Tuesday, April 30, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.46: Pursuit (By Fight or Flight?) of Ultimate Riches

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
paramair-api divya-tūrya-kalpaiḥ sa tu tair-naiva ratiṁ yayau na harṣam |
paramārtha-sukhāya tasya sādhor-abhiniścikramiṣā yato na reme || 5.46

But even those ultimate instruments,
on a par with heavenly harps,

Gave him no pleasure nor any joy.

His desire, as a sincere man going straight for his goal,
was to get out, in pursuit of the happiness of ultimate riches;

And therefore he was not in the mood for play.

Today's verse, as I read it, expresses the prince's sincerity in going straight for his goal – ostensibly in the affirmative sense of that description but also, ironically, in the pejorative sense.

Ostensibly, Aśvaghoṣa describes the prince as a good or virtuous or honest man, or even as a holy man, a saint, a sage or a seer. All these are dictionary definitions of the word sādhu, with which the 3rd pāda ends. But the original meaning of sādhu, in an adjectival sense, is leading straight to a goal. The word may thus have hidden connotations of what FM Alexander called “end-gaining” – that is, being grimly determined to achieve the end in view, irrespective of what miseries might be caused to self and others along the way.

The compound paramārtha, as discussed in comments to BC5.19, can literally be translated in any number of ways. In the context of BC5.19, where the pursuit of paramārtha is contrasted with subsisting on scraps gleaned from begging, “ultimate riches” seemed to fit. For consistency, therefore, I have stuck with “ultimate riches” in today's verse.
“Dwelling anywhere – at the root of a tree, or in an abandoned house, or on a mountain, or in the forest, / I wander here and there, with no possessions and no expectations, subsisting, for the sake of ultimate riches (parmārthāya), on whatever scraps I chance to get from begging.” //BC5.19//
The irony which I think Aśvaghoṣa has in mind, in today's verse as in BC5.19, is that ultimate treasure in the teaching of the enlightened Buddha is the kāñcanam-āsanam described two verses ago in BC5.44 – i.e. the sitting whose substance is gold, or the gold whose substance is sitting – in which case, since it is already right there on the top floor of the royal palace, where is the hurry to go out hunting for it in the forest?

As Ānanda tells Nanda in SN Canto 11:
A fire is not satisfied by dry brushwood, nor the salty ocean by water, / Nor a man of thirst by his desires. Desires, therefore, do not make for satisfaction. // SN11.32 // Without satisfaction, whence peace? Without peace, whence ease? / Without ease, whence joy? Without joy, whence enjoyment? // 11.33 // Therefore if you want enjoyment, let your mind be directed within. / Tranquil and impeccable is enjoyment of the inner self and there is no enjoyment to equal it. // 11.34 // In it, you have no need of musical instruments, or women, or ornaments; / On your own, wherever you are, you can indulge in that enjoyment. // SM11.35 //

In today's verse, then, the desiderative form abhiniścikramiṣā could express the will to transcend as a manifestation of wisdom. Or abhiniścikramiṣā could express the desire to flee as a manifestation of a fight or flight response associated with unduly excited fear reflexes.

In the former case, na reme might express an admirable decision not to join in with worldly fun, to avoid involvement with others like a thorn (“he did not join in the fun”); in the latter case, na reme might express a pitiable inability to enjoy the moment (“he felt no joy”).

Read in light of this ambiguity, today's verse sheds further light on Aśvaghoṣa's choice for the title of the present Canto, abhi-niṣ-kramaṇaḥ – which expresses both the transcendent act of going out (hence PO: “The Departure”) and the emotional reaction which is to run away (hence EHJ: “Flight”).

Last night I watched a documentary on Dave Allen, whose comedy I used to love in the 1970s, when I was an avid watcher of Dave Allen At Large. This was before I went to Japan and, falling deeply into the sin of certainty, strove to impose rightness on myself.

A keen sense of humour, I suppose, is a handy weapon in the fight not to lie to oneself. Hence today's verse, when we dig down for its ironic meaning, might contain an antidote to the disease of fancying oneself to have become a man of sincere action (a sādhu). It might be truer to recognize how,  after however many years of daily sitting practice, transcendent action and emotional reaction are still liable to be tangled up with each other in one big muddle.

paramaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. finest, highest, most excellent, superlative
api: even
divya-tūrya-kalpaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): almost the equal of celestial musical instruments
divya: mfn. divine , heavenly , celestial
tūrya: n. a musical instrument
kalpa: m. (ifc.) having the manner or form of anything , similar to , resembling , like but with a degree of inferiority , almost

sa (nom. sg. m.) :he
tu: but
taiḥ (inst. pl. m.): by those
na: not, nor
eva: (emphatic)
ratim (acc. sg.): f. pleasure , enjoyment , delight in , fondness for (loc. or comp. ; ratim with √ āp , labh , upa-labh , adhi-gam , vidkṛ or bandh and loc. , " to find pleasure in ")
yayau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. yā: to go; to go towards or against , go or come to , enter , approach , arrive at , reach
na: not, nor
harṣam (acc. sg.): m. bristling , erection (esp. of the hair in a thrill of rapture or delight) ; joy , pleasure , happiness

paramārtha-sukhāya (dat. sg.): for the pleasure/happiness of the highest object
paramārtha: m. the highest or whole truth , spiritual knowledge ; any excellent or important object [see BC5.19]
sukha: n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness
tasya (gen. sg. m.): that
sādhoḥ (gen. sg.): m. a good or virtuous or honest man ; m. a holy man , saint , sage , seer ; m. a jeweller; m. a merchant , money-lender , usurer ; mfn. straight , right; leading straight to a goal , hitting the mark , unerring (as an arrow or thunderbolt) ; straightened , not entangled (as threads) ; good , virtuous , honourable , righteous ; well-born , noble , of honourable or respectable descent

abhiniścikramiṣā (nom. sg.): f. desire of going forth from home
niścikramiṣā: f. (fr. Desid. of niṣ √kram) desire to escape
niṣ- √ kram: to go out , come forth ; to leave (worldly life) ; (in dram.) to make an exit
abhi-niṣ- √ kram: to go out towards ; to leave the house in order to become an anchorite
yataḥ: ind. from which, because of which, whence, wherefrom
na: not
reme = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ram: to stop , stay , make fast , calm , set at rest ; to delight , make happy , enjoy carnally ; to be glad or pleased , rejoice at , delight in , be fond of (loc. instr. or inf.) ; to play or sport , dally , have sexual intercourse with

太子心所念 第一遠離樂
雖作衆妙音 亦不在其懷

Monday, April 29, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.45: Man At The Top

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
tata uttamam-uttamāṅganās taṁ niśi tūryair-upatasthur-indra-kalpam |
himavac-chirasīva candra-gaure draviṇendrātmajam-apsaro-gaṇaughāḥ || 5.45

Then the upmost of women, 
accompanied by musical instruments,

Waited in the night on him the upmost man, 
a man to rival Indra,

Like cumuli of celestial nymphs 
waiting on the son of the Lord of Wealth

Up upon a moon-white Himālayan peak.

Qu'est-ce-que vous voulez? my French neighbour often asks, rhetorically, in a spirit of resignation, when discussing some pressing issue like the rising price of petrol – What do you want?

My Alexander answer to myself is that I wish to go up. I wish to allow my neck to release; to let the head go forward and up; to let the back lengthen and widen; while sending the legs out of the pelvis, knees going forwards and away.... In short, I wish to go up.

Today's verse is the culmination of a series of verses running through which is the sense of going up. Uttama is a superlative from the prefix ud- , which (as discussed in BC5.42 in connection with the un- of unmāda) means up. Today's verse, then, with its repetition of uttama and its description of goings on up upon a Himālayan peak, seems to invite investigation of what it means to go up, or to be at the top – on more than one level.

Going up in the spiritual sphere tends to mean turning one's heart towards heaven, choosing the rarified air of religion over mundane or earthly matters. Therein lies the way of the Roman Catholic paedophile. That is not the kind of ascent I aspire to.

Down here in the world a man might feel like he has arrived at the top when he is waited on hand and foot by bevvies of beautiful women to the strains of sweet music. When I lived in Tokyo I knew young women who earned a crust by working as hostesses in hostess bars that catered to that kind of male fantasy. Once, having hurriedly borrowed an ill-fitting suit, I escorted a friend who was working as a hostess to such a bar, at her request, playing the role of her client. She put the expenses on the tab of one of her rich patrons. The charade was purely for her benefit, not for mine. I couldn't wait to get out of the place. I remember her offering me a cigarette and before the fag was out of the packet a male attendant had dived in with his lighter as if his life depended on it. I didn't feel like a man on top of the world. I felt like a pillock. 

No, promotion to an elevated position – whether a seat that gives an illusion of power like a seat at a table in an opulent hostess bar, or a seat that confers real power like a seat on a board on the top floor of Trump Towers or some such high-rise edifice – is not the kind of ascent that I want, either. At least not in my better moments. In my less enlightened moments, I have to confess, I have been known to hanker for higher earthly status than I currently enjoy.

On the surface, the point of today's verse is to emphasize that the Śākya prince was not the slightest bit interested in being a man at the top in a materialistic sense. Hence the reference to the son of the Lord of Wealth, i.e., Kubera's son Nala-kūbara, previously referred to in the closing verse of BC Canto 1:
Thus at the happy development which was the birth of the king's son, that city named after Kapila, along with surrounding settlements, / Showed its delight, just as the city of the Wealth-Giver, spilling over with celestial nymphs, became delighted at the birth of Nala-kūbara. // BC1.89//
Perhaps a modern-day equivalent of Nala-kūbara up upon a moon-white Himālayan peak would be the daughter of man-at-the-top Tom Cruise flying in to London to see her dad on her own personal gulf-stream jet. I picture it, as it flies through a blue afternoon sky into Heathrow, underlining with its vapour trail an iconoclastic moon-white crescent moon – which has long been my favourite kind of moon.

