Sunday, February 17, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.78: Never Too Old?

yayātiś-caiva rājarṣir-vayasy-api vinirgate |
viśvācyāpsarasā sārdhaṁ reme caitra-rathe vane || 4.78

There again, the royal seer Yayāti,

Though his best years were behind him,

Enjoyed a romp in Citra-ratha's woods

With the celestial nymph Viśvāci.

The last three verses in Udāyin's list relate sexual love to aging (4.78), dying (4.79) and unspecified ruin of the loving subject (4.80). In some sense, then, they mirror the response of the prince, who points out that the gorgeous young objects of sexual love are also subject to aging, dying and ruined health.

Today's verse relates to aging because the lunar King Yayāti, so the story goes, was unfaithful to his wife, whereupon her father cursed him to age prematurely. Yayāti then offered to trade his kingdom with any of his five sons who might be prepared to pay for it with their youth. Four sons declined but the fifth son, Puru, agreed to Yayāti's bargain and became the King's successor and sixth monarch of the lunar race. Aśvaghoṣa refers favourably to the sons of Yayāti (presumably the four sons who did not crave the throne) in the opening canto of Saundara-nanda:

Those equals of Indra took charge of that city with noble ardour but without arrogance; /And they thus took on forever the fragrance of honour, like the celebrated sons of Yayāti. // SN1.59 //
Aśvaghoṣa again refers to Yayāti in Canto 11, seemingly affirming the clarity with which Yayāti, having used his renewed youthfulness to indulge in sensual pleasures for a thousand years, eventually recognized the fault in his own former thinking:

Bhūri-dyumna and Yayāti and other excellent kings, / Having bought heaven by their actions, gave it up again, after that karma ran out -- // SN11.46 //
According to the Wikipedia entry on Yayāti, when he realized the futility of pursuing sensual pleasures, he said:
 "Know this for certain, ... not all the food, wealth and women of the world can appease the lust of a single man of uncontrolled senses. Craving for sense-pleasures is not removed but aggravated by indulgence even as ghee poured into fire increases it....One who aspires for peace and happiness should instantly renounce craving and seek that which neither grows old, nor ceases even when the body ages."
Udāyin, then, seems to be suggesting that one is never too old to enjoy a romp in the woods with a heavenly young woman. But the irony in the background, which would not have been lost on anybody who knew the story of Yayāti, was that Yayāti himself came to a different conclusion – namely that one is never too old to give up craving and all the faulty habits of thought, feeling, and action that come in the train of craving. 

This is why Yayāti, along with his sons, are a rare example of ancient Indian heroes who were also celebrated in the Buddha's lineage. Aśvaghoṣa saw Yayāti's four sons as having the fragrance of honour because, even if they wouldn't have minded being king and enjoying all the prestige, and wealth, and status, and power, and concubines, that went with that position, their desire was not so strong as to make them willing to give up their youth in order to get that position. They were not slaves to political craving. And Yayāti himself, even if it did take him a thousand years, finally came around to seeing the futility of craving sensual pleasures.

The ultimate teaching of the Buddha at the end of the Buddha's life, as recorded by Dogen at the end of Shobogenzo and at the end of Dogen's life, is 少欲 (Jap: SHO-YOKU) small desire and 知足 (Jap: CHI-SOKU) knowing satisfaction. 

Studying Aśvaghoṣa's Sanskrit record of the Buddha's teaching, we can know that what the Buddha actually said was, or was something close to, alpecchu, having small desire, and saṁtuṣṭa, being quite satisfied or contented.

The parinirvāṇa, or complete extinction [of craving], upon which the prince will shortly set his sights (parinirvāṇa-vidhau matiṁ cakāra; BC5.25), then, does not mean having no desire. It might rather describe a state of sincerely looking forward to breakfast.

Alpecchu, having small desire.
Saṁtuṣṭa, being contented.


yayātiḥ (nom. sg.): m. (prob. fr. √ yat) N. of a celebrated monarch of the lunar race (son of king nahuṣa whom he succeeded ; from his two wives came the two lines of the lunar race)
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
rājarṣiḥ (nom. sg. m.): royal seer, king-seer

vayasi (loc. sg.): n. enjoyment ; energy (both bodily and mental) , strength , health , vigour , power , might; vigorous age , youth , prime of life
api: even, though
vinirgate (loc. sg. n.): mfn. gone out
vi-nir-√gam: , to go out or away , depart

viśvācyā (inst. sg.): f. (fr. viśva [all] + añc [directed towards]) universal ; N. of an apsaras
apsarasā (inst. sg.): f. apsaras, celestial nymph
sārdham: ind. jointly , together , along with , with (instr.)

reme = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ram: to play or sport , dally ; to enjoy one's self , be pleased or delighted
caitrarathe (loc. sg. n.): mfn. treating of the gandharva citra-ratha ; n. (with or without vana) the grove of kubera cultivated by the gandharva citra-ratha
vane (loc. sg.): n. a forest , wood , grove

[No corresponding Chinese] 


gniz said...


How simple do you think it really is?

This is not a trick question :)

Mike Cross said...

Hi Aaron,

If you are suggesting that really it is simple, I totally disagree with your view.

gniz said...

I don't know if I was suggesting (maybe I was). I really did want your opinion, so thanks for that.

I suppose, if I'm being honest, I can't say anything has been simple for me. I've been at it for over a decade and many times it has felt harder and more complex than anything I could ever imagine.

On another level, there seems to be a simplicity involved when I'm actually engaged in it on a visceral level.

A baby walking is doing a complex series of movements and there is a lot involved (you know more about this area than me). However, once the baby walks, and then becomes older and walks even more fluidly, it seems effortless.

Perhaps that is what I am getting at (but really, it is just a theory and not a "view" at all). As such, I'm sure it's far from correct.

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

Mike Cross said...

Dear Aaron,

Speaking from bitter experience, the most excellent theory in the world does not make for a simple life, any more than sexual and financial greed or vaulting personal ambition do.

It may be wise to be careful what we wish for.

gniz said...

Agreed, Mike. My mind loves to come up with theories and explanations for things, even as I tell myself that no theory can ever do justice to the thing it tries to account for.

Mostly, I just like to hear myself talk. I enjoy it, I seem to want to engage with people like yourself on these topics.

However, what I truly get from your words, I think--maybe--is the spirit behind your words. The discipline of your every day approach is always what has drawn me back. The same discipline I sense in my teacher.

It is the spirit behind the words that I feel appreciation for, more so than any explanation I've been given or come up with on my own.

gniz said...

BTW, I came up with a new theory there, didn't I?

It just never ends...and the joke is on me.