Saturday, January 5, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.35: Hanging Onto a Flowering Mango Branch

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cūta-śākhāṁ kusumitāṁ praghyānyā lalaṁbire |
su-varṇa-kalaśa-prakhyān darśayantyaḥ payodharān || 4.35

Ones who were different held and hung onto

A flowering mango branch,

Causing others to see

Breasts, resembling golden jugs,
which would bear milk.

[Or clouds, set off by the golden pinnacles of stūpas,
which would bear water.]

[[Or containers, resembling golden jars, of the lifeblood.]]

The mango flowers mentioned in the 1st pāda bring to mind four chapters of Master Dogen's Shobogenzo which have flowers in their title, namely: chap. 17, Hokke-ten-hokke (The Flower of Dharma Turns Itself); chap. 42, Kuge (Flowers in Space), chap. 59, Baike (Plum Flowers), and chap. 68 Udonge (The Udumbara Flower).

At the same time, the description of the women as hanging onto a branch brings to mind a story discussed in chap. 67, Soshi-sairai-no-i (The Ancestral Master's Intention in Coming from the West), about a man hanging onto a branch of a tree without using his hands, but only by biting the branch.

These women, then, were different (anyā) not in the sense of being just another group of women. For one thing, they were different from the women described in yesterday's verse as barging noisily about. For another thing they might have been different in the sense of not conforming to anybody's expectation -- in the sense, that is, of being an individual oddball.

Because these women were different, because they were no ordinary women, we are required to look behind the ostensible meaning of Aśvaghoṣa's descriptions of their actions.

The ostensible meaning is as rendered by the following previous translations:
“Others leaned, holding a mango-bough in full flower, displaying their bosoms like golden jars.” (EBC)
“Others grasped mango-boughs in full flower and leaned so as to display bosoms like golden jars.” (EHJ)
“Others, grasping branches of mango in full bloom, bent down to expose breasts resembling golden pots.” (PO)
The hidden meaning is a play on the ambiguity of payo-dharān, which literally means “fluid-bearers” and hence breasts (as containing milk), or clouds (as containing water), or even the women themselves (as containing vital spirit, or the lifeblood).

If payo-dharān in the 4th pāda is understood to mean breasts, then kalaśa in the 3rd pāda is naturally understood to mean jugs or jars, to which women's breasts were compared.

If payo-dharān is understood to mean clouds, then a secondary meaning of kalaśa comes into play, namely: a round pinnacle on the top of a temple (especially the pinnacle crowning a Buddhist caitya or stūpa).

If payo-dharān is understood to mean containers of the lifeblood, then golden jugs or golden jars are being used not only to symbolize beautiful female breasts: golden jugs are being used by Aśvaghoṣa, wickedly and subversively, to symbolize the eleven patriarchs who preceded him, namely:

[Ṣākya-muni (Sage of the Śākyas)]

Mahā-kāśyapa (Great Descendant of Kaśyapa)
Ānanda (Happiness)
Śāṇa-vāsa ([Whetstone?]-Robe)
Upa-gupta (Hidden)
Dītaka (?)
Micchaka (?)
Vasu-mitra (Good Friend)
Buddha-nandi (Joy in Buddha)
Buddha-mitra (Friend of Buddha)
Pārśva (Side)
Puṇya-yaśas (Beauty of Good Work)

[Aśva-ghoṣa (Horse Whinnying)]

 Is Aśva-ghoṣa really suggesting that each of these ancestors was an oddball clinging for dear life onto a flowering mango branch? Or am I reading too much into a description of women leaning on a branch in such a way as to show off their jug-like breasts?

To me, for one, Dogen's Shobogenzo was just a flowering mango branch, and every line of Aśvaghoṣa's poetry is a flower flowering on a flowering mango branch.

I have posed the question in previous comments about why Aśvaghoṣa seems to be concerned almost to the point of obsession with the female breast. Today I have gone some way to answering that question, at least to my own satisfaction.

In the compound payo-dhara, which means both breast and cloud, payas is derived from the root √pī, to drink, and it suggests a fluid that flows, like milk, or water, or lifeblood. And dhara is cognate with dharma, both words being derived from the root √dhṛ, which means to bear.

To Aśvaghoṣa, then, it may have been that the milk-bearing mammalian breast, known in Sanskrit as payo-dhara, “fluid bearer,” was a vivid and real symbol of that which bears the Buddha's lifeblood, the Buddha-dharma.

For Dogen, the Buddha-dharma was just to sit in full lotus – not in a fixed or rigid way, but in a non-doing way (無為) in which spontaneous flow is consciously allowed.

Are the teachings of Aśvaghoṣa and Dogen subtly different, or are they exactly the same?

I think they are exactly the same. At the same time, as a matter of historical fact, Aśvaghoṣa was many generations closer to the original source, and the language he wrote in was much closer to the original language used by the Buddha. 

For the present, anyway, as long as the feeling (delusory though the feeling may be) persists in me that I was betrayed by a Japanese Zen patriarch who turned the original teaching of non-doing into its opposite, I am grateful to have something onto which I can cling for dear life, in the form of this non-Japanese branch of beautiful mango flowers.

Mango flowers may be equally beautiful wherever they bloom, but if one is going to cling for dear life onto a flowering mango branch, then it may be that the closer the branch is to the trunk the better. 

cūta-śākhām (acc. sg. f.): a mango branch
cūta: m. the mango tree
śākhā: f. a branch (lit. and fig.)
kusumitām (acc. sg. f.): mfn. furnished with flowers , in flower

pragṛhya = abs. pra- √ grah : to hold or stretch forth , hold ; to seize , grasp , take hold of , take ; to draw up , tighten (reins) , stop (horses) ; to befriend , favour , further , promote
anyāḥ (nom. pl. f.): others; other of the women; different ones
lalaṁbire = 3rd pers. pl. perf. lamb: to hang down , depend , dangle , hang from or on (loc.) ; to sink , go down , decline , fall , set (as the sun) ; to be fastened or attached to , cling to , hold or rest on (loc.) ; to fall or stay behind , be retarded ; to tag , loiter , delay , tarry

su-varṇa-kalaśa-prakhyān (acc. pl. m.): resembling golden jugs
su-varṇa: mfn.of a good or beautiful colour , brilliant in hue , bright , golden , yellow ; gold , made of gold ; m. a good colour
kalaśa: m. a water-pot , pitcher , jar , dish RV. &c S3ak. Hit. &c (the breasts of a woman are frequently compared to jars); m. a butter-tub , churn ; m. a round pinnacle on the top of a temple (esp. the pinnacle crowning a Buddhist caitya or stūpa)
prakhya: mfn. visible , clear , bright ; f. look , appearance (only ifc. = resembling , like); f. brightness , splendour (only ifc.) ; f. perceptibility , visibility ; f. making manifest , disclosure

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
payo-dharān (acc. pl.): m. " containing water or milk " , a cloud ; a woman's breast or an udder
payas: n. ( √1. pī) any fluid or juice , (esp.) milk , water , rain ; semen virile , (met.) vital spirit , power , strength
√1. pī: to drink
√2. pī: to swell , overflow , be exuberant , abound , increase , grow
√ dhṛ: to hold , bear (also bring forth) , carry , maintain , preserve , keep , possess , have , use , employ , practise

[Relation with Sanskrit tenuous] 

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