Sunday, January 13, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.43: Words Rendered Indistinct by Intoxication

atha lolekṣaṇā kā-cij-jighrantī nīlam-utpalam |
kiṁ-cin-mada-kalair-vākyair-npātmajam-abhāṣata || 4.43

Then a girl with avid eyes,

Who was smelling the flower of a blue lotus,

Said, with words that intoxication rendered somewhat indistinct,

To the one begotten out of the selves of protectors of men:

The coming series of verses, through to 4.52, will be filled with words rendered somewhat indistinct by intoxication/inspiration (kiṁ-cin-mada-kalair-vākyaih), just like the words of today's verse, and yesterday's verse, and many verses before that.

The words of the inspired poet Aśvaghoṣa are not direct, and not to be taken at face value, and not subject to definitive interpretation, any more than the meaning of a dream is open to definitive interpretation.

If this canto of Buddha-carita were taken at face value, its content could be taken as offensive to women, since on the surface the women are being portrayed as a collection of bimbos whose function is mainly decorative.

I think that would be a mistake. Thus, when the girl in today's verse is described as lolekṣaṇā, or “having rolling eyes,” the image that is easily conjured is of a giddy little thing intoxicated by the scent of blue lotuses and by her own romantic thoughts and feelings, rolling her eyes to spur the prince on.

EHJ adds a footnote in which he quotes an Indian commentator who goes further along those lines:
Rashivadekar observes that she smells the blue lotus to indicate that it is proper to enjoy brunettes [sic], impregnated with the perfume of youth, and that her eyes are rolling to spur the prince on.
But when we dig deeper and consider what the girl in today's verse might really be intending to say, albeit in words that are filled with shades of hidden meaning and symbolism, and which are therefore not to be taken too literally, then the girl in today's verse may emerge as one whose eyes are not so much rolling unsteadily as moving keenly and quickly in the search of useful sensory input. The woman who is about to speak, that is, may emerge as not necessarily a giddy romantic who believes in eternal love, but on the contrary, as a human being with her eye on fast-moving, ever-changing natural phenomena.

When, in the 2nd pāda of today's verse, she smells a flower, is she inviting others to indulge in sensuality, or is she simply communing with nature while remaining in herself (sva-sthā)? Is she a sensualist wasting time that might otherwise be devoted to practice, or is she a buddha appreciating beauty? 

And what is beauty anyway?

What is beauty? is one of four essential “what is” questions that Aśvaghoṣa is posing us in his two mahā-kāvya, or epic poems, and so far not even the Buddha himself has nailed down the answer to any of those questions. All we have got is pervasive ambiguity, ample use of metaphor, and large doses of irony – in short, words rendered indistinct by intoxication.

What is beauty?
What is happiness?
What is awakening?
And what is action?

The answer is to be found in sitting, but I knew that already before starting to study Aśvaghoṣa. The difficulty in Aśvaghoṣa's poetry is understanding the questions. And it has taken me four years to begin to notice that the above four questions are being posed by his two poem titles.

Saundara-nanda – Beautiful Happiness
Buddha-carita – Awakened Action

If somebody kindly unearths the missing chapters of Buddha-carita and I live long enough to translate them, I would like to publish both translations in one book titled “Beautiful Happiness & Awakened Action” – in that order, I think. Beautiful happiness, for a new-born, might be his or her mother's breast. We leave that beautiful happiness to toddle off, on hands an knees, and then on two feet, in search of awakened action. And awakened action, if we are lucky, brings us toddling back to beautiful happiness.

In the fourth pāda, nṛpātmajam means the prince, who was born into the royal line of the Śākyas. At the same time, the phrase can be read literally as “the one who will be born out of the self of protectors of men,” and as such it can be read as pointing ahead to the prince's destiny, as heir to the dharma of the Seven Ancient Buddhas.

If Rashivadekar, whoever he was, had sensed this latter meaning, he might have thought twice about interpreting what it means to move the eyes and to smell a flower. He might have understood that in seeing the protagonist of today's verse as a mere bimbo, he was running the risk of insulting the 7th protector of men,  namely, Kāśyapa Buddha, in the ancient lineage of seven protectors of men.

atha: ind. an auspicious and inceptive particle (not easily expressed in English) , now , then
lolekṣaṇā (nom. sg. f.): mfn (= lola-nayana) having rolling eyes ; with darting/flitting eyes
lola: mfn. moving hither and thither , shaking , rolling , tossing , dangling , swinging , agitated , unsteady , restless; inconstant, fickle ; desirous , greedy , lustful
īkṣaṇa: n. look, view; eye
kā-cid (nom. sg. f.): somebody ; one woman

jighrantī = nom. sg. f. pres. part. ghrā: to smell , perceive odour; to receive ; to smell at, snuffle at
nīlam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. of a dark colour , (esp.) dark-blue or dark-green or black
utpalam (acc. sg.): n. the blossom of the blue lotus (Nymphaea Caerulea)

kiṁ-cin-mada-kalaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): somewhat indistinct on account of excitement/intoxication
kiṁ-cid: a little, somewhat
mada-kala: mfn. sounding or singing softly or indistinctly (as if intoxicated) ; drunk , intoxicated (with liquor or passion) , ruttish , furious , mad ; m. an elephant
mada: m. hilarity , rapture , excitement , inspiration , intoxication
kala: mfn. indistinct , dumb ; (ifc. , bāṣpa , or aśru preceding) indistinct or inarticulate (on account of tears)
vākyaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. speech , saying , assertion , statement , command , words

nṛpātmajam (acc. sg. m.): the self-begotten of the ruler of men; the prince
abhāṣata = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect bhāṣ: to speak , talk , say , tell ; to announce, declare

或爲安枕席 或傾身密語
[Relation with Sanskrit tenuous]

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