Tuesday, January 8, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.38: Serious Fun

śubhena vadanenānyā bhrū-kārmuka-vikarṣiṇā |
prāvtyānucakārāsya ceṣṭitaṁ dhīra-līlayā || 4.38

A different girl, with a bright countenance,

The bows of her eyebrows being spread wide apart,

Put on his manner and did what he did –

Playfully replicating his seriousness
[and having fun, with gravity].

Some in soothing tones; some with tough talk, / Some by both these means, he the trainer trained. // SN13.3 //
Just as, for a disorder of bile, phlegm, or wind -- for whatever disorder of the humours has manifested the symptoms of disease -- / A doctor prescribes a course of treatment to cure that very disorder; so did the Buddha prescribe for the faults: // SN16.69 /
If, though they are being shaken off, a trace persists of unhelpful thoughts, / One should resort to different tasks, such as study or physical work, as a means of consigning those thoughts to oblivion. // SN16.77 //
In the 1st pāda of today's verse, as I read it, Aśvaghoṣa is once again highlighting the primacy of the individual, and the principle of versatility and flexibility in working on the self and in teaching. If the attitude of the tough-talking girl in the previous verse – as she generously gave the gift of negative feedback – was somewhat challenging and fault-finding, the girl in today's verse, being a different individual (anyā), is accentuating the positive.

In the practice of non-doing, all the best directions cannot be done. Anybody can move their head forwards and downwards, but release of the head forwards and upwards is nothing that can be done. The same applies for the direction “back to lengthen and widen”: I may be able to do some lengthening at the expense of widening, or vice versa, but to lengthen AND widen is an undoing, which by definition cannot be done.

The 2nd pāda, as I read it, expresses brightness of countenance in the concrete terms of just such an undoable direction. It is as easy to narrow the eyebrows as it is to stiffen the neck and pull the head back, or to hold the breath. But to un-narrow the eyebrows is nothing that can be done. If one wishes one's eyebrows to widen apart, the first step might be to check that one is not unconsciously narrowing the eyebrows, and if one is, then to stop. A further step might be to think something conducive to continued movement in the direction which is opposite to the narrowing of the eyebrows....  maybe a joke? Maybe a joke like appropriating a rhetorical term for a maiden's playful imitation of her lover, and using it to describe the most serious thing in the world.

The 3rd pāda features a construction that, as EHJ points out in his footnote, occurs twice in Saundara-nanda; namely, anu-√kṛ (to follow in doing) with a genitive object:
Wishing to test their mettle among the elephants and big cats, / They emulated the god-like deeds of the forest-dwelling son of Duṣyanta  (anucakrur-vanasthasya dauṣmanter-deva-karmaṇaḥ). // SN1.36 // 
Then, surely, when she hears of your steadfast mind with its chariots turned back from sundry objects, / Your wife following your example (tavānukurvatī) will also talk, to women at home, the talk of dispassion. // SN18.59 //
In today's verse the construction is anucakārāsya, and the ostensible meaning is that a courtesan aped the prince's actions, as part of her game of playful imitation. But what I think Aśvaghoṣa has in mind is his own actions, and the actions of others like him, who did what the Buddha did – e.g. shaved their head, wore a traditionally-sewn robe, and sat with legs crossed for long periods on a round black cushion.

In that case, dhīra-līlayā in the 4th pāda, though on the surface it describes a silly girl's playful imitation of the serious man she has in her sights, might really be intended to touch upon a paradox that Marjory Barlow expressed as follows:

“It is the most serious thing in the world, this work, but you mustn't take it seriously.”

The essence of what Marjory called “this work” has to do with going up, or opposing gravity. But this is not achieved by being serious and heavy about it. A wiser course is to oppose the force of gravity with a force of levity. And this is what today's verse, as I read it, is all about.

The literal meaning of dhīra-līlayā is (1) “in serious/steadfast play.” And since līlā sometimes means “a maiden's playful imitation of her lover,” the ostensible meaning of dhīra-līlayā in today's verse is (2) “while she playfully imitated his seriousness/steadfastness.” But the reality that Aśvaghoṣa has in mind is (3) the paradoxical  [serious/playful]   [sincere/ironic]  [straight/indirect]  reality of sitting-meditation, wherein a buddha rediscovers lightness by dealing with gravity.

A perfectly elegant translation might cover these three bases, as Aśvaghoṣa did, in two or three words and no square brackets. So far the best I can do – somewhat in the manner of a miner trying to make a golden ornament with his pick-axe and shovel – is nine words and two square brackets.

śubhena (inst. sg. n.): mfn. splendid , bright , beautiful
vadanena (inst. sg.): n. the act of speaking ; the mouth , face , countenance
anyā (nom. sg. f.): another woman; a different woman

bhrū-kārmuka-vikarṣiṇā (inst. sg. n.): the bows of the eyebrows being widely drawn
bhrū: f. an eyebrow , the brow
kārmuka: n. a bow; n. a geometrical arc; rainbow
vikarṣin: mfn. causing violent and acute pain in the limbs ; ear-distracting , shrill (as a sound)
vi- √ kṛṣ: to draw apart ; to bend (a bow) , draw (a bowstring) ; to widen, extend

prāvṛtya = abs. prā- √ vṛ : to cover , veil , conceal ; to put on , dress one's self in (acc. , rarely instr.)
anucakāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. anu- √ kṛ: to do afterwards , to follow in doing ; to imitate , copy
asya (gen. sg.): his

ceṣṭitam (acc. sg.): n. moving any limb , gesture ; n. doing , action , behaviour , manner of life
dhīra-līlayā (inst. sg.): in/with serious play/fun;
dhīra: mfn. steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave ; m. the ocean , sea (as an image of constancy?)
līlā: f. play , sport , diversion , amusement , pastime ; mere sport or play , child's play , ease or facility in doing anything ; mere appearance , semblance , pretence , disguise , sham ; (in rhet.) a maiden's playful imitation of her lover

[No corresponding Chinese] 

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