Monday, February 18, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.79: Happiness Born of Desire, Ending in Death

strī-saṁsargaṁ vināśāntaṁ pāṇḍur-jñātvāpi kauravaḥ |
mādrī-rūpa-guṇākṣiptaḥ siṣeve kāma-jaṁ sukham || 4.79

'The Pale' Pāṇḍu, a king in the Kuru line,

Knew that intercourse with his wife would end in death

And yet, bowled over by Mādrī's beautiful attributes,

He indulged in pleasure born of desire.

Nanda's rendering in Saundara-nanda Canto 7 of the story of how Pāṇḍu finally failed to resist the charms of his wife Mādrī, is as follows:
And Pāṇḍu 'The Pale One' having been cursed by Passion to die on coupling with a woman, / Went nonetheless with Mādrī: he heeded not the death that would result from the great seer's curse, when he tasted what he was forbidden to taste. // SN7.45 //
The background to the story involves the beautiful and manipulative Kālī/Satyavatī mentioned in BC4.76. After her brief encounter with 'The Crusher' Parāśara had left her pregnant with her first son Vyāsa, she went back to helping her father work as a ferryman across the Yamunā river, where one day she attracted the eye of Śāntanu, king of the Kurus. She became Śāntanu's queen and bore him two sons. When the older of these sons died, the younger one, named Vicitra-vīrya, took the throne,with Kālī pulling the strings as the power behind the throne. Vicitra-vīrya married two princesses – Ambālikā and her older sister Ambikā – but before he managed to get either princess pregnant,  Vicitra-vīrya also died. Kālī then persuaded Vyāsa, her son by Parāśara, to see if he could provide a successor to the Kuru throne.

While Vyāsa was endeavoring to impregnate the older queen, Ambikā, according to this version of the story recorded in Wikipedia, she noticed his dark appearance [which presumably he had inherited from his mother  Kālī means black] and closed her eyes. Vyāsa declared to Kālī that due to such cruelty towards him, Ambikā's son would be born blind. Kālī considered that such an heir would be an unworthy king, and so she asked Vyāsa also to father a child by her younger daughter-in-law, Ambālikā. During this liaison, this version of the story goes, Ambālikā fell pale due to Vyāsa's grim appearance. Vyāsa then predicted to his mother that Ambālikā's baby would be born pale. Vyāsa's prediction came true, and so the baby was named Pāṇḍu, 'Pale.'

When in due course he became the Kuru king, Pāṇḍu married the princess Mādrī along with another princess named Kuntī. While out hunting in the woods Pāṇḍu accidentally shot the sage Kindama while the latter had taken the form of a deer and was mating with a doe. The wounded sage Kindama placed a curse on Pāṇḍu to the effect that he would die if he ever again had sex. Pāṇḍu then remorsefully renounced his kingdom and lived with his wives as a celibate ascetic. After fifteen years of ascetic celibacy, however, when his second wife Kuntī was away, Pāṇḍu was irresistibly drawn to his first wife Mādrī, and so fulfilled the sage's curse and died.

What has any of this got anything to do with what we are primarily interested in?

When we ask that question, the wording of the 4th pāda might be worthy of further consideration. On the surface siṣeve kāma-jaṁ sukham means “he yielded to the pleasures of love” (EBC), or “he gave himself up to the pleasures of love” (EHJ), or “he gave in to the pleasure of sex” (PO).

Kāma, from the root √kam (to wish, desire), originally means wish, desire, longing. But kāma is also used to refer in particular to love, especially sexual love or sensuality – as in the Kāma-sūtra, the famous treatise on sexual love attributed to Vātsyāyana. 

In the Buddha's teaching of small desire quoted yesterday alpecchu = alpa (small) + icchu (wishing, desiring), from the root √iṣ (to endeavour to obtain, seek; to desire, wish; to intend).

So as words √kam and √iṣ are different. One might say that √kam suggests a more physical kind of desire, whereas √iṣ suggests something more mental, like wishing.

But from the standpoint of the reality which is utterly indifferent to words, how many kinds of desire are there?

