Thursday, January 10, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.40: How to Stop an Elephant

apayāntaṁ tathaivānyā babandhur-mālya-dāmabhiḥ |
¦⏑⏑⏑−¦¦⏑⏑−⏑¦⏑−⏑−   navipulā
kāś-cit-sākṣepa-madhurair-jaghur-vacanāṅkuśaiḥ || 4.40

Different ones in the same vein, as he wandered away,

Held him back with daisy chains;

While some girls stopped him in his tracks

With the elephant hooks of sweet words, barbed with irony.

Today's verse seems to contain confirmation that what Aśvaghoṣa had in mind with yesterday's verse was tactics that particular teachers have used in their effort to nurture the growth of particular students.

For an account of how one such teacher caused one student to tie himself to the tethering post of restraint, and how teacher guided student with the elephant-hook of ironic words, we have Aśvaghoṣa's own record in Saundara-nanda.

Thus for words that were sweet music to Nanda's ears, but by which the Buddha did not really mean what he seemed to Nanda to mean, we need look no further than the end of Canto 10:

"Embrace firmness, shake off indecision, get a grip of hearing and of heart, and listen! / If you desire these women practise now the utmost asceticism to pay their price. // SN10.59 // For these women are conquered neither by force nor by service, neither by gifts nor by good looks; / They are mastered just by dharma-conduct. If aroused, practise dharma diligently. // 10.60 // Perching here in heaven with gods; delightful forests; ageless women -- / Such is the fruit of your own pure action. It is not conferred by another; nor is it without cause. // 10.61 // Through strenuous efforts on earth -- drawing a bow and suchlike -- a man may sometimes win women, or else he may not; / But what is certain is that, through his practice of dharma here and now, these women in heaven can belong to a man of meritorious action. // 10.62 // So delight in restraint, being attentive and ready, if you desire to secure the apsarases, / And I guarantee that, insofar as you persist in your observance, you certainly shall be one with them." // SN10.63 //
Taken in by the Buddha's use of irony, Nanda readily tethers himself, without recourse to metal chains:
And so, having gazed upon those women who wander in the Gladdening Gardens of Nandana, / Nanda tethered the fickle and unruly mind to a tethering post of restraint. // SN11.1 //
Despite having been deceived in this manner, the awakened Nanda in the end expresses nothing but gratitude for the Buddha's use of tactics which caused Nanda the utmost pain but which ultimately turned him around and led him in the right direction:
For while being dragged, by ignoble physicality, down a path pregnant with suffering, / I was turned back by the hook of his words, like an elephant in musk by a driver's hook. // SN17.64 //
The irony in Aśvaghoṣa's own words, then, in the present series of verses, is that ostensibly the girls are the lustful ones and the prince is the balanced one; but when we understand the real symbolism of these verses, it may be possible to understand that the girls represent enlightened buddhas, and in describing their actions Aśvaghoṣa is considering how different enlightened buddhas use different strokes (aka “skillful means”) for teaching different unenlightened folks.

But lest the metaphor of the elephant controlled by the direct means of chains and hook, is misunderstood, I think it should be emphasized that (1) Nanda was a particular type of practitioner; namely, the type who is not strongly motivated from within and who is therefore liable to walk away unless motivated from without; (2) the means by which the Buddha motivated and controlled Nanda, and the means alluded to in today's verse, are indirect means.

Real elephants are restrained by the direct means of strong metal chains, and are trained by the direct means of an elephant hook or ankus. When elephants went into war in ancient times, I remember reading somewhere, their drivers would sit astride the elephant's neck somewhere in the region of the atlanto-occipital joint, and in the worst case scenario if the elephant became totally out of control and was wreaking havoc on its own side, the spike of the ankus would be driven with a mallet into the elephant's brainstem. So that would be the most direct and effective way of stopping an elephant in its tracks, but the collateral damage involved in the gaining of the end of stopping the elephant would be the death of the elephant.

Gaining of ends by direct means often involves collateral damage, whether the end in view is the stopping of an elephant in its tracks or the achievement of "right posture" as conceived by some idiot. 

In today's verse, as I read it, daisy chains represent means which are not direct but indirect  because no daisy chain, nor even garland rope (if we translate mālya-dāmabhiḥ more strictly literally as “with garland ropes”) could be strong enough to restrain a real elephant directly. Nor could any words, however skillful the speaker's rhetoric.

The point is that the skillful means used by a buddha to guide others in the right direction are invariably indirect means.

The point is that when macho Zen teachers teach others to pursue right posture by direct means – like pulling in the chin to straighten the neck bones – there might be something for those Zen warriors to study under girls with daisy chains. 

apayāntam apa- √ yā: to go away , depart , retire
apa-: ind. (as a prefix to nouns and verbs , expresses) away , off , back
√yā: to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey ; to go away , withdraw , retire ; to flee , escape
tathaiva: ind. in just the same way, exactly so
anyāḥ (nom. pl. f.): others; different women

babandhur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. bandh: to bind , tie , fix , fasten , chain , fetter ; to arrest , hold back , restrain , suppress , stop , shut , close ; to punish , chastise
mālya-dāmabhiḥ (inst. pl.) with garland-ropes
mālya: n. a wreath , garland , chaplet ; n. a flower
dāman: n. string , cord , rope , fetter ; chaplet , wreath , garland for forehead

kāś-cit (nom. pl. f.): some women
sākṣepa-madhuraiḥ (inst. pl.): reproachful and sweet
sākṣepa: mfn. containing an objection or limitation ; conveying reproach or irony , taunting
sa-: (possessive prefix)
ā- √ kṣip: to throw down upon (loc.) or towards (dat.); to strike with a bolt ; to convulse , cause to tremble ; to point to , refer to , hint , indicate ; to refuse , object to (acc.) ; to insult , deride ; to challenge, call to dispute
madhura: mfn. sweet , pleasant , charming , delightful ; mellifluous; m. sweetness ; n. the quality of the throat which makes the voice sweet ; n. sweetness , syrup , treacle

jagṛhur = 3rd pers. pl. perf grah: to seize; to arrest, stop ; to catch , take captive ; to lay the hand on , claim
vacanāṅkuśaiḥ (inst. pl.): with speech-hooks; with the elephant-hooks of their words
vacana: n. the act of speaking , utterance ; speech , sentence , word ; n. advice , instruction , direction , order , command
aṅkuśa: mn. a hook , especially an elephant-driver's hook

或爲貫瓔珞 或有扶抱身
[Relation with Sanskrit tenuous] 

No comments: