Thursday, March 7, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.96: Harsh Reality & Ignoble Desires

tad-evaṁ sati duḥkhārtaṁ jarā-maraṇa-bhāginam |
na māṁ kāmeṣv-anāryeṣu pratārayitum-arhasi || 4.96

Since in this situation I am pained by suffering

And am an heir to growing old and dying,

You should not try to persuade me

To stray into ignoble desires.

The gist of the ostensible meaning of today's verse is “I am weak, so please don't tempt me!”

The real gist, or ironic sub-text, it strikes me on first reading, is “I am already awake to harsh reality and have awakened the bodhi-mind, so you needn't waste your time.”

How many deeper levels of irony there might be, whose surface I have not yet scratched, I don't know. But anyway I shall get digging, and doubtless produce, as a side effect of my ignoble grasping for Aśvaghoṣa's gold, another veritable slag heap of a comment.

With tad-evaṁ sati in the 1st pāda, the prince is drawing to a conclusion the arguments he has been making since BC4.84, which being so,  tad-evaṁ sati  could be translated in any number of ways – e.g. “Since then these things are so” [EBC]; “Such being the case” [EHJ]; “So, that being the case” [PO]. Being an inveterate worrier, however, I couldn't help worrying that tad-evaṁ sati might refer in particular to the proceeding verse which I translated yesterday as ending with a question – Then is it never appropriate for men to see women, or women men?

I decided to change the question into an assertion, which on the face of it seems rhetorical but which can also be read, as explained yesterday, literally – And if those tainted by redness do indeed deceive one another, / Then it must never be appropriate for men to see women, or women men! //

I think this change better allows tad-evaṁ sati to be read as referring to the situation the prince himself finds himself in. Hence I have translated  tad-evaṁ sati  "in this situation, I..."

What kind of situation is this situation

On the most superficial level, (1) it is a situation in which the minds of men and women are tainted by the redness of sexual passion, and in which, through sexual passion, men and women are liable to lead each other astray (though of course, as per yesterday's verse, that does not mean that men and women should be forbidden from looking at each other).

On a level more relevant to the practical and philosophical problem of how thinking relates to reality, (2) it is a situation in which a practitioner's mind is tainted not only by the redness of sexual desire but also by redness stimulated by miscellaneous ignoble (or end-gaining) desires, as well as by the rose-tint of intellectual bias. It is a situation, in other words, in which a practitioner is prone to be led astray or deceived or deluded not only by sensual desires and miscellaneous end-gaining desires but also by intellectual conceptions or concepts (concepts which, in the final analysis, as per yesterday's verse, it is not appropriate to be deceived by).

But at a deeper level of irony, on further reflection/digging, I think the prince might be describing (3) the situation of buddhas who are in the world, without being of the world. Hence Nanda in SN18.10: What was for me to do, O Doer of the Necessary! is totally done. I am present in the world without being of the world (lokeṣu bhūto 'smi na loka-dharmā).

Next, then, when the prince says in the first half of today's verse that he is pained by suffering and an heir to growing old and dying (duḥkhārtaṁ jarā-maraṇa-bhāginam), what does he mean?

At level (1) the prince means he is in the same boat as other men and women, being liable to be led astray by sexual passion, in which case he is asking Udāyin not to tempt him. In that case, bhāginam in the 2nd pāda means “susceptible to.” Thus, EHJ translated jarā-maraṇa-bhāginam as “my lot is old age and death,” and PO “under the power of old age and death.” In EBC's text, by the way, the word is not bhāginam but bhoginam, translated by EBC as “subject to.” 

The amendment to bhoginam may be indicative: I think it indicates that the editor who made that amendment missed the deeper levels of meaning, viz: 

At level (2) the prince means he is pained by the suffering of others (like an adult watching children play in a burning house); and, unlike others who have yet to establish the bodhi-mind, he himself is already resolutely established on that path which leads to growing old ( jarā, i.e. wisdom) and dying (maraṇa, i.e. abandoning selfish worries). In that case, the prince is expressing his resolute will to the truth, and is telling Udāyin not to waste time and energy trying to lead him astray, because he has no intention of straying anywhere. And in that case the prince is describing himself in the 2nd pāda as “an heir to growing old and dying" in the sense that he is intending to accept in future his birthright of wisdom and nirvāṇa. 

