Tuesday, February 19, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.80: One Love, In Sickness & Health

karāla-janakaś-caiva htvā brāhmaṇa-kanyakām |
avāpa bhraṁśam apy-evaṁ na tu seje na man-matham || 4.80

And 'the Dreadful Begetter' Karāla-janaka

When he abducted a brahmin maiden,

Though he thus incurred ruin,

Never stopped attaching to his love.

EHJ assumed that the Karāla-janaka referred to in the 1st pāda of today's verse is the Videha king to whom the Buddha-to-be refers in Canto 13, Defeat of Māra:
For if [Māra] succeeds in ovecoming me and expounds to the world the path of final release, then is my realm to-day empty, like that of the Videha king, when he fell from good conduct. (BC13.5; EHJ's translation)
PO notes further that Majjhima Nikāya (11.82) and Jātaka (541) identify Karāla-janaka as the son of Nimi, the king of Mithila; and that Karāla is said to have brought Nimi's royal line to an end.

In the 2nd pāda the various possible translations of hṛtvā (carrying away, abducting) and kanyakām (girl, maiden, daughter) call for comment.

In BC4.76 jagāma, which I translated as “pressed for sex,” might otherwise have been translated – insofar as the root √gam can mean to attack, and depending on where one thinks Udāyin was coming from as – “ravished.” “Ravished” sounds somewhat romantic or poetic, and it is the kind of word that Udāyin might have used, somewhat affirmatively, to describe Parāśara's co-ercive – if non-violent – action. The ancient legend seems to indicate that lusting Parāśara did not in fact rape or ravish Kālī but rather persistently pressed her for sex, to which she eventually consented. To have translated jagāma as “ravished” might therefore have been to do Udāyin an injustice that Aśvaghoṣa did not intend. Or it might have portrayed Udāyin in just the light that Aśvaghoṣa did intend. Since √gam has such a wide range of meanings, the translator into less ambiguous English words is put on the spot. 

Similarly, what is expressed in the 2nd pāda of today's verse by hṛtvā (from the root √hṛ, to carry) could also cover a multitude of sins. Insofar as √hṛ can mean “carry away” in the sense of enrapture, charm, fascinate, hṛtvā brāhmaṇa-kanyakām could conceivably means something as innocent and romantic as “he swept the Brahman's daughter off her feet.” Insofar as √hṛ can mean to take to one's self, appropriate (in a legitimate way), come into possession of, marry, hṛtvā brāhmaṇa-kanyakām might mean something as factual as “he married a Brahman's daughter.” But insofar as √hṛ can mean to take away, carry off, seize, deprive of, steal, rob, hṛtvā brāhmaṇa-kanyakām might means something as sinister as “he abducted a young brahmin girl.”

The multipilicity of possible meanings of √hṛ thus puts the onus on the translator to get the register right. At the same time, the translator's task is complicated by having to judge how a brahmin like Udāyin might have seen the behaviour of a king like Karāla-janaka. What, if any, was Udāyin's take on the ancient legend? Did Udāyin think, for example, that to abduct the virgin daughter of a high-caste brahmin would be much worse of a sin than to carry off some low-born peasant woman who was not a virgin? I suspect that, being a brahmin himself, Udāyin might have thought exactly that.

EBC and EHJ translated the 2nd pāda “carried off the Brāhman's daughter” and “carried off a Brahman's daughter,” respectively. PO brought out the more sinister undertones that Aśvaghoṣa may have intended with “abducted a brahmin girl.”

In the 3rd pāda, if we accept EHJ's assumption that Karāla-janaka is the Videha king of BC13.5, then bhraṁśam would seem to suggest deśa-bhraṁśam – that ruin of Karāla-janaka's kingdom which followed his backsliding from good conduct (vṛttāc cyutasya; BC13.5). At the same time, bhraṁśam might be read as synonymous with rogam (from √ruj, to break), which means breaking up of strength, i.e., disease.

