Monday, April 8, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.24: A Signpost On the Way to Happiness

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
sukhitā bata nirvtā ca sā strī patir-īdkśa ih' āyatākṣa yasyāḥ |
iti taṁ samudīkṣya rāja-kanyā praviśantaṁ pathi sāñjalir-jagāda || 5.24

“Made happy, alas, and perfectly contented, is the woman

Whose husband is such as you are here,
O one of lengthened eyes!”

Thus, on seeing him entering, did a young princess exclaim,

As she watched by the road with her hollowed hands joined.

The nir- of nir-vṛtā in today's verse is the nir- of nir-vāṇa in tomorrow's verse. Its closest English equivalent might be “out” as in “he sipped his coffee, lit a cigarette, and blew out the match” or “the weather has turned out nice” – neither of which, I might add in passing, has happened in my experience for what seems like a long time. The chill easterly wind has given way this morning to cold grey drizzle.

To preserve the correspondence  between the nir-vṛtā (“perfectly contented”) of the 1st pāda, and nir-vāṇa ("blown out") in tomorrow's verse, nir-vṛtā might best be translated as the past participle of a phrasal verb ending in “out,” but I cannot think of one – “blissed out”?

Nir-,  like "out," can function not only as a privative or negative adverb (e.g. out, away, without), but also as a strengthening particle (e.g. thoroughly, fully). So to understand the nir- of nir-vṛta, we need to understand the meaning of vṛta.

Whereas nir-vāṇa (blown out, extinguished) is understood to be a past participle from the root √vā, to blow, nir-vṛta is a past participle from the root √vṛ, which can mean either 1. to block off, restrain or 2. to pick and choose, or prefer.

How then, did nir-vṛta, come to mean 1. satisfied, happy, at rest; and 2. extinguished, terminated, ceased? Does nir-vṛta mean “made happy” in the sense of 1. all restraints having been removed, or 2. being through with picking and choosing and beyond preferring, or 3. other?

And how, if nir-vṛta and nir-vāṇa are derived from different verbal roots, did nir-vṛṭa √bhū come to mean “to attain nirvāṇa”? Is it only a coincidence that the two core meanings of nir-vāṇa (1. blown out, extinguished; and 2. perfect happiness) tally with the two meanings of nir-vṛta (i.e 1. happy, and 2. extinguished)?

The old Nepalese manuscript's reading of ni-vṛta (“warded off”) introduces another element of uncertainty, though not a serious one, as ni-vṛta makes no sense in the context.

From the context it is obvious that nir-vṛtā is more or less synoymous with sukhitā. Both words are past participles that describe a woman who has been made happy. 

From within the cloud of unknowing, then, I have translated nir-vṛtā in today's verse as “perfectly contented,” and shall translate pari-nirvāṇa in tomorrow's verse as “complete extinction.” As a past participle, “perfectly contented,” conveys some sense of a process in which dissatisfaction has been appeased or extinguished.

Still in the 1st pāda, bata can be read as an expression of astonishment (Oh!) or of a negative emotion like envy (Alas!); I have opted for the latter reading. The young princess, as I read the description of her, has got her little hands joined like a beggar on the side of the road, but she might be the kind of princess who wants a lot and is not easily contented.

Read like that, today's verse is an ironic pointer to the Buddha's ultimate teaching of how to be happy, namely, alpecchu-saṁtuṣṭa (Ch: 少欲 知足; Jap: SHOYOKU-CHISOKU), wanting little and being content.

From personal experience, even if I separate myself physically by coming here to the solitude of a place by the Norman forest, and even if I physically sit in lotus, if my mind remains greedy – as it is perfectly capable of remaining – then I am not happy and I don't enter the first dhyāna, which, as Aśvaghoṣa describes it, is distanced from desires and tainted things, and born of separateness.

Speaking of separateness, when I googled “pursuit of happiness, US constitution,” I noticed that when the former British colonies declared themselves to be separate from my own mother country, the first sentence of that Declaration of Independence ends with the injunction that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Then follows, in the way of declaration of a cause, the famous second sentence:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

When it comes to identifying an object worth pursuing, namely, Happiness with a capital H, it doesn't take a genius to identify a certain goal congruence between the aim stated in the US Declaration of Independence and the aim of life as conceived by the Buddha, both before and after his ultimate realization of the aim under the bodhi tree.

