Monday, December 31, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 4.30: One Girl (Enter the Non-Doing Individual)

srastāṁsa-komalālamba-mdu-bāhu-latābalā |
antaṁ skhalitaṁ kā-cit-ktvainaṁ sasvaje balāt || 4.30

One girl
– from whose relaxed shoulders delicately dangled

Soft arms like tendrils –

Simulated a stumble,

So that she could not help but cling to him.

Reading between the lines, I think Aśvaghoṣa filled today's verse with clues hinting at the excellence of the individual female (abalā kā-cit; [nom. sg. f.]) who is its protagonist.

In the 1st pāda, relaxed shoulders (srastāṁsa) speak for themselves. Aśvaghoṣa uses the same phrase srastāṁsa to describe the one grown old (i.e. a buddha) in BC3.41:
“That individual with an expanded belly, whose body moves as he breathes, whose arms hang loose from his shoulders (srastāṁsa-bāhuḥ), whose limbs are wasted and pale,/ And who keeps saying 'Mother!', pathetically, while leaning on others for support: This man is Who?” //3.41//

In the 2nd pāda the protagonist of today's verse is described as abalā, lit. “one who is weak (f.),” i.e. a member of the weaker sex, a woman or a girl. But the repeated emphasis (conveyed by komala and mṛdu) on tenderness, softness, and delicacy, might be intended to suggest lack of force (abala) not as a weakness but as a strength, as an adornment that accompanies abstention from violent end-gaining.

The 3rd pāda, in that spirit, describes the girl's use of a skillful means, an indirect expedient, of the kind which the 2nd chapter of Lotus Sutra famously celebrates the Buddha using.

And in the 4th pāda balāt picks up and turns around the aforementioned irony of abalā ("a [weak] woman"). Balāt, literally means “by force, forcibly,” which sounds like the macho antithesis of non-doing, but which might be intended as an ironic expression of the right thing unstoppably doing itself.

It was in this vein that Dogen described the Zen masters of the past as  被礙兀地 (Jap: GOCCHI NI SAERARU)  “obstructed by the still state”:-
“In general, in this world and in other worlds, in India and in China, all equally maintained the Buddha-seal, and solely indulged in the fundamental custom: they simply devoted themselves to sitting, and were obstructed by the still state.” (See also comment to BC4.7.)
A person walking in front of you drops their wallet. You pick the wallet up and give it back to them. 

In theory, one always has a choice, but in practice sometimes not.

Even when such an opportunity presents itself, mind you, it might not be necessary to tense one's shoulders in religious eagerness to do the right thing.

Truly did an American philosopher say, "The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing." 

And equally truly did he say, "If you can fake that, you've got it made." 

srastāṁsa-komalālamba-mṛdu-bāhu-latā (nom. sg. f.): having delicate arm/creepers that hung down softly from relaxed shoulders
srasta: mfn. fallen , dropped , slipped off ; loosened , relaxed , hanging down , pendent , pendulous ; separated , disjoined
aṁsa: m. the shoulder , shoulder-blade
komala: mfn. tender , soft (opposed to karkaśa) , bland , sweet , pleasing , charming , agreeable; n. silk
ālamba: mfn. hanging down ; m. that on which one rests or leans , support , prop ; m. a perpendicular

mṛdu: mfn. soft , delicate , tender , pliant , mild , gentle
bāhu: mf. the arm , (esp.) the fore-arm , the arm between the elbow and the wrist
latā: f. a creeper , any creeping or winding plant or twining tendril Mn. MBh. &c (the brows , arms , curls , a slender body , a sword-blade , lightning &c are often compared to the form of a creeper , to express their graceful curves and slimness of outline)
abalā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. weak , feeble; f. a woman
bala: n. power , strength , might , vigour , force

anṛtam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. not true , false; n. falsehood , lying , cheating
skhalitam (acc. sg.): n. the act of tripping , stumbling , staggering ; n. mistake , error , failure , blunder ; n. circumvention , stratagem (in war) ; mfn. stumbling , tripping , unsteady (as a gait) ; intoxicated , drunk
kā-cit (nom. pl. f.): somebody, one of the women

kṛtvā = abs. kṛ: to do, make
enam (acc. sg. m.): this/that man; him
sasvaje = 3rd pers. sg. perf. svaj: to embrace , clasp , encircle , twist or wind round
balāt: ind. (abl.) forcibly , against one's will , without being able to help it
bala: n. power , strength , might , vigour , force

[Relation with Sanskrit tenuous] 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 4.29: Some Girls

madenāvarjitā nāma taṁ kāś-cit-tatra yoṣitaḥ |
kaṭhinaiḥ paspśuḥ pīnaiḥ saṁhatair-valgubhiḥ stanaiḥ || 4.29

Pretending to be tipsy,

Some girls there

Brushed him, with firm, round,

Closely set, beautiful breasts.

