kpaṇaṁ bata yaj-janaḥ svayaṁ sann-avaśo vyādhi-jarā-vināśa-dharmā |
jarayārditam-āturaṁ mtaṁ vā param-ajño vijugupsate madāndhaḥ || 5.12
“O how pitiable it is that human beings,
While being ourselves at the mercy of sickness, aging and death,
Should tend, in our ignorance and wanton blindness,
To disavow the other,
who is afflicted by old age, or who is diseased or dying.
The most difficult word in today's verse is vijugupsate, from the root √gup, which has connotations of protecting oneself or hiding something from oneself; and, in its desiderative form, of shunning or despising others. EBC translated paraṁ vijugupsate as “look with disgust on another;” EHJ as “pay no heed to another;” and PO as “treat another with contempt.”
I think what the prince is pointing to is the unconscious tendency that psychologists call denial and at the same time – insofar as the desiderative of √gup means to shun, detest, and despise – the unconscious behaviour of projecting onto a detestable other what one seeks to deny in onself.
In regard to this unconscious tendency and this unconscious behaviour, evidently, the prince is separate from the unconscious herd in that he for one is conscious of the tendency.
How does this conscious recognition on the part of the prince fit into the wider context of his awakening of the bodhi-mind?
It seems to me to be part of a meditation, in the context of awakening of the bodhi-mind, on the ironic meaning of separateness.
The conventional wisdom in Mahāyāna Buddhism, at least as it was taught to me, is that awakening the bodhi-mind means establishing the will to deliver others over to the far shore before one is delivered oneself. But an iconoclast could make the argument that this Mahāyāna precept is itself based on a fallacy, namely, separation of self and others.
What evidence is there in Saundara-nanda of how the separation into self and others is treated, in the words of Aśvaghoṣa as narrator, and in words spoken by the Buddha?
In Canto 3, Aśvaghoṣa describes the Buddha acting not for “others” but for the welfare of the world (jagato hitāya). This description is phrased in such a way, it seems to me, as to avoid separation of self and others. The captain of the Brittany Ferries' MV Normandy, after all, when he crosses the English channel, takes me across too. He doesn't strive heroically to send me across first in the ferry before diving in himself in his swimming trunks.
And so the wheel of dharma -- whose hub is uprightness, whose rim is constancy, determination, and balanced stillness, / And whose spokes are the rules of discipline -- there the Seer turned, in that assembly, for the welfare of the world (jagato hitāya). // SN3.11 //.... For the fathomless sea of faults, whose water is falsity, where fish are cares, / And which is disturbed by waves of anger, lust, and fear; he had crossed, and he took the world across too. // SN3.14 //
Similarly, later in the present Canto of Buddha-carita, when the prince talks to his horse, he speaks in terms not of benefitting others (para) but of benefitting the world (jagat), which, unlike "others," can be understood as including the self.
So realize well that my departure from here is yoked to dharma for the welfare of the world (jagadd-hitāya) / And exert yourself, O best of horses, with speed and prowess, for your own good (ātma-hite) and the good of the world (jagadd-hite ca). //BC5.78//
In addressing Nanda in Canto 15 of Saundara-nanda, the Buddha does talk in terms of self and other. But again it is not in a spirit of discriminating the two:
For unhelpful thoughts carried in the heart densely grow, / Producing in equal measure nothing of value for the self and for the other (ātmanaś-ca parasya ca). // SN15.20 //
Later in Canto 15 comes the following consideration of one's own people and other people. Interestingly from the standpoint of this investigation, the Buddha himself does not talk of "other" people; the terms he uses are sva-jana (one's own people) and jana (people):
Among beings dragged by our own doing through the cycle of saṁsāra / Who are our own people (sva-janaḥ), and who are other people (janaḥ)? It is through ignorance that people attach to people. // 15.31 // For one who turned on a bygone road into a relative (sva-janaḥ), is a stranger (janaḥ) to you; / And a stranger (janaḥ), on a road to come, will become your relative (sva-janaḥ). // 15.32 // Just as birds in the evening flock together at separate locations, / So is the mingling over many generations of one's own (sva-janasya) and other people (janasya). // SN15.33 //
At the end of Saundara-nanda, however, the enlightened Buddha does speak to the enlightened Nanda in terms of self and others:
But deemed to be higher than the highest in this world is he who, having realized the supreme ultimate dharma, / Desires, without worrying about the trouble to himself, to teach tranquillity to others (parebhyaḥ). // SN18.56 // Therefore forgetting the work that needs to be done in this world on the self, do now, stout soul, what can be done for others (para-kāryam). / Among beings who are wandering in the night, their minds shrouded in darkness, let the lamp of this transmission be carried. // SN18.57 //
Here my argument – that the Buddha/Aśaghoṣa tended to avoid language that might nurture the conceited fallacy of a self that is separate from others – seems to break down. I would only add that the Buddha draws the fallacious distinction between self and others most starkly or overtly when addressing a person who is no longer liable to be deluded by fallacies, in which case the Buddha needn't be so careful in his use of language.
