Wednesday, November 28, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.63: Obeying a Higher Power

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−    Vaṁśastha
iti bruvāṇe 'pi narādhipātmaje nivartayām-āsa sa naiva taṁ ratham |
viśeṣa-yuktaṁ tu narendra-śāsanāt-sa-padma-ṣaṇḍaṁ vanam-eva niryayau || 3.63

Even with an offspring of a ruler of men telling him so,

He assuredly did not turn that chariot back;

Rather, following the order of the best of men,
to a wood imbued with special distinction,

To Sa-padma-ṣaṇda Vana
'the Wood of the Bull Set Free among Lotuses,'
he ventured further out.

The hero of today's verse is the man who is directing the chariot of joy, with confidence, in the very direction he sees fit to go in, even though that direction is totally opposite to the direction commanded by an offspring of a ruler of men.

The charioteer, master of the horses, is clear in his decision only to follow the order of the best of men and not necessarily to listen to the instructions of anybody but the best of men.

If the order of an offspring is “always try to maintain a good upright posture, in sitting and in standing and in walking” then the countermanding order of the best of men, whether a person is turning back the chariot of joy, or whether he is keeping right on to the end of the road, might be represented something like this: “Let the neck release, to let the head go forward and up, to let the spine lengthen and the back widen, while sending the knees forwards and away.”

Conversely, if the order of an offspring is “still still, keep quiet, and turn your attention back and in,” the countermanding order of the best of men might be “hit the road, Jack, get your body out, go out into the city, and talk the talk of liberation to anybody who has ears to listen.”

My guess is that Aśvaghoṣa was acutely conscious of the fact that when an offspring of a ruler of men expresses his or her own opinion in words, however imbued with particular distinction those words are, the teaching of the best of men is always "No. It is not that." 

That is why when Aśvaghoṣa signs off, in his colophon, he describes himself with self-deprecating irony as mahā-vādinaḥ, "talker of a great talk."

I am not putting myself on a par with Aśvaghoṣa, which would be ridiculous, except that in some sense, as a would-be translator of the Buddha's teaching into words, I am in the same leaky boat as he was in. 

When, for your sins, you read these comments of mine in which I endlessly express my view on the meaning of “turning back,” you are witnessing an offspring of a ruler of men telling you this and that.

But what Aśvaghoṣa translated into Sanskrit, and what I am endeavouring to translate into English, is only the teaching of the best of men.

For example, at the end of Aśvaghoṣa's epic story of Beautiful Joy, the Buddha orders Nanda:  
"Therefore forgetting the work that needs to be done in this world on the self, do now, stout soul, what can be done for others. /Among beings who are wandering in the night, their minds shrouded in darkness, let the lamp of this transmission be carried. // SN18.57 // Just let the astonished people in the city say, while you are standing firm, voicing dharma-directions, / 'Well! What a wonder this is, that he who was a man of passion is preaching liberation!'..." // SN18.58 //
And Nanda duly obeys the order of the best of men:
Thus spoke the Worthy One, the instructor whose compassion was of the highest order, whose words and equally whose feet Nanda had accepted, using his head; / Then, at ease in himself, his heart at peace, his task ended, he left the Sage's side like an elephant free of rut. // SN18.61 // When the occasion arose he entered the town for begging and attracted the citizens' gaze; being impartial towards gain, loss, comfort, discomfort, and the like and with his senses composed, he was free of longing; / And being there, in the moment, he talked of liberation to people so inclined -- never putting down others on a wrong path or raising himself up. // SN18.62 //
In the 4th pāda of today's verse, the wood to which the charioteer is directing the chariot is given a proper name – either a name drawn from a historical record, or a name that Aśvaghoṣa saw fit to make up, imbuing the wood with a special significance of his own choosing. I suspect the latter; hence when Aśvaghoṣa describes the wood as viśeṣa-yuktam, the ostensible meaning of viśeṣa-yuktam is “provided [by the king's doing] with special attractions (EHJ)” but the real meaning is “imbued [by Aśvaghoṣa's naming] with particular significance.”

