Thursday, January 3, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.33: Scarcely Observable Flashes

muhur-muhur-mada-vyāja-srasta-nīlāṁśukāparā |
ālakṣya-rasanā reje sphurad-vidyud-iva kṣapā || 4.33

A different girl, as she repeatedly simulated intoxication,

And let her dark blue robe, made of fine cloth, slip down,

Showed scarcely observable glimmers of sensibility,

Like a night lit by lightning, in flashes.

In the 1st pāda of today's verse I think Aśvaghoṣa's secret intention was to describe his own creative work as the repeated simulation of intoxication/inspiration  a line of poetry inevitably being the representation of the teaching rather than the teaching itself.  A parallel in Saundara-nanda could be verse SN10.20, where trees producing garlands (mālāḥ) and wreaths (srajaḥ), seem to symbolize poets producing verse in the metres known as mālā and sraj:
There one by one, season by season, and moment by moment, trees convey their individual form; / While some odd ones (anye) also bring out the combined manifold glory of all six seasons. // SN10.19 // Some produce garlands (mālāḥ) and wreaths (srajaḥ) which are fragrant and affecting, with variously interwoven strands, / And small round creations suited to the ear which are akin to earrings' opponents. // SN10.20 //

In the 2nd pāda of today's verse, I think that aparā, “a different girl,” means the same as anyā in SN10.19 above. Aśvaghoṣa uses anya and apara not only to mean “another one” but also to point to an individual who is odd, different, non-. That the subject of today's verse repeatedly let her robe slip down can be understood in the spirit of Dogen's famous remark that his life felt like the making of one mistake after another. As a matter of fact, anybody who has ever done a prostration wearing a traditionally-sewn robe worn in the traditional way, with one corner tucked in over the left shoulder, knows that this corner does tend repeatedly to slip off the shoulder.

In the 3rd pāda, the Old Nepalese manuscript has ālakṣya-rasanā, as does EBC, who translated “with her tongue visible.” (“Another, with her blue garments continually slipping down in pretended intoxication, stood conspicuous with her tongue visible like the night with its lightning flashing.”) EHJ doubtless felt, with some justification, that EBC's tongue was sticking out like a sore thumb, and so he amended ālakṣya-rasanā to ālakṣya-raśanā, and translated as “with her girdle partly seen.”

Before it means tongue, however, rasana means “tasting” and hence “sensing” and “being sensible.” So I think that ostensibly the 3rd pāda means that the girl was doing such a good job of pretending to be drunk that her true sensibility/sobriety was barely perceptible. But what Aśvaghoṣa is really interested in is the Buddha's teaching of the instantaneous appearance and disappearance of the universe, according to which sensibility/awareness can only ever be instantaneous flickers, even though we experience it as continuous. We feel it to be continuous because we are unable to observe the duration of a moment. The duration of a moment of the present, Dogen wrote, probably using a dash of poetic license, has only ever been known by the Buddha himself.

The 4th pāda, then, can be read as a metaphor that challenges our general notion of what a buddha's enlightenment might be like – not so much eternal sunshine, the suggestion seems to be, as intermittent flashes in the dark.

Around December 25th it is easy to think about past Christmases, and in the New Year one tends to look ahead to the year one supposes will come, but today's verse as I read it is intended to bring us back to intermittent flashing of moments of the present, for it is only in such moments that stuff actually happens  or, on a good day, stuff is prevented from happening. 

muhur-muhur: ind. now and again , at one moment and at another , again and again
mada-vyāja-srasta-nīlāṁśukā (nom. sg. f.): her dark-blue upper garment slipping off, under the pretext of intoxication
mada: m. hilarity , rapture , excitement , inspiration , intoxication
vyāja: m. deceit , fraud , deception , semblance , appearance , imitation , disguise , pretext , pretence (ibc. " treacherously , falsely " , also = ifc. " having only the appearance of , appearing as , simulated , deceitful , false ")

srasta: mfn. fallen , dropped , slipped off , fallen from (abl. or comp.); loosened , relaxed , hanging down , pendent , pendulous ; separated , disjoined
nīla: mfn. n. of a dark colour , (esp.) dark-blue or dark-green or black ; m. the Indian fig-tree ; m. an ox or bull of a dark colour
aṁśuka: n. cloth ; fine or white cloth , muslin; garment , upper garment
aparā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. other, another; different

ālakṣya-rasanā (nom. sg. f.): her sensibility being barely observable ; with barely perceptible flickers of sensibility
ālakṣya-raśanā (nom. sg. f.): having her girdle/light just visible
ālakṣya: mfn. to be observed , visible , apparent; mfn. scarcely visible , just visible
ā-√lakṣ : to descry , behold , see
√lakṣ: to perceive , observe; recognize
rasana: n. tasting , taste , flavour , savour ; n. the tongue as organ of taste ; n. the being sensible of (anything) , perception , apprehension , sense
raśanā: f. a rope , cord , strap ; rein, bridle ; girth , girdle , zone (esp. of woman) (also fig. applied to the fingers); a ray of light , beam ; the tongue (w.r. for rasanā) ; (ifc.) girt by , dependent on
reje = 3rd pers. sg. perf. raj: to reign , be king or chief , rule over (gen.) , direct , govern (acc.); to be illustrious or resplendent , shine , glitter ; to appear as or like (iva)

sphurad-vidyut (nom. sg. f.): with her lightning flashing
sphurat: mfn. trembling , shaking &c
sphur: to spurn ; to dart , bound , rebound , spring ; to tremble , throb , quiver , palpitate , twitch (as the nerves of the arm ); struggle ; to flash , glitter , gleam , glisten , twinkle , sparkle ; to shine , be brilliant or distinguished ; to break forth , burst out plainly or visibly , start into view , be evident or manifest , become displayed or expanded
vidyut: mfn. flashing , shining , glittering ; f. lightning (rarely n.) , a flashing thunderbolt (as the weapon of the maruts) ; f. the dawn
iva: like
kṣapā (nom. sg.): f. night

[No corresponding Chinese] 

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