Saturday, February 9, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.70: Tact & Delicacy

dākṣiṇyam-auṣadhaṁ strīṇāṁ dākṣiṇyaṁ bhūṣaṇaṁ param |
dākṣiṇya-rahitaṁ rūpaṁ niṣpuṣpam-iva kānanam || 4.70

For women, tact and delicacy are medicine;

Tact and delicacy are the highest adornment;

Beautiful form without tact and delicacy

Is like a garden without flowers.

In general puṣpa means (1) flower, but the dictionary states that in drama it also means (2) gallantry, politeness, declaration of love. So today's verse may include a play on that double meaning.

In any event, a more fundamental double-meaning once again centres on the ambiguity of the genitive form strīnam, “for women” (as also in 4.67 and 4.68), which allows women to be understood as either the objects to which men should show dākṣiṇyam or as the subjects who themselves may possess dākṣiṇyam.

The former meaning is the ostensible meaning, in which case dākṣiṇyam might most naturally be translated as “gallantry” or perhaps as “good manners” or “courtesy” or “graciousness”; but I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention was that we should also dig out and consider the latter meaning, in which case dākṣiṇyam might be better understood as an expression of dexterity, or skill, or attentive consideration of means, or tactfulness, or – in the final analysis, for a woman or a man seated alone on a round black cushion – as an expression of delicacy of movement.

Dākṣiṇyam is derived from from dakṣiṇa, which indicates right-handedness, and hence dexterity or skillfulness. As a translation that preserves the original ambiguity, I considered “graciousness,” one of whose definitions is marked by tact and delicacy. Then, having slept on it, I realized that “tact and delicacy” might be the closest I could get, to both the ostensible and the hidden meaning of dākṣiṇyam.

I will change the translation of the 3rd pāda of 4.69 accordingly (“With tact and delicacy that befit such a beautiful form”). I may also go back and change the translation of a-dākṣiṇyam in 4.66 (from “unchivalrous” to “tactless”).

Though admittedly my judgement is biased by a load of bitter experience, I read today's verse as a criticism of the attitude – so common in Japan – which places form above content.

By neatly arranging a nicely-sewn robe, through judicious use of professional lighting, and by straightening himself up into what looks from the outside like “a good sitting posture” any unenlightened old bloke can make himself look in a photograph something like what people expect a Zen master to look like. If he is good with words, or by keeping his mouth shut in mock noble silence, he may be able to make himself sound like a Zen master to boot. But if he lacks real understanding of the delicacy of movement which is at the centre of what Dogen called “the subtle method which is supreme and free of doing" (最上 無為の妙 術SAIJO MU-I NO MYO-JUTSU) what is the point of all that dressing up?

To say it with all due tact and delicacy, there is fuck all point in all that dressing up.

Dogen wrote:
for a long time
having studied under a fake elephant
do not doubt a real dragon.

I'm not trying to say that I am the real dragon. I am bearing witness to the fact that I studied for a long time under a fake elephant – a fake elephant who conned me when I was a gullible young bloke, a fake elephant who wrote a book called “To Meet the Real Dragon.”

You couldn't make it up.

dākṣiṇyam (nom. sg.): n. dexterity , skill , officiousness , gallantry , kindness , consideration , piety
dakṣiṇa: m. the right (hand or arm) ; mfn. able , clever , dexterous ; right (not left) ; straightforward , candid , sincere , pleasing , compliant
auṣadham (nom. sg.): n. herbs collectively , a herb ; n. herbs used in medicine , simples , a medicament , drug , medicine in general
strīṇām (gen. pl.): f. women

dākṣiṇyam (nom. sg.): n. dexterity , skill , officiousness , gallantry , kindness , consideration , piety
bhūṣaṇam (nom. sg. n.): embellishment , ornament , decoration
param (nom. sg. n.): mfn. best or worst , highest , supreme

dākṣiṇya-rahitam (nom. sg. n.): without gallantry
rahita: mfn. deserted by , separated or free from , deprived or void or destitute of (instr. or comp.)
rūpam (nom. sg.): n. outward appearance, handsome form, beauty

niṣpuṣpam (nom. sg. n.): without flowers
puṣpa: n. flower ; (in dram.) gallantry , politeness , declaration of love
iva: like
kānanam (nom. sg.): n. (said to be fr. √kan, to be pleased) a forest , grove

順女心爲樂 順爲莊嚴具
若人離於順 如樹無花果


Rich said...

Sorry about your fake elephant experience. Read that dragon book many years ago and thought it was pretty good but don't remember too much. Its hard to accept that the dragon I fear is me.

an3drew said...

the problem is no-one with any sense would claim to teach

so those who teach are problematic !

Mike Cross said...

Sounds like you have read somebody's view on the Buddha-nature, Rich, and accepted it like a gullible sap even without verifying anything in your own experience. In my book that makes you a true Buddhist, aka follower of fake elephants. I know whereof I speak.

Your view, an3drew, is falsified by even one example of one who claimed to teach. Did you ever hear, for example, of one called Gautama?

an3drew said...

reply to mike

Rich said...

I don't care about buddhism, I only care about now. If you think that reason and intuition are the same then some of your previous rants make sense. I've always distinquished between them with reason being a form of conscious thinking and intuition a form of just doing or wisdom.

Mike Cross said...

Caring about now is a typical form of trying to be right.

I tell the Alexander pupils who I claim to teach:

Don't care about being present.
Be present to caring.

The point, Rich, is not to care. But if we care, we care.

If you care about now, that is a fact, and you have my sympathy. But it is nothing for you to boast about.

Rich said...

Very good. You sound like the real dragon.

Mike Cross said...

Fuck off and bother somebody else.

From now on I won't be publishing your comments, so don't bother submitting them.