On the surface, then, the point of today's verse is to suggest, like yesterday's verse also, that the prince went up to the top of the palace where he sat upon a golden seat as a man totally on top of the world, but was not the slightest bit interested in this kind of ascent. On the contrary, he wanted to get the hell down from there and to get the hell out of there.

I think the sub-text, however, is to cause us not simply to reject the whole idea of earthly ascent, but to ask ourselves whether we want to go up or not – and if so, what kind of going up do we want? And how do we hope to experience it? 

tataḥ: ind. then
uttamam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. uppermost , highest , chief ; best, excellent
uttamāṅganāḥ (nom. pl. f.): the highest of women
uttama: m. an excellent woman (one who is handsome , healthy , and affectionate)
tam (acc. sg. m.): him

niśi = loc. sg. f. niśā: f. night; vision, dream
tūryaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. a musical instrument
upatasthur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. upa- √ sthā: to stand or place one's self near , be present ; to stand by the side of , place one's self near , expose one's self to (with loc. or acc.) ; to place one's self before (in order to ask) , approach ; to stand near in order to serve , attend , serve
indra-kalpam (acc. sg. m.): almost equal to Indra
kalpa: m. (ifc.) having the manner or form of anything , similar to , resembling , like but with a degree of inferiority , almost

himavac-chirasi (loc. sg.): on the summit of the Himālays
himavat: mfn. having frost or snow; m. the snowy mountain ; the Himālaya
śiras: n. the head ; the upper end or highest part of anything , top , peak , summit , pinnacle , acme
iva: like
candra-gaure (loc. sg.): moon-white ; white as the moon
candra: m. moon
gaura: mfn. white; shining , brilliant , clean , beautiful ; m. the moon

draviṇendrātmajam (acc. sg. m.): the self-begotten of the lord of wealth; Kubera's son
draviṇendra = draviṇādhipati: m. " lord of wealth " , N. of kubera
draviṇa: n. movable property (as opp. to house and field) , substance , goods , wealth
indra: ifc. best , excellent , the first , the chief (of any class of objects)
ātmaja: m. " born from or begotten by one's self " , a son

apsaro-gaṇaughāḥ (nom. pl. m.): flocks of heavenly nymphs
apsaras: f. celestial nymph
gaṇa: m. a flock , troop , multitude , number
ogha: m. flood , stream , rapid flow of water ; heap or quantity , flock , multitude , abundance

婇女衆圍遶 奏犍撻婆音
如毘沙門子 衆妙天樂聲

Sunday, April 28, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.44: Sitting Whose Substance is Gold

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
kanakojjvala-dīpta-dīpa-vkṣaṁ vara-kālāguru-dhūpa-pūrṇa-garbham |
adhiruhya sa vajra-bhakti-citraṁ pravaraṁ kāñcanam-āsanaṁ siṣeve || 5.44

Rising above, [he sat seated within]
a light-tree that blazed with golden brightness,

A womb filled with the finest fragrance of kālāguru,
'impenetrable lightness,'

And streaked with dotted lines of diamonds –

He occupied a most excellent seat
[or practised most excellent sitting], made of gold.

Today's comment is a long one, but I think today's verse is worth the effort of detailed investigation – it abundantly repays that effort.

The first question today's verse raises in my mind is exactly what is this apparent obsession of Aśvaghoṣa with gold? He can't seem to stop bringing the subject up. In today's verse, he mentions gold not once but twice, or even three or four times – since kanaka, ujjvala, and dīpta in the 1st pāda, and kāñcana in the 4th pāda, as nouns, can all mean gold.

To begin with, gold has been used since ancient times as a symbol of spiritual perfection. Gold has been associated with divine principles like the golden ratio, the golden rule and the golden mean. Silence, so they say, is golden. In dialectic terms, gold as perfection is the idealistic thesis.

The materialistic view of gold which is antithetical to the spiritual or perfectionist view is that gold is valuable as money, as filthy lucre. People who continue to value gold as money cite various reasons, one of which is that on the surface of the earth, gold is scarce. Being very dense, most of the earth's gold is thought to have sunk to the earth's core early in our planet's history. Gold, therefore, unlike paper or digital money, is a form of money that bankers cannot easily produce.

A nihilistic view of gold favoured by the economics brahmins of Balliol College and the like, is that the use of gold as money is symptomatic of primitive thinking. Hoarded by irrational gold-bugs along with uneducated Indian peasants, uncivilized Chinese, and so forth, gold is “a barbarous relic,” an asset that provides no return and is without any productive value.

