Friday, December 28, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 4.27: A Herd of Individuals

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atha nārī-jana-vtaḥ kumāro vyacarad-vanam |
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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 

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