At level (3) the prince is not only expressing the will to enlightenment but also expressing – unbeknowns to himself – that very enlightenment which is wisdom and nirvāṇa.  In that case when he describes himself as jarā-maraṇa-bhāginam, the real meaning of bhāgin is “being blessed with” or “being already in receipt of” or “having already received my share of” growing old and dying. And when, in that case, the prince tells Udāyin not to bother even trying, what he is expressing is not his own determination to stay on the right path but rather the total impossibility of anyone leading him in any direction other than the right one in which he naturally wishes to go. Wild horses, as the saying goes, couldn't drag him away. 

For an illustration of the latter meaning, there are the words of Zen Master Enchi Dai-an quoted in Shobogenzo chap. 64, Kajo, who wrote of watching over and occasionally whipping a castrated water buffalo; the water buffalo turned in time into the kind of white ox described in the Lotus Sutra. Even when driven away, the white ox would not stray, but remained all day long conspicuously in the master's view.

In light of the above, why in the 3rd pāda does the prince call desires/pleasures (kāmeṣu) “ignoble” (anāryeṣu)?

At level (1), because pursuit of sensual pleasure is always ignoble when compared to loftier intellectual pursuits – like (to use an example from recent personal experience) beating the combined efforts of one's two sons at University Challenge. At this level kāmeṣv-anāryeṣu (“ignoble pleasures” [EBC/PO]; “ignoble passions” [EHJ])) might be a tautology, since all sensual pleasures/passions are inherently ignoble.

At level (2), the desire to go in the right direction might be noble, whereas other desires that conflict with this noble desire might be ignoble. In the illustration from Shobogenzo quoted above, a castrated water buffalo's desire to scoff seedlings that his master has laboriously planted might be an example of an ignoble desire, whereas a castrated water buffalo's desire to obey his master might be noble. 

At level (3), any small desire, whether of a human being or of a white ox, might be a noble desire  insofar as a person (or white ox) of small desire already has nirvāṇa.

Why did the Buddha call the four noble truths "noble" (ārya)? Because they represent a plan for eliminating desire? Or because they represent a plan for eliminating the suffering that stems from that particular ignoble manifestation of desire which is thirsting?

When we investigate it like this, the ultimate teaching of the Buddha is not so difficult to understand. And when we test it out in the laboratory of practice, it really works, one hundred times out of a hundred. Still, for some reason, probably related to the force of habit, it can remain difficult even for veteran Zen practitioners to put into practice. 

"Wild horses couldn't drag me away," incidentally, was how I felt about continuing the marathon effort of the Shobogenzo translation until finally reaching the finishing line. My feeling turned out to have been wrong. Tough lesson. Harsh reality. 

Hard cheese. Tough cheddar. But it tastes more real than God. 

tad: (nom. sg. n.): it; ind. there , in that place ; ind. then , at that time , in that case ; ind. thus , in this manner , with regard to that ; ind. on that account , for that reason , therefore , consequently ; ind. now (clause-connecting particle) ; ind. so also , equally , and
evam: ind: thus , in this way , in such a manner , such
sati = loc. sg. pres. part. as: to be
duḥkhārtam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. visited by pain , distressed
ārta: mfn. fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained , disturbed ; injured ; oppressed , suffering , sick , unhappy

jarā-maraṇa-bhāginam (acc. sg. m.): being in receipt of a share of growing old and dying
bhāgin: mfn. entitled to or receiving or possessing a share , partaking of , blessed with , concerned in , responsible for (loc. , gen. or comp.) ; m. a partner , owner , possessor , fortunate man ; m. " the whole " as consisting of parts ; m. a co-heir
bhogin: mfn. enjoying , eating ; suffering , experiencing , undergoing

na: not
mām (acc. sg. m.): me
kāmeṣu (loc. pl.): m. desires
anāryeṣu (loc. pl. m.): mfn. ignoble

pratārayitum = infinitive causative pra- √ tṝ: to mislead , take in , deceive ; to lead astray , seduce , persuade to (dat. or loc.)
arhasi = 2nd pers. sg. arh: to ought

 如是老病死 大苦之積聚
令我墜其中 此非知識説

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