Thursday, November 29, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.64: Realization of Real, Gladdening Beauty

⏑−⏑−,⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−,⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑−⏑−   Rucirā
tataḥ śivaṁ kusumita-bāla-pādapaṁ paribhramat-pramudita-matta-kokilam |
vimānavat-sa-kamala-cāru-dīrghikaṁ dadarśa tad-vanam-iva nandanaṁ vanam || 3.64

There with young trees in flower,

Lusty cuckoos roving joyously around,

And tiered pavilions in charming stretches of lotus-covered water,

That happy glade he glimpsed, 
like Nandana Vana, 'the Gladdening Garden.'

On first reading, the 3rd pāda looked to me like it should be one long compound, as is the 2nd pāda, hence: vimānavat-sa-kamala-cāru-dīrghikaṁ, “lovely oblong lakes abounding in lotuses and containing multi-tiered pavilions.”

EHJ separated the elements out and read as vimānavat sa kamala-cāru-dīrghikaṁ; so that sa (he, the prince) marks a change of subject. “Otherwise,” notes EHJ, “the compound is clumsy and a word is wanted to mark the change of subject from 63.”

But who says the subject has changed from 3.63? The happiness of a forest is in the eye of the beholder, and the happy beholder in today's verse, as I read it, is still the bloke who is so decisively driving his own chariot.

If we look for philosophical meaning below the surface of today's verse, the 4th pāda can be read as representing the moment in which a driver of his own chariot realizes the gladdening beauty of the reality in which has has been living, in which moment is contained his childhood, his adolescence, and his lifework.

In the 1st pāda, then, flowering of young trees represents childhood. In the 2nd pāda the lustful roving of the cuckoo represents hormone-fuelled adolescence. And in the 3rd pāda, the presence in lakes of the kind of pavilions that evolved in eastern asia into pagodas (raised in gradual steps by building layer upon layer), and abundant lotuses, represents the result of constructive human effort, in building and cultivation.

In the 4th paragraph Nandana Vana, the Gladdening Garden, or Garden of Gladness, means Indra's paradise, which is referred to in several places in Aśvaghoṣa's epic story of Beautiful Joy, Saundara-nanda.

The Nanda of Nandana Vana and the -nanda of Saundara-nanda are the same Nanda, which means joy or gladness and which was at the same time the name of the Buddha's younger brother, Nanda, Joy.

The consensus among Buddhist scholars seems to be that Saundara-nanda, far from being Nanda's struggle to be his beautiful joyful self, is rather a story of religious conversion. This misconception stems from wide acceptance of the unenlightened view that the Buddha's teaching is rooted in religious asceticism. The truth is that the Buddha's teaching is rooted in the Buddha's total and utter abandonment of all -isms, beginning with asceticism.

A couple of days ago, in the process of translating yesterdays' verse, I googled padma-ṣaṇḍa, searching for any evidence that padma-ṣaṇḍa might be the proper name of an ancient wood near Kapilavāstu. If such a proper name did exist, that might cause me to have to drop my reading of sa-padma-ṣaṇḍa and accept instead the name padma-ṣaṇḍa; in that case I would have to take sa- not as a prefix but as repetition of the personal pronoun meaning “he.”

The aforesaid google search led me to an article by David Smith, published in the Oxford Journal of Hindu Studies,  which contains the following passage: 
Both Kālidāsa and Aśvaghoṣa were the heirs of Vālmīki, whose epic sent kāvya off in search of a world of beauty, with Rāma, Prince Charming as hero, and ramya as its most common adjective, and one of its kāṇḍas taking directly the name ‘beautiful’, the Sundara. And the second of Aśvaghoṣa's two mahākāvyas has the title Saundarananda, ‘Handsome Nanda’. However, the role of beauty differs widely. In the Rāmāyaṇa, the beauty of Sītā, the majesty of Rāma, the beauty of nature, and the beauty of Rāvaṇa's palace are more or less subservient to the plot. Aśvaghoṣa's poems, as Buddhist texts, are necessarily anti-beauty. ‘Handsome’ Nanda has to be disabused of the value of good looks, of beauty. Buddha defeats Māra, but in Kālidāsa Śiva's destruction of Kāma brings about no diminution of Kāma's power, and the affirmation of beauty continues unabated.
I would like to suggest to David Smith that he abandons the view which is expressed in the sentence “Aśvaghoṣa's poems, as Buddhist texts, are necessarily anti-beauty,” and tries again.