The reality of gold, however, as for example studied by chemists, falsifies – at least to my satisfaction – nihilistic views of gold. It turns out that real gold is a very effective catalyst for some chemical reactions, because real gold combines two paradoxical properties, which is to say that gold is not only non-reactive, but it also has strong relativistic effects. Gold's well-known resistance to tarnishing comes from its non-reactivity. And its beautiful golden lustre comes from its relativistic effects.

Understanding like this how Aśvaghoṣa might have loved multi-faceted gold, both for the dharma that gold itself really is, and also for what gold represents in the Buddha's teaching, might be the key to catching the sub-text of today's verse, which on the surface is about a fantastic golden seat, but which is really about the wonderful reality of enlightened sitting, whose substance is the co-existence of something that does not react and something that actively shines.

Because of this ambiguity, today's verse is one of those many verses that functions as a trap for those to fall into who have no real appreciation of Aśvaghoṣa's teaching, because they are interested in Buddhism as words, and not interested in the Buddha-dharma itself, which is sitting. Aśvaghoṣa is inviting such Buddhists to make fools of themselves by understanding āsanam in the 4th pāda only to mean “a seat” – and thus either writing a literal translation from which no philosophical meaning can be extracted (as per EBC) or else getting into a terrible muddle (as per EHJ). Hence:

Having ascended, he repaired to a special golden seat decorated with embellishments of diamond, with tall lighted candlesticks ablaze with gold, and its interior filled with the incense of black aloe-wood.

Going up to a chamber which was filled with incense of the finest black aloe and had lighted candelabra glittering with gold, he repaired to a splendid golden couch inlaid with streaks of diamond.

Going up to his inner chamber filled with incense of the best black aloe, lit by candelabra glistening with gold, he sat on a splendid seat made of gold and bespeckled with streaks of diamonds.

Āsanam is originally a -na neuter noun from ā-√sad, to sit. Āsanam means sitting, and by extension, seat. This being so, the golden key that unlocks the subtext of today's verse is to realize that kāñcanam-āsanam, which ostensibly means “golden seat,” really means “golden sitting.”

Related to this point is how 坐禅 is rendered in Chinese and Japanese. If you look up ZAZEN in the online Japanese dictionarythe first entry is 座禅 and the second entry is 坐禅, both with the definition “seated Zen meditation.” Dogen, however, never wrote 座禅, in which compound the is placed under a roof , and therefore means "seat" or "seated." Dogen always wrote 坐禅, whose meaning is not “seated meditation” but “sitting-meditation.”

Thus the Chinese translator also demonstrated that he failed to understand the real meaning of today's verse when he rendered only the ostensible meaning of sitting in a seat ():
“He sat () on a seat () of the seven-jewels”

A better translation into Chinese (one that conveyed the real, hidden meaning) would be:
“He realized golden sitting.”

When I started this blog five years ago, this distinction between 坐禅 and 座禅 was at the forefront of my mind. My intention was to post translations in my own words that might help to clarify how central to Dogen's teaching was the (not the ). That is why I chose as the url for this blog nothingbutthelifeblood.blogspot.co.uk – because “nothing but the lifeblood” in Dogen's teaching is 打坐 (TAZA , sitting), and 打坐 is nothing but the lifeblood.

Wishing to drive this point home, I chose as a title for the blog itself, "Treasury of the Eye of True Sitting," translating the SHOBO (lit. "True Dharma") of SHOBOGENZO as "True Sitting." 

After a few months I was inspired to start translating Aśvaghoṣa instead, and so the blog mysteriously morphed into “Mining Aśvaghoṣa's Gold.” When I chose that title “Mining Aśvaghoṣa's Gold,” I was aware that Aśvaghoṣa seemed to be incredibly keen on using gold as a metaphor, but as a metaphor for what exactly I was not clear.

That being so, today's verse is a pivotal one in clarifying, at least in my own mind, what the whole point of this translation effort is. Even if I myself couldn't clearly see the point of the effort when I embarked on it, it is as if I was guided by something else that could see the point, and the whole point is expressed in today's verse as kāñcanam-āsanam, which means sitting as gold, and gold as sitting. Mining Aśvaghoṣa's Gold means Mining Aśvaghoṣa's Sitting. And Mining Aśvaghoṣa's Sitting means extracting nothing but Dogen's lifeblood.

Having thus praised the importance of today's verse in the round, based on a sitting practitioner's reading of kāñcanam-āsanam in the 4th pāda, I shall now proceed to consider the verse line by line.

