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

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