Friday, April 26, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.42: How He Carried Women Away

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
sa hi kāñcana-parvatāvadāto hdayonmāda-karo varāṅganānām |
śravaāṅga-vilocanātma-bhāvān vacana-sparśa-vapur-guṇair-jahāra || 5.42

For he with the luminance of a golden mountain,

He who unhinged beautiful women's hearts,

Carried away their ears, bodies, eyes, and souls,

With his speech, sensitivity, handsome form, and excellent qualities.

The un- in unmāda in the 2nd pāda of today's verse is the ud- of abhy-ud-īkṣyamānaḥ (being looked up at) in the 4th pāda of yesterday's verse. It is the same prefix, ud-, which means up. The literal meaning of unmāda, therefore, is something like “intoxicated up” or “dizzied up” or “raised up to a high level of exuberance.” The up could suggest 1. abnormality, as in the pathological mania of a manic depressive; or 2. transcendence. With this in mind, I have opted to translate unmāda as “unhinged,” which can also convey both senses. Unfortunately, however, that leaves the up lost in translation.

In the 3rd pāda ātma-bhāva literally means “the self's [whole] being.” Hence EBC translated ātma-bhāvān as souls, EHJ as beings, and PO as selves. Each of these translations has its merits, but since one definition that the dictionary gives of soul is “a person's total self,” and this definition seems best to fit ātma-bhāva in today's verse, I have followed EBC.

Examining the four elements in the 3rd pāda, and the four elements in the 4th pāda, intuitively, 1. śravaṇa (ear) goes with 1. vacana (speech); 3. vilocana (eye) goes with 3. vapus (beauty, handsome form); and 4. ātma-bhāva (soul, being, self) goes with guṇa (virtue, excellent quality).

These three pairs would seem to go together whether describing the Śākya prince entrancing women who were sexually attracted to him, or describing the King of Dharma entrancing followers who were witnessing him turning the wheel of dharma.

The pair that seems to call for attention is 3. aṅga (limb) and 3. sparśa (touch). If we follow previous translations, the prince enraptured (EBC), captivated (EHJ), or enthralled (PO) the women's limbs by or with his touch.

Is the intention to suggest that the prince had actually come into physical contact with some or all of those women's limbs? Even if that is the ostensible meaning, in view of the possible sub-text of the Buddha entrancing followers, I have taken aṅga in its wider meaning of body and sparśa in its wider meaning of feeling or sensitivity.

In that case today's verse tallies well enough with the description in SN Canto 13 of how the Buddha went about healing the world:
Some in soothing tones; some with tough talk, / Some by both these means, he the trainer trained. // SN13.3 // Just as gold born from dirt is pure, spotless, gleaming, / And while lying in the dirt is not tarnished by the dirt's impurities, // 13.4 // And just as a lotus-leaf is born in water and remains in water, / But neither above nor below is sullied by the water, // 13.5 // So the Sage, born in the world, and acting for the benefit of the world, / Because of his state of action, and spotlessness, is not tainted by worldly things. // 13.6 // Joining with others and leaving them; love and toughness; and talking, as well as meditation itself: / He used these means during his instruction for the purpose of healing, not to make a following for himself. // 13.7 // Thus did the benevolent one, out of his great compassion, take on a form / By which he might release fellow living beings from suffering. // SN13.8 //
This passage in which Aśvaghoṣa conveys to us a sense of who the enlightened Buddha was, contains the image of gold born from dirt (pāṃsubhyaḥ kāñcanaṃ jātam). And so today's verse in which Aśvaghoṣa  describes the Śākya prince as having the luminance of a golden mountain (kāñcana-parvatāvadātaḥ) presages his later description of the enlightened Buddha. 