Today's verse, as I read it (along with all 24 of the verses in the quarter of this canto that starts here and continues to 4.42) represents the negation of a view.

I hear the similar negation of a view in the Smiths' lyric in which Morrissey declares “I have just discovered: Some girls are bigger than others.”

In the history of philosophy, there must have been at least one famous Western philosopher (Kant maybe?) who argued that there is no such thing as objective beauty, so that beauty is purely in the eye of the beholder. And in a buddha-ancestor's eyes, such a view is as valid as any other view -- which is to say that it is totally invalid. 

When it comes to objective characteristics like firmness, roundness, and closeness together of breasts, nobody can deny that some girls are indeed firmer, rounder, and more closely-set than others. Leaving aside questions of aesthetics, the existence of individual differences is not a view; it is an undeniable, objective fact.

In today's verse, as I read it, Aśvaghoṣa not only gives an objective description of the breasts of some girls but also dares to make the value judgement that especially beautiful female breasts are conspicuous by their firmness, roundness, and close juxtaposition.

“Aśvaghoṣa's poems, as Buddhist texts,” so a Sanskrit scholar opines, “are necessarily anti-beauty.”

The scholar's statement is the expression of a view. Today's verse, as I read it, represents the falsification of such a view.

Why is it worth going to the bother of falsifying views like this scholar's view? It might be worth taking that trouble because a vital function of the Buddha's teaching, like a moon shining brightly, is to rip away people's views. Hence:

ākṛkṣad vapuṣā dṛṣṭīḥ prajānāṁ candramā iva
With his fine form he ripped away, as does the moon, people's views. (SN2.22)

It might be worth taking the trouble to falsify people's Buddhist views so that each person's practice of just sitting, each in his or her own natural element, free of the taint of views and opinions, free of worry and end-gaining and other bad habits, free of lust and hatred and all the befouling faults, might be truly beautiful.

Apropos of not much, since both English and Sanskrit are official languages of India, and since Aśvaghoṣa was Indian, I find myself hoping this morning, not for the first time, that if this translation and commentary succeed in preserving in English any of the beauty that Aśvaghoṣa expressed in Sanskrit, that beauty might best be appreciated, sooner or later, in India.

I also find myself worrying about where to get my wife's car serviced: will going for the cheap option, as is my tendency,  end up costing us more in the long run? 

Such hoping and worrying is doubtless symptomatic of sitting that could and should be more beautiful. 

madena (inst. sg.): m. hilarity , rapture , excitement , inspiration , intoxication
āvarjitāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. inclined , bent down , prone; poured out , made to flow downwards ; overcome , humbled
ā- √ vṛj: to turn or bring into the possession of ; Caus. P. -varjayati , to turn over , incline , bend ; to cause to yield , overcome ;
nāma: ind. by name ; indeed , certainly , really , of course ; quasi , only in appearance

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
kāś-cit (nom. pl. f.): some
tatra: ind. there, in that place/state
yoṣitaḥ (nom. pl.): f. a girl , maiden , young woman , wife

kaṭhinaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. hard , firm , stiff
paspṛśur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. spṛś: to touch , feel with the hand , lay the hand on (acc. or loc.) , graze , stroke
pīnaiḥ (inst. pl. swelling , swollen , full , round , thick , large , fat , fleshy , corpulent muscular

saṁhataiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. struck together , closely joined or united with (instr.) , keeping together , contiguous , coherent , combined , compacted , forming one mass or body ; become solid , compact , firm , hard ; strong-limbed , athletic ; struck , hurt , wounded , killed
sahitaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. joined , conjoined , united
valgubhiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. handsome , beautiful , lovely , attractive
stanaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. (derivation doubtful , but prob. connected with √ stan, to resound, from the hollow resonance of the human breast) , the female breast (either human or animal) , teat , dug , udder

[Relation with Sanskrit tenuous]

Saturday, December 29, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 4.28: Original Enlightenment

sa tasmin kānane ramye jajvāla strī-puraḥsaraḥ |
ākrīḍa iva vibhrāje vivasvān-apsaro-vtaḥ || 4.28

In that delightful forest,

Attended by the women, he shone

Like Vivasvat, the Shining Sun,
in the Vibhrāja pleasure grove,

Surrounded by apsarases.

This verse can be read as falsifying a general notion that we are all prone to have about Buddhist enlightenment, and the kind of effort that might be necessary in order to realize it. 

What today's verse is reminding us, as I read it, is that the prince shone like the sun even before he embarked on the solitary life of a homeless mendicant.

