Monday, January 14, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.44: Upward, Outward... Cuckoos Keep Cuckooing

paśya bhartaś-citaṁ cūtaṁ kusumair-madhu-gandhibhiḥ |
hema-pañjara-ruddho vā kokilo yatra kūjati || 4.44

"Observe, master, the mango tree

Covered with honey-scented blossoms

Where, as if confined in a golden cage,

The cuckoo keeps on calling.

In today's verse Aśvaghoṣa is turning the wheel of the Buddha's dharma. In every verse Aśvaghoṣa is turning the wheel of the Buddha's dharma. That being so, the 1st pāda is saying, in other words: Observe, how real a fruit tree is.

This morning I got up very early with a head-ache. It had snowed in the night, so that the combination of the quietness of the night and my head-ache made the clock sound very loud...

tick, tock;
tick, tock;
tick, tock.

After some time, under the influence of the 2nd pāda of today's verse, the clock's ticks and tocks seemed to be saying...

up, out;
up, out;
up, out.

A fruit tree in spring is a very conspicuous manifestation of the tree's direction of its energy, as it takes energy from the sun and grows, up and out, up and out, until fragrant blossoms open up and temporarily cover the tree in gold... and then, inevitably, drop off. 

The 3rd pāda of today's verse relates to the principle of knowing what within oneself requires to be suppressed, or inhibited, or confined. That principle includes, as I understand it, keeping the gap closed between what I practise and what I preach. This, in turn, involves (a) being conscientuous almost to the point of an obsessive compulsive disorder about sitting four times a day, (b) being very reticent to preach anything else. 

The 3rd pāda of today's verse expresses the 3rd noble truth, the truth of inhibition, as something beautiful and valuable, like a golden cage. The word that expresses the cuckoo's state of containment in the golden cage is ruddha, past participle of the root √rudh, which means to obstruct, stop, restrain or confine. The 3rd noble truth, when it is expressed as nirodha-satya, or the truth of confinement/stopping/cessation, is from this same root, √rudh.

In the two verses of Saundara-nanda in which the Buddha most concisely summarizes the four noble truths, he uses not the word nirodha (confinement/stopping) but the words śānti (peace/cessation; SN3.12) and kṣaya (destruction/termination/cessation):
This is suffering; this is the tangled mass of causes producing it; / This is cessation (śāntir-iyam); and here is a means. (SN3.12).
This is suffering, which is constant and akin to trouble; this is the cause of suffering, akin to starting it; / This is cessation of suffering, akin to walking away (duḥkha-kṣayo niḥsaraṇātmako 'yaṃ). And this, akin to a refuge, is a peaceable path. // SN16.4 //
Later in Canto 16, however, the Buddha is quoted as using the word nirodha in the sense of stopping or confinement:
For he who knows suffering as it really is, who knows its starting and its stopping: (yāthātmyato vindati yo hi duḥkhaṃ tasyodbhavaṃ tasya ca yo nirodham) It is he who reaches peace by the noble path -- going along with friends in the good. // SN16.39 //

The 4th pāda of today's verse, like the 4th line of a poem by Tendo Nyojo quoted in Shobogenzo Chap. 50, Shoho-jisso, All Dharmas are Real Form, points to an ineffable reality that could be witnessed in northern India around 500 BC, that could also be witnessed in China around 1200 CE, and that I have been fortunate enough to witness in several springs and summers since 2000, while sitting by a forest in northern France.

I think one reason the call of a cuckoo is evoked, in today's verse as in Master Tendo's verse below, is that the call of a cuckoo tends to be both beautiful and persistent...

There are calves on Tendo mountain tonight,
And golden-faced Gautama is manifesting real form.
If we wanted to buy it, how could we afford the impossible price?
The cry of a cuckoo above a lonely cloud.

paśya = 2nd pers. sg. imperative paś: to see , behold , look at , observe , perceive , notice
bhartaḥ (voc. sg.): m. one who bears; a preserver , protector , maintainer , chief , lord , master ; a husband
citam (acc. sg. m.): : mfn. piled up , heaped ; forming a mass (hair) ; covered
cūtam (acc. sg.): m. the mango tree

kusumaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. a flower , blossom
madhu-gandhibhiḥ (inst. pl.): honey-scented ; sweet-smelling
madhu: mfn. sweet , delicious , pleasant , charming , delightful ; n. anything sweet (esp. if liquid) , mead &c ; n. honey
gandha: m. smell ; a fragrant substance , fragrance , scent , perfume (generally used in pl. ; in comp. = " fragrant "
mádhu-gandhika: mfn. sweet-smelling

hema-pañjara-ruddhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): held in a golden cage
hema: n. gold
pañjara: n. a cage , aviary , dove-cot , net
ruddha: mfn. obstructed , checked , stopped , suppressed , kept back , withheld
rudh: to obstruct , check , arrest , stop , restrain , prevent , keep back , withhold ; to shut , lock up , confine in (loc.) ;
nirodha: m. confinement , locking up , imprisonment ; restraint , check , control , suppression , destruction ; (with Buddh. ) suppression or annihilation of pain (one of the 4 principles)
vā: ind. as , like (= iva)

kokilaḥ (nom. sg.): m. cuckoo
yatra: ind. where
kūjati = 3rd pers. sg. kūj: to make any inarticulate or monotonous sound , utter a cry (as a bird) , coo (as a pigeon) , caw (as a crow) , warble ,

[No corresponding Chinese]


an3drew said...

your translations january the 14th to the 9th are very good !

you have hit something there : o)

migraine sucks, i find blood donation helps to get down iron levels (assuming you are not vegetarian)

my write up on donating blood !

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for the encouragement.

I don't get migraines, at least not so far -- I think it was a dose of the winter vomiting bug. Spent the morning in bed, intermittently yelling out to my old friend ROGER (ROOOOOOOJJJJJEEEEER!!!); hence the late posting.

Made up for lost time on the zafu in the afternoon and evening, however.

jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

In the interests of all things right and proper... The metrical representation of the first four syllables (paśya bhartaś[c]) is missing a '−'. It should show:


shouldn't it?

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Malcolm.

Possibly the missing - was one that flew over the cuckoo's nest?

Or attention deficit on my part!