Wednesday, January 2, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.32: Wanting It

kā-cid-ājñāpayantīva provācārdrānulepanā |
iha bhaktiṁ kuruṣveti hastaṁ saṁśliṣya lipsayā || 4.32

As if she were giving an order,

One girl who was moist with body oils insisted:

“Perform the act of devotion here!”

As – wanting it – she closely attached herself to a hand.

In the 1st line, ājñāpayantī (“ordering”) is a causative form of ā-√jñā (“to understand, notice, realize”), and is related to the noun ā-jñā, which the dictionary gives as 1. order , command; and 2. authority , unlimited power. Ānandajoti Bhikku informed me, from his familiarity with its equivalent in the Pali suttas, that ā-√jñā means deep knowledge, or knowledge of final liberation. The final canto of Saundara-nanda is titled,  ājñā-vyākaraṇaḥ, which I tentatively translated as “Knowing Affirmation.”

The ostensible meaning of ājñāpayantīva, then, is “as if giving an order” or “bossily,” but I think the hidden meaning that Aśvaghoṣa intended to convey by ājñāpayantīva, has nothing to do with bossing others about. It might have to do with obeying or conveying the Buddha's commandment which, in the first instance, is not to do the wrong thing. Equally, it might be related to the preventive process that FM Alexander called ordering, using words like “Let” and “Allow” as a means of directing one's own energy – causing one's energy definitely not to flow there but rather allowing it to flow where nature intended it to flow.

In the 2nd line, by describing the woman in today's verse as “moist with body oils,” Aśvaghoṣa might be intending to give a concrete indication (at the 2nd of Gudo Nishijima's “four phases”), of the sparkling health of a woman whose autonomic nervous system is balanced.

In the 3rd line, bhakti means (1) a line or a streak, like the lines and streaks which Sundarī painted on herself in the 4th Canto of Saundara-nanda, and (2) devotion. In light of this ambiguity, if the ostensible meaning of today's verse is paraphrased in BBC Radio 4 English, iha bhaktiṁ kuruṣva could be translated either as “Paint a line here, on my make-up,” or as “Have sex with me (= perform the act of devotion) right here.”

So either:
One girl, her body moist with unguents, bossily insisted, “Make a line here in my make-up,” as – full of desire for sex – she clasped his hand.
One girl, her body moist with oils, bossily insisted, “Fuck me right here,” as – full of desire for sex – she clasped his hand.

If we follow the hidden meaning of ājñāpayanti, however, performance of the/an act of devotion obviously means something very different. If devotion means devotion to the principle of not doing wrong, it might mean playing Marjory Barlow's game of lying down on one's back and being clear in one's decision NOT to move a leg, in order to be free to move it. Equally it might mean a prostration, or an hour or half an hour intelligently spent sitting in lotus.

For the 4th pāda, the old Nepalese manuscript has hasta-saṁśliṣya-lipsayā. EH Johnston amended this, based on his own conjecture, to hasta-saṁśleṣa-lipsayā (“in the hope of winning the touch of his hand”). But I have followed EB Cowell's text which has hastaṁ saṁśliṣya lipsayā.

In EHJ's reading, the object that the woman wants to get is hasta-saṁśleṣa, “close contact with [his] hand.” With the latter reading (which is as per the old Nepalese manuscript before the probable disappearance of one dot), what the woman wants to get is not specified. Ostensibly, what she desires is sex. But I think Aśvaghoṣa's real intention is to describe a practitioner who wants to get what Zen practitioners of the past famously wanted to get – namely, it.

EBC understood hastaṁ saṁśliṣya lipsayā to mean “eagerly clasping his hand.” Though the apparent meaning of hastaṁ (or hasta) is thus “his hand,” there is originally no “his” – the owner of the hand in question, though it is ostensibly the prince, is not specified.

What hidden meaning, then, might Aśvaghoṣa have implied by hastaṁ saṁ-√śliṣ, “to attach oneself to a hand”?

My first thought relates to a hymn that I sang many times in my youth, usually in the irreligious, beer-besotted context of watching Wales play rugby:

Guide me O thy great redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak but thou art mighty –
Hold me in thy powerful hand....

But, on second thoughts, Aśvaghoṣa is more likely to have had in mind another kind of metaphorical hand, such as the one discussed by the Buddha in Saundara-nanda canto 12:
And so I call this confidence the Hand, because it is this confidence, above all, / That grasps true dharma, as a hand naturally takes a gift. // SN12.36 //
This being so, I have found it difficult in the 4th pāda to find a translation that conveys both the overt sexual meaning of clasping a prospective lover's hand, and the hidden non-sexual meaning of putting oneself in the assured hand of a good teacher or true process. 