In the 1st pāda dīpa-vṛkṣam literally means “a light-tree,” which is Sanskrit for a candlestick. So describing āsanam as dīpa-vṛkṣam is ostensibly to describe a seat as “having a candlestick” or “having candlesticks.” But Aśvaghoṣa must have reflected on the compound dīpa-vṛkṣa “light-tree,” and felt that it was perfectly suited to his characteristic use of ironic expressions to point to the essence of the Buddha's teaching, since 'light-tree" combines a sense of vital energy / brightness with a sense of organic growth, upward and outward. So what Aśvaghoṣa was really intending to do, I venture, was to describe āsanam (sitting) as dīpa-vṛkṣam “a light-tree”  – a tree of life, ablaze with a vital energy that Aśvaghoṣa described as golden brightness.

Still in the 1st pāda, kanaka means gold. Ujjvala literally means blazing up, but by extension it means luminous, bright, splendid; and as a noun ujjvala means gold itself. Dīpta again literally means blazing, and by extension bright or brilliant; and as a noun dīpta also means gold itself.

Thus any number of translations of the 1st pāda are possible, but underlying them all I think there should be understanding that Aśvaghoṣa was describing sitting itself as a tree of golden light.

In the 2nd pāda, similarly, garbham originally means a womb and by extension the interior of anything. So describing āsanam with a compound ending in -garbham is ostensibly to describe a seat whose interior is described in the compound – as per EBC's translation “its interior filled with the incense of black aloe-wood.” This seemed to make no sense to EHJ who therefore took garbham to mean a chamber or room in which the fabulous seat was situated. Hence EHJ noted:

Abhiruhya [sic] requires an object, which can only be garbham, unless alternatively vimānam [palace] is supplied from the previous verse. To take this compound as referring to the couch makes nonsense; for its interior would not be filled with incense, and we should have to read something like -gandhim suggested by the Chinese translation's 'a seven-jewelled couch, fragrant [= gandhim] with the best sandalwood.' Garbha in the sense of 'room' seems unknown in classical Sanskrit... but occurs in Pali.

How did EHJ get himself into such a tangle, so that he ended up translating garbha, which in Sanskrit means not a room but a womb, as "chamber"; and ended up muddling the elements of the verse, all of which (including the -garbham compound) originally describe āsanam? Simply because EHJ failed to recognize that the real meaning of āsanam in today's verse is not a seat but the act of sitting – which, as Dogen describes it in Shobogenzo, is the sacred womb of buddhas.

Why, then did Aśvaghoṣa describe this womb of buddhas as “filled with finest incense of black aloe”? Again, I think that Aśvaghoṣa spotted  in the compound kālāguru a double-meaning which suited his ironic purposes. Kālāguru was the proper name for a kind of black aloe wood, but kālāguru  (kāla + a-guruliterally means a lightness, or not being heavy (a-guru) that is black or dark (kāla), i.e. difficult to see distinctly, impenetrable, unfathomable, difficult to get one's dirty grasping claws around. This word a-guru (not being heavy, lightness) could easily stimulate me to babble on as usual about the FM Alexander Technique as a method for discovering a non-habitual lightness in oneself in sitting... but this comment is long enough already.

In the 3rd pāda, as I have discussed already, adhiruhya (rising above; EBC: "having ascended") continues the theme of upward movement that runs through the present series of verses; and the puzzle of vajra-bhakti-citram is readily solved by anybody who has ever sewn a dharma-robe in the traditional manner, whereby, on a good day, every back-stitch is a little diamond in its own right.

The ambiguity expressed in the 4th pāda rests not only on the double-meaning of āsanam but also on the multiplicity of meanings of siṣeve, from the root sev, which can mean to occupy or sit in [a seat] or equally to practise or devote oneself to [sitting]. In an effort to preserve some of this ambiguity, I have translated siṣeve three times, as “he occupied” and [in square brackets] as “he sat in” and “he practised.” It is not a very elegant solution, but I challenge any translator to do justice to today's verse. Today's verse sits as a golden example of how Aśvaghoṣa, by playing with words, conveyed the innermost essence of the Buddha's sitting, which is so deadly serious that it is never to be taken too seriously or heavily.

kanakojjvala-dīpta-dīpa-vṛkṣam (acc. sg. n.): with candlesticks ablaze with gold ; being a gold-gold-gold light-tree; being a light-tree with the luminous brilliance of gold
kanaka: n. gold
ujjvala: mfn. blazing up , luminous , splendid , light ; burning ; clean , clear; lovely , beautiful ; n. gold
ujjvalā: f. splendour , clearness , brightness
dīpta: mfn. blazing , flaming , hot , shining , bright , brilliant , splendid; n. gold
dīpa-vṛkṣa = dīpa-pādapa: m. " light tree " , a candlestick
dīpa: m. a light , lamp , lantern
vṛkṣa: m. a tree