Today's verse, then, is another one that relates to the distinction the Buddha draws in Saundara-nanda Canto 16 between pra-vṛtti, goal-oriented striving, doing, and ni-vṛtti, turning back, non-doing. 

In Dogen's words:

One should learn the backward step of turning light and letting it shine.

Body and mind spontaneously/naturally drop off,

and one's original features emerge.

The point to be clear about is that the Buddha did not become enlightened via ascetic practice. Rather, he shone like the sun before he embarked on ascetic practice. Then he blotted out his own light through ascetic practice. Then, when he abandoned the view of asceticism (and contented himself just to sit ), he re-discovered the light that he had been blotting out. 

"When an investigation comes to be made it will be found that every single thing we do in the work is exactly what is done in Nature, where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously."

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
tasmin (loc. sg. n.): that
kānane (loc. sg.): n. (said to be fr. √kan, to be pleased) a forest , grove
ramye (loc. sg. n.): mfn. to be enjoyed , enjoyable , pleasing , delightful , beautiful

jajvāla = 3rd pers. sg. perf. jval: to burn brightly , blaze , glow , shine
strī-puraḥsaraḥ (nom. sg. m.): attended by the women
strī: f. woman
puraḥ-sara: ifc. attended or preceded by , connected with

ākrīḍe (loc. sg.): mn. a playing-place , pleasure-grove , garden
iva: like
vibhrāje = vaibhrāje (loc. sg.): m. N. of a celestial grove; of a lake in that grove
vi- √ bhrāj: to shine forth , be bright or radiant

vivasvān (nom. sg.): m. " the Brilliant one " , N. of the Sun
vi-vasvat: mfn. shining forth , diffusing light
apsaro-vṛtaḥ (nom. sg. m.): surrounded by celestial nymphs

不能亂其心 處衆若閑居
猶如天帝釋 諸天女圍繞
太子在園林 圍繞亦如是 

Friday, December 28, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 4.27: A Herd of Individuals

¦⏑⏑⏑−¦¦⏑−−⏑¦⏑−⏑−   navipulā
atha nārī-jana-vtaḥ kumāro vyacarad-vanam |
¦⏑⏑⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑⏑¦⏑−⏑−   navipulā
vāsitā-yūtha-sahitaḥ karīva himavad-vanam || 4.27

And so, surrounded by the women,

The prince roved around the wood

Like a bull elephant
accompanied by a herd of single females

As he roves a Himālayan forest.

Today's verse, together with tomorrow's verse, marks a transition to a series of 24 verses (from 4.29 to 4.52) in which Aśvaghoṣa describes the behaviour of individual women, and of sub-groups of women within the overall group, in concrete and individual terms.

In the compound narī-jana-vṛtaḥ in the 1st pāda, jana expresses a number of individual human beings collectively. I have translated the compound simply as “surrounded by the women,” but I suspect that Aśvaghoṣa might have had a philosophical point in mind.

The point might turn out to be – contrary to the initial impression that is created by comparing a group of women to a herd of cow elephants – that when Aśvaghoṣa writes of a herd of cow elephants he has in mind not an amorphous mass of female elephantkind, but for example, a large matriarch elephant, her boisterous younger sister with the exceptionally big ears, her old aunt with a limp, her oldest daughter who has a sweet tooth, et cetera, et cetera.

My first attempt at translating the 3rd pāda was “attended by a herd of cow elephants on heat.” This was in light of the fact that vāsitā is defined as 'a cow desiring the bull.' But on reflection, and in light of the above point, I reasoned that what Aśvaghoṣa was highlighting was the fact that the cow elephants were mateless, that is, single or individual.

So what? What has a point like this got to do with sitting?

One answer might be that sitting well requires general awareness and attention to detail, of which lazy stereotypes are the enemy.

Out of this consideration emerges a third meaning of the canto title strī-vighātanaḥ.

Strī-vighātanaḥ ostensibly describes the prince's behaviour in opting not to indulge in the sensual delights which courtesans at his father's court are offering him; hence “The Women Rejected” [EHJ] or “Rebuffing the Women” [PO].

A second meaning of strī-vighātanaḥ is epitomized by the attitude of Hurry-Up Udāyin. Udāyin is a man on a very important mission, to serve the king, next to whom women are like expendable pawns in a game of chess. The second meaning of strī-vighātanaḥ, then, is “Dismissing Women,” that is, having a dismissive attitude towards women in general.

The third meaning of strī-vighātanaḥ, suggested by Aśvaghoṣa's refusal to content himself with generic abstractions (as especially vividly demonstrated in his consideration of trees and birds in Saundara-nanda Canto 10), is “Rebutting Women” – that is to say, rebutting or repudiating [the generic concept] 'women.'

