Monday, March 18, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.3: Stillness & Movement, in Donkey Business & Horse Matters

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
nava-rukma-khalīna-kiṅkiṇīkaṁ pracalac-cāmara-cāru-hema-bhāṇḍam |
abhiruhya sa kanthakaṁ sad-aśvaṁ prayayau ketum-iva drumābja-ketuḥ || 5.3

Onto the good horse Kanthaka,
decked with bridle-bit and small bells of new gold,

With waving plume, and with lovely golden harness,

He climbed, and rode forth,

Like a star among trees, or a star among lotuses, on a shooting star.

“Like a starring tree or lotus on a shooting star” is a literal enough translation of ketum-iva drumābja-ketuḥ in the 4th pāda – taking ketum to mean star in the sense of shooting star or comet, and taking ketuḥ to mean star in the sense of person who plays a leading role (as per one of Sting's better lyrics, "In this theatre that I call my soul I always play the starring role"). 

What Aśvaghoṣa originally had in mind I don't know. Lack of certainty, however, does not prevent me from having a guess...

Though my practical experience of horse-riding is limited to riding kindly donkeys on Blackpool sands, I imagine that true masters of the art of horse-riding might have a sense of great stillness in the saddle even when riding a horse that is rapidly going forth. In that case the metaphor of an especially beautiful tree or lotus riding on a shooting star makes sense – insofar as trees, even when moving in the wind, always seem to remain still; and lotuses, which grow in still water, also have roots.

EBC translated ketum-iva drumābja-ketuḥ “like the moon mounted on a comet,” and noted:  The Tibetan has tog-la ljon·daṅ chu·skyes tog·can, ‘like him who has the sign of a tree and water-born (lotus,) (mounted) on a comet’, but with no further explanation. Could this mean the moon as oṣadhi-pati [lord of herbs]?

In a long footnote of his own, EHJ followed Schrader and Sovani in taking drumābja as = drumotpala. EHJ points out that this tree, also called the karnikāra tree, is compared to human beings later in this Canto (BC5.51) and also in the final canto of Saundara-nanda:
And so, a glowing gold in his yellow-red robe, he bowed his head to the Guru / Like a karnikāra tree, with an outburst of ruddy shoots, and a glorious blaze of flowers, nodding in the wind. // SN18.5 //
EHJ translated “and so he resembled a karṇikāra emblem mounted on a flagpole.” PO followed suit with “like the glint of a drumabja mounted on a flag,” adding in an endnote that the drumabja is also know as karṇikāra (Pterospermum acerifolium), whose fragrant yellow flowers are used for dressing the hair. They were put at the top of a flag pole carried into battle. Sleeping girls at 5.51 are compared to karṇikāra branches torn down by an elephant. This may be an allusion to their wearing karṇikāra flowers on their hair.

Accepting the reasoing of EHJ and PO, an alternative translation of the 4th line might be “Like the emblem of a karṇikāra tree mounted on a flag.” But I like the simile of the tree, the lotus and the shooting star because it appeals not only to the visual sense but also to that sense which is most fundamental in sitting-meditation, which is the vestibular sense, the sense of movement and stillness.

Balance, so they say, is the art of not moving.

And in order to learn that art, children in particular need lots of experience of movement, and lots of experience of falling over.

Speaking of which I have got a good photo of me having fun riding on a donkey, but it is a slide which has not yet been transferred onto digital format. So in lieu of that, here is another photo of me saying hello to a horse – a horse who does not care if I am royal or common, sacred or profane, educated or uneducated, believer or infidel, but who knows where I am here and now and understands what my intention is. 

My non-Buddhist hero FM Alexander, by the way, was a man who loved horses – especially when they won at 7/1.

In conclusion, and having slept on it and sat on it, I think that an excellent tree works as a metaphor for an excellent person sitting on a horse so long as one understands that the earth in which the tree is rooted is a planet revolving around its axis once per day and orbiting around the sun once per year. But Aśvaghoṣa, nearly two thousand years ago, could not have known, could he, that when we are sitting still on the earth, the earth is always moving?

nava-rukma-khalīna-kiṅkiṇīkam (acc. sg. m.): having bridle-bit and small bells of new gold
nava: mfn. new , fresh , recent
rukma: m. " what is bright or radiant " , an ornament of gold , golden chain or disc ; n. gold
khalīna: mn. the bit of a bridle
kiṅkiṇīkā/kiṅkiṇī: f. a small bell

pracalac-cāmara-cāru-hema-bhāṇḍam (acc. sg. m.): having lovely golden trappings and a waving plume
pracalat: mfn. moving , trembling , shaking
cāmara: n. a chowrie (a kind of plume on the heads of horses &c )
cāru: mfn. agreeable , approved , esteemed , beloved , endeared , (Lat.) carus , dear; pleasing , lovely , beautiful , pretty
heman: n. gold
bhāṇḍa: n. any implement , tool , instrument; n. horse-trappings , harness

abhiruhya = abs. abhi-ruh: to ascend , mount
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
kanthakam (acc. sg.): m. (= kaṇṭhaka) buddha's horse,
sad-aśvam (acc. sg.): m. a good horse

prayayau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra- √ yā : to go forth , set out , progress , advance towards or against , go or repair to
ketum (acc. sg.): m. bright appearance , clearness , brightness (often pl. , " rays of light "); lamp , flame , torch; day-time; apparition , form , shape ; sign , mark , ensign , flag , banner ; a chief , leader , eminent person ; any unusual or striking phenomenon , comet , meteor , falling star ; the dragon's tail or descending node (considered in astron. as the 9th planet , and in mythol. as the body of the demon saiṁhikeya [son of siṁhikā] which was severed from the head or rāhu by viṣṇu at the churning of the ocean , but was rendered immortal by having tasted the amṛta)
iva: like
drumābja-ketuḥ (nom. sg.): m. "having the sign of a tree and a lotus", the moon
druma: m. a tree
ab-ja: n. 'born in water'; a lotus
drumābja = (?) drumotpala: 'tree-lotus,' m. Pierospermum Acerifolium [= karṇikāra tree; see SN18.5]
utpala: ( √ pal " to move " ; fr. pal = √paṭ , " to burst open " ), the blossom of the blue lotus
oṣadhipati: m. " lord of herbs " , the moon
drumābja = (?) 'born of wood or water' i.e. Agni [god of fire], the ketu of Agni being smoke.

服乘駿足馬 衆寶具莊嚴
與諸貴族子 圍遶倶出城
譬如四種華 日照悉開敷
太子耀神景 羽從悉蒙光

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