What strikes me most about today's verse, to come to a tentative conclusion, is that the prince, in his present stage of the process of awakening the bodhi-mind, does not come out and excitedly declare, like some kind of Christian martyr, “I intend totally to sacrifice my own well being, and just work for the salvation of others.” Nor does the prince get ahead of himself and say what the enlightened Buddha will later say to the enlightened Nanda about forgetting work on the self and doing what one can for others. The prince's treatment of self and others, it seems to me, on the basis of mental balance realized in the first stage of sitting-meditation, as opposed to the kind of nervous agitation described as arising in Canto 3, is more deeply meditative, more considered, more perceptive, more attuned to reality, more philosophical and at the same time more practical – more in the middle way.
Having conducted the above investigation yesterday, and looked ahead to tomorrow's verse which seems to describe sitting-meditation as “this most excellent dharma,” and slept on all of this, and then practised sitting-meditation this morning as usual, I shall sum up as follows:
The separateness from which sitting-meditation springs involves a mental and physical distancing of oneself from the end-gaining desires and instincts of the herd, but this separateness is not a separateness in which I wish to see myself as essentially different from “the other.” Such a wish – if I wished to see myself as potentially one of the immortals, as distinct from others who are subject to sickness, aging, and death – might cause me to disavow or despise “the other,” who would represent to me what I would like to deny about myself (in the same way that Jews represented to Adolf Hitler the Jewishness he wished to disavow in himself). The separateness from which sitting-meditation springs, then, does not detract from the sense that we are all in the same big boat, so we can all sink or we all float. The truth is that we are all of us in the same boat, and it is not necessarily floating on a river in Egypt.
kṛpaṇam: ind. (acc. sg. n.) miserably , pitiably
kṛpaṇam: ind. (acc. sg. n.) miserably , pitiably
bata: ind. an interjection expressing astonishment or regret , generally = ah! oh! alas!
janaḥ (nom. sg.): m. people
svayam: ind. self , one's self (applicable to all persons e.g. myself , thyself , himself &c ) , of or by one's self spontaneously , voluntarily , of one's own accord
san = nom. sg. m. pres. part. as: to be
a-vaśaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. unsubmissive to another's will , independent , unrestrained , free ; not having one's own free will , doing something against one's desire or unwillingly
arasaḥ [EBC] (nom. sg. n.): mfn. weak , effectless , having no strength
vyādhi-jarā-vināśa-dharmā (nom. sg. m.): being subject to sickness, aging and death
vyādhi: m. disorder , disease , ailment , sickness
jarā: f. growing old, aging
vināśa: m. utter loss , annihilation , perdition , destruction , decay , death , removal
dharman: n. (esp. ifc.) nature , quality , characteristic mark or attribute
jarayā (inst. sg.): f. old age, aging
arditam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. injured , pained , afflicted , tormented , wounded
āturam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. suffering , sick (in body or mind)
mṛtam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. dead
vā: ind. or
param (acc. sg.): m. another (different from one's self) , a foreigner , enemy , foe , adversary
ajñaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. not knowing; ignorant , inexperienced ; unconscious
vijugupsate = 3rd pers. sg. desiderative vi- √ gup: to shrink away from , wish to conceal from
√gup: to guard , defend , protect , preserve (from abl.) ; to hide, conceal; Desid; to seek to defend one's self from (abl.) , be on one's guard ; to beware of , shun , avoid , detest , spurn , despise (with acc.) ; to feel offended or hurt
madāndhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. blind through drunkenness or passion , infatuated , ruttish (as an elephant)
madā: f. sexual desire or enjoyment , wantonness , lust , ruttishness , rut (esp. of an elephant); pride , arrogance , presumption , conceit
mada [as per BC5.15]: m. hilarity , rapture , excitement , inspiration , intoxication
andha: mfn. blind