On one level of irony, then, Udāyin's ostensible intention in today's verse, which contains his final example from ancient Indian legends, is again to affirm how very natural it is to yield to sexual desire; whereas the sub-text that Aśvaghoṣa might have intended us to read is, on the contrary, a reminder of how ruinous it can be if one is directed by one's desire, rather than the other way round. Having small desire may be the secret of happiness, but being had by ill-directed desire is liable to be ruinous to one's kingdom and one's health.

Today's verse and the previous two verses  4.78, 4.79, and 4.80  can thus be read as a group of three whose themes are, broadly, aging, death and illness/ruin. Udāyin cites examples in ancient Indian legends where yielding to sexual desire was the cause of premature old age, death, and ruination. But on a deeper level of irony, just as in Canto 3 Aśvaghoṣa ironically re-cast the triple terror of aging, death, and illness as (1) the wisdom of growing old, (2) the challenge of giving up body and life, and (3) the ever-present and pervasive truth of faulty sensory appreciation, so too can the 4th pāda of each of these three verses, it occurred to me when I stopped and reflected on it, be understood as an affirmation of desire. Specifically, the final pādas of 4.78, 4.79, and 4.80 can each be read as a suggestion that the joy of sitting is a Zen practitioner's one heart's desire. 

In that case, not ceasing to attach to one's first love (na tu seje na man-matham) – come hell or highwater, in sickness and in health – might be the main gist of the 30 years of effort of a bloke who manifests his attachment, as a rule, with four daily romps in Citra-ratha's woods – once before breakfast, once after breakfast, once in the afternoon, and once after dark.
The three punchlines of these last three verses, then, when we eventually let ourselves be hit by them, deliver a punch that is so strong for this reason: Everybody and his dog knows that the Buddha's teaching is not to be greedy, because suffering is rooted in desire. That being so, it is all too easy to see the Buddha's teaching as encouraging us in the direction of sack-cloth and ashes, as encouraging us to be led unconsciously by the idea that desire is the enemy. But what the Buddha actually said is that a man who has small desire already has nirvāna. So the Buddha's teaching is – totally contrary to what impractical Buddhists are prone to think – totally affirmative towards desire, so long as the desire is moderate. 

As the expression of a view on small desire, or moderate wishing, the above paragraph might be contradicted or falsified by Dogen's exhortation: “Love Zazen as if to put out a fire on your head!” 

Or, as an effort to clarify what the Buddha actually taught, it might be corroborated by Ānanda's words to Nanda:
Therefore if you want enjoyment, let your mind be directed within. / Tranquil and impeccable is enjoyment of the inner self and there is no enjoyment to equal it. // SN11.34 // In it, you have no need of musical instruments, or women, or ornaments; / On your own, wherever you are, you can indulge in that enjoyment. // SN11.35 //

karāla-janakaḥ (nom. sg.): m. N. of a prince (also called janaka)
karāla mfn. opening wide , cleaving asunder , gaping (as a wound) ; having a gaping mouth and projecting teeth ; formidable , dreadful , terrible
janaka: mfn. generative, begetting ; m. N. of a king of videha or mithilā (son of mithi and father of udāvasu )
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)

hṛtvā = abs. hṛ: to carry off
brāhmaṇa-kanyakām (acc. sg. f): the Brahman's daughter
brāhmaṇa: m. one who has divine knowledge (sometimes applied to agni) , a Brahman , a man belonging to the 1st of the 3 twice-born classes and of the 4 original divisions of the Hindu body (generally a priest , but often in the present day a layman engaged in non-priestly occupations although the name is strictly only applicable to one who knows and repeats the veda)
kanyakā: f. a girl , maiden , virgin , daughter

avāpa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. avāp: to reach , attain , obtain , gain , get ; to suffer (e.g. blame or unpleasantness or pain)
bhraṁśam (acc. sg.): m. falling or slipping down or off ; decline , decay, ruin (deśa-bh° , ruin of a country)
api: even, though
evam: ind. thus

na: not
tu: but
seje = 3rd pers. sg. perf. saj = sañj: to cling or stick or adhere to , be attached to
na: not
man-matham (acc. sg.): m. (either an Intens. form fr. √ math , or fr. man = manas + matha , " agitating ") love or the god of love , amorous passion or desire
√math: to stir or whirl round

[No corresponding Chinese]  

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