Friday, January 4, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.34: Screening Misuse of the Hips with a Robe

kāś-cit-kanaka-kāñcībhir-mukharābhir-itas-tataḥ |
babhramur-darśayantyo 'sya śroṇīs-tanv-aṁśukāvtāḥ || 4.34

Some women wobbled from here to there,

Their golden girdle-trinkets tinkling noisily,

As they exhibited to him swaying hips

Thinly veiled by a robe of fine cloth.

Today's verse is another one which ostensibly describes the seductive movements of sexy courtesans but which below the surface describes the movements of Zen practitioners.

The difference is that the girls in today's verse are not demonstrating enlightened behaviour. On the contrary, they are demonstrating the essence of unenlightened behaviour, as already discussed in Buddhacarita Canto 3 under the heading “barging about,” viz:
With the banging of feet on platform steps, with jingling of girdles and jangling of anklets, / They sent congregations of house sparrows fluttering, and each derided the others for their haste. //BC3.15 //
And again:
“This, for sentient creatures, is a certain conclusion, and yet the world barges heedlessly about, disregarding danger.” (BC3.61)
See also, for example, comments on this verse from Saundara-nanda Canto 6. 

So while today's verse ostensibly describes the seductive swaying of women's hips, Aśvaghoṣa's ironic intention might be to let some of us see ourselves in his description, and possibly to have a chuckle at this depiction of the kind of faulty behaviour that is rooted in our own end-gaining. 

The juxtaposition of today's verse and yesterday's verse thus makes perfect sense, insofar as discussion of the duration of a moment easily encourages in the unenlightened mind the delusory tendency to try to be more present (speaking here from very recent experience).

“Don't end-gain to be present! Be present to your end-gaining!” I once encouraged a pupil during an Alexander lesson.

It is the old story of the mote and the beam.

Thus, in light of the mirror principle, I should perhaps tread carefully when wishing to point out faults in the teaching of Zen teachers. Or carelessly just run with it.

When Zen teachers in Europe in the lineage of Taisen Deshimaru talk about pushing the ground with the knees they have totally misunderstood how to use the legs in relation to the back when sitting in lotus. Sitting-zen as transmitted to Dogen (though not always as transmitted from Dogen) is a practice of non-doing, or spontaneity (無為 Jap: MU-I).

When teachers taught by Deshimaru teach, as also my teacher Gudo Nishijima taught, that we should do this and that in order to maintain correct posture, they are full of shit. They are liable to be full of shit quite literally, since trying to push the ground with the knees in a doing way is bound to be associated with interference with the natural functioning of the digestive system.

“Pushing the ground with the knees” is a totally wrong direction which has a disastrous effect on the natural relation between the pelvis/lower back and legs, so that the backside sticks out unduly, both in sitting and in walking.

Since, along with the false direction to push down to the ground with the knees and up to the sky with the head, Deshimaru transmitted great reverence for the traditionally-sewn robe, however, Zen practitioners in his lineage are able to use the robe as a kind of curtain to screen their misuse of the hips in sitting. Thanks to their uniform, some of them look quite impressive. But beneath the veil of their "o-kesa," they are liable to be a mess. 

Did such craziness also exist in Aśvaghoṣa's day? I guess it must have done. Because I venture to suggest that using clothing to thinly veil underlying misuse of the self is just what Aśvaghoṣa, subversively, is alluding to in today's verse.

kāś-cit (nom. pl. f.): some women
kanaka-kāñcībhiḥ (inst. pl. f.): with golden girdles
kanaka: n. gold
kāñcī f. (fr. √kac ; cf. kāñci) a girdle (especially a woman's zone or girdle furnished with small bells and other ornaments

mukharābhiḥ (inst. pl. f.): mfn. (fr. mukha, mouth) talkative , garrulous , loquacious (said also of birds and bees) ; noisy , tinkling (as an anklet &c )
itas-tataḥ: ind. from here to there

babhramur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. bhram: to wander or roam about , rove , ramble ; to move to and fro or unsteadily , flicker , flutter , reel , totter
darśayantyaḥ = nom. pl. f. pres. part. causative dṛś: to cause to see or be seen , to show a thing (A1. esp. of something belonging to one's self) or person ; to show = prove , demonstrate
asya (gen. sg.): of/for him

śroṇīḥ (acc. pl.): f. the hip and loins , buttocks
tanv-aṁśukāvṛtāḥ (acc. p. f.): overspread with fine cloth
tanu: mfn. thin , slender , attenuated , emaciated , small , little , minute , delicate , fine
aṁśuka: n. cloth ; fine or white cloth , muslin ; garment
āvṛta: mfn. covered , concealed , hid ; screened; enclosed , encompassed , surrounded (by a ditch , wall , &c ) ; overspread

[No corresponding Chinese] 

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