I came to the teaching of FM Alexander in my 30s, because I was interested in what Alexander knew about "right posture." It turned out that Alexander knew that "right posture" was a stake to which to tie a donkey for ten thousand years. It turned out also that Alexander, having lived through two World Wars, was a great champion of the individual. In some sense when I first read Alexander's thoughts on the primacy of the individual, Alexander was preaching to the already converted  to the intellectually converted, at least. 

In my 20s I had read two books which I found tremendously helpful in understanding what it was that I hated about a certain political tendency in Japanese society.  The first of those books was titled "The Informed Heart," by Bruno Bettelheim, in which BB explained how removal of people's personal identity in concentration camps was a kind of logical extension in extremis of putting the group, or the state, before the individual. The second book was titled "The Enigma of Japanese Power" by Karel von Wolferen, in which KW lifted the veil on how Japanese society is controlled by a System (somewhat analagous to the British Establishment), at the epi-centre of which are graduates of the Law Faculty of Tokyo University and old boys of the Ministry of Finance (both of which Gudo Nishijima happened to be). 

Gudo Nishijima once accused me of being out to "erase my efforts." On reflection it was a shining example of the mirror principle at work. In recent years our translation of Shobogenzo has been listed on Amazon as by Gudo Nishijima (author) and Chodo Cross (contributor). I don't know exactly how that situation came about. But I am damn sure it has something to do with the tendency in Japanese society that Karel von Wolferen wrote about so brilliantly. 

One of the chapters of the Bettelheim book was titled "Men Are Not Ants." The point that Aśvaghoṣa is getting round to making, as I read him, starting with today's verse, is that neither are women. 

atha: ind. then, and so
nārī-jana-vṛtaḥ (nom. sg. m.): surrounded by female human beings
nārī: f. a woman ; a female or any object regarded as feminine
jana: m. creature , living being , man , person; often ifc. denoting one person or a number of persons collectively
vṛta: mfn. concealed , screened , hidden , enveloped , surrounded by , covered with (instr. or comp.)

kumāraḥ (nom. sg.): m. the prince
vyacarat = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect vi- √ car: to rove , ramble about or through , traverse ; to wander from the right path , go astray , be dissolute
vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest, wood

vāsitā-yūtha-sahitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): accompanied by a herd of cow elephants on heat
vāsitā: f. (also written vāśitā , prob. fr. √ vaś, to desire) a cow desiring the bull (also applied to other animals desiring the male , esp. to a female elephant)
yūtha: mn. a herd
sahita: mfn. joined ; accompanied or attended by , associated or connected with , possessed of (instr. or comp.)

karī (nom. sg.): m. doing; " having a trunk " , an elephant
iva: like
himavad-vanam (acc. sg. n.): a Himālayan forest
hima-vat: mfn. having frost or snow , snowy , frosty , icy , snow-clad ; m. a snowy mountain ; m. the himālaya

太子心堅固 傲然不改容
猶如大龍象 群象衆園遶 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 4.26: Shedding Diffidence

rājñas-tu viniyogena kumārasya ca mārdavāt |
jahuḥ kṣipram-aviśraṁbhaṁ madena madanena ca || 4.26

But in view of the king's assignment,

And thanks to a prince's mildness of manner,

They quickly shed their diffidence --

Through inspiration and through enchantment.

Despite being subject to the limitations of one who purports to translate the Buddha's teaching without having got to the bottom of that teaching in his own practice and experience, I have to admit that PO sometimes has a very nice way with words. (Attentive students of English grammar may be assured, in light of the mirror principle, that the preceding sentence does not need re-casting.)

Among the three previous translations that I refer to on this blog, PO's translation of today's verse stands out for its beautiful rendering of the ostensible meaning, viz:
But on account of the king's command,
and the gentle nature of the prince,
they quickly dropped their timidity,
under the spell of liqour and love.
The hidden meaning of today's verse, however, as I read it, is very different from the ostensible meaning, and “under the spell of liquor and love,” though it sounds good, blots out the hidden meaning.

In the hidden meaning, the king (rājṇan) is Gautama Buddha, and a prince (kumāra) is an heir to his teaching. In that case, those who quickly shed their diffidence (i.e. who are momentarily liberated from a habitual lack of confidence) are individuals who have been inspired by the Buddha's teaching and who have entered into sympathetic resonance with a mild-mannered individual (i.e. not a violent end-gainer) who is an heir to the Buddha's teaching.