If you are listening, David, you should understand that the person who strives to disabuse Nanda of the value of beauty is the striver in Cantos 8 and 9 who had never glimpsed the true beauty of the Buddha's teaching even in a dream. The striver is anti-beauty. The Buddha's teaching is not anti-beauty. The Buddha's teaching is beauty itself. The striver is a trap for people of unexamined views to fall into. 

The Buddha's teaching is the abandonment of all views. Why do Buddhist scholars fail so spectacularly to see this? Why did my own Zen teacher fail so spectacularly to see this? Why am I so frequently shown not to have seen this? 

The answer to my question is related with the meaning of dadarśa in the 4th pāda of today's verse, from the root dṛś, which means to see or glimpse but at the same time corresponds to the Chinese character 見 (Jap: KEN), as in the compound 見仏 (Jap: KENBUTSU)  "seeing/meeting buddha."  Meeting buddha does not mean to apprehend a buddha through the visual sense. It means nothing but the abandonment of all views, and the gladdening realization of reality.

This sounds very much like the teaching of my teacher, Gudo Nishijima. But in certain areas, as I found from serving him like a slave for several years, Gudo was as blind as a fucking bat, and utterly attached to wrong views – not least a wrong view about right posture.

Looking on the bright side, it might be that failing over the years to understand this painful irony has at least partially sensitized me to the kind of ironies that fill Aśvaghoṣa's writing.

I dare say that David Smith, along with EB Cowell, EH Johnston, Linda Covill, and Patrick Olivelle before him, has so far singularly failed to appreciate Aśvaghoṣa's beautiful use of irony. But we live in hope.

tataḥ: ind. then ; from that place, thence; in that place, there
śivam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. auspicious , propitious , gracious , favourable , benign , kind , benevolent , friendly , dear ; happy, fortunate
kusumita-bāla-pādapam (acc. sg. n.): with young trees in flower
kusumita: mfn. furnished with flowers , in flower
bāla: mfn. young
pādapa: m. " drinking at foot or root " , a tree

paribhramat-pramudita-matta-kokilam (acc. sg. n.): with lusty cuckoos roving joyously around
paribhramat = pres. part. pari- √ bhram: to rove , ramble , wander about or through ; to turn or whirl round , move in a circle ,
pramudita: mfn. delighted , pleased , glad; gladsome (said of the autumn)
matta: mfn. excited with joy , overjoyed , delighted , drunk , intoxicated; excited by sexual passion or desire , in rut , ruttish (as an elephant)
kokila: m. the Kokila or Koil (black or Indian cuckoo ; frequently alluded to in Hindu poetry , its musical cry being supposed to inspire tender emotions)

vimānavat-sa-kamala-cāru-dīrghikam (acc. sg. n.): with lovely oblong lakes abounding in lotuses and containing multi-tiered pavilions
vimāna-vat [(acc. sg. n.)]: having multi-tiered pavilions
vimāna: m. n. a car or chariot of the gods , any mythical self-moving aerial car (sometimes serving as a seat or throne , sometimes self-moving and carrying its occupant through the air ; other descriptions make the vimāna more like a house or palace , and one kind is said to be 7 stories high ); m. any car or vehicle (esp. a bier) ; m. a ship , boat
sa-kamala: mfn. abounding in lotuses
[sa (nom. sg. m.): he]
kamala: n. a lotus , lotus-flower , Nelumbium ; mfn. pale-red , rose-coloured
cāru: mfn. agreeable ; pleasing , lovely , beautiful , pretty
dīrghikā: f. an oblong lake or pond
dīrghī-- √ kṛ: to lengthen, prolong

dadarśa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. dṛś: to see, behold
tad (acc. sg. n.): that
vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest, wood
iva: like
nandanam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. rejoicing , gladdening ; n. gladdening or gladness ; a divine garden , (esp.) indra's paradise
vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest, wood

林流滿清淨 嘉木悉敷榮 

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