So what? I don't know. I only know that here in today's and tomorrow's verse is the evidence that the prince who would be Buddha, on the way to Buddhahood, identified Happiness (whether derived from nir-√vṛ or from nir-√vā) as his primary aim.

I have read in the writings of a couple of eminent individuals that the Pali Suttas are the most reliable source we have of what the Buddha actually taught, but I beg to differ. I think the most reliable source we have are these words of Aśvaghoṣa, who not only recorded the Buddha's teaching in a language of the Buddha's time but who also was a direct successor of the Buddha, after 12 generations. Being thirsty, I would rather have one small bottle of  mineral water bought from a firm of good repute, like Tesco or Lidl, than access to a river like the River Thame in Aylesbury or L'Orne here in Normandy. Not that I hate those rivers. But if somebody says that their millions of gallons are a more reliable source of drinking water than my bottle of mineral water bought from Lidl, I beg to differ. I beg strongly to differ. 

If somebody had asked me five years ago, based on Dogen's Shobogenzo, what aim the prince set his mind on before he went forth into the homeless life of a forest beggar, I would have said that the word was bodhi, i.e. awakening or enlightenment. But on the evidence of Aśvaghoṣa's record, what the prince set his mind on, triggered by the princess's use of the word nirvṛtā, was pari-nirvāṇa, complete extinction, or complete Happiness.

What complete Happiness might be we cannot know until we experience it. But we can know, based on Aśvaghoṣa's record, that the signpost the prince followed on the way there had written on it the word pari-nirvāṇa, complete extinction, or complete Happiness.

sukhitā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. pleased , delighted , comforted ; made happy
sukh: to make happy , please , delight , gladden , rejoice , comfort
bata: ind. an interjection expressing astonishment or regret , generally = ah! oh! alas!
nir-vṛtā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. satisfied , happy , tranquil , at ease , at rest ; extinguished , terminated , ceased ; emancipated ; with √bhū, -bhavati, to attain nirvāṇa
nis: ind. out , forth , away &c, mostly as a prefix to verbs and their derivatives or to nouns not immediately connected with verbs , in which case it has the sense , " out of " , " away from " or that of a privative or negative adverb " without " , " destitute of " , " free from " , " un- " , or that of a strengthening particle " thoroughly " , " entirely " , " very "
√vṛ 1. to cover , screen , veil , conceal , hide , surround , obstruct ; to close (a door) ; to ward off , check , keep back , prevent , hinder , restrain; 2. to choose , select , choose for one's self , choose as ; to solicit anything ; to like better than , prefer to ; to like , love (as opp. to " hate ")
ni-vṛtā [old Nepalese manuscript] (nom. sg. f.): mfn held back , withheld ; surrounded , enclosed
ni-√vṛ : to ward off , restrain ; to surround
ca: and
sā (nom. sg. f.): she, that
strī (nom. sg.): f. woman

patiḥ (nom. sg.): m. husband
īdṛkśaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. of this aspect , of such a kind , endowed with such qualities , such-like
iha: in this place, here ; in this case
āyatākṣa (voc.): O one of lengthened eyes!
āyata: mfn. stretched , lengthened
akṣa: n. [only ifc. for akṣi] , the eye.
yasyāḥ (gen. sg. f.): whose

iti: thus
tam (acc. sg. m.): him
samudīkṣya = abs. sam-ud- √ īkṣ : to look up at , look at attentively , perceive , observe ; to have regard or respect for (acc.)
rāja-kanyā (nom. sg.): f. a king's daughter
kanyā: f. a girl , virgin , daughter

praviśantam = acc. sg. m. pres. part. pra- √ viś: to enter , go into , resort to
pathi (loc. sg.): m. a way , path , road
sāñjaliḥ (nom. sg. f.): mfn. with hands hollowed and joined (in supplication)
sa-: possessive prefix
añjali: m. ( √ añj) , the open hands placed side by side and slightly hollowed (as if by a beggar to receive food ; hence when raised to the forehead , a mark of supplication) , reverence , salutation , benediction
jagāda = 3rd pers. sg. perf. gad: to speak articulately , speak , say , relate ,

太子時入城 士女挾路迎
老者願爲子 少願爲夫妻
或願爲兄弟 諸親内眷屬

[Relation with Sanskrit tenuous]

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