Tuesday, January 29, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.59: No Laughing Matter?

jarāṁ vyādhiṁ ca mtyuṁ ca ko hi jānan sa-cetanaḥ |
svasthas-tiṣṭhen niṣīded-vā suped-vā kiṁ punar-haset || 4.59

For what man in touch with his reason,

Who knows aging, sickness and death,

Could stand or sit at ease,

Or lie down – far less laugh?

In the 4th pāda I have followed EBC in retaining suped-vā as per the original manuscripts, taking supet as an irregular form of svap, to sleep or lie down. EHJ considered amending either to śayed or to svaped, both of which are irregular too, and in the end preferred śayed, from śī, to lie down.

After preparing the translation of today's verse yesterday morning, I sat for half an hour and went for a cycle ride during which I pondered the whole business of how seriously to take things, and composed a ditty by which I actually caused myself to laugh as I was cycling along...

Aspiring buddhas I have seen
Reflected in the silver screen.
Gaylord Focker's who I mean.
Basil Fawlty. Mr. Bean.

Work on the self  in the direction of (1) mature development, or aging, (2) understanding the problem of faulty sensory appreciation, or sickness, and (3) forgetting oneself, or dying – may be the most important thing in the world, but it is not to be taken seriously.

Yesterday afternoon, however, I received the following email titled: "Shobogenzo access?"

I have been hoping to access your and Nishijima-roshi's Shobogenzo, but
the links I have are not working, I was wondering if there's a new link
or some other way to access them:


This email left me with that old sinking feeling that tends to be stimulated by anything that has to do with the Shobogenzo translation and its publication....

A delusion to be countered by coming back to appreciation of cause and effect? 
A manifestation of anger whose antidote might be an act of kindness? 
An unconscious reaction whose opposite is a conscious act of waking up – like moving a leg as Marjory Barlow taught me to do, or like swaying from side to side at the beginning of sitting?

Yes, probably all of the above. 

But while I was pondering these various possibilities in a po-faced manner, what had happened to the latitude by which earlier in the day I had fancied myself able to chuckle at the Basil Fawlty in me?

Therein, truly, might be the joke. The real humour is to be found, always, in the gap between how we aspire to be and how we actually are.

Thus Basil, who fancies himself as a distinguished hotelier catering to a superior class of guests, is reduced to giving his recalcitrant Mini a good thrashing with a windfallen branch.

And thus the po-faced prince in today's verse, burdened by a serious will to enlightenment, is asking a rhetorical question which seems to criticize those who know aging, sickness and death and who in all their daily actions remain at ease in themselves, with the latitude to laugh at all things and matters. While aspiring to buddhahood, in short, the prince might be criticizing buddhas. Aśvaghoṣa's joke might be on him.

Understanding today's verse like this, if we try to see the funny side, and force a smile, the joke is on us. By the means of such trying, we turn ourselves into the fake elephants at whom buddhas laugh. It may be better, like Basil thrashing his Mini, or like Kodo Sawaki describing himself as Masu-O, the King of Masturbation, to be as miserable and deluded as we really are, having given up every kind of lofty pretension.

jarām (acc. sg.): f. old age, aging, growing old
vyādhim (acc. sg.): m. disorder , disease , ailment , sickness , plague
ca: and
mṛtyum (acc. sg.): m. death, dying
ca: and

kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who?
hi: for
jānat = nom. sg. m. pres. part. jñā: to know
sa-cetanaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having reason or consciousness or feeling , sentient , sensible , animate , rational

svasthaḥ (nom. sg. m.): 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
tiṣṭhet = 3rd pers. sg. optative sthā: to stand , stand firmly
niṣīdet = 3rd pers. sg. optative niṣad: to sit or lie down or rest upon
vā: or
supet = (irregular form) 3rd pers. sg. optative svap: to sleep, fall asleep ; to lie down
śayet = (irregular form) 3rd pers. sg. optative śī: to lie , lie down , recline , rest , repose ; to lie down to sleep , fall asleep , sleep

vā: or
kiṁ punar: ind. how much more? how much less?
haset = 3rd pers. sg. optative has: to laugh

見他老病死 不知自觀察
[Relation to Sanskrit tenuous] 


Rich said...

For what man in touch with his reason,

Who knows aging, sickness and death,

Could stand or sit at ease,

Or lie down – far less laugh?

This one, a very unreasonable man.

Mike Cross said...

Being unreasonable is not it, Rich.

There is a saying in Japanese: AHO KARA DAMARE!

Loosely translated it, it means "You do not understand yet. So keep quiet!"

Please keep quiet until tomorrow and I will endeavor to explain, in connection with tomorrow's verse, why being unreasonable is not it.