Monday, January 28, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.58: Ambiguity, in Play & Laughter

anabhijñāś-ca su-vyaktaṁ mtyoḥ sarvāpahāriṇaḥ |
tathā svasthā nirudvignāḥ krīḍanti ca hasanti ca || 4.58

Evidently, again, they are ignorant

Of the death that sweeps all away,

So easy in themselves are they, as, unstirred,

They play and laugh.

Today's verse invites analysis along exactly the same lines as yesterday's verse.

In reading (1) mṛtyoḥ sarvāpahāriṇaḥ means what we should fear – all-plundering death, robber of life itself – and so sva-stha describes how only a fool would be in the face of all-plundering death – smugly self-assured.

In reading (2) mṛtyoḥ sarvāpahāriṇaḥ means what we are working towards in working on the self – the dropping off of body and mind and the losing of our own body and life. In that case,  sva-stha might describe how a buddha is when sitting in full lotus – totally at ease in his or her own skin.

Again, therefore, if we follow the latter reading, the prince in accusing the girls of ignorance is acting according to the mirror principle, trying to externalize the struggle that is going on in his own agitated mind.

This morning on the radio I heard a discussion of Price & Prejudice which Jane Austen apparently wrote as a romantic youth and then revised in her late 30s, with a certain detached irony. As a result, fans of the book, it was reported (I have never read the book), love it for the ambiguity that runs through it.

That kind of ambiguity has so far largely been missed, or totally been missed, by scholars in the west who have studied Aśvaghoṣa's writing, because they approach the Buddha's teaching as if it were an idealistic path, rather than wisdom born of real experience. 

In the 4th pāda of today's verse, for example, what did Aśvaghoṣa have in mind with the words krīḍanti “they play” and hasanti “they laugh”? 

By krīḍ, to play, I think he had in mind being released from the grim determination of the striver and having fun with gravity (dhīra-līlayā) – as per 4.38. 

By has, to laugh or smile, I think Aśvaghoṣa might have had in mind the action of anybody who sees in his writing the gap between the ostensible meaning and his subversive hidden meaning.

Buddhist scholars opine that Aśvaghoṣa was particularly interested in the problem of religious conversion. I beg strongly to differ. 

When so-called Buddhists speak of kindness and compassion with bitter minds, when self-styled Zen masters and eminent Buddhist scholars offer to others words that they think are wise, but which are just full of lying and conceit, these people in their efforts to be right are manifesting the very essence of wrongness, the acme of falsity. 

In order to understand the ambiguity that runs through Aśvaghoṣa's writing, I venture, it might be necessary to appreciate this irony whereby trying to be right makes deluded people wrong. Only then does the original teaching of the Buddha, and the order in which he set it out, start to make sense. 

Not to do anything wrong or false,
To allow all that is true or good or real, 
Each purifying his or her own mind -- 
This is the teaching of the buddhas. 

an-abhijñāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. unacquainted with , ignorant
abhijña: mfn. knowing , skilful , clever ; understanding , conversant with (gen. or ifc.)
ca: and
su-vyaktam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. very clear or bright ; very plain or distinct or manifest

mṛtyoḥ (gen. sg.): m. death , dying
sarvāpahāriṇaḥ (gen. sg. m.): all-plundering
sarva: all
apa-hārin: mfn. one who takes away , seizes , steals , &c ; a plunderer, thief
apa- √ hṛ: to snatch away , carry off , plunder ; to remove , throw away

tathā: ind. like this, like that
svasthāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. self-abiding , being in one's self (or " in the self " Sarvad. ), being in one's natural state , being one's self uninjured , unmolested , contented , doing well , sound well , healthy (in body and mind) , comfortable , at ease
nirudvignāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. unexcited , sedate , calm

krīḍanti = 3rd pers. pl. krīḍ: to play , sport , amuse one's self , frolic , gambol , dally ; to jest, joke with
ca: and
hasanti = 3rd pers. pl. has: to smile, laugh
ca: and

鋒刃臨其頸 如何猶嬉笑

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