Thursday, April 18, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.34: Melodious Argument, Heatless Debate

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
iti vākyam-idaṁ niśamya rājñaḥ kalaviṅka-svara uttaraṁ babhāṣe |
yadi me pratibhūś-caturṣu rājan bhavasi tvaṁ na tapo-vanaṁ śrayiṣye || 5.34

Having heard these words of the king,

He with the voice of a kalaviṇka bird spoke his reply:

“If in four things, O king, you will be my guarantor,

I will not go to the ascetic grove  

If, as I have argued, enlightened preaching of the Buddha-dharma may be read concealed in the king's words – albeit unknown to the king himself – then the prince is so far not able to discern such hidden meaning. Rather, his mind is still set on going to the ascetic grove, where he will duly practise asceticism.

Mitigating this foolish fixity of purpose, however, is the reasonable manner of the prince's reply. He neither throws his toys out of the pram nor spits out his dummy; since the king in the first instance has tried to dissuade the prince with reason, the prince is going to reciprocate with reasoned argument. Staying in touch with his reason, the prince does not descend into heated debate. He of battle-cry like roaring thunder-cloud (mahābhra-ghoṣaḥ; BC5.25), though he naturally has a voice like thunder, opts not to use this voice in responding to the king's argument. Rather he speaks with the voice of a bird – the kalaviṇka – which was celebrated for its supremely melodious tones.

As a rule, birds with the most beautiful voices tend not to be too showy in their plumages. The blackcap springs to mind among small birds, and the blackbird among bigger ones. So having googled the kalaviṇka, the images that struck me as least ridiculous were fairly drab depictions on two Korean roof tiles and a Japanese postage stamp (I am not convinced by the human heads and arms, though):

Tapo-vana, “the ascetic grove,” is a concept in Brahmanism, in the repudiation of which Aśvaghoṣa was circumspect, preferring poetry to polemics. 

Because Aśvaghoṣa was circumspect in repudiating Brahmanism, using irony and other indirect means, professors of Sanskrit, who tend to be apologists for Indian culture in general, are liable not to see anything in Aśvaghoṣa's writing that falsifies the notion that Brahmanism and the Buddha's teaching are basically variations on the same theme. Professor Richard Gombrich, a brahmin of Balliol College Oxford (using brahmin in the English sense of the word as a true gentleman – brahmin [Websters]: “a person of high social standing and cultivated intellect and taste”), has been a champion of this notion. His friend and fellow professor Patrick Olivelle expressed it explicitly in the introduction to his translation of Buddha-carita like this: “Aśvaghoṣa sought to present Buddhism as an integral part of Brahmanism.”

These professors of Sanskrit and Indian religion might be the equivalent in the field of Buddhist studies to the big beasts in the world of classical economics whose bright ideas, based on assumptions like perfect knowledge, have brought so many national economies to what George Soros calls “very far from equilibrium."

If we take the example of tapo-vana, “the ascetic grove,” it is undeniable that the prince who would be Buddha is portrayed in Aśvaghoṣa's writing as revering that conception. But how is the Buddha portrayed after his enlightenment? Does the Buddha recommend Nanda, for example, to go to a tapo-vanam?

One who eats anything at any place (kva-cid), and wears any clothes, who dwells in enjoyment of his own being and loves to be anywhere without people  (kva-cana vijane): / He is to be known as a success, a knower of the taste of peace and ease, whose mind is made up -- he avoids involvement with others like a thorn. // SN14.50 //

iti: thus
vākyam (acc. sg.): n. speech , saying , assertion , statement , command , words ; (in logic) an argument
idam (acc. sg. n.): this
niśamya = abs. ni-śam: to hear
rājñaḥ (gen. sg.): m. the king

kalaviṇka-svaraḥ (nom. sg. m.): with the voice of a kalaviṇka bird
svara: m. sound , noise ; voice
uttaram (acc. sg.): n. answer , reply
babhāṣe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. bhāṣ: to speak , talk , say , tell

yadi: if
me (gen. sg.): of/for me
pratibhūḥ (nom. sg.): m. a surety , security , bail
caturṣu (loc. pl.): four, four things
rājan (voc. sg.): O king!

bhavasi = 2nd pers. sg. bhū: to be, become
tvam (acc. sg.): you
na: not
tapo-vanam (acc. sg. n.): the ascetic grove
śrayiṣye = 1st pers. sg. future śri: to go to , approach , resort or have recourse to (for help or refuge) , tend towards (acc.) ; to go into , enter

太子恭遜辭 復啓於父王
惟爲保四事 當息出家心

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