Tuesday, April 16, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.32: When Dharma Becomes Irreligion

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
mama tu priya-dharma dharma-kālas-tvayi lakṣmīm-avasjya lakṣa-bhūte |
sthira-vikrama vikrameṇa dharmas-tava hitvā tu guruṁ bhaved-adharmaḥ || 5.32

For me, O lover of dharma! it is time for religious dharma –

After I have surrendered to you, the apple of my eye,
the apple of my royal power. 

But for you, O firmly striding force!

After you have forcibly forsaken your own father,
religious dharma might turn into irreligion.

The three expressions in today's verse by which the king refers to the prince, feature plays on the three ambiguous terms dharma, lakṣmī, and vikrama, and thus alert our stupid minds to the multiplicity of meanings which one word can carry.

To deal first with a textual problem, EHJ amended the original lakṣa-bhūte to lakṣma-bhūte, pointing out the the paper manuscript of SN4.8 has lakṣma-bhūtam (which EHJ amended, erroneously he considered in retrospect, to lakṣya-bhūtam). He also considered EBC's lakṣya to be a valid option, but chose lakṣma as closest in sound to lakṣmī. EHJ noted that the meaning of lakṣa/lakṣma/lakṣya-bhūte is doutful here, but he suggested 'the apple of my eye.' I think such use of the word apple to express an object that is cherished or prized is a neat solution – though EHJ himself passed it over and went with “after I have devolved sovereignty on you, the cynosure of all eyes.” 

In any event, I think Aśvaghoṣa's main practical purpose in making these three plays on words was to cause us to wake up our lethargic minds and focus in particular on what the words dharma and a-dharma might mean, and thereby approach some understanding of what was ironically being hinted at in the 4th pāda of today's verse.

My own mind was particularly lethargic this Tuesday morning (is it Tuesday today?) having cycled through Sunday night in order to get to Flers train station for the 5.32 train which would enable me to catch the Monday morning ferry – a feat requiring a challenging but very enjoyable 9-mile sprint along the side of the canal that leads from Caen railway station to the ferry port of Ouistreham. I duly arrived at 7.45 on the dot, just as required, 45-minutes before the ferry's 8.30 departure. It is nice when a plan comes together. I might feel more pleased with myself, however, if the price of gold had not continued to head so rapidly south.

In any event, as I began to sit this morning, I was more than usually bleary-eyed and groggy after a particularly deep sleep. I had no positive idea but just sat there feeling groggy and waiting for something to change – hopefully for the better – in accordance with the 2nd law of thermodynamics. What did emerge after about an hour was a strong desire to write something about the meaning of  dharma and a-dharma  on the back of reflections on the ferry about today's verse, and on the back of recent reflections on the energetically favourable edge of the forest about the meaning of the compound akṣaya-dharma-jata-rāgaḥ, with which Aśvaghoṣa described the prince in BC5.26.

For the past several years, since somebody left a comment on a previous blog alerting my stupid brain to the importance of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which I had heard Ray Evans refer to in an Alexander context (“energy flowing from a higher to a lower source” was how Ray had described it), I have equated investigation of the 2nd law with investigation of what the Buddha called a-nityam, impermanence. But it wasn't until watching some science documentaries presented by Brian Cox a few months ago that my stupid mind began to alight on the importance of the 1st law of thermodynamics, the law of conservation of energy.

Several times while I was in France it struck me that the hidden meaning of akṣaya-dharma in the compound akṣaya-dharma-jata-rāgaḥ is energy itself. For what other reality worthy of the name dharma can be called a-kṣaya, imperishable, indestructible, not subject to decay?

On the surface akṣaya-dharma-jata-rāgaḥ describes the prince as exhibiting the height of idealism – as spawning a vehement desire (jata-rāgaḥ) for a dharma that might be imperishable (akṣaya-dharmam). But if we understand the phrase like that it has no basis in the deliciously irreligious truth of sitting upright on mother earth. It is just a crappy aspiration belonging to that sphere of endless bullshitting which is generally known as “religion.”

