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 


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

Any thoughts on Ashvaghosha's recent choice of terms for the female of the species?

Yesterday we had yuvati (which ostensibly refers to a young girl - I note you translated it, in the plural, colloquially, contrarily(?) as "...old girls") and strI (ostensibly a woman/wife; MW: 'perhaps for sUtrI, or sotrI," bearer of children"' - which I note you translated as "true women"). Today we have yoṣit (ostensibly a general term for female: "a girl, maiden, young woman, wife"[MW]).

I wonder whether A., particularly in yesterday's verse, might - in addition to making distinctions of class - be making a distinction between women of different ages/degrees of sexual experience and maturity...Or perhaps he's simply mixing it up for poetic/metrical purposes.?

Also, why isn't tā tu striyaḥ (yesterday) tāstu striyaḥ? Surely that's the correct sandhi for tāḥ tu striyaḥ? In any case, shouldn't the metrical analysis read -−⏑−, not ⏑−⏑− ?

Happy Birthday!

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Malcolm.

"Any old girls" was my effort to convey the sense in yāh... kāś cid yuvatayaḥ of "any girls whatsoever" (as per MW's example ye ke ca, any persons whatsoever).

But perhaps the translation would read better as "any girls whatsover" or simply "any girls" or (maybe more naturally in English) "any girl."

As regards any distinction intended by the use of yuvati, strī, and yoṣit, I have tended to think hitherto that Aśvaghoṣa was simply mixing it up for poetic/metrical purposes.

Your attention to the problem of tā tu striyaḥ is appreciated.

EBC's text has tu tāḥ striyaḥ. In EHJ's text this is amended (without comment on EHJ's part) to tā tu striyaḥ.

With an ironic lack of attention to detail (while preaching attention to others!) I followed EHJ's text but failed to notice that EHJ's text disobeys not only the rules of sandhi, but also the rules of the śloka metre, according to which (I am fairly sure) the verse must end ⏑−⏑−.

PO's version reverts (without comment) to tu tāḥ striyaḥ.

I cannot guess why EHJ has the anomalous tā tu. Anyway, it was negligent of me not to notice the anomaly, and I will follow PO in amending the text back to tu tāḥ striyaḥ.

Thanks again and happy holiday to you!