Saturday, April 20, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.36: Towards Wanting Little

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
iti dur-labham-artham-ūcivāṁsaṁ tanayaṁ vākyam-uvāca śākya-rājaḥ |
tyaja buddhim-imā ati-pravttām-avahāsyo 'ti-mano-ratha-kramaś-ca || 5.36

To the son who had expressed such a difficult purport

The Śākya king told his command:

“Abandon this idea, which goes too far!

A way of high-flown fancy is ridiculous.”

When his son had spoken these words, whose meaning is difficult to catch, the Śākya king told him his command....

When I went to bed last night, this was how my translation of the first line stood. Translating dur-labham-artham as “meaning that is difficult to catch” follows from the ambiguity of BC5.35, some of whose difficult hidden layers I endeavoured to dig down to in yesterday's comment.  "Whose meaning is difficult to catch" is a literal translation, and it accords with EBC's original translation: When his son uttered a speech so hard to be understood, the king of the Śākyas thus replied....

When I came to comment on today's verse this morning, however, I began by noting that:

On the surface dur-labham artham refers to the guarantee the prince has requested and so dur-labham artham means an aim which is difficult to be obtained, a thing which is hard to realize; hence EHJ “a matter so hard of fulfillment;” and PO “such a hard request.”

It then occurred to me, on further reflection, that if I went with the translation that first struck me as obvious (“When his son had spoken these words, whose meaning is difficult to catch, the Śākya king told him his command....”) I would have the satisfaction of a translation that justified my comment of yesterday, but at the expense of having blotted out the ostensible meaning as perceived by EHJ and PO.

The compromise, therefore, is a somewhat stilted literal translation of dur-labham artham ("a difficult purport") which is not unduly biased either to the ostensible meaning as EHJ and PO read it, or to the real meaning as EBC and I read it.

While still discussing the nuts and bolts of the translation, I should note a textual issue in the 4th pāda. The old Nepalese manuscript seems to have either ati-mano-ratha-kramaś-ca (as per EBC's text) or ati-mano-rathaḥ kramaś-ca. EHJ amended this (based on a conjecture by Luders) to ati-mano-ratho-'kramaś-ca.

EHJ rejected EBC's avahāsyo 'ti-mano-ratha-kramaś-ca as difficult to translate. EBC himself translated “extravagant desires are only ridiculous,” seeming to take the ca as an expletive ("only"), and ignoring krama. Following EBC in taking ca as an expletive, avahāsyo 'ti-mano-ratha-kramaḥ would seem to mean to me to be fairly readily translatable as “The way of high-flown fancy is ridiculous.”

EHJ translated his own ati-mano-ratho-'kramaś-ca as “An extravagant wish is ridiculous and unfitting.” PO followed EHJ with “An extravagant wish is improper and extreme.” EHJ notes that krama means 'the proper, natural order of things.' Akrama could therefore mean 'impossible' as contrary to the natural order of things, but the more normal sense seems to be 'unfitting.'

Initially, especially in view of the ca, I decided to accept EHJ's amendment, in which case, considering that √kram includes the meaning of “to be practicable,” I thought to translate: A high-flown fancy is ridiculous and impracticable! – a statement which I know from bitter experience to be all too true.

On further reflection, however, I have decided to follow EBC's text as closer to the original manuscripts.

To turn to the real gist of the verse, on the surface the king's words represent his upping of the ante in his disagreement with his son, i.e., the king's shifting from reasoned argument that began with the diminutive term of endearment tāta (my darling son) in BC5.30, but which now takes on a more intimidating and critical tone.

But I think below the surface, once again, the command of the Śākya king Śuddodhana is presaging the Buddha-dharma of the Śākya king Gautama.

That being so, the king's imperative in the 3rd pāda tyaja buddhim-imāṁ ati-pravṛttām, “Abandon this idea, which goes too far!” or “Abandon this overly ambitious idea!” is intimately connected with the Buddha's ultimate teaching on the night before he died, which, as I have discussed many times in these comments, was alpecchu-saṁtuṣṭaḥ (Ch: 少欲-知足; Jap: SHOYOKU-CHISOKU) – wanting little and being content (see SN16.38 below).

I come back to this teaching so often not because I am such a master of it, but on the contrary because I am so very slow on the uptake that I need to constantly remind myself of it. I need to constantly remind myself how I wish to be now, as opposed to how I have habitually been in the past... which is to say vaultingly over-ambitious – ever since I was top of my class at primary school and suffered the misfortune of skipping the last year there in order to go to an elitist independent secondary school, where I learned to expect great things of myself. The result of such excessive ambition has been a subjective unhappiness which George Soros correctly identifies as a gap between who I think I am and who I really am.