In his Rule of Sitting-Zen for Everybody, Dogen wrote that when we get the gist of the Buddha's teaching, we are like a dragon that found water, or like a tiger before its mountain stronghold: 
What is called sitting-zen, sitting-meditation, is not meditation that is learned. It is the Dharma-gate of effortless ease. It is the practice and experience that gets to the bottom of the Buddha's enlightenment. The laws of the Universe are realized, around which there are no nets or cages. To grasp this meaning is to be like a dragon that has found water, or like a tiger before a mountain stronghold. Remember, true reality spontaneously emerges, and darkness and dissipation vanish at a stroke.
“The king's assignment” (rājño viniyoga) Dogen expressed as this meaning. And “shedding diffidence” (aviśraṁbham √hā) Dogen expressed as being like a dragon or a tiger in its natural element.

The 4th pāda of today's verse is not about being inspired by the truth of the Buddha's teaching, and neither is it about being totally enamoured with sitting-Zen: it is about both, about practice and theory in mutual accord.

The above being so, I venture to assert, today's verse also is nothing but the lifeblood.

On the surface today's verse is the recounting of historical details by means of beautiful poetry but Aśvaghoṣa's intention, as stated by him at the end of his epic story of beautiful joy, was that we should extract what is truly valuable, discarding all the poetic stuff like a dirt-washer in search of gold.

What Aśvaghoṣa is really telling, in every verse, is the epic story of awakened action (buddha-carita); the historical details of the Buddha's career (also buddha-carita) are of incidental importance.

Similarly,  for a teacher of the FM Alexander Technique, it is not important to know the historical details of the life of FM Alexander (though Alexander teachers naturally tend to be interested in such details). What is vital is to understand how FM Alexander -- following a plan that might have been based on the Buddha's four noble truths, though it wasn't -- solved the problem that manifested itself in him losing his voice when reciting. This also is a story of awakened action. 

In the end, what is the Dharma-king's assignment? What did Dogen mean by this meaning? What is the lifeblood? And what is Aśvaghoṣa's true gold? 

On a bad day, the answer might be a non-mild-mannered


rājñaḥ (gen. sg.): m. the king
tu: but
viniyogena (inst. sg.): m. commission , charge , duty , task , occupation
vi-ni- √ yuj: to unyoke; to discharge (an arrow) ; to assign , commit , appoint to , charge or entrust with

kumārasya (gen. sg.): m. the prince
ca: and
mārdavāt (abl. sg.): n. softness (lit. and fig.) , pliancy , weakness , gentleness , kindness , leniency

jahuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. hā: to leave , abandon , desert , quit , forsake , relinquish ; to shed
kṣipram: ind. quickly , immediately , directly
aviśraṁbham (acc. sg.): m. want of confidence , diffidence

madena (inst. sg.): m. hilarity , rapture , excitement , inspiration , intoxication
madanena (inst. sg.): n. passion , love or the god of love ; the season of spring
ca: and

情欲實其心 兼奉大王旨
慢形媟隱陋 忘其慚愧情 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 4.25: Nothing to Fear, But Fear Itself

tā bhrūbhiḥ prekṣitair-hāvair-hasitair-laḍitair-gataiḥ |
cakrur-ākṣepikāś-ceṣṭā bhīta-bhītā ivāṅganāḥ || 4.25

Using their foreheads, using glimpsed enticements,

Using smiling artful dodges,

The women performed suggestive actions,

Like women shy of shyness.

The search for hidden meaning in today's verse did not look, at first glance, to be at all promising. I probably would not be inclined to look for any hidden meaning in today's verse, if Aśvaghoṣa had not already trained me to do so, mainly by means of the hundreds of verses studied so far in which hidden meaning was buried not so deeply below the surface.

But by taking the elements of today's verse one by one, and asking myself whether they could, by any stretch of the imagination, be descriptions of the Buddha's behaviour as recorded in Aśvaghoṣa's epic story of Beautiful Joy, I found that, yes, at a stretch, every element can be read like that.

Thus bhrūbhiḥ means (1) with their (sexily arched) eyebrows; and (2) with the brow, with the forehead, with the top two inches, with the thinking brain -- and here is the evidence that the Buddha used his:
'When shall I see Nanda settled, given over to the living of a forest beggar's life?', / So thinking, I had harboured from the start the desire to see you thus. What a wonderful sight you are for me to behold! // SN18.33 //
Prekṣitair-hāvaiṛ-hasitair-laḍitair-gataiḥ means (1) with glances, with blandishments/flirtations, with laughs, with acts of frolicking, and with movements; and/or (2) with glimpsed enticements, and with smiling artful dodges -- and here is the evidence that the Buddha himself was not above using such enticements and laughter-inducing dodges:
Deeming then that Nanda was roused to a new height of passion, his passion having turned from love of his wife, /And desiring to fight passion with passion, the dispassionate Sage spoke these words: // SN10.47 // "Look at these women who dwell in heaven and, having observed, truly tell the truth: / Do you think more of these women with their lovely form and excellent attributes or the one upon whom your mind has been set?" // SN10.48 // So, letting his gaze settle upon the apsarases, burning in his innermost heart with a fire of passion, / And stammering, with a mind stuck on objects of desire, Nanda joined his hands like a beggar and spoke. // SN10.49 // "Whatever difference there might be, Master, between that one-eyed she-monkey and your sister-in-law, / Is the same when your poor sister-in-law is set against the lovely apsarases.... // SN 10.50 //

