Tuesday, April 2, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.18: Chasing Liberation and Eschewing Objects

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
jagati kṣaya-dharmake mumukṣur-mgaye 'haṁ śivam-akṣayaṁ padaṁ tat |
sva-jane 'nya-jane ca tulya-buddhir-viṣayebhyo vinivtta-rāga-doṣaḥ || 5.18

Desiring liberation in a world marked by decay,

I pursue that happy step which is immune to decay.

I am even-minded towards my own people and other people;

Turning back from objects, 
I have allowed the stain of redness to fade away. 

After posting yesterday's verse, I felt a doubt about having translated śramaṇaḥ prejudicially as “an ascetic striver.” Śramaṇa literally means a person who makes effort, whether that effort be of the ascetic's habitual end-gaining variety or of the more mindful variety which the Buddha advocated, following a conscious plan in the middle way.

As usual, I am afraid, it won't be a straightforward matter for us to decide who this śramaṇa is, who is making the briefest of cameo appearances -- his speech which started in yesterday's verse ends in tomorrow's verse. 

It might be that Aśvaghoṣa would like us to consider the śramaṇa's words on more than one level, understanding what they seem to say on the surface and at the same time digging for deeper layers of possible understanding or misunderstanding.

In the first half of today's verse, for example, the śramaṇa's description of his object of pursuit tallies closely with Aśvaghoṣa's description in SN Canto 3 of the Buddha's enlightenment, and with what the Buddha tells Nanda in SN Canto 16 about the ultimate indestructible step. Hence:
Sitting there, mind made up, as unmovingly stable as the king of mountains, / He overcame the grim army of Māra and awoke (bubudhe) to the step which is happy, irremovable, and irreducible. // SN3.7 //
Again, the ending of suffering follows from the disappearance of its cause. Experience that reality for yourself (sākṣi-kuruṣva dharmaṃ) 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. // SN16.27 //
If we wish to put the śramaṇa in the dock, however, accused of the sin of ascetic striving, the case for the prosecution might centre on his use of the words mṛgaye 'ham, which means "I pursue" but with connotations of hunting or chasing after, or striving after. The śramaṇa's use of the verb mṛg might be contrasted with Aśvaghoṣa's use of bubudhe (from budh, to wake up) and the Buddha's phrase sākṣi-kuruṣva dharmaṃ (“experience the reality for yourself”).

Similarly the 3rd pāda brings to mind what the Buddha tells Nanda in Saundara-nanda Canto 15:
Among beings dragged by our own doing through the cycle of saṁsāra / Who are our own people (sva-janaḥ), and who are just 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 just a person (janaḥ) to you; / And a person (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 people (janasya). // SN15.33 //
As I mentioned in commenting on BC5.12, however, the Buddha does not separate “one's own people” (sva-jana) and “other people” (anya-jana). Unlike the śramaṇa in today's verse, the Buddha seems to go out of his way to avoid using the phrase anya-jana. To the Buddha it may have been that anya-jana, people who were other, odd, different, individual, were truly sva-jana, his own kind.

The 4th pāda is difficult to translate. Vinivṛtta seems to me to express both the fading away of rāga-doṣaḥ and also a turning back from viṣayebhyaḥ. Hence, with a sense of dissatisfaction, I have ended up translating vinivṛtta twice, as “fade away” and as “turning back”: 

“Turning back from objects, I have allowed the stain of redness to fade away.” 

More literally the 4th pāda seems to mean “From objects, [I am in a state of] the fault of tainted redness having been turned back/faded away.”

As in several other places in Aśvaghoṣa's writing, EHJ read rāga-doṣaḥ at the end of today's verse as equivalent to rāga-dveṣaḥ; hence, “longing for and hatred of the objects of sense have passed from me.” It is true that if Aṣvaghoṣa had wanted to speak of love and hate, rāga-dveṣaḥ would not have fitted the metre, as it would have resulted in four long syllables (the dv- in dveṣaḥ making the preceeding syllable long). But the 4th pāda (and especially the grammar of viṣayebhaḥ) makes better sense to me if rāga-doṣaḥ is understood literally as “the fault/stain of redness,” i.e. the fault of vehement, end-gaining desire, which we are called upon to turn back from the direct, unconscious pursuit of objects, and learn to channel consciously instead.

“Turning back from objects, I have allowed the stain of redness to fade away” is, for the present, as sympathetic a translation as I can manage. Having translated the ṣramaṇa's words like this, what evidence is there in Saundara-nanda that might provide a basis for affirming or finding fault with the ṣramaṇa's expression?

In Canto 12, Aśvaghoṣa describes Nanda's mind turning back from heaven:
Turning back from heaven, the chariot of his mind, whose horse was willpower, / Was like a great chariot turned back from a wrong road by an attentive charioteer. // SN12.5 // After turning back from his thirst for heaven, he seemed suddenly to become well. / He had given up something sweet that was bad for him, like a sick man finding the will to live. // SN12.6 //
In this analogy, it seems to me, heaven is not so much an object as a road or path of thirst. What Nanda turns back from is not so much heaven as an end, as the path of end-gaining which he previously believed would lead him to heaven. Yes, it is nit picking. But my sense is that such nit picking is what Aśvaghoṣa is inviting us to do.

