Saturday, January 12, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.42: The Teaching of a True Human Being

kā-cit-puruṣavat-ktvā gatiṁ saṁsthānam-eva ca |
uvācainaṁ jitaḥ strībhir-jaya bho pthivīm-imām || 4.42

One girl, acting like a man,

In her way of moving and standing still,

Said to him: “Women have defeated you.

Now you defeat this earth!”

In the last series of five verses, from 4.37 through 4.41, as I have interpreted them, Aśvaghoṣa has turned around the ostensible relationship between the courtesans and the prince, so that if we follow the hidden meaning of each verse, the relationship between girls and prince is that between master and student. (Verses 4.35 and 4.36 can also be read as belonging to the same series; but the girls in 4.34, as I have understood it, are parodies of unenlightened practitioners barging about unskillfully and not enlightened masters using skillful means.)

In today's verse, again, though ostensibly she seems to be flirting with the prince by mimicking the gait and the bearing of a man, and taunting him with some kind of suggestion of women having been on top, the girl who acts like the person she is (puruṣa-vat) can be understood to represent a true human being, a master of herself. When she moves over the earth, as freely as a bird, and when she stands still on the earth, like a tree, she accepts and uses her whole self, and rises to her full height.

In that case, we can understand that when in the 3rd pāda of today's verse she says jitaḥ strībhiḥ (“[You have been] defeated by women”), she is confirming the hidden meaning of the recent series of verses in which the girls have been acting as the masters and the prince has been cast as their student.

The 4th pāda can be read as ushering in the next series of ten verses, from 4.43 through 4.52, which are given over to a girl who implores the prince to look at different species of tree, and then to look at bar-headed geese in a pond, and then to listen to the cries of a cuckoo.

So today's verse, I am suggesting, marks a transition between (1) the former series of verses in which girls represent human teachers whose job it is to defeat a student, by their own beautiful example and through their use of indirect and skillful means, and (2) the coming series of verses in which it is the student's job to defeat or defy mother earth, through his use of his own eyes and ears.

In conclusion, what does it mean to be defeated by women?

I think it means to have been taught by true human beings who have showed up one's faulty sensory appreciation and wrong ways of thinking – as Nanda, for example, is taught by the Buddha in Saundara-nanda.

And what does it mean to defeat this earth?

I think it means to have the power, even if only for odd moments, to defy gravity – consciously and yet naturally and spontaneously, as if holding up a mirror to nature – whether one is moving over the earth like a bird, or growing up out of the earth like a tree.

Finally, lest anybody is too impressed by the sound of the above words, I would like to confess that yesterday was a day in which I felt I talked a good talk but walked a very bad walk. One of my many weak points is that I upset people more than I intend to, not because of being insensitive but on the contrary because of being too sensitive. 

kā-cit (nom. sg. f.): somebody; one woman
puruṣavat: mfn. accompanied by men ; like a man / human being
puruṣa: m. a man , male , human being
-vat: an affix added to words to imply likeness or resemblance
kṛtvā = abs. kṛ: to do, make

gatim (acc. sg.): f. going , moving , gait , deportment , motion in general ; manner or power of going
saṁsthānam (acc. sg.): n. standing still or firm (in a battle) ; n. being , existence , life ; n. shape , form , appearance (often with rūpa) ;
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and

uvāca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vac: to say, speak to
enam (acc. sg. m.): him
jitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. won , acquired , conquered , subdued
strībhiḥ (inst. pl.): f. woman

jaya = 2nd pers. sg. imperative ji: to win or acquire (by conquest or in gambling) , conquer (in battle) ; defeat , excel , surpass ; to be victorious , gain the upper hand
bhoḥ: (fr. bhavas voc. of bhavat) an interjection or voc. particle commonly used in addressing another person or several persons = O! Ho! Hallo! , in soliloquies = alas!
pṛthivīm (acc. sg.): f. the earth or wide world (" the broad and extended One ")
imām (acc. sg. f.): this

[No corresponding Chinese] 

No comments: