Friday, February 22, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.83: Rumbling Thunder

iti śrutvā vacas-tasya ślakṣṇam-āgama-saṁhitam |
megha-stanita-nirghoṣaḥ kumāraḥ pratyabhāṣata || 4.83

Having listened to these polished words of his,

Complete with scriptural references,

The prince in a voice resonant as thunder

Spoke back:

As a description of Udāyin's speech, the right English word by which to translate slakṣṇam would ostensibly sound affirmative while at the same time allowing us to read an ironic subtext if we wished. Slakṣṇam does this in Sanskrit by meaning, on one level, tender, honest, sincere; and, on another level, slippery.

EHJ followed EBC in translating vacas... ślakṣṇam as “specious words,” which seems to remove the ambiguity which I think Aśvaghoṣa intended. “Smooth speech (PO)” or “polished words” might be closer to the mark.

In any event, behind today's verse might be Aśvaghoṣa's wish to remind us that the criterion for being able to communicate truth is not being skillful with words and versed in sutras and commentaries; instead, the criterion is the samādhi of using and accepting the self. And a resonant voice, as a bloke named FM Alexander discovered early on in his work, is a good sign that, in one's use of the self, one is on the right track.

Before he defeated Māra and took the ultimate step, the Buddha's voice was compared to thunder. After he defeated Māra and took the ultimate step, the Buddha's voice was also compared to thunder, as well as to a lion's roar.

FM Alexander said, in a quote much beloved of more than one of the teachers that taught me:
 "When an investigation comes to be made it will be found that every single thing we do in the work is exactly what is done in Nature, where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously." 
That is one hell of a big task, to learn to do consciously what is done in Nature, where the conditions are right.

The flaw in my Zen teacher's approach to sitting-meditation – keeping the spine straight vertically as an unconscious act intended to bring the autonomic nervous system (i.e the unconscious part of the brain and nervous system) into balance – as I see it, was that the “learning to do it consciously” bit of Alexander's quote was missing.

Hence the story of much of my last 30 years, and especially the first 13 of the 30 years while I was struggling in Japan to make any clear sense of anything, has been an epic story of Ugly Suffering, and Deluded Re-acting.

What did Aśvaghoṣa mean by titling his two epic poems saundara-nanda, “Beautiful Joy,” and buddha-carita, “Awakened Acting”?

Not that!

When it comes to using the voice well, or when it comes to sitting-meditation, I haven't yet learned the secret of how to do it consciously.

I may not even have got to the beginning of that end.

I certainly have not got to the end of that as a beginning.

But in my recognition that by Beautiful Joy and Awakened Acting, Aśvaghoṣa did not mean Ugly Suffering and Deluded Re-acting, I hope there might be, for self and others, the beginning of a beginning.

That, by the way, might be the third step in what I inadequately described yesterday as a two-step process – step 3 being the resolution to pursue the imperishable object not only for oneself but also for others.

Thus the final words the prince speaks in Canto 5 before leaving Kapilavastu – words which he addresses to his horse (whose name might be Kanthaka, or might be Aśvaghoṣa) – are as follows:
So realize well that my departure from here is yoked to dharma for the welfare of the world / And exert yourself, O best of horses, with speed and prowess, for your own good and the good of the world //BC5.78//

iti: “...,” thus
śrutvā = abs. śru: to hear, listen, attend to
vacas (acc. sg.): n. statement, words
tasya (gen. sg.): his

ślakṣṇam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. slippery , smooth , polished , even , soft , tender , gentle , bland ; honest, sincere
āgama-saṁhitam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. agreeing with tradition
āgama: m. arrival ; m. reading , studying; m. acquisition of knowledge , science; m. a traditional doctrine or precept , collection of such doctrines , sacred work ; m. anything handed down and fixed by tradition (as the reading of a text or a record , title-deed , &c )
saṁhita: mfn. joined ; connected with , proceeding from (comp.)

megha-stanita-nirghoṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): with the sound of thunder
megha-stanita: n. " cloud-rumbling " , thunder
stanita: mfn. thundering , sounding ; n. thunder ; n. loud groaning ; n. the sound of a vibrating bowstring ; n. the noise of clapping the hands
stan: to resound , reverberate , roar , thunder
nirghoṣa: mfn. soundless , noiseless; m. sound , noise , rattling , tramping

kumāraḥ (nom. sg.): m. the prince ; heir apparent
pratyabhāṣata = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect prati- √ bhāṣ : to speak in return or to (acc.) , answer , relate , tell

爾時王太子 聞友優陀夷
甜辭利口辯 善説世間相


jiblet said...

A small flaw, Mike -

You've glossed both kumāraḥ and its accompanying compound megha-stanita-nirghoṣaḥ as (nom. m.) plural instead of singular.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Malcolm. Have corrected it and appreciate the intervention.