avatīrya tatas-turaṅga-pṣṭhāc-chanakair-gāṁ vyacarac-chucā parītaḥ |
jagato janana-vyayaṁ vicinvan kpaṇaṁ khalv-idam-ityuvāca cārtaḥ || 5.7
Then, getting down off the back of his fleet-footed steed,
He slowly moved over the ground, overtaken by sorrow.
And as he reflected on how life comes into existence and perishes,
Hurting, he uttered, “How pitiful this is.”
What is causing the prince to be artaḥ, hurting, or unhappy? And what is causing the prince to experience the world as kṛpaṇam (from the same root as kṛpām in yesterday's verse), pitiable, miserable, or wretched?
Is it the virtue of pity or compassion that causes him to see the world as pitiful?
Or is it the fault of optimistic idealism that causes the prince (like an evangelical Christian) to disdain this world as miserable and wretched (unlike the kingdom of Heaven which awaits true believers in future).
Again, is it underlying physical faults in the wiring of the brain, centred on a dysfunctional vestibular system, which give rise to the kind of habits of thought and movement which are characteristic of pessimistic, depressive determinism?
Expressing not any kind of view but his own realization of freedom from both kinds of fault, the Chinese Zen Master Gensa Shibi famously said that the whole world in ten directions is one bright pearl.
My first stab at translating the 4th pāda was:
He uttered unhappily, “How wretched this world is.”
On the basis of that translation, I prepared a comment contrasting the views of the idealistic young Indian prince who had his head in the clouds and the Chinese Zen Master who had his heels on the ground. I opined that just because the Buddha-to-be, in the process of establishing the bodhi-mind, said that this world is a wretched place, does not make that view true.
If we look for corroboration of the view that the world is wretched in the words of the enlightened Buddha, it is true, we find no corroboration of that view, but only falsification of it. Thus, the Buddha tells Nanda, before Nanda himself has realized this world as not necessarily a miserable place:
Again, the ending of suffering follows from the disappearance of its cause. Experience that reality for yourself as peace and well-being, / A place of rest, a cessation, an absence of the red taint of thirsting, a primeval refuge which is irremovable and noble, // SN16.26 // In which there is no becoming, no aging, no dying, no illness, no being touched by unpleasantness, / No disappointment, and no separation from what is pleasant: It is an ultimate and indestructible step, in which to dwell at ease. // 16.27 // A lamp that has gone out reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky, / Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point: Because its oil is spent it reaches nothing but extinction. // 16.28 // In the same way, a man of action who has come to quiet reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky, / Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point: From the ending of his afflictions he attains nothing but extinction. // SN16.29 //
And then again the Buddha affirms, after Nanda has realized for himself that this world is not necessarily a miserable place:
Struck by calamity, stung to do something to combat suffering, the world exhausts itself with work like ploughing; / And yet it is ceaselessly re-visited by that suffering, to which, using what you know, you today have put an end. // SN18.37 // People in the world are impelled ever forward by thinking 'There might be for me no hardship, just happiness....' / And yet the world does not know a means whereby that happiness might come to be -- that rarely attained happiness which you today have properly realized." // SN18.38 //
And Nanda replies:
For now that I have tasted this pure, peaceful happiness, my mind no longer hankers after happiness born of desires -- /Just as the costliest earthly fare cannot entice a god who has supped the heavenly nectar. // SN18.44 // Alas, the world has its eyes closed by blind unconsciousness; it does not see utmost happiness in a different robe. / Flinging away lasting inner happiness, it exhausts itself so, in pursuit of sensual happiness. // 18.45 // For just as a fool, having made it to a jewel mine, might leave the jewels and carry off inferior crystals, / So would one reject the highest happiness of full awakening and struggle to gain sensual gratification. // SN18.46 //
On second thoughts, however, is the prince necessarily saying, on the basis of idealism or pessimism, that this world is a wretched or miserable place?
EBC's original translation of kṛpaṇaṁ khalv-idam, mirroring the ambiguity of the original, is "this is indeed pitiable." EHJ translated less ambiguously "How wretched this is." And PO went even further in that direction with "How wretched, indeed, is this world!" If I had carried on in the same vein with He uttered unhappily, “How wretched this world is," that might have been another case of send three and fourpence, we are going to a dance.
