Sunday, February 10, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.71: Subtle Secrets of Zen & Objective Reality

kiṁ vā dākṣiṇya-mātreṇa bhāvenāstu parigrahaḥ |
viṣayān durlabhāṁ-llabdhvā na hy-avajñātum-arhasi || 4.71

Equally, what good are tact and delicacy alone?

Let all be bounded by what is real!

For, having gained objects that are hard to gain,

You should not think light of such.

A very literal translation of the 2nd pāda, bhāvenāstu parigrahaḥ, as I read it, is “Let there be laying hold on all sides by being” or “Let there be dominion by reality.”

An equally literal translation would be “Let there be assistance/acceptance/embracing by real feeling”; hence “But of what use is courtesy by itself? let it [courtesy] be assisted by the heart's feelings” (EBC); “What is the good of courtesy only? Accept them [the women] with genuine feeling (EHJ); “Of what good is just gallantry? Embrace them [the women] with feeling that's true (PO).”

The ostensible meaning of today's verse, then, is Udāyin's exhortation that the prince, when he uses tact and delicacy to win the women over and make love to them, should really really feel the love and should really mean it. In that case, the objects (or sensual pleasures) that are hard to gain are the women in the park (or the pleasures those women promise), and Udāyin is telling the prince not to treat with disdain the women (or the pleasures they promise), as objects.

The contrary way to read today's verse is, again, as an unknowing expression of the Buddha's teaching. In that case the first half of the verse is a negation of idealism in the spirit of “You can't make on omelette without cracking a few eggs.” And the second half of the verse is a reminder that the inhibition of end-gaining impulses and desires is ultimately all for the purpose of gaining real ends and realizing real desires, so we should not think light of the gaining of objects.

A Chinese Zen master who lived on a mountain called (in Japanese) I-san said that he had lived on the mountain for 30 years eating Isan meals and shitting Isan shit but never studying Isan Zen. In today's verse as I read it, objects that are hard to gain correspond to the eating of Isan meals and the shitting of Isan shit, and tact and delicacy corresponds to the studying of Isan Zen.

To put it another way, on the basis of experience on Marjory Barlow's Alexander teaching table, tact and delicacy describe the subtle thinking and imperceptibly delicate movement (“inhibition and direction” in the jargon) that is done preparatory to moving a leg; and gaining an object that is hard to gain describes the actual movement of a leg, with minimal disturbance to the head, neck and back.

Working on the self as Marjory taught it is not only a matter of inhibition and direction. There has to be a stimulus to move followed sooner or preferably later by an actual movement, a real decision to get on and move, as manifested by a movement. As manifested, in other words, by the gaining of a real end. As Marjory once pointedly said to me after a lesson, “It has to be real.”

In a footnote to his translation, EHJ admits “I am doubtful of the correctness of the translation of the first line, though all the translators understand it so.... I should prefer to read the line as a single sentence, 'Just try accepting them with a feeling that does not go beyond courtesy'. But this use of kiṁ vā seems to have no analogies elsewhere and I therefore defer to my predecessors in my rendering.”

PO adds in his own endnote to today's verse that “the Sanskrit is quite unclear.”

To those who don't understand Aśvaghoṣa's pervasive use of irony, his Sanskrit may seem to be unclear; I would say that Aśvaghoṣa's Sanskrit is not at all unclear but is very deliberately ambiguous.

For hundreds of years in the ancient monasteries of Bihar the ostensible and hidden layers of meaning of Aśvaghoṣa's words would have been reflected on and dug out, as above, as a matter of course. But for many hundreds of years since then much of the real meaning of Aśvaghoṣa's words has remained buried – and buried, I suspect, not only figuratively.

As intolerant Islaamists approached those ancient Indian monasteries intent on destruction, how could there have been nobody with the wisdom to bury a manuscript of Buddhacarita out of harm's way?

Just imagine if a quarter of Shakespeare's output were suspected of having been buried somewhere to protect it from continental invaders. Stratford-on-Avon would be riddled with  archaeologists' trenches.

Come on, India. Wake up and get digging!

kim: (interrogative particle, used with instrumental to express negative exhortation)
vā: or
kiṁ vā: ind. whether? or whether? ; or (often a mere particle of interrogation)
dākṣiṇya-mātreṇa (inst. sg.): gallantry alone
mātra: n. the full or simple measure of anything , the whole or totality , the one thing and no more , often = nothing but , entirely , only

bhāvena (inst. sg.): m. becoming , being , existing ; true condition or state , truth , reality ; emotion, love, the seat of the feelings or affections , heart , soul , mind
astu (3rd pers. sg. imperative as): let there be
parigrahaḥ (nom. sg.): m. laying hold of on all sides , surrounding , enclosing , fencing round ; wrapping round ; comprehending , summing up , sum , totality ; taking , accepting ; getting , attaining , acquisition , possession , property (ifc. " being possessed of or furnished with ") ; homage , reverence , grace , favour , help , assistance; dominion , control
pari- √ grah: to take hold of on both sides , embrace , surround , enfold , envelop ; to fence round , hedge round ; to seize , clutch , grasp , catch ; to take possession of , master , overpower ; to take , adopt , conform to , follow

viṣayān (acc. pl.): m. an object of sense; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
durlabhān (acc. pl. m.): mfn. difficult to be obtained or found , hard , scarce , rare ; extraordinary
labdhvā = abs. labh: to take , seize , catch ; catch sight of , meet with , find ; to gain the power of (doing anything) , succeed in ; to gain possession of , obtain

na: not
hi: for
avajñātum = infinitive ava- √ jñā: to disesteem , have a low opinion of , despise , treat with contempt
arhasi (2nd pers. sg. arh): you should

何故應隨順 攝受其事故
已得難得境 勿起輕易想
[Relation to Sanskrit tenuous] 

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