The golden mountain of today's verse suggests not literally a mountain of gold but rather a mountain, possibly a snow-covered mountain, reflecting golden sunlight. Last year my son as part of his chemistry degree wrote a paper on the powerful catalytical properties of gold, which stem from its dual character of non-reactivity and another chemical property (whose name I forget) which gives gold its luminance. Previously I had thought that gold's sheen was just a function of the inertness which prevents gold from becoming tarnished. But that turned out to be a wrong view. Gold has peculiar properties that give it its lustre, and these properties, in combination with its non-reactivity, make gold a very effective catalyst in certain chemical reactions. 

What I am discussing here, and what Aśvaghoṣa compared the Buddha to, is real gold. In recent weeks the price of gold dropped because of huge sudden selling of "paper gold" -- i.e. not selling of real physical gold but selling of financial paper (or a digital promise) that represents a claim on gold. Many people around the world responded to the drop in price by buying real physical gold. So there seems to be a kind of tug of war going on between sellers of paper gold (various kinds of banks) and buyers of real gold (people who don't trust such banks). Brahmins of Baliol College and the like are prone to laugh at hoarders of physical gold as "gold bugs," who believe in what J.M. Keynes called "a barbarous relic" that has no productive value. 

From the evidence of my son's paper on the catalytical properties of gold, the view that gold has no productive value is not always true. But in any event, I think that real gold has value just in the fact that non-brahmins like me (and like the people in India, China, and elsewhere who have been forming queues to buy it in recent days) value it as real -- as opposed to paper gold, which we recognize as truly not having any value.

Some predict that the time is coming soon when people will realize that the real gold which they believed to be backing paper gold, does not actually exist. Bankers have alread sold it, reasoning that as long as people believed the gold was in their vaults, there was no need actually to keep the gold. This is the traditional principle of fractional reserve banking.  It may be that this has been true not only of commercial banks but also of central banks who have "leased out" gold to bullion banks. As such facts emerge, it looks like being a major scandal -- interesting times, as per the old Chinese curse. 

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
hi: for
kāñcana-parvatāvadātaḥ (nom. sg. m.): bright as a golden mountain
kāñcana: golden
parvata: m. mountain
ava-dāta: mfn. (√ das) cleansed , clean , clear ; blameless , excellent , of white splendour , dazzling white

hṛdayonmāda-karaḥ (nom. sg. m.): driving hearts mad
hdaya: n. heart
unmāda: m. insanity , madness ; mania ; intoxication
ud: a particle and prefix to verbs and nouns. (As implying superiority in place , rank , station , or power) up , upwards
māda: m. ( √2. mad) drunkenness , exhilaration , delight, passion
√mad: to rejoice , be glad , exult , delight or revel in (instr. gen. loc. , rarely acc.) , be drunk (also fig.); to enjoy heavenly bliss (said of gods and deceased ancestors) ; to boil , bubble (as water) ; to gladden , exhilarate , intoxicate , animate , inspire
kara: mfn. making
varāṅganānām (gen. pl.): f. a beautiful woman

śravaṇāṅga-vilocanātma-bhāvān (acc. pl.) their ears, limbs, eyes, and souls
śravaṇa: n. ear
aṅga: n. a limb of the body, the body
vilocana: n. the eye, sight
ātma-bhāva: m. the self , proper or peculiar nature
bhāva: m. being; manner of being , nature , temperament , character ; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling , sentiment ; (in rhet.) passion , emotion

vacana-sparśa-vapur-guṇaiḥ (inst. pl.): with his speech, sensitivity, handsome form, and good qualities
vacana: n. speaking; speech , sentence , word
sparśa: m. touch ; any quality which is perceptible by touching any object (e.g. heat , cold , smoothness , softness &c ) ; feeling, sensation
vapus: n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty
guṇa: m. good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
jahāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. hṛ: carry away, captivate, entrance, enrapture

太子正容貎 猶若眞金山
伎女共瞻察 聽教候音顏
敬畏察其心 猶彼林中鹿 

1 comment:

Mike Cross said...

For the record, what gives gold its peculiar lustre are "relativistic effects."