Habitually I tend to think that I was born in the mould of my paternal great uncle, Sir Eugene Cross, Mr Ebbw Vale, the older brother who my grandfather hero-worshipped and seemed to hope that I might somehow emulate. On a good day in France, sitting outside on my lonesome and listening to the birds sing, I realize that I was really born much more in the mould of my clog-wearing maternal great-grandfather, Bill Haworth, labourer in a Blackburn paint factory, who used to go on solitary walks on his days off, as Mr Nobody.

In light of such reflection, I considered translating ati-pravṛttām as “overly ambitious.” But on second thoughts a more strictly literal translation of ati-pravṛttām might be “excessively purposing” or “going too far” (as per EHJ: “Give up this idea which goes too far”). In any event, there is much more to ati-pravṛttām than can be conveyed by any of these translations  – which is why I persist with these comments.  

In the Buddha's teaching, pravṛtta, “purposing,” carries connotations not only of ambition on the grand scale but also of end-gaining in all the seemingly insignificant little acts of everyday life – connotations, in short, of doing (pravṛtti) as opposed to non-doing (nivṛtti). Hence:

The many and various disappointments of men, like old age, occur as long as their doing goes on (pravṛttau). SN16.10
And this, the suffering of doing (pravṛtti), in the world, has its cause in clusters of faults which start with thirsting -- / The cause is certainly not in God, nor in primordial matter, nor in time; nor even in one’s inherent constitution, nor in predestination or self-will. // SN16.17 // Again, you must understand how, due to this cause, because of men's faults, the cycle of doing goes on (pravṛttiḥ), / So that they succumb to death who are afflicted by the dust of the passions and by darkness; but he is not reborn who is free of dust and darkness. // SN16.18 //
Giving oneself to this path with its three divisions and eight branches -- this straightforward, irremovable, noble path -- / One abandons the faults, which are the causes of suffering, and comes to that step which is total well-being. // 16.37 // Attendant on it are constancy and straightness; modesty, attentiveness, and reclusiveness; / Wanting little (alpecchatā), contentment (tuṣṭiḥ), and freedom from forming attachments; no fondness for worldly activity (loka-pravṛttāv-aratiḥ), and forbearance. // SN16.38 //
Comprehend, therefore, that suffering is doing (pravṛttiṃ); witness the faults impelling it forward (pravartakān); / Realise its stopping as non-doing (nivṛttim); and know the path as a turning back (nivartakaṃ). // SN16.42 //

iti: thus
dur-labham (acc. sg. m.): mfn. difficult to be obtained or found , hard , scarce , rare
labh: to take , seize , catch ; catch sight of , meet with , find ; to perceive , know , understand , learn , find out
artham (acc. sg.): m. aim, purpose ; sense , meaning , notion
ūcivāṁsam = acc. sg. m. perfect participle vac: to speak , say , tell

tanayam (acc. sg.): m. a son
vākyam (acc. sg.): n. speech , saying , assertion , statement , command , words
uvāca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vac: to speak , say , tell , utter , announce , declare , mention , proclaim , recite , describe
śākya-rājaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the king of the Śākyas

tyaja = 2nd pers. sg. imperative tyaj: to abandon, give up
buddhim (acc. sg.): f. the power of forming and retaining conceptions and general notions , intelligence , reason , intellect , mind , discernment , judgement; an opinion , view , notion , idea
imām (acc. sg. f): this
ati-pravṛttām (acc. sg. f): excessively purposing; going too far ; unduly injurious
ati-: ind. excessively , too
pravṛtta: mfn. set out; purposing or going to , bent upon (dat. loc. , or comp.) ; hurting , injuring , offending ; n. (with karman n. action) causing a continuation of mundane existence

ava-hāsyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. to be derided , exposed to ridicule , ridiculous
ava- √ has: to laugh at , deride
ati-mano-ratha-kramaḥ (nom. sg. m.): a way of proceeding [based on] excessive wishing; a course [led by] over-ambition
ati-: (ind. prefix) too much, undue, excessive
mano-ratha: m. " heart's joy " ; a wish , desire (also = desired object); fancy , illusion ; the heart compared to a car
krama: m. a step ; going , proceeding , course ; the way ; uninterrupted or regular progress , order , series , regular arrangement , succession ; method , manner
√kram: to step , walk , go , go towards , approach ; to proceed well , advance , make progress , gain a footing , succeed , have effect ; to be appliable or practicable
ati-mano-rathaḥ (nom. sg.): m. an excessive fancy ; desiring too much
akramaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. not happening successively , happening at once ; m. want of order , confusion
ca: and

父王告太子 汝勿説此言
如此四事者 誰能保令無
汝求此四願 正爲人所笑
且停出家心 服習於五欲

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