Friday, March 8, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.97: Desires, Objects & Mental Strength

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
aho 'tidhīraṁ balavac-ca te manaś-caleṣu kāmeṣu ca sāra-darśinaḥ |
bhaye 'pi-tīvre viṣayeṣu sajjase nirīkṣamāṇo maraṇādhvani prajāḥ || 4.97

How extremely firm and strong is your mind

If in transient desires you see what is essential –

If, even in the midst of acute terror, you stick to objects,

While watching sentient creatures on the road to extinction!

Ostensibly the prince is again (as in BC4.95) using rhetorical irony, or sarcasm, as a means to undermine Udāyin's arguments. Ostensibly, then, today's verse exemplifies words that one who is awakening the bodhi-mind might speak to a sensualist who has yet to awaken the bodhi-mind. And again (as in BC4.95) the real irony beneath the rhetorical irony might be that the prince's words, taken literally, might be understood as words that are spoken by a buddha alone, together with a buddha. So the real irony of today's verse, as I read it, is much deeper than sarcasm. (And there may be further levels of irony that I haven't noticed yet.) 

In the 2nd pāda, if we follow the ostensible reading, kāmeṣu means objects of desire or pleasures, and caleṣu (transitory/fleeting) might include a modicum of sarcastic contempt. Hence “the transitory pleasures of sense” [EBC]; “the fleeting passions” [EHJ]; “fleeting pleasures” [PO]. By translating caleṣu kāmeṣu more neutrally as "transient desires," I have hoped not to rule out the alternative reading, whereby  kāmeṣu means wishes, desires, instances of volition, and caleṣu simply expresses recognition of what may be the most fundamental law of the real universe, namely, impermanence, aka the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

In the 3rd pāda, if we follow the ostensible reading, viṣayeṣu refers specifically to worldly object, sexual objects, or sensual enjoyments, and sajjase means “you cling to” or “you are attached to.” Hence “you cling to worldly objects” [EBC]; “you remain attached to the objects of sense” [EHJ]; “you are attached to sensual pleasures” [PO]. In the latter reading, viṣayeṣu sajjase ("you stick to objects") might mean you persist, you do not give up easily, you show the old British bulldog spirit. More concretely, viṣayeṣu sajjase might mean that, while sitting in that laboratory where the dialectic relationship between thinking and reality is investigated, you observe breath passing in through the nostrils, and then out again, and then in again, and then out again, and so on.

In the former reading, maraṇādhvani, being on the road to death/cessation/extinction, might describe the futile path of somebody who is going round and round in circles, in a downward spiral, like water down the plughole. In the latter reading, maraṇādhvani might be an expression of the continuing upwardness of buddha.

There is a story behind that phrase “continuing upwardness of buddha,” but I am sure I have told the tale dozens of times already, and not in an entirely unbiased manner, since the phrase has such pivotal significance in the self-serving narrative to which I so doggedly adhere.

Suffice to say that what is essential in Alexander work is to keep on intermittently thinking up, or wishing up, or – however transient the desire may be – desiring up. 

I say "intermittently" because it is not a matter of constantly trying to concentrate, or trying to hold onto something; the reality of it might be more momentary than that. "If you've got something good," Alexander advized, "throw it away." For Alexander it was not a question of trying to hold onto something.  He taught people a method of getting it. 

What mental strength is I do not know. But I have some experience of congenital mental weakness, rooted in a dodgy vestibular system, and I have become familiar over the years with various strategies for coping with said weakness. One strategy is to set one's sights on some attainable object, like translating one verse of Sanskrit per day, and at various times during the day (or the middle of a sleepless night) to focus one's desire on that object. 

The practice of sitting upright in lotus might be a kind of gold standard for such combatting of mental weakness, wherein I desire to sit upright (without any trace of slumping or hyperextending) primarily by inhibiting the desire to sit upright. The success or failure of this practice of inhibition can be judged via monitoring of some object, like one's nostrils as air passes in and out – success being a function of intermittent awareness of air passing silently and easily through expanded nostrils. 

This desire to sit upright while sitting in the full lotus posture, from a Buddhist viewpoint, might be revered as something eternal. But judged from a more objective criterion, like the yardstick of harsh reality, and seen in light the 2nd law of thermodynamics, even this desire to sit upright might be something very fleeting and transient – here today, gone tomorrow. 

If that reality is too harsh for my weak mind to embrace, that might be a sign that something remains to be extinguished. 

aho: ind. a particle (implying joyful or painful surprise) Ah!
atidhīram (nom. sg. n.): extraordinarily firm
ati-: (often prefixed to nouns and adjectives , and rarely to verbs , in the sense excessive , extraordinary)
dhīra: mfn. steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave
balavat (nom. sg. n.): mfn. possessing power , powerful , mighty , strong , intense
ca: and
te (gen. sg.): your
manaḥ (nom. sg.): n. mind

caleṣu (loc. pl. m.): mfn. moving , trembling , shaking , loose ; unsteady , fluctuating , perishable ; disturbed , confused
kāmeṣu (loc. pl.): m. wish, desire ; pleasure , enjoyment ; object of desire or of love or of pleasure
ca: and
sāra-darśinaḥ (gen. sg.): mfn. having an eye for the good or important
sāra: mn. the core or pith or solid interior of anything ; the substance or essence or marrow or cream or heart or essential part of anything , best part , quintessence
darśin: mfn. ifc. seeing , looking at , observing , examining , finding

bhaye (loc. sg.): n. fear , alarm ; sg. and pl. terror , dismay , danger , peril , distress
api: even, though
ati-tīvre (loc. sg. n.): mfn. very sharp , pungent or acid
tīvra: mfn. strong , severe , violent , intense , hot , pervading , excessive , ardent , sharp , acute , pungent , horrible
viṣayeṣu (loc. pl.): m. objects of the senses; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
sajjase = 2nd pers. sg. passive sañj: to be attached or fastened , adhere , cling , stick ; to be devoted to or intent on or occupied with (loc.)

nirīkṣamāṇaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. nir- √ īkṣ: to look at or towards , behold , regard , observe
maraṇādhvani (loc. sg.): on the road to dying/extinction
maraṇa: n. the act of dying , death ; passing away , cessation (as of lightning or rain)
adhvan: m. a road , way , orbit ; a journey , course
prajāḥ (acc. pl.): f. creatures

嗚呼優陀夷 眞爲大肝膽
生老病死患 此苦甚可畏
眼見悉朽壞 而猶樂追逐 


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

Are you reading sāra-darśinaḥ as genitive absolute (as per Coulson, bottom of p.171)? If not, could you elaborate on how you arrive at " see what is essential".


Mike Cross said...

Hi Malcolm, I didn't realize that I was reading sāra-darśinaḥ as genitive absolute.

I suppose my basic modus operandi is to start from a translation that is as literal as I can get it...

Ah! Extremely firm and strong is the mind of you who sees the substance in transient desires! Even in acute terror, you stick to objects, watching sentient beings on the road to extinction!

... and then I use as little poetic license as possible to render the English into a form that might make good sense to, and be easy on the ear of, self and others.

jiblet said...

Thanks, Mike. That works for me.