EBC took the name of the forest/grove/park in the 4th pāda to be padma-khaṇḍa; EHJ's text based on an older version of old Nepalese manuscript has padma-ṣaṇḍa. Both expressions padma-khaṇḍa and padma-ṣaṇḍa are given in the dictionary as “a quantity/multitude of lotuses.”

In today's verse as thus read by EBC, EHJ, and PO, however, the pronoun sa (he) appears in the 2nd pāda and then is repeated in the 4th pāda, which seems uncharacteristic of Aśvaghoṣa's writing. An alternative is to take the name of the grove as sa-padma-ṣaṇḍa, which could be read in at least two ways – which is very characteristic of Aśvaghoṣa's writing.

The obvious reading of sa-padma-ṣaṇḍa, taking ṣaṇḍa to mean wood/thicket/grove, is “the Grove Containing Lotuses” – the lotuses in question being the beautiful women planted there by the king. Another reading that Aśvaghoṣa might have intended, taking ṣaṇḍa to mean a liberated bull, is “the Liberated Bull Among Lotuses.”

Somehow this latter reading of a liberated bull among lotuses seems to fit with the philosophical thrust of today's verse, which seems to rip away any view arising from yesterday's verse, as understood by an offspring of a ruler of men, who is liable to opine that the Buddha's teaching is all about sitting still on one's own.

After translating yesterday's verse and commenting on it, I thought I had done my job fairly well. But today's verse seems to remind me, in so many words, “As an offspring of a ruler of men, when it comes to knowing the teaching of the best of men, you do not know the half of it!”

iti: thus
bruvāṇe = loc. sg. pres. part. brū: to speak , say , tell
api: even, though
narādhipātmaje (loc. sg.): the self-begotten of the lord of men; the king's son
narādhipa: m. " lord of men " , king , prince
adhipa: m. a ruler , commander , regent , king
ātmaja: m. " born from or begotten by one's self " , a son

nivartayām-āsa = 3rd pers. sg. periphrastic perf. ni- √ vṛt: to turn back , stop
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
na: not
eva: (emphatic)
tam (acc. sg. m.): that
ratham (acc. sg.): m. chariot; joy, pleasure
viśeṣa-yuktam (acc. sg. n.): furnished with special things
viśeṣa: m. distinction , difference between; characteristic difference , peculiar mark , special property , speciality , peculiarity; distinction , peculiar merit , excellence ;
yukta: mfn. furnished or endowed or filled or supplied or provided with , accompanied by , possessed of (instr. or comp.)
tu: but
narendra-śāsanāt (abl. sg.): because of the man-lord's order
śāsana: n. punishment , chastisement , correction; n. an order , command , edict , enactment , decree , direction ; n. a royal edict ; n. teaching , instruction , discipline , doctrine

sa-padma-ṣaṇḍam (acc. sg. n.): “A wood containing lotuses” (?); “A liberated bull among lotuses”(?); “A enuch bearing a lotus” (?)
sa-: ind. prefix expressing "junction" , "conjunction" , "possession"
sa-padma: mfn. having a lotus
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
padma-ṣaṇḍam (acc. sg.): n. a multitude of lotuses (cf. padma-khaṇḍa)
ṣaṇḍa: mn. a group of trees or plants , wood , thicket ; any group or multitude , heap , quantity , collection; m. a bull set at liberty ; m. a breeding bull
ṣaṇḍha: m. (often wrongly written ṣaṇḍa , śaṇḍa , saṇḍha) a eunuch , hermaphrodite
padma-khaṇḍa: n. a quantity of lotuses ; N. of chapter of the brahmāṇḍa-purāṇa
vanam (acc. sg. n.): woods, forest
eva: (emphatic)
niryayau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. nir- √ yā: to go out ; to go from (abl.) to or into (acc.) ; to depart from life , die
nir = nis: ind. out , forth , away &c
√ yā: to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey

御者奉王勅 畏怖不敢旋
正御疾驅馳 徑往至彼園 

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