Tuesday, December 18, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 4.17: Subjugated Seer (2/5) – A Dubious Beggar

manthāla-gautamo bhikṣur-jaṅghayā vāra-mukhyayā |
piprīṣuś-ca tad-arthārthaṁ vyasūn niraharat purā || 4.17

The beggar Manthāla Gautama,

Wishing to please the royal courtesan 'Legs' Jaṅgā,

Again in olden times, with that aim in view,

Carried corpses out for burial.

EHJ saw today's verse as problematic for a number of technical reasons – including the use of bhikṣu (beggar) for “a mendicant other than a Buddhist” – and he doubted the verse's authenticity.

Whether or not Aśvaghoṣa wrote these four pādas as they have come down to us in the Nepalese manuscripts, they are contained in a series of verses in which Udāyin expresses an idea about the power of women, which he measures in terms of ability to influence men.

What clue might there be in Aśvaghoṣa's records of the Buddha's teaching as to how an intelligent reader or listener might be expected to respond?

One clue that springs to mind is contained in the 15th canto of Aśvaghoṣa's epic story of Beautiful Joy:
So for the giving up, in short, of all these ideas, / Mindfulness of inward and outward breathing, my friend, you should make into your own possession. // SN15.64 //
The Buddha is referring to a virtuous circle whereby simply being aware of breathing conduces to giving up of ideas and, conversely, recognizing that one is under the sway of an idea and abandoning that idea conduces to freer breathing.

A woman can influence a man in this direction. And a man can influence himself in this direction. But this is the kind of truth of which Hurry-Up Udāyin is strikingly unaware.

Aśvaghoṣa does not try to contradict male-centric views of women by counterposing a view of his own about women. Aśvaghoṣa's technique is rather (1) to let the likes of the Buddhist striver in Saundara-nanda, and the brahmin Hurry-Up Udāyin, express as eloquently as befits educated types such as they are, their own views and ideas; and (2) to point us in the direction of abandoning all views and giving up ideas. 

manthāla-gautamaḥ (nom. sg. m.): Manthāla-gautama
√manth = √math to stir or whirl round
mantha: m. stirring round , churning
manthā: f. a churning-stick
āla: n. spawn ; any discharge of poisonous matter from venomous animals ; yellow arsenic , orpiment ; mfn. not little or insignificant , excellent
bhikṣuḥ (nom. sg. m.): m. a beggar , mendicant , religious mendicant (esp. a Brahman in the fourth āśrama or period of his life , when he subsists entirely on alms)

jaṅghayā (inst. sg.): f. ( √ jaṁh, to kick) the shank (from the ankle to the knee); the leg
vāra-mukhyayā (inst. sg.): f. the chief of a number of harlots , a royal courtezan [See BC3.52]
vāra: m. (fr. √1. vṛ) keeping back , restraining
vārā: f. a harlot , courtezan
vāra: m. (fr. √2. vṛ) choice ; anything chosen or choice or exquisite , goods , treasure (often ifc.)
mukhya: being in or coming from or belonging to the mouth or face; being at the head or at the beginning , first , principal , chief , eminent (ifc. = the first or best or chief among)

piprīṣuḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. desid. √prī, to please) wishing to give pleasure
ca: and
tad-arthārtham (acc. sg. n.): in order to accomplish that aim ; with that end in view
arthārtha: mfn. effective for the accomplishment of the aim in view

vy-asūn (acc. pl. m.): the dead
vy-asu: mfn. lifeless , dead
asu: m. ( √as) breath , life
nir-aharat = 3rd pers. sg. imperf. nir- √ hṛ : to take out or off , draw or pull out , extract from (abl.) , expel , remove , destroy; to carry out (a dead body)
purā: before , formerly , of old

令習於愛欲 以足蹈其頂 


Happi said...

Hi Mike –

Are you sitting down? I hope so, since I want you to still be breathing when you finish reading this comment. In fact, just so you know as you continue to read, I’ll be using the mirror principle before I’m finished with what I have to say. What I’m going to say is not said out of anger, but said with the attitude that the mirror principle doesn’t do anyone much good unless it’s used as something besides an excuse for mistakes.

In your comment today you say: “Aśvaghoṣa does not try to contradict male-centric views of women by counterposing a view of his own about women.” I can’t argue with that, but my sense is still that Aśvaghoṣa was a bit of a sexist. And I think it’s entirely acceptable for Aśvaghoṣa given his time, so you shouldn’t be offended.

On what basis do I put forth the argument that Aśvaghoṣa was a bit of a sexist? Namely, that the views of women he presents throughout Saundara-nanda and the verses of Buddhacarita that I’ve been around for (I’ve been little busy lately for several reasons) present women as sex objects, as opposed to human beings in their own right. The only possible exception I think of off-hand might be a verse or two in Canto 6: A Wife’s Lament, when an older woman makes an effort to console Sundari. I’ll admit that I can think of reasons that Aśvaghoṣa might be excused, but for this comment that’s not my point. You, yourself, have repeatedly said that Aśvaghoṣa doesn’t support the idea of Sangha since he doesn’t mention it, so I feel I can claim Aśvaghoṣa was a sexist.

That Aśvaghoṣa might have been a sexist doesn’t bother me much. What does bother me, however, is that I think one reason you’re so comfortable with Aśvaghoṣa is that you’re a bit of a sexist yourself. I’m concerned that you are subconsciously using Aśvaghoṣa to reinforce your own tendencies. After following you commentary for several years, the only counter-evidence that I can think of is your inclusion and praise of Marjory Barlow in your commentary. Unfortunately, since Marjory Barlow was of advanced years when you were her student, she might as well have been Mother Teresa. Moreover, you appear to regard Marjory as a sort of mother figure, which also is a gender specific role. (I have no idea what effect this has had on the other relationships with women you’ve had in your life, but it is none of my business and thank goodness for that.)

