Wednesday, March 6, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.95: Should Men Ward Away Women? And Women Men?

vañcayanti ca yady-eva jāta-rāgāḥ paras-param |
nanu naiva kṣamaṁ draṣṭuṁ narāḥ strīṇāṁ nṇām striyaḥ || 4.95

And if those tainted by redness

Do indeed deceive one another,

Then is it never appropriate

For men to see women, or women men?

On the surface the prince's rhetorical question affirms that, notwithstanding the possibility that men and women are liable to be objects of each other's sexual desire, men and women should nevertheless be able to cope with looking at each other – the alternative, whereby men and women somehow had to go through life without looking at each other, being too absurd to contemplate.
And if men and women, because of passion, lead each other astray,/

Then is it never appropriate for men to look at women, or women at men?//
This gist of this sounds very similar to the gist of rhetorical questions Dogen asks in Shobogenzo chap. 8, Raihai-tokuzui:
If whatever may become the object of sexual greed is to be hated, do not all men deserve to be hated too?... A god can be the object, and a demon can be the object. It is impossible to count all the possible objects; they say that there are eighty-four thousand objects. Should we discard all of them?
But I think what Aśvaghoṣa has in mind below the surface of today's verse is something more pertinent (1) to the philosophical question of the relation between thinking and reality, and (2) to the title of this Canto strī-vighātanaḥ, Warding Women Away.

In that case, "those tainted by redness" (jāta-rāgāḥ) might include not only we who are knocked off balance by sexual desire but also we who are excited by words like "enlightenment" and "nirvāṇa," which exist for us only as concepts. Deluded by those concepts, Buddhists deceive each other. We discuss Buddhist this and Buddhist that. We talk of “Buddhist psychology,” whatever that is. We assume there is an ideology that goes by the name of “Buddhism” or “true Buddhism,” and that if the whole world subscribed to it (or had it forced upon them by some kind of global policeman), we might then have peace on earth. 

In this situation, I think Aśvaghoṣa might be intending us to ask ourselves, is it appropriate for us to hold on to all our cherished conceptions, like “women” or like “men” or like “Buddhism”? Is it inevitable for us to do so? Do we need to think like that, in terms of broad generic concepts, in order to get by? Or is it possible, at least in odd moments of  mindfulness, not to believe in anything outside of what George Soros calls “harsh reality” – the harsh reality that Soros claims to believe in like some people believe in God, the harsh reality whose marks the Buddha identified as suffering, impermanence and impersonality?

I may be wrong to read such deeper philosophical meaning into today's verse, but if my suspicion does indeed reflect Aśvaghoṣa's original intention, then to bring out this deeper hidden meaning, I should have liked to translate the 2nd half of today's verse
Then is it never appropriate for men to conceive of 'women,' or women of 'men'?
This would actually be a better reflection of the grammar of the original Sanskrit in which strīṇāṁ and nṛṇām are not accusative but genitive. The problem with this translation is that it would only bring out the meaning which I think is hidden below the surface, at the expense of the meaning which is apparent on the surface.

Whereas the prince's ostensible intention is to say that, yes, of course men should be able to look at women and women should be able to look at men, the meaning that I suspect Aśvaghoṣa hid in the prince's words is less clear-cut.  Asking Then is it never appropriate for men to conceive of 'women,' or women of 'men'? might call into question whether it is always appropriate for men and women – at least for those men and women engaged in the work of transcending taintedness and not being deceived – to look at others as “women” or as “men.”

Are the times when it is appropriate to have a conception of “women” and a conception of “men,” and also times, on the contrary, when it is appropriate to ward away “women” and to ward away “men”?

And what kind of time is sitting-zen? A time of no red taintedness? A time of seeing red taintedness as it is? A time of not being deceived by self or others? A time of being totally deceived? A time of deliverance from concepts? A time of total reliance on concepts?

Dogen said there should be thousands and tens of thousands of questions like these, asking what the practice of sitting in full lotus is. 

The answer to all of those questions might be No. 

But who answers No? Does reality answer No? Does thinking answer No?

Is it appropriate tentatively to conclude that the answer No might arise at the point where thinking meets reality?

No. Very probably not. 

It is somewhat mind-blowing to reflect, as I have been reflecting recently, that a billionaire fund manager might be way ahead of Zen Buddhist masters and Theravada Buddhist teachers and venerable Buddhist philosohers in his understanding of that most fundamental matter which is the relation between thinking and reality. 

As an attempted answer to the question "What is the relation between thinking and reality," the following is a beautifully clear and simple teaching, which affirms reality, negates thinking, and recognizes the gulf that originally exists between thinking and reality. 

"Body and mind dropping off describes reality taking over and thinking becoming inoperative. To enter that reality of spontaneous flow, don't think anything, just sit!"

The discoveries of FM Alexander kind of mess everything up, holding up to the “just sitter” a mirror in which he can see, if he is so inclined, that he is deceiving himself.

Such are the reflections of an inveterate worrier, and an awkward old so and so.

Among many false ideologies to which I object, this awkward old so and so reserves a particular dislike for feminism. I would like to say to all feminists as follows:

"If you have got a feminist bias, you can read today's verse as supporting your bias. But in so doing you and your fellow feminists, whether men and women, might only be deceiving each other."

But when I reflect on what I have just written above, in light of what I have just written further above, the deeper point of today's verse might be to question whether it is always appropriate to conceive in this way of “feminists.”

vañcayanti = 3rd pers. pl. causative vañc: to cause to go astray , deceive , cheat , defraud
ca: and
yadi: if
evam: ind. thus

jāta-rāgāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. enamoured, impassioned
paras-param: ind. one another , each other , with or from one another , one another's , mutually , reciprocally

nanu: ind. not , not at all , never ; (interr.) not? is it not? (hence often = ) certainly , surely , indeed , no doubt (esp. in questions amounting to an affirmation)
na: not
eva: (emphatic)
kṣamam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. fit , appropriate , becoming , suitable , proper for (gen. dat. , loc. inf.
draṣṭum = inf. dṛś: to see , behold , look at , regard , consider ; to see i.e. wait on , visit ; to see with the mind , learn , understand ; to see by divine intuition , think or find out , compose , contrive (hymns , rites , &c )

narāḥ (nom. pl.): m. men
strīṇām (gen. pl.): f. women
nṛṇām (gen. pl.): m. men
striyaḥ (nom. pl.): f. women

處順而心乖 此理我不見
[Relation to Sanskrit tenuous]

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