viṣayeṣu kutūhalendriyasya vrata-khedeṣv-asamartha-niścayasya |
taruṇasya manaś-calaty-araṇyād-anabhijñasya viśeṣato viveke || 5.31
When his curious senses reach out to objects,
When in the face of wearying observances he lacks fixity of purpose,
When, above all, he is not accustomed to separateness,
The mind of one who is young veers away from the wasteland.
Much of the ambiguity which runs through Aśvaghoṣa's writing depends on the multiple meanings of certain Sanskrit words. Four such words that spring immediately to mind are:
1. dharma, by which, as discussed yesterday, Aśvaghoṣa refers both to the ascetic dharma of Brahmanism and the Buddha-dharma as taught by the enlightened Gautama;
2. kāma, which means desire, both in the sense of the imperishable energy which is fundamental to all life – the energy which causes a tree to oppose gravity and grow upwards – and also in the sense of the end-gaining impulse, or thirsting, which causes us human beings to suffer more than we need to;
3. viṣaya, which means object, both in the sense that the Buddha's robe and bowl were objects that he perceived through his senses, and also in the sense that the Buddha used nymphs in heaven as objects of Nanda's sexual fantasy;
4. viveka, which means separateness both in the sense of mental discrimination or clarity and also in the sense of physical solitude.
Today's verse contains the latter two of the above terms, namely, viṣayeṣu (objects, sensual enjoyments) at the beginning and vivike (separateness, discrimination, solitude) at the end of the verse.
In the 1st pāda, then, on the surface the king is describing someone whose senses are unduly desirous of sensual enjoyments. But is a hidden meaning intended in which the senses being open to sensory inputs from objects constitutes that natural state, or ordinary mind, which is enlightenment itself?
And if there is such a hidden meaning in the 1st pāda, then is it possible also to see “lack of fixity of purpose,” in the 2nd pāda, as an ironic affirmation of mental flexibility?
Continuing in that vein, can the 3rd pāda (the 4th line in translation) be read as the description of the mind of one who is young at heart, and whose thoughts veer towards helping people – as the mind of the enlightened Buddha veered towards the citizens of Kāśi, Gaya, Giri-vraja and Kapilavāstu (see SN Canto 3)?
Continuing in that vein again, the hidden meaning of anabhijñasya viveke in the 4th pāda would have to be an ironic negation of being separate – separate in that case suggesting isolated existence in an ivory tower, or arrogance. This would fit with the tradition that after his enlightenment the Buddha gave up the joy of solitary meditation in order to be available to everybody (see SN18.47); in that sense he became anabhijñasya viveke, “unaccustomed to solitude.”
Oh! high indeed, then, is the order of that desire to favour living beings which the Tathāgata has, overflowing with benevolence: / Since, O Sage, you throw away the highest-order happiness of meditation and are consumed by your effort to stop others suffering. // SN18.47 //
When viveka would seem on the surface to mean mental discrimination it often seems to me, on further investigation, to include the meaning of physical solitude. The most memorable example of this is in SN17.42:
Distanced from desires and tainted things, containing ideas and containing thoughts, / Born of solitude/separateness (viveka-jam) and possessed of joy and ease, is the first stage of meditation, which he then entered. // 17.42 //
Conversely, in today's verse, where on the face of it anabhijñasya viveke means having no experience of solitude (EHJ) or not being used to solitude (PO), Aśvaghoṣa may really have in mind the fact that prevention of the mind-wandering habit is associated with a certain separateness in the mental sphere. Hence, if I could discount the above hidden meanings, I would like to translate the 4th pāda “When, above all, he is steeped in separateness.”
This being steeped in separateness, as discussed in previous posts, is in itself multifarious, having both a mental and physical side, and various levels of depth. In the final analysis, the criterion for the mental aspect of it may be found in separateness, or lack of it, between the pelvis and the legs of a person who is sitting in lotus.