vara-kālāguru-dhūpa-pūrṇa-garbham (acc. sg. n.): its interior full of choicest incense of black aloe
vara: " select " , choicest , valuable , precious , best , most excellent
kālāguru: a kind of black aloe wood or Agallochum
kāla: mfn. black , of a dark colour , dark-blue
a-guru: mfn. not heavy , light; mn. the fragrant Aloe wood and tree , Aquilaria Agallocha.
dhūpa: m. incense , perfume , aromatic vapour or smoke proceeding from gum or resin , the gum and resin themselves
pūrṇa: mfn. full
garbha: m. womb, interior

adhiruhya = abs. adhi- √ ruh: to rise above, ascend, mount
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
vajra-bhakti-citram (acc. sg. n.): bespeckled with lines of diamonds
vajra: mn. " the hard or mighty one " , a thunderbolt (esp. that of indra); a diamond (thought to be as hard as the thunderbolt or of the same substance with it)
bhakti: f. a streak , line , variegated decoration
citra: mfn. conspicuous; bright ; variegated , spotted , speckled (with instr. or in comp.)

pravaram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. most excellent, best
kāñcanam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. golden , made or consisting of gold
āsanam (acc. sg.): n. sitting; sitting in peculiar posture according to the custom of devotees , (five or , in other places , even eighty-four postures are enumerated ; » padmā*sana , bhadrā*sana , vajrā*sana , vīrā*sana , svastikā*sana: the manner of sitting forming part of the eightfold observances of ascetics); seat, place, stool
siṣeve = 3rd pers. sg. perf. sev: to remain or stay at , live in , frequent , haunt , inhabit , resort to (acc.) ; to serve , wait or attend upon , honour , obey , worship ; to devote or apply one's self to , cultivate , study , practise , use , employ , perform , do

坐於七寶座 薫以妙栴檀

Saturday, April 27, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.43: Opposing Darkness

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
vigate divase tato vimānaṁ vapuṣā sūrya iva pradīpyamānaḥ |
timiraṁ vijighāṁsur-ātma-bhāsā ravir-udyann-iva merum-āruroha || 5.43

Then, when day was done,

Blazing like the sun with his handsome form,

The one who would by his own brightness dispel darkness

Ascended the palace, like the rising sun ascending Meru.

I was busier than usual yesterday so didn't have time to prepare any commentary for today's verse, other than a note to myself to connect the final word āruroha (he ascended, he went up) with Master Tendo Nyojo's poem about the cuckoo, which, similarly, ends with the Chinese character 上  (which means up above, or going up).
There are calves on Tendo mountain tonight,
And golden-faced Gautama is manifesting real form.
If we wanted to buy it, how could we afford the impossible price?
The cry of a cuckoo above a lonely cloud.
Despite my busy schedule, I did find time to drink half a bottle of wine last night, however, so I woke this morning with a bit of a headache. Nonetheless I woke thinking about today's verse, and I fancied titling this post Blazing Golden Sun Light Going Up a Mountain.

Blazing, pradīpyamānaḥ.

Gold, kāñcana. 

Sun, sūryaḥ / raviḥ. 

Light, bhās.

Going Up, udyan / āruroha. 

A Mountain,  parvata / meru. 

I would write a comment, I fancied, linking those elements.

Then, 45 minutes into my morning sitting, a mini-digger rolled up to start the work of landscaping a neighbour's garden, and so I got up to go for a long cycle ride, swearing because I couldn't find a hat, and beginning to realize that what I am better qualified to comment on is not Blazing Golden Sun Light Going Up a Mountain, but rather another element of today's verse, which is namely 

Darkness, timiram.

Trying to do an undoing, as I did for 13 years in Japan, is darkness. Trying to be right is the essence of darkness. Blind unconscious reaction is darkness. Darkness is wanting to kill (vijighāṁsuḥ)  a person because they unduly excited my fear reflexes by presenting an auditory stimulus. 

It didn't happen this morning but this morning I remembered a couple of occasions when I have been cycling along and some motorist has loudly and unnecessarily beeped his horn behind me. On one particularly memorable occasion, in 1997/98 when I was in my last year of Alexander teacher training, some old git accompanied his beep of the horn with a dismissive sweep of his hand as he drove past, as if to say “Get over to the side of the road.” I cycled for all I was worth yelling at him at the top of my voice. If I had caught him up I probably wouldn't have killed him, but I felt like I would have. I felt like I would have been happy to give up my life for the privilege of breaking every rib in his ribcage. Not the psychology of a dove. The psychology of a hawk. And a moment of true darkness. So much for Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual. At a moment like that there is no desire in me to dispell darkness; what I am desirous of killing (vijighāṁsuḥ) is the twat who made the offending noise.

What means are at a person's disposal to oppose such darkness?

Spiritual light? The light of Jesus? The light of Asia? I don't think so. I don't think today's verse has anything to do with such universal spiritual light. I think it is rather about a person using the real means of his own light, his own brightness (ātma-bāsā), i.e., the reality of his own energy.

