Monday, February 25, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.86: Enjoying Agreeable Objects

jarā vyādhiś-ca mtyuś-ca yadi na syād-idaṁ trayam |
mamāpi hi manojñeṣu viṣayeṣu ratir-bhavet || 4.86

Aging, disease, and death –

In the absence of these three,

Enjoyment might exist for me also

In agreeable objects.

On the surface today's verse expresses the awakening of the bodhi-mind as a function of idealistic thinking along the lines of “it is totally impossible for me to enjoy agreeable objects, in the face of the triple terror of aging, disease and death.”

A contrarian reading of today's verse is that it might be intended ironically to presage the Buddha's ultimate teaching of having small desire and being content (alpecchu-saṁtuṣṭa) – which is to say that a person of small desire already has nirvāṇa, in which case aging, disease and death for him have already ceased to exist in which case why not enjoy, for example, a mug of hot tea and a piece of toast?

If this suggestion of mine sounds too decadent, or too grounded in the mundane reality of an old basher from Birmingham, I refer the skeptical reader to Master Tendo Nyojo's poems celebrating the opening of the first plum flowers in the snow of early spring.

Another illustration that springs to mind is last words FM Alexander is reported to have said to an old lady at the end of the last lesson he would be giving her: “Now, my dear. See to it that you don't pull your head back. And always make sure you have something to look forward to.”

For a scriptural reference to clinch the argument, however, the best resort might be to the gold standard of Aśvaghoṣa's writing, in which we are told how enjoyable it was for the Buddha to see an object that was very agreeable to him:
And so like a young initiate who mastered the Vedas, like a trader who turned a quick profit, / Or like a royal warrior who conquered a hostile army, a success, Nanda approached the Guru. // SN18.1 // For it is pleasant, at a time when wisdom has been fully realized, for teacher to see student, and for student to see teacher, / Each thinking, "Your toil has rewarded me"; for which same reason the wish to see Nanda arose in the Sage. // SN18.2 //
Subsequently, as if to underline the point, the Buddha is quoted as saying to Nanda:
How great it is that you have reached the deepest tranquillity, like a man making it through a wasteland and gaining possession of treasure. / For everybody in the flux of saṁsāra is afflicted by fear, just like a man in a wasteland. // SN18.32 // 'When shall I see Nanda settled, given over to the living of a forest beggar's life?', / So thinking, I had harboured from the start the desire to see you thus. What a wonderful sight you are for me to behold! // SN18.33 //

jarā (nom. sg.): f. old age, aging
vyādhiḥ (nom. sg.): m. disorder , disease , ailment , sickness ,
ca: and
mṛtyuḥ (nom. sg.): m. death , dying
ca: and

yadi: if
na: not
syāt = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be
idam (nom. sg. n.): this
trayam (nom. sg.): n. triad, threesome

mama (gen. sg.): of/in/for me
api: also
hi: for
manojñeṣu (loc. pl. m.): mfn. agreeable to the mind , pleasing , lovely , beautiful , charming

viṣayeṣu (loc. pl.): m. objects of the senses, sensual pleasures
ratiḥ (nom. sg.): f. pleasure , enjoyment , delight in , fondness for (loc. or comp. ; ratim with √ āp , labh , upa-labh , adhi-gam , vidkṛ or bandh and loc. , " to find pleasure in ")
bhavet = 3rd pers. sg. optative bhū: to be, become

若此法常存 無老病死苦
我亦應受樂 終無厭離心

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