Does the desire (√kam) to have sex arise from an energy which is fundamentally different from the energy that fuels the wish (√iṣ) to work on a Sanskrit-English translation of an ancient text? Is it possible to desire (√kam) too strongly to get on with translation work – so strongly that I become irritated or angered by anything that might get in the way? And is it possible to wish (√iṣ) to have sex, but not so greedily that it can't wait until tomorrow, or next week, or next month?

I think that when the 2nd law of thermodynamics demands that energy dissipates, unless prevented from doing so by activation energy barriers, the 2nd law is not the slightest bit interested in the distinctions the dictionary might draw between desire and wishing. The human urge to go in any direction, whether that urge is a small desire, or a strong wish, or a strong desire, or a moderate wish, is dependent on what chemists call “activation energy barriers.” Activation energy barriers are what prevents everything just flowing down the drain. Activation energy barriers make life possible, make organic growth possible, make photo-synthesis possible, make sex possible, make sitting possible, make human desire possible, and make possible conscious direction of that desire. 

That being so, between the sheets there can be realization of happiness as the fulfillment of romantic wishing. And on a round black cushion there can be indulgence in pleasure that is born of a physical desire to be alone by the forest.

The irony in Udāyin's words in today's verse, then, might be that the words he uses to describe Pāṇḍu's indulgence in the pleasure of sex also fit perfectly well as a description of what the Buddha indulged in under the bodhi-tree – that happiness/ease/pleasure which is born of desire (kāma-jaṁ sukham).

Why did the ultimate teaching of the Buddha, on the night before he died, begin with the words alpecchu “small desire”? Simply because the Buddha knew that ultimate happiness is born of desire.

The Buddha never said that ultimate happiness is born of no desire. The Buddha said that ultimate happiness is born of small desire.

In conclusion, then, I venture to submit that the happiness of just sitting, though it must inevitably end in death, is in every instance kāma-jaṁ sukham, “happiness born of desire.”

Was Aśvaghoṣa himself aware of both the meanings discussed above of siṣeve kāma-jaṁ sukham? I would bet my bottom dollar he was.

strī-saṁsargam (acc. sg. m.): intercourse with a woman/his wife
strī: f. a woman , female , wife
saṁsarga: m. mixture or union together , commixture , blending , conjunction , connection , contact , association , society , sexual union , intercourse with
vināśāntam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. ending in death
vināśa: m. utter loss , annihilation , perdition , destruction , decay , death , removal
anta: m. end

pāṇḍuḥ (nom. sg.): m. 'the Pale,' N. of a son of vyāsa by the wife of vicitra-vīrya and brother of dhṛta-rāṣṭra and vidura (he was father of the five pāṇḍavas)
jñātvā = abs. jñā: to know (acc.)
api: even, though
kauravaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. relating or belonging to the kurus
kuru: m. pl. N. of a people of India and of their country; N. of the ancestor of the kurus (son of saṁvaraṇa and tapatī , daughter of the sun ; kuru is the ancestor of both pāṇḍu and dhṛta-rāṣṭra , though the patronymic derived from his name is usually applied only to the sons of the latter , the sons and descendants of the former being called pāṇḍavas)

mādrī-rūpa-guṇākṣiptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): transported by Mādrī's beautiful attributes
mādrī: f. " princess of the Madras " , N. of the second wife of pāṇḍu and mother of the twins nakula and sahadeva (who were really the sons of the aśvins)
rūpa: n. any outward appearance or phenomenon or colour (often pl.) , form , shape , figure; handsome form, beauty
guṇa: m. a quality , peculiarity , attribute or property; good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
ākṣipta: mfn. cast , thrown down; thrown on the beach (by the sea) ; caught , seized , overcome (as the mind , citta , cetas or -hridaya) by beauty , curiosity , &c , charmed , transported

siṣeve = 3rd pers. sg. perf. sev: to remain or stay at , live in , frequent , haunt , inhabit , resort to (acc.) ; to enjoy sexually , have sexual intercourse with (acc.) ; to devote or apply one's self to , cultivate , study , practise , use , employ , perform , do
kāma-jam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. produced or caused by passion or desire , arising from lust
sukham (acc. sg.): n. ease , comfort , pleasure , happiness

[No corresponding Chinese] 

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