In the end, when teachers say that one has really got to want it, wanting it means wanting what?

I find it easier to answer the question for my own satisfaction in the negative. I don't always know what I do want. Sometimes I want nothing more than a bacon and egg sandwich and a cup of hot coffee. Sometimes solitude and fresh air. Often the absence of noise. 

What has become more clear and more constant over the years is what I don't want. I don't want to pull myself down while deluding myself that I am directing myself up. I don't want to delude myself that I am “letting nature work,” when in fact I am holding my breath. I don't want to go into battle with the kind of bloke that Jordan calls “a buddy fucker,” and certainly don't want to go into battle as a buddy fucker. I don't want to preach anything that I don't practise. The world of Buddhism and Buddhist studies is full of hypocrisy. I don't want to be part of that problem. Or if I already am, I don't want to make it worse. 

A couple of days ago I read the first few pages (a sample on a Kindle I got for my birthday) of a book by Charles Allen on King Aśoka. Reading about the destruction of the great monastic libraries in India which doubtless contained pristine copies, if not the originals, of Aśvaghoṣa's writing, something in me would like to help the wheel of karma turn by showing some angry intolerance right back towards Islaamic intolerance. Is there any mullah out there, I wonder, who would like to apologize to us on behalf of his religion for the missing 14 chapters of Buddha-carita?

If I inhibit my own instinctual responses, however, so that reason might intervene, I see with renewed clarity that my job is not to stiffen my neck (via the mirror principle) against Islaamic and other religious intolerance. My job – the thing I really ought to want – is to allow Aśvaghoṣa to wield his weapon of choice, against hypocrisy and against intolerance. And that weapon of choice is irony.

I repeat: Aśvaghoṣa weapon of choice, against hypocrisy and against intolerance, is irony. Thus have I decreed. And to any sanctimonious Buddhist so-and-so, or view-laden Buddhist scholar, who doubts my decree, I can only say, in all humility, "Death to the infidel!"

kā-cid (nom. sg. f.): somebody; one of the women
ājñāpayantī = 3rd pers. sg. nom. sg. f. pres. part. causative ā- √ jñā: to order , command , direct ; to assure
iva: like, as if

provāca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra- √ vac: to proclaim , announce , praise , commend , mention , teach , impart , explain ; to speak , say , tell (with acc. , rarely dat. of person , and acc. of thing)
ārdrānulepanā (nom. sg. f.): moist with body-oils
ārdra: ( √ard, to dissolve) wet , moist , damp ; fresh , not dry , succulent , green (as a plant) , living ; soft , tender , full of feeling , warm ; loose, flacid ; n. fresh ginger ; n. dampness , moisture
anulepana: n. anointing the body: unguent so used ; oily or emollient application
anulepa: m. unction , anointing , bedaubing
lepana: n. the act of smearing , anointing , plastering , spreading on ; ointment , plaster , mortar (ifc. = smeared or plastered with) ; flesh, meat ; m. olibanum , incense

iha: ind. in this place , here ; in this world
bhaktim (acc. sg.): f. distribution , partition , separation; division by streaks or lines ; a streak , line , variegated decoration; f. attachment , devotion , fondness for , devotion to (with loc. , gen. or ifc.) , trust , homage , worship , piety , faith or love or devotion (as a religious principle or means of salvation , together with karman , " works " , and jñāna , " spiritual knowledge ")
kuruṣva = 2nd pers. sg. imperative kṛ: to do, make
iti: “...,” thus

hastam (acc. sg.): m. the hand (ifc. = " holding in or by the hand " ; haste √ kṛ [as two words] , " to take into the hand " , " get possession of " ; haste- √ kṛ [as a comp.] , " to take by the hand , marry " ; śatru-hastaṁ √ gam , " to fall into the hand of the enemy ")
saṁśliṣya = abs. saṁ- √ śliṣ: to stick or attach one's self to (acc.) ; to clasp , embrace ; to bring into close contact or immediate connection with (instr.)
√ śliṣ: to adhere , attach , cling to ; to clasp , embrace ; to unite , join (trans. or intrans.)
lipsayā (inst. sg.): f. (fr. desid. labh) the desire to gain , wish to acquire or obtain , longing for (loc. or comp.)
labh: to take , seize , catch ; catch sight of , meet with , find ; to gain possession of , obtain , receive , conceive , get , receive ; to gain the power of (doing anything) , succeed in , be permitted or allowed to ; to perceive , know , understand , learn , find out
[EHJ:] hasta-saṁśleṣa-lipsayā (inst. sg. f.): with the desire to obtain connection via the hand / longing to win the touch of his hand
saṁśleṣa: m. junction , union , connection , close contact with (instr. or comp.) ; embracing , an embrace


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