In Canto 13 the Buddha tells Nanda:
On this basis, standing grounded in awareness, / You should hold back the naturally impetuous senses from the objects of those senses. // SN13.30 //
In this instruction, the Buddha is not telling Nanda to turn back from objects; the Buddha is telling Nanda to hold back his senses. The Buddha's intention might be, in other words, "when chopping wood, do not resort to end-gaining. Keep the senses in check by adhering to the means-whereby principle, before, during, and after the hitting of the target with your axe." In this analogy the wood to be chopped is the target, or the object to be chopped.

Later in Canto 13, the Buddha concludes a series of verses reflecting on the relationship between senses and their object by telling Nanda:
For through an illusory fixed conception one is bound to an object; / Seeing that very same object as it really is, one is set free. // SN13.51 //
In this teaching, there is no encouragement to turn back from objects. On the contrary, the point is to square up to an object and see it as it is. This, rather than turning back or turning away from objects, is the route by which Nanda eventually earns the Buddha's glowing affirmation:
Ah! What firmness in you, who is a slave to objects no more, in that you have willed the means of liberation. / For, facing the end of existence in this world and thinking 'I will be finished,' it is a fool who gives in to a state of quivering anxiety. // 18.26 //
If with the above quotes I have built a case for the prosecution, what the Buddha tells Nanda at the very end of Saundara-nanda might be cited for the defence:
Then, surely, when she hears of your steadfast mind with its chariots turned back from sundry objects (nivṛtta-nānā-viṣayair-mano-rathaiḥ) / Your wife following your example will also talk, to women at home, the talk of dispassion. // 18.59 //
Even in this verse, however, a distinction can be drawn between turning back the chariots of one's mind from sundry objects, which is laudible, and turning back from one's primary object, which might not be laudible.

Does the śramaṇa understand this distinction or not? The way the 4th pāda is worded, it is not clear. And I think that might be just the way that Aśvaghoṣa intended it.

That Aśvaghoṣa saw our human fondness for objects as an obstacle is undeniable. At the same time, Aśvaghoṣa was evidently very clear in his own mind what his own object was. His object was to give us an object out of which, by our own effort (an object-oriented effort which might indirectly result in the fading away of redness), we might cause to be yielded up a very valuable object:
Seeing, in general, that the world is moved primarily by fondness for objects and is repelled by liberation, I for whom liberation is paramount have told it here like it is, using a kāvya poem as a pretext. / Being aware of the deceit, take from (this verb-rooted dust) what pertains to peace and not to idle pleasure. Then elemental dust, assuredly, shall yield up serviceable gold. // SN18.64 //

jagati (loc. sg.): n. the world
kṣaya-dharmake (loc. sg. n.): subject to destruction
kṣaya: m. loss , waste , wane , diminution , destruction , decay , wasting or wearing away
dharmaka: mfn. (ifc = dharma); nature , character , peculiar condition or essential quality , property , mark , peculiarity
mumukṣuḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. Desid. muc) eager to be free (from mundane existence) , striving after emancipation
muc: to loose , let loose , free , let go , slacken , release , liberate

mṛgaye = 1st pers. sg. mṛg: to chase , hunt , pursue ; to seek , search for or through , investigate , examine ; to seek or strive after , aim at , endeavour to obtain (acc.)
aham (nom. sg. m.): I
śivam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. auspicious , propitious , gracious , favourable , benign , kind , benevolent , friendly; happy, fortunate
akṣayam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. exempt from decay , undecaying
padam (acc. sg.): n. step ; position , rank , station , site , abode , home
tat (acc. sg. n.): that

sva-jane (loc. sg.): my own people
anya-jane (loc. sg.): other people
ca: and
tulya-buddhiḥ (nom. sg. m.): being even-minded
tulya: mfn. even, like, equal
buddhi: f. the power of forming and retaining conceptions and general notions , intelligence , reason , intellect , mind , discernment , judgement

viṣayebhyaḥ (abl./dat. pl.): m. object, 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
vinivṛtta-rāga-doṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): with the fault of redness turned away
vinivṛtta: mfn. turned back , returned , retired , withdrawn ; turned away or averted or adverse from , (abl. or comp.) ; desisting from (abl.) , having abandoned or given up , disappeared , ended , ceased to be
vi-ni- √ vṛt: to turn back; to be extinguished (as fire)
rāga-doṣa: [MW] prob. = rāga-dveṣa; m. du. love and hatred
rāga: m. colour , hue , tint , dye , (esp.) red colour , redness ; any feeling or passion , (esp.) love ; vehement desire of
doṣa: mfn. fault , vice , deficiency ; damage , harm , bad consequence , detrimental effect ; badness , wickedness , sinfulness
衆生老病死 變壞無暫停
故我求常樂 無滅亦無生
怨親平等心 不務於財色

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