Saturday, December 15, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 4.14: Snobbery Totally Inverted

idaṁ nava-vadhūnāṁ vo hrī-nikuñcita-cakṣuṣām |
sadśaṁ ceṣṭitaṁ hi syād-api vā gopa-yoṣitām || 4.14

For women who have recently taken their vows

And who modestly turn the light of their eyes within,

This behaviour of yours might be fitting –

As also for the wives of cowherds!

Disclosing the hidden meaning of today's verse truly feels to me like suddenly finding a nugget of pure gold. Because, once the hidden meaning is glimpsed, the grubby statement of a young snob is instantly transformed into the golden teaching of one who was totally beyond snobbery.

The intention of the young brahmin snob Udāyin is brought out clearly enough in the following translations:

“This timid action of yours would be fit for new brides, their eyes closed through shame, — or it might be a blandishment worthy even of the wives of the cowherds.” (EBC)

“Conduct such as this of yours would be more proper in brides who narrow their eyes in shame, or even in the wives of cowherds.” (EHJ)

“For the way you conduct yourself is only proper for new brides, Who blushingly avert their eyes, or else for the wives of cowherds!” (PO)

In the 1st pāda, however, I am sure that Aśvaghoṣa intended nava-vadhūnām to carry a double meaning. Nava-vadhū is given in the dictionary as “a newly married woman,” but as a noun nava means a young monk, a novice, and so a second,  hidden meaning of nava-vadhūnām is “young female novices.”

That being so, in the 2nd pāda hrī-nikuñcita-cakṣuṣām might describe not only new brides who are blushingly averting their eyes, but also novice sitting-meditators who are learning the backward step of turning their light and letting it shine.

The behaviour referred to in the 3rd pāda, according to Udāyin's intention, is shyness or timidity. For new brides, Udāyin is suggesting (as also for wives of working class milkmen) shyness or timidity might be fitting, but timidity is hardly fitting for sexy courtesans on a mission of seduction.

The behaviour that the 3rd pāda is really referring to, if we follow the hidden meaning of today's verse, is the behaviour described in BC4.7 – 4.8 as doing nothing but look, as if spellbound, and as being disinclined to do. 

Such behaviour, i.e. the practice of conscious inhibition, or non-doing, is just that practice which is fitting for people who study the backward step.

The innocent are liable to think that the Buddha's teaching is all about doing the right thing, and not doing wrong. But as innocence fades, it becomes more apparent why the original teaching of the Buddha is the other way round: it is primarily all about not doing wrong. As mistakes accumulate on top of mistakes, in other words, a person who studies the backward step tends to become less inclined to try to do what he thinks he should do, and more inclined to practise not doing what he knows not to do.

Finally, the real jewel in today's verse is contained in the 4th pāda whose snobbish ostensible meaning might be paraphrased thus: “I could understand it if a crowd of ugly low-class peasants were shy about displaying their love for the prince, but you high-class courtesans have nothing to be shy about! 1-2-3, go for it! Hurry up!”

Aśvaghoṣa's brilliance is to hide behind this ostensible meaning his real intention which is totally subversive to, and totally different from, Udāyin's snobbish view; instead, it is totally the same as Dogen's intention in writing his Fu-kan-zazen-gi, The Rule of Sitting-Dhyāna Recommended for Everybody and Anybody – the operative word being (Jap: FU), which means "universally" or "far and wide" i.e., for everybody and anybody, absolutely including wives of milkmen.

idam (nom. sg. n.): this
nava-vadhūnām = gen. pl. f. nava-vadhū (or nava-vadhu): a newly married woman ; a daughter-in-law
nava: mfn. new , fresh , recent , young , modern ; m. a young monk , a novice
vadhū: f. a bride or newly-married woman , young wife spouse any wife or woman ; a daughter-in-law ; any younger female relation ; the female of any animal , (esp.) a cow or mare
vadhu: f. a young wife or woman ; daughter-in-law
vaḥ (gen. pl. f.): of you

hrī-nikuñcita-cakṣuṣām (gen. pl. f.): eyes drawn in through modesty
hrī: f. shame , modesty , shyness , timidity
nikuñcita: mfn. contracted
kuñc: to make crooked ; to bend or curve , move crookedly
ni- √ kuñc : Caus. -kuñcayati , to draw in , contract (opp. to " stretch out ")
cakṣus: n. light , clearness; n. the act of seeing ; n. faculty of seeing , sight ; n. a look ; n. the eye

sadṛśam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. conformable , suitable , fit , proper , right , worthy
ceṣṭitam (nom. sg.): n. moving any limb , gesture ; n. doing , action , behaviour , manner of life
hi: for
syād = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be

api: also, even
vā: ind. or (excluded from the first place in a sentence , and generally immediately following the word to which it refers; vā is frequently combined with other particles , esp. with atha , atho, uta , kim , yad , yadi [e.g. atha vā , " or else "] ; it is also sometimes used as an expletive)

gopa-yoṣitām (gen. pl. f.): the wives of a cowherd
gopa: m. a cowherd , herdsman , milkman (considered as a man of mixed caste); a protector , guardian
yoṣit = yoṣaṇā: f. a girl , maiden , young woman , wife

[No corresponding Chinese text] 


gniz said...

Hi Mike,

Hi Mike, I'd started off writing a whole treatise on "not doing" but instead erased it.

I can see more now why certain things may be hinted at rather than said outright in plain English (or whatever language).

By stating things, I think I've understood something. But when something is hinted at, there needs to be instead a kind of knowing that "finishes the thought on its own."

I think seeing this difference can be helpful for people like me who want everything spelled out. Because that which knows is different than that which simply thinks and believes.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Aaron, You could be onto something there. At the same time with your concluding statement you might have slipped on a banana skin.

gniz said...

I often do slip on stuff Mike ..banana peels, shit, my own stupid full of crap thoughts, my self-importance.

But then let's not forget that in the midst of slipping and making an ass, I can still sometimes strike gold, strike the target, or simply do nothing.

Thanks so much for everything you do here.

Mike Cross said...

In non-doing, we are akin to a target that is struck.

Our efforts to strike the target are invariably variations on the theme of doing -- and I know whereof I speak.

In view of the irony in the last sentence of your comment, maybe you are indeed onto something... unless you didn't intend it, in which case it might be another banana skin!

gniz said...


Thanks for your non-teaching. I am slow non-learner!