Monday, April 29, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.45: Man At The Top

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
tata uttamam-uttamāṅganās taṁ niśi tūryair-upatasthur-indra-kalpam |
himavac-chirasīva candra-gaure draviṇendrātmajam-apsaro-gaṇaughāḥ || 5.45

Then the upmost of women, 
accompanied by musical instruments,

Waited in the night on him the upmost man, 
a man to rival Indra,

Like cumuli of celestial nymphs 
waiting on the son of the Lord of Wealth

Up upon a moon-white Himālayan peak.

Qu'est-ce-que vous voulez? my French neighbour often asks, rhetorically, in a spirit of resignation, when discussing some pressing issue like the rising price of petrol – What do you want?

My Alexander answer to myself is that I wish to go up. I wish to allow my neck to release; to let the head go forward and up; to let the back lengthen and widen; while sending the legs out of the pelvis, knees going forwards and away.... In short, I wish to go up.

Today's verse is the culmination of a series of verses running through which is the sense of going up. Uttama is a superlative from the prefix ud- , which (as discussed in BC5.42 in connection with the un- of unmāda) means up. Today's verse, then, with its repetition of uttama and its description of goings on up upon a Himālayan peak, seems to invite investigation of what it means to go up, or to be at the top – on more than one level.

Going up in the spiritual sphere tends to mean turning one's heart towards heaven, choosing the rarified air of religion over mundane or earthly matters. Therein lies the way of the Roman Catholic paedophile. That is not the kind of ascent I aspire to.

Down here in the world a man might feel like he has arrived at the top when he is waited on hand and foot by bevvies of beautiful women to the strains of sweet music. When I lived in Tokyo I knew young women who earned a crust by working as hostesses in hostess bars that catered to that kind of male fantasy. Once, having hurriedly borrowed an ill-fitting suit, I escorted a friend who was working as a hostess to such a bar, at her request, playing the role of her client. She put the expenses on the tab of one of her rich patrons. The charade was purely for her benefit, not for mine. I couldn't wait to get out of the place. I remember her offering me a cigarette and before the fag was out of the packet a male attendant had dived in with his lighter as if his life depended on it. I didn't feel like a man on top of the world. I felt like a pillock. 

No, promotion to an elevated position – whether a seat that gives an illusion of power like a seat at a table in an opulent hostess bar, or a seat that confers real power like a seat on a board on the top floor of Trump Towers or some such high-rise edifice – is not the kind of ascent that I want, either. At least not in my better moments. In my less enlightened moments, I have to confess, I have been known to hanker for higher earthly status than I currently enjoy.

On the surface, the point of today's verse is to emphasize that the Śākya prince was not the slightest bit interested in being a man at the top in a materialistic sense. Hence the reference to the son of the Lord of Wealth, i.e., Kubera's son Nala-kūbara, previously referred to in the closing verse of BC Canto 1:
Thus at the happy development which was the birth of the king's son, that city named after Kapila, along with surrounding settlements, / Showed its delight, just as the city of the Wealth-Giver, spilling over with celestial nymphs, became delighted at the birth of Nala-kūbara. // BC1.89//
Perhaps a modern-day equivalent of Nala-kūbara up upon a moon-white Himālayan peak would be the daughter of man-at-the-top Tom Cruise flying in to London to see her dad on her own personal gulf-stream jet. I picture it, as it flies through a blue afternoon sky into Heathrow, underlining with its vapour trail an iconoclastic moon-white crescent moon – which has long been my favourite kind of moon.

On the surface, then, the point of today's verse is to suggest, like yesterday's verse also, that the prince went up to the top of the palace where he sat upon a golden seat as a man totally on top of the world, but was not the slightest bit interested in this kind of ascent. On the contrary, he wanted to get the hell down from there and to get the hell out of there.

I think the sub-text, however, is to cause us not simply to reject the whole idea of earthly ascent, but to ask ourselves whether we want to go up or not – and if so, what kind of going up do we want? And how do we hope to experience it? 

tataḥ: ind. then
uttamam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. uppermost , highest , chief ; best, excellent
uttamāṅganāḥ (nom. pl. f.): the highest of women
uttama: m. an excellent woman (one who is handsome , healthy , and affectionate)
tam (acc. sg. m.): him

niśi = loc. sg. f. niśā: f. night; vision, dream
tūryaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. a musical instrument
upatasthur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. upa- √ sthā: to stand or place one's self near , be present ; to stand by the side of , place one's self near , expose one's self to (with loc. or acc.) ; to place one's self before (in order to ask) , approach ; to stand near in order to serve , attend , serve
indra-kalpam (acc. sg. m.): almost equal to Indra
kalpa: m. (ifc.) having the manner or form of anything , similar to , resembling , like but with a degree of inferiority , almost

himavac-chirasi (loc. sg.): on the summit of the Himālays
himavat: mfn. having frost or snow; m. the snowy mountain ; the Himālaya
śiras: n. the head ; the upper end or highest part of anything , top , peak , summit , pinnacle , acme
iva: like
candra-gaure (loc. sg.): moon-white ; white as the moon
candra: m. moon
gaura: mfn. white; shining , brilliant , clean , beautiful ; m. the moon

draviṇendrātmajam (acc. sg. m.): the self-begotten of the lord of wealth; Kubera's son
draviṇendra = draviṇādhipati: m. " lord of wealth " , N. of kubera
draviṇa: n. movable property (as opp. to house and field) , substance , goods , wealth
indra: ifc. best , excellent , the first , the chief (of any class of objects)
ātmaja: m. " born from or begotten by one's self " , a son

apsaro-gaṇaughāḥ (nom. pl. m.): flocks of heavenly nymphs
apsaras: f. celestial nymph
gaṇa: m. a flock , troop , multitude , number
ogha: m. flood , stream , rapid flow of water ; heap or quantity , flock , multitude , abundance

婇女衆圍遶 奏犍撻婆音
如毘沙門子 衆妙天樂聲

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