Sunday, January 27, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.57: A Spoonful of Mirror Medicine

nūnam-etā na paśyanti kasya-cid roga-saṁplavam |
tathā hṣṭā bhayaṁ tyaktvā jagati vyādhi-dharmiṇi || 4.57

Surely they fail to foresee

Anybody finishing with dis-ease,

So joyful are they, having set fear aside,

In a world that is subject to disease.

Again, there are broadly two ways of reading today's verse – (1) as the sincere thought of a young man whose mind is resolutely set on gaining enlightenment, as opposed to having fun; and (2) as the mistaken thinking of an agitated mind.

A translation that invites both readings is rendered more difficult by the ambiguity of roga-saṁplavam. Firstly, the roga in roga-saṁplavam could mean illness in the usual sense of the kind of infirmity that is inevitably part of human life, or could mean the kind of dis-ease or dis-order from which sitting-zen may liberate us, or could even mean the kind of momentous reverse to which BC3.42 seems to refer:
Then spoke the leader who was in the same chariot as him: “O gentle moon-like man! Stemming originally from excitement of primitive elements and now far advanced / Is the momentous reverse, known as a breakdown (roga), that has rendered even this strong man helpless.”//BC3.42//
In the latter meaning, a breakdown suggests a crisis or shock that causes us to give up views and attachments that were previously obstructing us from seeing the truth as it is. (I suffered one of those in 1997, but when it comes to giving up views and attachments, nobody could call me a quick worker! All the evidence points to me being an exceptionally stubborn and bloody-minded person, who is fond of repeating the same mistakes over and over again.) 

Secondly, the saṁplavam in roga-saṁplavam could mean “submersion in” (hence EBC: “any one's plunge into disease”; EHJ: “anyone overwhelmed by illness”; PO: “a man by sickness oppressed”), and could mean “the ending of.”

So what is it that the prince thinks the women fail to see? What is he accusing them of being blind to?

In reading (1) the girls just want to have fun, and so they idle their time away in frivolous play, disregarding danger, as if they were blithely unaware of the problem of sickness. In that case, the prince is accurately reflecting on the ostensible truth that these sensual playgirls are blind to anybody's submersion in sickness.

In reading (2) the mirror principle is operating, so that the prince is accusing the girls of not seeing that which he himself is unable to see, namely, how the problem of dis-order or dis-ease might be solved. The prince is accusing the girls, in other words, of not foreseeing the ending of dis-ease. For the present, the prince does not know, but he is of the as-yet unexamined view that the solution might lie in ascetic practice.

I think reading (2) is the reading Aśvaghoṣa really intended us to dig for, in which case, working backwards from the 4th pāda, a world that is subject to disease means this real world in which we all are living;
in the 3rd pāda, girls who are truly joyful, having set aside or sloughed off fear, might be ones who are truly awake, or truly free from the unconscious pull of fear reflexes, i.e. buddhas;
in the 2nd pāda, “finishing with dis-ease” does not necessarily mean dying of a terminal illness, but might rather mean attaining nirvāna or realizing enlightenment; and so,
in the 1st pāda, when the prince exclaims that the girls surely do not foresee any such eventuality, the prince might be dead wrong. On the contrary, from the girls in 4.31 and 4.32 who said “Let the secret be revealed!” and “Perform the act of devotion here!” through the girl in 4.37 who said “You are cheating yourself!” to the girl with her nose in a blue lotus who had the last word on men who think themselves wise, it may be that most or all of the girls had their eyes on the prize of somebody's nirvāna, to be realized in the first instance by the breaking down or dismantling of conceited and deluded views, beginning with asceticism.

nūnam: ind. now, just ; (esp. in later lang.) certainly , assuredly , indeed
etāḥ (nom. pl. f.): these [women]
na: not
paśyanti = 3rd pers. pl. paś: to see (with na " to be blind ") , behold , look at , observe , perceive , notice ; to be a spectator , look on ; (also with sādhu) to have insight or discernment ; to consider , think over , examine ; to foresee
kasya-cid (gen. sg.): of anybody
roga-saṁplavam (acc. sg. m.): inundation by disease; origin/end of disease ;
roga: m. ( √ruj) " breaking up of strength " , disease , infirmity , sickness
saṁplava: m. flowing together , meeting or swelling (of waters) , flood , deluge ; a dense mass , heap , multitude; conglomeration , taking a form or shape , rise , origin ; submersion by water , destruction , ruin ; end , close of (comp.)

tathā: ind. like that, in such a manner, so
hṛṣṭāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. thrilling with rapture , rejoiced , pleased , glad , merry
bhayam (acc. sg.): n. fear , alarm dread apprehension ; sg. and pl. terror , dismay , danger , peril , distress ; m. sickness , disease
tyaktvā = abs. tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit ; to set aside , leave unnoticed , disregard

jagati (loc. sg.): n. the world , esp. this world , earth
vyādhi-dharmiṇi (loc. sg. n.): subject to disease
vyādhi: m. disorder , disease , ailment , sickness , plague (esp. leprosy)
dharmin: mfn. knowing or obeying the law ; endowed with any characteristic mark or peculiar property ; (ifc.) following the laws or duties of , having the rights or attributes or peculiarities of, having anything as a characteristic mark , subject to any state or condition

當思老病死 晝夜勤勗勵

1 comment:

Rich said...

"Surely they fail to foresee

Anybody finishing with dis-ease,

So joyful are they, having set fear aside,

In a world that is subject to disease."

You are never finished with dis-ease and you always have to set fear aside in a world that is subject to disease over and over again.