case aṁsena saṁśliṣya ca kūbarāgram “and he leaned with his shoulder on the edge of the chariot's yoke-frame,” emphasizes the despondency of the weakly slumping prince who lacks the energy to keep himself upright without external support, and nihrādavatā svareṇa might mean a voice that is full of emotional noise – a rasping voice, for example.

On the last point, EBC translated nihrādavatā svareṇa as “with a loud voice,” and EHJ countered by noting that “the exact sense of nihrāda or nirhrāda seems to be uncertain, but I doubt it ever means 'loud'.”

In the end EHJ opted to translate nihrādavatā svareṇa as “in a melodious voice,” hence:
“Then, steadfast-minded though he was, the king's son suddenly became faint on hearing of death, and, leaning with his shoulder against the top of the chariot rail, he said in a melodious voice:”
In EHJ's reading, then, steadfast-mindedness is contrasted with becoming faint and leaning/slumping, so that the main content of today's verse mirrors BC3.45, except that the 4th pāda of today's verse, in describing the prince's voice as melodious, is anomalous.

Dhīra, however, means not only “steadfast-minded, resolute, brave,” but also, somewhat paradoxically, “gentle, well-bred, calm, mild-mannered.” Further, nihrādavatā svareṇa, lit. “in a voice with a humming/sounding sound,” can be read as indicating the sonorousness or resonance of a resolute voice. An alternative reading, then, is to take the ambiguous word dhīra to mean “mild-mannered,” and to understand that the contrast implied by api is the contrast between on the one hand, the mildness of the prince's manner and, on the other hand, his assertive speaking in his own original voice which, like anybody's original voice, is resonant and sonorous.

Going with this latter reading, I take vi-√sad, which the dictionary gives as “to be exhausted or dejected” (but which, by the way, contains the root √sad, to sit) to express that sense of deflation that we sometimes experience on the receipt of some disappointing news, or upon the abandonment of some ambitious idea, just before getting our backsides into gear for some renewed effort. Viṣasāda in the 2nd pāda, then, can be understood as not so much a sinking down into despondency as a coming back to oneself, or coming back to basics, or coming back to reality; not so much depression as deflation; not so much hopelessness as abandonment of a fancy expectation, and resignation. Viṣasāda can thus be read as signalling a change of direction – a turning back from the incremental excitement of nervous agitation that is liable to precede a decision, a turning back that is accompanied by that release of agitation which occurs when a decision is made, or when a decision makes itself. The reading of the 3rd pāda that naturally follows is that the prince, far from slumping irresolutely against the chariot rail, is being described at the very beginning of starting to get his backside into gear and harness his energy in pursuit of the certainty of utter loss. Hence the sonorousness of his voice described in the 4th pāda.

Understood like this, today's verse is not pointing to a single grand event (like The Establishment of The Will to the Truth) before a person receives the bodhisattva precepts and then proceeds to experience Buddhist life as one continuous bed of roses. Coming back and down to earth and getting one's backside in gear is not the starting point, but a starting point (like an awakening of a will to the truth). A starting point is where one starts from again and again, having sank back and down. Don't ask me how many times a day – on a bad day maybe less than four times, on a good day many more than four times.

That being so, a corresponding verse from Saundara-nanda that springs to mind is the one in Canto 13 where Seeing, then, that by boosting Nanda he had made a receptacle, / The best of speakers, the knower of processes, spoke of better ways as a process: // SN13.9 // "Starting afresh from here (ataḥ prabhṛti bhūyas), my friend, with the power of confidence leading you forward, / In order to get to the nectar of deathlessness you should watch the manner of your action...." // 13.10 //

In today's verse, as I read it, "starting from here" (ataḥ prabhṛti), is expressed as bringing one's shoulder into contact with the tip of a pole of a yoke of a chariot.

tataḥ: ind. then
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
dhīraḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave ; deep , low , dull (as sound) ; gentle , soft ; well-conducted , well-bred
api: though
narendra-sūnuḥ (nom. sg. m.): the king's son
nara: man
indra: ifc. best , excellent , the first , the chief (of any class of objects)
sunu: m. a son , child , offspring

śrutva = abs. śru: to hear, learn of
eva: (emphatic)
mṛtyum (acc. sg.): m. death , dying
viṣasāda = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vi-√sad: to be exhausted or dejected , despond , despair ; to sink down , be immersed in (loc.)
√sad: to sit down (esp. at a sacrifice); to sink down , sink into despondency or distress , become faint or wearied or dejected or low-spirited , despond , despair , pine or waste away , perish
sadyaḥ: ind. immediately
aṁsena (inst. sg.): shoulder
saṁśliṣya = abs. saṁ- √ śliṣ: to stick or attach one's self to (acc.) ; to clasp , embrace; to bring into close contact or immediate connection with (instr.)
√ śliṣ: to adhere , attach , cling to ; to unite , join (trans. or intrans.) ; (A1.) to result , be the consequence of anything
ca: and
kūbarāgram (acc. sg.): the end of the pole to which the yoke of the chariot was fixed
kūbara: mn. the pole of a carriage or the wooden frame to which the yoke is fixed
agra: n. foremost point or part

provāca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra- √ vac: to proclaim , announce ; to speak , say , tell
nihrādavatā = inst. sg. m. nihrāda-vat: having a humming / murmuring / rasping / wheezing sound
ni-hrāda: m. sound , noise
ni- √ hrād: to sound
nir-hrāda: m. sound , noise , humming , murmuring , roaring &c
nir- √ hrād: to sound
svareṇa (inst. sg.): m. sound, noise, voice

太子心驚怛 身垂車軾前

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