Wednesday, January 16, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.46: Mission Impossible?

cūta-yaṣṭyā samāśliṣṭo dśyatāṁ tilaka-drumaḥ |
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śukla-vāsā iva naraḥ striyā pītāṅga-rāgayā || 4.46

Witness the tilaka tree, 

Being closely embraced by the mango's branch,

Like a white-robed man

By a woman whose limbs are coated in scented yellow cosmetics.

Today's verse, as I read it, brings to mind the old Russian proverb: Married men live longer, but want to die more often.

Creditably unembarrassed about explaining the obvious, PO notes: Mango blossoms are golden in color. Tilaka (Clerodendrum phlomoides) is a medium-sized tree with white flowers. The poet imagines the two gold- and white-flowered trees embracing each other.

Mango flowers:

I applaud PO's note but think that at the same time the buddha-ancestor also secretly had another situation in mind.

In search of such secret meaning, we are required to understand dṛśyatām to mean, as in yesterday's verse, not so much “Let it be seen” as “Let it be realized” or “Let it be understood.”

And I think the situation Aśvaghoṣa is inviting us to understand is a concrete and particular situation, not like a golden full moon in a black night sky, but more akin to a white crescent moon in a blue afternoon sky (as I happened to witness yesterday, cycling through the park).

The situation is that of a bloke who is endeavouring to follow the Buddha's teaching within the context of family life, or within the context of married life, or at least within the context of being in a relationship with a woman.

The reference to the white robe, which used to be worn by lay practitioners, 
echoes this one in Saundara-nanda Canto 10:
In various colourless hues, or else white; beautifully illuminated with golden dividing lines; /Beyond the weaving together of strands, being nothing but a unity; are the exquisite robes that trees there bear as fruit. // SN10.22 //
So, whereas the ostensible point of today's verse is to the suggest the allure of a real sexual relationship, in which a woman who has just finished bathing and applying scented cosmetics, is draping herself around one's limbs and trunk, the real point of today's verse might be to cause a Zen practitioner to see, or consider, or understand what difficulties entanglement in a sexual relationship really involves.

In Shobogenzo, Dogen quotes Nāgārjuna's teaching on whether it is possible for a lay practitioner fully to realize the truth of the Buddha's teaching. It is not impossible, Nāgārjuna asserts – but it might be even more difficult.

That being so, what is being preached in today's verse, as I read it, is nothing more prescriptive than dṛśyatām: let it be seen, let it be witnessed, let it be experienced, let it be realized, let it be understood. In other words,  pay as much attention as you like to anybody else's views and opinions, but in the end there might be nothing for it but to work it out for yourself.

Work it out:
(Jap: KU-FU. Ch: Kung-fu)

The online Japanese dictionary gives 功夫 as “dedication to spiritual improvement (esp. through Zen meditation).”

And yet Dogen asked rhetorically at the very beginning of his rules of sitting-Zen for everybody, since enlightenment originally is all around,

“Why bother working out?”
"Why bother dedicating oneself to spiritual improvement (esp. through Zen meditation)?"

On the face of it, Dogen's position with regard to 功夫 makes no sense. How come he both vigorously advocates and at the same time negates the whole point of this effort he called 功夫?

The answer suggested by today's verse might be dṛśyatām – let it be realized, each working it out for himself or herself. 

cūta-yaṣṭyā (inst. sg. f.): the wand of a mango tree
cūta: m. the mango tree
yaṣṭī f = yaṣṭi: n. a staff , stick , wand , rod , mace , club , cudgel ; a stalk , stem , branch , twig ; (ifc.) anything thin or slender ; a thread , string (esp. of pearls); any creeping plant
samāśliṣṭaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. closely embraced , firmly attached
saṁ- √ śliṣ: to stick or attach one's self to (acc.) ; to clasp , embrace ; to bring into close contact or immediate connection with (instr.)

dṛśyatām = 3rd pers. sg. passive imperative dṛś: to see, behold, consider ; to see with the mind , learn , understand
tilaka-drumaḥ (nom. sg. m.): tilaka tree
tilaka: m. Clerodendrum phlomoides (Symplocos racemosa L. )
druma: m. a tree

śukla-vāsāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. = śukla-vastra: wearing a white robe ; dressed in white clothes
śukla: mfn. bright , light; white
vāsas: n. cloth , clothes , dress , a garment
iva: like
naraḥ (nom. sg.): m. a man

striyā (inst. sg.): f. a woman
pītāṅga-rāgayā (inst. sg. f.): coloured with yellow body-paint
pītāṅga: m. 'yellow-limbed,' a kind of frog
pīta: mfn. yellow (the colour of the vaiśyas , white being that of the Brahmans , red that of the kṣatriyas , and black that of the śūdras)
áṅga-rāga: m. application of unguents or cosmetics to the body (especially after bathing) ; scented cosmetic
aṅga: n. a limb of the body ; the body ; any subdivision , a supplement ; anything inferior or secondary , anything immaterial or unessential ; (in the drama) the whole of the subordinate characters ; an expedient ; a mental organ , the mind
aṅga-tā: f. a state of subordination or dependance , the being of secondary importance , the being unessential
rāga: m. (fr. √ rañj ; ifc. ā , or ī) the act of colouring or dyeing
√ rañj: to be dyed or coloured , to redden , grow red , glow ; colour , hue , tint , dye , (esp.) red colour , redness

[No corresponding Chinese]

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