At the same time, coming back to my original thought about today's verse, today's verse is about a person's movement, in an upward direction – in short, going up.

And the other main element, in today's verse as in yesterday's verse, is a very massive object, namely a mountain.

Energy, movement, and mass. Or energy, mass, and movement – anybody for E = mc2?

Some day soon somebody brighter and more virtuous than me, a bona fide scientist like David Attenborough or Brian Cox, will come along and make the kind of connection I would like to make between energy itself, as studied in physics, chemistry and biology, and Aśvaghoṣa's irreligious teaching about that dharma which, in the real world, is truly imperishable (a-kṣaya-dharma); i.e., energy itself. 

 I would be happy if I could somehow open a way for such scientists, by my unskilfull efforts to break the ground – and not by using a fucking JCB either, at 7.30 in the morning, when people are trying to be right. 

vigate (loc. sg.): mfn. gone away , departed , disappeared , ceased , gone
divase (loc. sg.): m. heaven; a day
tataḥ: ind. then
vimānam (acc. sg.): m. the palace of an emperor or supreme monarch (esp. one with 7 stories)

vapuṣā (inst. sg.): n. form, handsome form
sūryaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the sun
iva: like
pradīpyamānaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. pra- √ dīp: to flame forth, blaze

timiram (acc. sg.): n. darkness
vijighāṁsuḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (Desid. of √ han) wishing to slay or to kill or to remove or to destroy
ātma-bhāsā (inst. sg.): by his own brightness
bhās: n. light or ray of light , lustre , brightness

raviḥ (nom. sg.): m. the sun (in general) or the sun-god
udyan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. ud- √i: to go up to , proceed or move up , proceed ; to rise (as the sun)
iva: like
merum (acc. sg.): m. N. of a fabulous mountain (regarded as the Olympus of Hindu mythology and said to form the central point of jambu-dvīpa
āruroha = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ā- √ ruh: to ascend , mount , bestride , rise up

漸已至日暮 太子處幽夜
光明甚輝耀 如日照須彌

Friday, April 26, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.42: How He Carried Women Away

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
sa hi kāñcana-parvatāvadāto hdayonmāda-karo varāṅganānām |
śravaāṅga-vilocanātma-bhāvān vacana-sparśa-vapur-guṇair-jahāra || 5.42

For he with the luminance of a golden mountain,

He who unhinged beautiful women's hearts,

Carried away their ears, bodies, eyes, and souls,

With his speech, sensitivity, handsome form, and excellent qualities.

The un- in unmāda in the 2nd pāda of today's verse is the ud- of abhy-ud-īkṣyamānaḥ (being looked up at) in the 4th pāda of yesterday's verse. It is the same prefix, ud-, which means up. The literal meaning of unmāda, therefore, is something like “intoxicated up” or “dizzied up” or “raised up to a high level of exuberance.” The up could suggest 1. abnormality, as in the pathological mania of a manic depressive; or 2. transcendence. With this in mind, I have opted to translate unmāda as “unhinged,” which can also convey both senses. Unfortunately, however, that leaves the up lost in translation.

In the 3rd pāda ātma-bhāva literally means “the self's [whole] being.” Hence EBC translated ātma-bhāvān as souls, EHJ as beings, and PO as selves. Each of these translations has its merits, but since one definition that the dictionary gives of soul is “a person's total self,” and this definition seems best to fit ātma-bhāva in today's verse, I have followed EBC.

Examining the four elements in the 3rd pāda, and the four elements in the 4th pāda, intuitively, 1. śravaṇa (ear) goes with 1. vacana (speech); 3. vilocana (eye) goes with 3. vapus (beauty, handsome form); and 4. ātma-bhāva (soul, being, self) goes with guṇa (virtue, excellent quality).

These three pairs would seem to go together whether describing the Śākya prince entrancing women who were sexually attracted to him, or describing the King of Dharma entrancing followers who were witnessing him turning the wheel of dharma.

The pair that seems to call for attention is 3. aṅga (limb) and 3. sparśa (touch). If we follow previous translations, the prince enraptured (EBC), captivated (EHJ), or enthralled (PO) the women's limbs by or with his touch.

Is the intention to suggest that the prince had actually come into physical contact with some or all of those women's limbs? Even if that is the ostensible meaning, in view of the possible sub-text of the Buddha entrancing followers, I have taken aṅga in its wider meaning of body and sparśa in its wider meaning of feeling or sensitivity.