And so, knowing the signs that betrayed the set of Nanda's mind, / Ānanda spoke words which were disagreeable but sweet in consequence: // SN11.22 // "I know from the look on your face what your motive is in practising dharma. / And knowing that, there arises in me towards you laughter and at the same time pity. // SN11.23 // Like somebody who, with a view to sitting on it, carried around on his shoulder a heavy rock; / That is how you, with a view to sensuality, are labouring to bear restraint. // SN11.24 //

Thus, whereas ākṣepikāś-ceṣṭāḥ ostensibly means gestures that were sexually suggestive, another hidden meaning emerges: the women, who truly were women (who were, in other words, true human beings) performed actions which suggested that which is ineffable. That is to say, the women did not necessarily try for a Ph. D. in Buddhist studies by charting the evolution of a word which is understood to be a technical Buddhist term – a word like śunyatā, “emptiness.” But they might have given all due attention to an act like pouring out and drinking a cup of tea.

Led thus far down the path of searching for hidden meaning, we are confronted in the final pāda by the enigmatic term bhīta-bhītāḥ, which the dictionary gives as “very much frightened, exceedingly afraid,” and which EBC translated as “utterly terrified.”

“Like women who are utterly terrified” does not fit as a description of buddhas, and neither does it fit the ostensible meaning as a description of seductive courtesans.  Hence, in response to EBC's translation (“With their brows, their glances, their coquetries, their smiles, their delicate movements, they made all sorts of significant gestures like women utterly terrified,”), EHJ noted: “The context makes it necessary to take bhīta-bhīta in the sense of 'rather frightened,' not 'utterly terrified.'”

Consquently EHJ translated bhīta-bhītā iva as “as if somewhat frightened,” and PO as “somewhat timidly.”

But since there is no reliable record of the Buddha making gestures that betrayed mild fear or moderate timidity, these translations do not suit my purpose.

What does seem acceptable as a description of enlightened behaviour, however, is fear (or at least a certain wariness) of fear itself, and so I have understood bhīta-bhītāḥ  to mean wariness of fear, or (to preserve the ostensible meaning) shyness about being shy. 

Come to think of it, shyness about being shy does often seem to be a force that motivates  many actors and other kinds of performer to go on stage, or before the camera, and perform. So "like women shy about shyness" fits the ostensible meaning well. But still I think the real meaning is "wariness of fear," so that "women wary of fear" means, in a word, buddhas. 

Wariness of fear might be in the back of the Buddha's mind when he tells Nanda in Canto 5, for example: “Most excellent among gifts is the gift of confidence.” (SN5.24).

And again in Canto 12:
This shoot of confidence, therefore, you should nurture; / When it grows dharma grows, as a tree grows with the growth of its root. // SN12.41 // When a person's seeing is disordered, when a person's sense of purpose is weak: / The confidence of that person is unsteady, for he is not veering in the direction he should. // SN12.42 // So long as the real truth is not seen or heard, confidence does not become strong or firm; / But when, through restraint, the power of the senses is subjugated and the real truth is realised, the tree of confidence bears fruit and weight." // SN12.43 //
If a person is drowning in the lake of a park, so they say, the wise course, even for a very strong swimmer, is not to jump straight in to save the blighter. The wise course is to throw him a rope or a lifebelt or something else to hang onto, while remaining wary of what he might do, out of panic, if approached in the water by his would-be rescuer.

For another example, a frightened animal caught in a trap is ever liable to try and bite the hand of the bloke who is trying to untangle it and set it free.

These are the kinds of situation I think Aśvaghoṣa may have in mind in the 4th pāda  – situations in which the wise are wary of fear.

It may be that right now we are living through another such situation, unbeknowns to most of us. I refer to the present global financial crisis.

World War is a terror feared by male and female buddhas alike, and a major cause of the last one, as this former student of accounting sees it, was that Germany's balance sheet was such that she could only meet her enormous liabilities by printing enormous amounts of money that was not backed by sufficient collateral (e.g. gold). In Germany, the result of this money-printing, also known as "quantitative easing," was hyper-inflation. 

