Friday, December 7, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 4.6: If Looks Could Kill

tasya tā vapuṣākṣiptā nigṛhītaṁ jajṛmbhire |
anyonyaṁ dṛṣṭibhir-hatvā śanaiś-ca viniśaśvasuḥ || 4.6

Entranced by his form,

They inwardly opened out

And, killing each other with glances,

Exhaled deeply and quietly.

The 1st pāda ostensibly describes the effect of a good-looking man on swooning female admirers, but its hidden meaning might be to suggest the usefulness in sitting-meditation of having a role model who demonstrates what a good form in sitting really is – namely a form  that is totally liberated from any limiting, rigidity-producing conception of good form.

This irony is suggested by the 2nd pāda, as I read it, in its paradoxical juxtaposition of nigṛhītam, which suggests restriction, stopping, or restraint (hence, EHJ: suppressedly; PO: trying to hold back) and jajṛmbhire, which means they gaped or opened out. On the surface, I think nigṛhītaṁ jajṛmbhire is intended to mean something like “being seized [by emotion], they gaped.” But the real point, at least as I take it, is that the kind of opening out a follower of the Buddha wants is not the kind of imitation of a drawn bow that is pursued in modern-day yoga of the bendy bunny variety. What we want is what FM Alexander called “lengthening and widening of the whole stature,” and that is primarily a function not of movements of bones and muscles but rather of activity (or cessation of activity) within the brain and nervous system, so that the opening out can be going on inwardly without anything on the outside perceptibly changing.

The 3rd pāda ostensibly describes women smiting each other with jealous looks. The hidden meaning might be to suggest the kind of subtle, indirect interaction that can go on when individuals come together to practise sitting-meditation, whereby each person's sincerity contributes to a general dearth of nervous excitement.

The irony continues into the 4th pāda, which ostensibly describes an unconscious emotional response (hence EBC/EHJ/PO “softly sighed”), but which might really be intended to suggest the deep exhalation which, according to Dogen's rules of sitting-zen for everybody, one should practice at the beginning of sitting. In that case, śanaiś-ca viniśaśvasuḥ expresses not an unconscious emotional reaction ("they softly sighed"), but on the contrary a consciously controlled balancing act ("they deeply and forcefully breathed out, softly and quietly").  

tasya (gen. sg.): his
tāḥ (nom. pl. f.): they
vapuṣā (inst. sg.): n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty
ākṣiptāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. cast , thrown down ; caught , seized , overcome (as the mind , citta , cetas or -hridaya) by beauty , curiosity , &c , charmed , transported

nigṛhītam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. held down or back , seized , caught , checked ; harassed , assailed , attacked
ni- √ grah: to hold down , lower , depress ; to keep or hold back , draw near , attract ; to seize , catch , hold , hold fast , stop , restrain , suppress , curb , tame , punish ; to contract , close (as the eyes)
jajṛmbhire = 3rd pers. pl. perf. jṛmbh: to open the mouth , yawn; to gape open , open (as a flower) ; to fly back or recoil (as a bow when unstrung) ; to unfold , spread (as a flood &c ) , expand , occupy a larger circuit ; to spread (as sound) ; to feel at ease

anyonyam (acc. sg. n.): each other, mutually
dṛṣṭibhiḥ (inst. pl.): f. seeing; eye , look , glance
hatvā = abs. han; to strike, to smite , slay , hit , kill , mar , destroy ; to put to death , cause to be executed

śanaiḥ: ind. (inst. pl.) quietly , softly , gently , gradually , alternately
ca: and
viniśaśvasur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. vi-ni- √ śvas: to breathe hard , snort , hiss ; to sigh deeply

種種設方便 不動菩薩心
[Bears no relation to the Sanskrit] 


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

As the masc/neut singular ppp nigṛhītaṁ agrees only with anyonyam and not with tāḥ/ākṣiptāḥ and the plural verbs, I'm wondering how it can be read with jajṛmbhire and where, otherwise, it might belong...

I've been thinking along the lines of 'They gaped, entranced by his form, each (one) restrained by the other [nigṛhītaṁ...anyonyaṁ], struck with glances, and exhaled...'


jiblet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Cross said...

Thanks Malcolm, your attention to detail is always appreciated.

I read nigṛhītaṁ and anyonyam not as agreeing with each other, but as being in parallel with each other. As I read them, both are accusative singular neuter nouns serving a function that we would call in English "adverbial."

I remember reading in Teach Yourself Sanskrit that Sanskrit does not have adverbs as such, but the acc. sg. n. form fulfills this function so that anyonyaṁ han lit. means "to strike/kill a mutual," and nigṛhītaṁ jṛṁbh means "to gape a restrain-ed."

The difficulty of understanding "to gape a restrained" or "to open out a holding in," is reflected in the struggles that previous translators evidently had in translating the pāda.

EBC's text has nirgrahītuṁ jajṛṁbhire, translated as "yawned as if to swallow him."

EHJ has "they writhed suppressedly."

And PO has "they gaped, trying to hold back."

What Aśvaghoṣa as I hear him is driving at is the desirability of opening out, or opening up, but not in the manner of a bloke who drinks 10 pints of lager, or drops a tab of ecstacy, and tells you he loves everybody.

So nigṛhītam is there to express the principle of restraint, or self-control, and its job is to modify the verb to which it is paradoxically juxtaposed in the 2nd pāda.

I might have commented in more detail on the difficulty of the 2nd pāda this morning, but didn't have time as my wife and I visit an Alexander teacher training school on Fridays, and today was a day on which two students graduated -- which outcome is liable to put one in mind of the significance of Alexander's discoveries in the greater scheme of things, which is to say that Alexander work is very much about opening up and opening out. A student of Alexander's named Goddard Binkley wrote a book titled "The Expanding Self." At the same time Alexander work is very much about eschewing the extremes to which unconscious reactions take a person, and "staying back in one's own back."

In the 2nd paragraph of the 1st chapter of his 1st book, FM wrote of "that higher power within the soul of man which enables him to will or to act or to speak, not loosely or wildly..."

"Not loosely or wildly" is expressed in the 2nd pāda of today's verse, as I read it, by nigṛhītam.

jiblet said...

The juxtaposition of nigṛhītaṁ and jajṛmbhire - and the splitting of nigṛhītaṁ and anyonyam across padas - certainly militates against my suggestion. Your, and others', adverbial reading of the nuet acc sing - which did occur to me, honest! - does make more sense. Dammit.

Thanks for clarifying the text and your translation.