Is it possible, on second thoughts, that while the prince on the surface is expressing an immature view, what he is really doing is presaging the painful realization of a buddha that, because of all-pervading impermanence (aka the 2nd law of thermodynamics), the living world is full of things to be pitied, or creatures who are deserving of compassion?
In that case, although on the surface the prince and Gensa appear to be on totally different pages, they might, if we follow the sub-text, be singing from the same hymn sheet – which is to say that the world might be one bright pearl which is full of creatures who deserve to be pitied.
In that case, again, though on the surface the prince sounded to me, on first reading, like he was expressing the unhappy emotional aversion of the idealist to harsh reality, the hidden subtext might be that the prince is sucking up harsh reality and savouring the painful taste of it – somewhat in the manner of George Soros learning from a costly misreading of the mind of the financial markets.
In that case, again, if we are digging for subtext, the real subtext, in today's verse as in previous verses and as in tomorrow's verse, is all about contacting the earth. Hence śanakair-gāṁ vyacarat, “he slowly moved over the ground” – like a baby on its tummy on the floor exploring those all-important developmental movements which will form the basis for all his later unconscious actions within the earth's gravitational field.
If the conclusion of yesterday's comment recognized the fault of failing to recognize how mental is the practice of working on the self (aka 修行 or bhāvana), my conclusion today is to recognize the fault of failing to recognize how physical that work is – how connected to movement, fast and slow, and to stillness, on the ground, on the dirty soil, on the fertile land, on the earth.
And who is to blame for those failures to recognize what work on the self truly entails, both physically and mentally, utilizing both the physical action of movement (or non-movement) and the mental effort of thinking (but not thinking as generally understood)? Generally I blame the self and blame the other. But the Buddha's teaching might be to put the blame on ignorance.
Digging deeper, the Buddha's teaching might be to see even ignorance as part of harsh reality, and not to shrink from the experience of being hurt by it. Those impure, earthy grounds – and not some twopenny-halfpenny pie-in-the-sky vegan ideology – might be the grounds on which the Buddha developed compassion, and the grounds on which he spoke of developing compassion.
On these grounds, towards all beings, it is kindness and compassion / Not hatred or cruelty, that you should opt for. // SN15.17//
avatīrya = abs. ava- √ tṝ: to alight from
tataḥ: (used for the abl. of tád) thence, from that place
turaṅga-pṛṣṭhāt (abl. sg.): from the horse's back
turaṅga: m. " going quickly " , a horse
pṛṣṭha: n. the back (as the prominent part of an animal) , the hinder part or rear of anything
śanakaiḥ: ind. (dimin. of śanais) quietly , softly , gently , by degrees , in every case that arises , with alternations , alternately
gām (acc. sg.): f. the ground, earth
vyacarat = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect vi- √ car: to move in different directions , spread , expand , be diffused ; to rove , ramble about or through , traverse , pervade ; to sally forth , march against , make an attack or assault ; to wander from the right path , go astray , be dissolute ; to commit a mistake or blunder (with words) ; to graze upon , feed upon (a pasture)
kṣudhā [old Nepalese manuscript] = inst. sg. kṣudh: f. hunger
śucā = inst. sg. śuc: f. (also pl.) pain , sorrow , grief or regret
parītaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. surrounded , encompassed , filled , taken possession of , seized (with instr. or in comp.)
jagataḥ (gen. sg.): n. that which moves or is alive , men and animals , animals as opposed to men , men; n. the world
janana-vyayam (acc. sg.): appearance and disappearance; arising and vanishing; birth and decay
janana: n. birth , coming into existence ; n. production , causation
vyaya: m. disappearance , decay , ruin , loss
vicinvan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. vi- √ ci : to discern , distinguish ; to make anything discernible or clear , cause to appear , illumine ; to search through , investigate , inspect , examine ; to look for , long for , strive after
kṛpaṇam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. inclined to grieve , pitiable , miserable , poor , wretched , feeble; low, vile
kṛp: to mourn , long for (acc.) ; to lament , implore ; to mourn , grieve , lament; to pity
khalu: ind. (as a particle of asseveration) indeed , verily , certainly , truly ; in later Sanskrit khalu frequently does little more than lay stress on the word by which it is preceded , and is sometimes merely expletive
idam (nom. sg. n.): this
iti: “...,” thus
uvāca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vac: to speak , say , tell , utter , announce , declare , mention , proclaim
ārtaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained , disturbed; injured; oppressed , suffering , sick , unhappy