In recent years European history has shown signs of wanting to repeat itself, as the liabilities side of the balance sheets of not only small nations like  Greece but also big nations like Spain, Britain and France have expanded unsustainably, due to too much lending and speculation by poorly regulated banks. The authorities have seen no choice except to try to save insolvent international banks by central banks creating money with which banks can cheaply buy government bonds -- as part of  "quantitative easing." 

In this situation, the authorities, probably wisely, are wary of a loss of confidence in the financial system -- i.e. a loss of confidence in banks, and a loss of confidence in money itself.  

When the Buddha spoke of confidence as being the greatest gift, I think he was not talking about religious belief so much as he was talking about this kind of confidence -- confidence in money, confidence in human institutions and in other human beings, without which we may all be sunk, like Germany when she turned to Hitler. 

I think we are in deep doo-dah, and how we might get out of it, I certainly do not know. But I think the truth that Aśvaghoṣa is expressing in today's verse might be the wisdom of seeing that fear is the enemy – and equally the wisdom of being wary of, but not being unduly afraid of, any enemy.

The truly wise course, in the words of legendary Alexander teacher Patrick Macdonald, might be to look the bugger in the eye. This is a subject to which, all being well, we will return in Buddhacarita Canto 13, titled māra-vijayaḥ, “Defeat of Māra.”

All, however, might not be well. Rather, there may be trouble ahead...

tāḥ (nom. pl. f.): they
bhrūbhiḥ (inst. pl.): f. an eyebrow , the brow
prekṣitaiḥ (inst. pl. mn.): mfn. looked at &c; n. a look , glance
pra- √īkṣ: to look at , view , behold , observe; to look on (without interfering) , suffer , say nothing
hāvaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. calling , alluring , dalliance , blandishment (collective N. of ten coquettish gestures of women). But see BC4.12.
√ hve: to call , call upon , summon , challenge , invoke (with nāmnā , " to call by name " ; with yuddhe , " to challenge to fight ")

hasitaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): mfn. laughing , jesting , smiling; n. laughing , laughter
laḍitaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): mfn. moving hither and thither
laḍ: to play , sport , dally
gataiḥ (inst. pl.): n. going , motion , manner of going ; anything past or done , event ; manner

cakrur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. kṛ: to do, make
ākṣepikāḥ (acc. pl. f.): mfn. suggestive (?)
ā- √ kṣip: to throw down upon (loc.) or towards (dat.); to strike with a bolt ; to convulse , cause to tremble ; to draw or take off or away , withdraw from (abl.) ; to point to , refer to , hint , indicate ; to insult , deride ; to challenge , call to a dispute &c
ceṣṭāḥ (acc. pl.): f. moving any limb , gesture ; f. action , activity , effort , endeavour , exertion ; f. doing , performing ; f. behaving , manner of life
ā-kṣe-piṇī: f. (with siddhi) the magical power of attraction
ā-kṣepa: mfn. charming , transporting ; (in rhetoric) pointing to (in comp.) , hinting
ā-kṣepaka: mfn. pointing to , hinting at
ā-kṣepana: mfn. charming , transporting

bhīta-bhītāḥ  (nom. pl. f): mfn. very much frightened , exceedingly afraid
bhīta: mfn. frightened , alarmed , terrified , timid , afraid of or imperilled by ;
anxious about (comp.)
iva: like
aṅganāḥ (nom. pl.): f. " a woman with well-rounded limbs " , any woman or female

歌舞或言笑 揚眉露白齒
美目相眄睞 輕衣現素身
妖搖而徐歩 詐親漸習近

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 4.24: A Spur Towards Apprehension

ity-udāyi-vacaḥ śrutvā tā viddhā iva yoṣitaḥ |
samāruruhur-ātmānaṁ kumāra-grahaṇaṁ prati || 4.24

Having thus attended to the words of Udāyin,

The women, as if they had been pricked,

Went up, rising above themselves,

In the direction of apprehending the prince.

Today is December 25th and at time of writing (9.20 am), it is very quiet -- no noise of traffic or airplanes whatsoever. My wife is taking the dog a walk and my sons are still in bed. I wish it could be Christmas every day!

The verbal irony in today's verse stems from the ambiguity of 
(1) śrutvā, which means hearing (obediently, as from a teacher), or attending to (circumspectly, as to the words of a bluffer);
(2) viddhā, which means wounded, or spurred into action; 
(3) samāruruhur-ātmānam, which means they set themselves upon some course, or they went up and rose above themselves; and 
(4) grahaṇam, from the root grah, which as discussed yesterday has many meanings, including to conquer/capture/captivate, and to apprehend/understand/appreciate.