Happi said...


One of the reasons I’m mentioning this now, is that recently I’ve been spending a fair amount of time sitting with the karmic inheritance of my life and I’ve come to the conclusion that I am so much of a feminist that I haven’t even felt the need to be a card-carrying one! The fact that I haven’t been aware of it, though, has caused a fair amount of damage, because I haven’t been prepared to defend myself against the sexist perspective (which remains prevalent in academia as well). I have to admit that, in this regard at least, I’ve been naïve. This, coupled with the fact that my ego is nowhere near as greedy and needy as yours, has caused me to back-off and drop-off views when in actuality I shouldn’t have. I haven’t been aware of my role as a feminist and, therefore, have fallen short in my responsibility to a role I was born into -- whether I like it or not.

I’m mentioning this now because the initial problem that I started sitting with was that I’ve been feeling increasingly limited and claustrophobic in my on-line presence, a presence that felt very rich and dynamic at its start. I’ve been trying to identify the reasons behind what I’ve been feeling. The most likely hypothesis I have traces back to you, specifically the combined dynamic of your sexist attitude and my willingness to drop off views. I think this has operated indirectly in a “six-degrees of separation” kind of way with consequences for how I am treated and viewed by others on-line. It’s my belief that your sexist attitude likely began to contaminate my on-line presence even before I officially signed on as a reader. I’m especially thankful to have friends who have helped me see this. On your behalf, I will say that I don’t think this was ever your intention was ever to limit my on-line presence. (And I could be wrong.)

Lastly, I should add that I’ve never viewed you as a teacher, although undoubtedly I’ve learned a lot from reading this blog. I wonder if your need to establish some sort of superiority has also contributed to the way you’ve treated me and others who have left comments.

Feel free to take a few days to sit with and think about my comment. I have experiments lined up for the rest of the week and likely won’t have enough time to respond until the weekend.

Again, I’d like to reiterate that, although I am aware that you may find this comment initially hurtful, it’s not intended to be malicious or vengeful rather the intention is that we both learn from our past mistakes. In that spirit,


Mike Cross said...

Hi Gisela, Your attention is appreciated, however sporadic.

Happi said...


Because your inclinations haven’t been the best influence for a couple of reasons: (a) We both have the tendency to take ourselves too seriously. If I had continued to follow your example and advice in that regard, it could have disastrous consequences, and (b) although zazen is supposedly good for nothing, you’re lazy and stingy in regard to work on yourself. As long as that continues, you’ll have a toxic effect on those around you considering the sharpness of your dissecting intellect – which is a bit of a Midas touch as far as I can tell. Not only in terms of those around you, but also for the connection between you head and your heart, i.e. your own good self. In fact, I’m sure we could have had this conversation in a kinder fashion if you'd been willing to do that work over the years.

Metta for us both, I think -


Mike Cross said...

Metta is a Pali word. I prefer good old fashioned English ones...

Happi said...

Me too, actually.

From Wikipedia, Mettā is, among other things, loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence, amity, friendship, good will, and agape. I had to look amity up, my first association was the Amityville Horror, but it’s actually another word for friendship.

By the way, using the mirror principle -- I have a similar heart-head disconnect, but in the opposite direction.

I’m not quite done. I have a little more to say. Once I catch my breath, I’ll probably say it on my blog – that’s where it seems it would be most appropriate.

Mike Cross said...

The mirror principle never fails, but sometimes even those of us who know it fail to attend to it, whereupon the outcome is liable to be unfriendly criticism -- not to mention traditional Anglo-Saxon spurs to action along the lines of "Fuck off!"

Happi said...

Mike –
I approached you with loving-kindness (and admitted a bit of humor which in retrospect I probably should have omitted) and I ended by doing tonglen.
What I was going to say related to the reason I’ve experienced empathy for you for a long time. And the reason is the similarity in what I’ve experienced on-line to what I felt you experienced during towards the end of your interactions with Nishijima and onward, though the reasons and context were different. I’ve wondered if you’ve seen that. Somehow I’ve always expected you to eventually see that.
Two of the ‘ghosts’ that have ‘visited’ me as we have made our way on this journey is the two of your former selves, Nishijima and you. I was going to say something about what I sense about that interaction looking at it through the same lens as I did ours based primarily on what you’ve said in comments. At the moment, however, I think it’s better left alone.
I’ve said what I felt I had for myself.
Thank you for your efforts.

Mike Cross said...

If you think you approached me with loving kindness, Gisela, you are deluding yourself.

I think you approached me with a kind of anger towards men in general -- the kind of anger which is sometimes observed among women who consider themselves to be feminists.

The prejudice against men and our perceived sexism might be the female equivalent of the prejudice against women of the brahmin Udāyin (and even more starkly the Buddhist striver in Saundara-nanda).

You say that male prejudice is acceptable. But acceptable to whom?

You accept that Aśvaghoṣa was prejudiced against women, and that he manifested that prejudice in his poetry, because, you opine, he was of his time.

In the same spirit of acceptance, I accept your opinion -- as an extremely stupid opinion.

Happi said...

Hi Mike -

Wanted to let you know that I will be responding to your comment. My response is going to take some time and I'll want to sit with it, so I doubt you'll have a chance to see it until morning.

By the way, whereas in some contexts I don't have a problem with it, I should mention that, things being as they are, I consider your use of my name in these comments to be insensitive to the issues and inconsiderate of my circumstances. Alternatively, it's an evasive tactic to prevent clarity in my response. (Since you seem to be unaware, I thought I'd better point it out.)