Following that tack, taruṇa, which on the surface means young in years, might really mean a person of any age whose power of thinking is still immature – who has yet to make much progress, in other words, in the arena that Dogen called 非思量 (HI-SHIRYO), non-thinking.
In that case, again, araṇya, which on the surface means the forest or the ascetic grove ( = tapo-vana), might really mean emptiness, i.e. that wasteland or deserted space (without ambition, without partiality, without expectation; without fear, sorrow, pride, or passion; nirutsuko niṣpraṇayo nirāśaḥ vibhīr-viśug-vītamado virāgaḥ; SN17.61) which is vacated when an idea is put off.
As an example of clarity of discrimination (viveka) in the matter of mind-wandering, FM Alexander wrote at length in his book Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual about how mind-wandering (or Attention Deficit Disorder as severe manifestations of it are sometimes known) is not a specifically mental problem but is a rather a function of general pyscho-physical co-ordination of the whole human organism.
The clarity of discrimination with FM Alexander thus exhibits might be a manifestation of his being steeped in a separation that involved (through what Alexander called “conscious inhibition”) the interposing of a gap between the idea of acting and the subsequent allowing of an act.
In conclusion, then, it is extremely difficult to come to a definitive conclusion about what today's verse means – except to conclude that there might be a lot more to today's verse than initially meets the eye.
Today's verse on the surface is 1. pure royal rhetoric whose false aim is to discourage the prince by describing the difficulties that a young man has in maintaining a forest life in pursuit of an ascetic dharma; but below the surface today's verse might be intended as 2. an ironic true description of the difficulties that we all have in the work of "cultivating the empty field"; or 3. an ironic true description of the real everyday life of an enlightened buddha.
Quad Erat Demonstrandum
... And here comes Wottle!
viṣayeṣu (loc. pl.): m. objects
kutūhalendriyasya (gen. sg.): his senses being extra-ordinarily interested in / desirous for
kutūhala: n. curiosity , interest in any extra-ordinary matter ; inclination , desire for (prati loc. or in comp.)
indriya: n. power of the senses, sense
vrata-khedeṣu (loc. pl.): m. lassitude in regard to vows ; the hardships of religious practice
vrata: a religious vow or practice , any pious observance , meritorious act of devotion or austerity , solemn vow , rule , holy practice (as fasting , continence &c); any vow or firm purpose
kheda: m. lassitude , depression ; exhaustion , pain , affliction , distress
√khid: to strike , press , press down ; to be depressed or wearied ; A1 to be pressed down , suffer pain ; Caus. khedayati to press down , molest , disturb , make tired or exhausted
asamartha-niścayasya (gen. sg.): being incapable of resoluteness
asamartha: mfn. unable to (Inf. dat. loc. , or in comp.)
niścaya: m. inquiry , ascertainment , fixed opinion , conviction , certainty , positiveness ; resolution , resolve, fixed intention , design , purpose , aim
niś- √ ci : to ascertain , investigate , decide , settle , fix upon , determine , resolve
taruṇasya (gen. sg.): m. a youth ; mfn. " progressive " , young , tender , juvenile ; new , fresh , just risen (the sun cf. bālāditya) , just begun (heat or a disease)
manaḥ (nom. sg.): n. mind
calati = 3rd pers. sg. cal: to be moved , stir , tremble , shake , quiver , be agitated , palpitate ; to be moved from one's usual course , be disturbed , become confused or disordered , go astray
araṇyāt (abl. sg.): n. a distant land ; wilderness , desert , forest
anabhijñasya (gen. sg. m.): mfn. unacquainted with , ignorant
abhijña: mfn. knowing , skilful , clever ; understanding , conversant with
viśeṣataḥ: ind. especially , particularly , above all
viveke (loc. sg.): m. separateness, discrimination , distinction
vi- √vic: to sift (esp. grain by tossing or blowing) , divide asunder , separate from ; to distinguish , discern , discriminate ; to investigate , examine , ponder , deliberate
avivekam (acc. sg.): m. absence of judgement or discrimination ; non-separation , non-distinction