The ostensible thrust of today's verse, then, is as conveyed by previous translations, viz:

“Having heard these words of Udāyin these women as stung to the heart rose even above themselves for the conquest of the prince.” [EBC]

“On hearing these words of Udāyin, the damsels were so to speak cut to the heart and set themselves to the task of capturing the prince.” [EHJ]

“And when they heard these words of Udāyin, those women were, as if, cut to the quick; with determination they set their minds on captivating the prince.” [PO]

The hidden meaning of each pāda is that
(1) the women paid attention, as we have been paying attention, to the wisdom in Udāyin's words – without hearing those words for a moment as if we were prepared to obey Udāyin as our teacher (on the contrary, attending to Udāyin's words makes us, along with the women, more inclined to want truly to apprehend the prince); 
(2) the women were thus stimulated in the manner Dogen intended to stimulate his followers in the chapter of Shobogenzo titled 坐禅針 (ZAZEN-SHIN), A Needle for Sitting-Zen; 
(3) the women went up, transcending the habitual reactions by which we fearful human beings are liable to pull ourselves down; and 
(4) the act of going up took the women in the direction of receiving into their minds, or apprehending, what the prince was really all about – as the heir apparent to the ancient wisdom of forest sages like Asita, along with other sages collectively revered as “the Seven Ancient Buddhas.”

Today is my 53rd birthday, and for more than 30 of those years I have been working towards some kind of apprehension... and yet – to borrow a phrase from FM Alexander – have barely scratched the surface of the egg.

The egg that FM Alexander had his hands on, has to do with bringing the light of awareness and attention to bear upon the problem of going up (sam-ā-√ruh).

Today's verse, as I read it, describes a situation in which directing oneself towards apprehension of the prince is in itself associated with going up and transcending oneself. This direction is opposite to the direction in which we are urged by Hurry-Ups like Udāyin. 

If we dig further, then, for what it means to apprehend the prince, the prince is the future Buddha, and the Buddha was the former prince. The prince had a will to the truth that was so strong that he was not interested in the attentions of the sexiest of women, and consequently the Buddha realized the truth and taught it to others. 

If I venture to conclude that to apprehend the prince (kumāra-grahaṇam) is to apprehend something of the will to the truth, and to apprehend something of cause and effect, that might not be much to show for 53 years, but it might at least be to have scratched the surface of the egg.

iti: “....,” thus
udāyi-vacaḥ (acc. sg. n.): words of Udāyin
vacas: n. speech , voice , word
śrutvā = abs. śru: to hear , listen or attend to anything (acc.)

tā (nom. pl. f.): f. those
viddhā (nom. pl. f.): mfn. (p.p. of √ vyadh ) pierced , perforated , penetrated , stabbed , struck , wounded , beaten , torn , hurt , injured ; cleft , split , burst asunder ; stung , incited , set in motion
vyadh: to pierce , transfix , hit , strike , wound
iva: like, as if
yoṣitaḥ (nom. pl.): f. women

samāruruhur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. sam-ā- √ ruh: to ascend or rise to or upon (acc. loc. , or upari) , mount , enter (acc.) ; to advance towards or against (acc.); to enter upon , attain to , undertake , begin
ā- √ ruh: to ascend , mount , bestride , rise up ; to venture upon , undertake ; to venture upon , undertake
sam: with , together with , along with , together , altogether (used as a preposition or prefix to verbs and verbal derivatives , expressing " conjunction " , " union " , " thoroughness " , " intensity " , " completeness ")
ātmānam (acc. sg.): m. the self ; the person or whole body considered as one and opposed to the separate members of the body ;

kumāra-grahaṇam (acc. sg. n.): capture/understanding of the prince
kumāra: a prince , heir-apparent associated in the kingdom with the reigning monarch (especially in theatrical language)
grahaṇa: n. seizing , holding , taking ; taking by the hand , marrying ; catching , seizure , taking captive
grah: to seize, take ; to arrest , stop ; to catch , take captive , take prisoner , capture , imprison ; to take possession of , gain over , captivate ; to seize , overpower (esp. said of diseases and demons and the punishments of varuṇa) ; to eclipse ; to abstract , take away (by robbery) ; to perceive (with the organs of sense or with mánas) , observe , recognise ; to receive into the mind , apprehend , understand , learn ; to accept , admit , approve
prati: ind. towards, in the direction of ; as a prep. with usually preceding acc. , in the sense of towards , against , to , upon , in the direction of ; on account of , with regard to , concerning

爾時婇女衆 慶聞優陀説
増其踊悦心 如鞭策良馬
往到太子前 各進種種術