In that case today's verse tallies well enough with the description in SN Canto 13 of how the Buddha went about healing the world:
Some in soothing tones; some with tough talk, / Some by both these means, he the trainer trained. // SN13.3 // Just as gold born from dirt is pure, spotless, gleaming, / And while lying in the dirt is not tarnished by the dirt's impurities, // 13.4 // And just as a lotus-leaf is born in water and remains in water, / But neither above nor below is sullied by the water, // 13.5 // So the Sage, born in the world, and acting for the benefit of the world, / Because of his state of action, and spotlessness, is not tainted by worldly things. // 13.6 // Joining with others and leaving them; love and toughness; and talking, as well as meditation itself: / He used these means during his instruction for the purpose of healing, not to make a following for himself. // 13.7 // Thus did the benevolent one, out of his great compassion, take on a form / By which he might release fellow living beings from suffering. // SN13.8 //
This passage in which Aśvaghoṣa conveys to us a sense of who the enlightened Buddha was, contains the image of gold born from dirt (pāṃsubhyaḥ kāñcanaṃ jātam). And so today's verse in which Aśvaghoṣa  describes the Śākya prince as having the luminance of a golden mountain (kāñcana-parvatāvadātaḥ) presages his later description of the enlightened Buddha. 

The golden mountain of today's verse suggests not literally a mountain of gold but rather a mountain, possibly a snow-covered mountain, reflecting golden sunlight. Last year my son as part of his chemistry degree wrote a paper on the powerful catalytical properties of gold, which stem from its dual character of non-reactivity and another chemical property (whose name I forget) which gives gold its luminance. Previously I had thought that gold's sheen was just a function of the inertness which prevents gold from becoming tarnished. But that turned out to be a wrong view. Gold has peculiar properties that give it its lustre, and these properties, in combination with its non-reactivity, make gold a very effective catalyst in certain chemical reactions. 

What I am discussing here, and what Aśvaghoṣa compared the Buddha to, is real gold. In recent weeks the price of gold dropped because of huge sudden selling of "paper gold" -- i.e. not selling of real physical gold but selling of financial paper (or a digital promise) that represents a claim on gold. Many people around the world responded to the drop in price by buying real physical gold. So there seems to be a kind of tug of war going on between sellers of paper gold (various kinds of banks) and buyers of real gold (people who don't trust such banks). Brahmins of Baliol College and the like are prone to laugh at hoarders of physical gold as "gold bugs," who believe in what J.M. Keynes called "a barbarous relic" that has no productive value. 

From the evidence of my son's paper on the catalytical properties of gold, the view that gold has no productive value is not always true. But in any event, I think that real gold has value just in the fact that non-brahmins like me (and like the people in India, China, and elsewhere who have been forming queues to buy it in recent days) value it as real -- as opposed to paper gold, which we recognize as truly not having any value.

Some predict that the time is coming soon when people will realize that the real gold which they believed to be backing paper gold, does not actually exist. Bankers have alread sold it, reasoning that as long as people believed the gold was in their vaults, there was no need actually to keep the gold. This is the traditional principle of fractional reserve banking.  It may be that this has been true not only of commercial banks but also of central banks who have "leased out" gold to bullion banks. As such facts emerge, it looks like being a major scandal -- interesting times, as per the old Chinese curse. 

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
hi: for
kāñcana-parvatāvadātaḥ (nom. sg. m.): bright as a golden mountain
kāñcana: golden
parvata: m. mountain
ava-dāta: mfn. (√ das) cleansed , clean , clear ; blameless , excellent , of white splendour , dazzling white

hṛdayonmāda-karaḥ (nom. sg. m.): driving hearts mad
hdaya: n. heart
unmāda: m. insanity , madness ; mania ; intoxication
ud: a particle and prefix to verbs and nouns. (As implying superiority in place , rank , station , or power) up , upwards
māda: m. ( √2. mad) drunkenness , exhilaration , delight, passion
√mad: to rejoice , be glad , exult , delight or revel in (instr. gen. loc. , rarely acc.) , be drunk (also fig.); to enjoy heavenly bliss (said of gods and deceased ancestors) ; to boil , bubble (as water) ; to gladden , exhilarate , intoxicate , animate , inspire
kara: mfn. making
varāṅganānām (gen. pl.): f. a beautiful woman

śravaṇāṅga-vilocanātma-bhāvān (acc. pl.) their ears, limbs, eyes, and souls
śravaṇa: n. ear
aṅga: n. a limb of the body, the body
vilocana: n. the eye, sight
ātma-bhāva: m. the self , proper or peculiar nature
bhāva: m. being; manner of being , nature , temperament , character ; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling , sentiment ; (in rhet.) passion , emotion

vacana-sparśa-vapur-guṇaiḥ (inst. pl.): with his speech, sensitivity, handsome form, and good qualities
vacana: n. speaking; speech , sentence , word
sparśa: m. touch ; any quality which is perceptible by touching any object (e.g. heat , cold , smoothness , softness &c ) ; feeling, sensation
vapus: n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty
guṇa: m. good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
jahāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. hṛ: carry away, captivate, entrance, enrapture

太子正容貎 猶若眞金山
伎女共瞻察 聽教候音顏
敬畏察其心 猶彼林中鹿