No, what Aśvaghoṣa was really pointing to with the phrase akṣaya-dharma-jata-rāgaḥ, I am sure, is what happens when we just sit there and don't do anything especially wrong. What happens, so long as we don't do the wrong thing, is that indestructible energy asserts itself. When indestructible energy (akṣaya-dharmaḥ) asserts itself, we feel it in us as the arising of strong desire (jata-rāgam).

That is what happened in my sitting this morning. The experience was particularly conspicuous since at the beginning I was so bereft of any positive attitude, but rather just walked like a zombie to the zafu, sent my knees forward and away as I bent my knees to sit, as has become my habit, and just sat there dumbly. But an hour later I was firmly striding up the stairs with a strong desire that I am now getting round to consummating, which is to explain the real meaning in today's verse of dharmaḥ bhaved a-dharmaḥ, dharma turning into a-dharma, religion turning into irreligion.

On the surface the king is cautioning the prince that if son were to forsake his own father, he would thereby be guilty of a-dharma, unrighteousness, wickedness, injustice, irreligion  – the prince would be guilty, the king is warning him, of doing the very opposite of his dharma-duty.

If, however, we get the irony that the king might be unknowingly predicting events that will follow from the Buddha's enlightenment, then the king is accurately predicting that the prince will stop pursuing the spiritual, religious and ascetic dharma of Brahmanism, at which moment the Buddha will begin to practise and to preach instead a totally different dharma – dharma, but not religious dharma as hitherto understood.

What a-dharma,  points to, I therefore submit, is nothing so negative as the dictionary suggests with words like unrighteousness, wickedness, and injustice.  On the contrary, non-dharma, or “irreligious dharma,” might point to the realest thing there is – the one real thing, according to the 1st law of dynamics that can never be destroyed.

mama (gen. sg.): of/for me
tu: but
priya-dharma (voc. sg.): O lover of dharma!
priya: fond of attached or devoted to (loc.) (id. in comp. , either ibc. e.g. priya-devana , " fond of playing " , or ifc. e.g. akṣa-priya , " fond of dice "
dharma-kālaḥ (nom. sg. m.): dharma-time, time to practise dharma

tvayi (loc. sg.): to you
lakṣmīm (acc. sg.): f. a mark , sign , token; a good sign , good fortune , prosperity , success , happiness (also pl.) ; wealth , riches ; beauty , loveliness , grace , charm , splendour , lustre ; N. of the goddess of fortune and beauty ; the Good Genius or Fortune of a king personified (and often regarded as a rival of his queen) , royal power , dominion , majesty
avasṛjya = abs. ava- √ sṛj: to fling , throw (as arrows or the thunderbolt) ; to throw or put into (loc.), to let off , let loose , let go , send , dismiss , abandon , surrender
lakṣa/lakṣma/lakṣya-bhūte (loc. sg.): O one who is a prized object, O apple of my eye
lakṣa: mn. a mark , sign , token , (esp.) a mark to aim at , target , butt , aim , object , prey , prize
lakṣma [EHJ] = deva-lakṣma n. divine characteristic
lakṣya [EBC]: n. an object aimed at , prize; an aim , butt , mark , goal
bhūta: mfn. (ifc.) being or being like anything , consisting of , mixed or joined with; fit , proper; m. a son , child

sthira-vikrama (voc. sg.): O firm-striding hero
sthira: mfn. firm , hard , solid , compact , strong ; firm , not wavering or tottering , steady ; constant , steadfast , resolute , persevering
vikrama: m. step, going ; valour , courage , heroism , power , strength ; force
vikrameṇa (inst. sg.): m. step, going ; valour , courage , heroism , power , strength ; force , forcible means (°māt ind. by force ; nāsti vikrameṇa , it cannot be done by force)
dharmaḥ (nom. sg.): m. dharma

tava (gen. sg.): your
hitvā = abs. hā: to leave , abandon , desert , quit , forsake , relinquish
tu: but
gurum (acc. sg.): m. any venerable or respectable person (father , mother , or any relative older than one's self)
bhavet = 3rd pers. sg. optative bhū: to be, become
adharmaḥ (nom. sg.): m. unrighteousness , injustice , irreligion , wickedness ; demerit

汝心雖樂法 未若我是時
汝應領國事 令我先出家
棄父絶宗嗣 此則爲非法 

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