abhavac-chayitā hi tatra kā-cid-viniveśya pracale kare kapolam |
dayitām-api rukma-pattra-citrāṁ kupitevāṅka-gatāṁ vihāya vīṇām || 5.48
There was one girl there, for instance, who lay
With her cheek resting on a precarious hand,
Her cherished lute, brightly decorated with gold-leaf,
Lying by her lap as if cast aside in anger.
The challenge in the series of 14 verses which starts with today's verse will be to investigate in each instance what might be being used as a metaphor for what.
Aśvaghoṣa's descriptions of girls, as I ventured in comments to earlier cantos where girls and women are described, as a saṁgha and individually, can be read as humorous caricatures of the real individual monks that Aśvaghoṣa would have been familiar with, coming in all their various shapes, sizes, and stages of development.
Aśvaghoṣa, I have suggested, calls monks “girls” in the same spirit that rugby players (particularly the uglier variety known as forwards, who play in the pack) call other rugby players (specifically the faster and better-looking types known as backs, who are more adept at kicking and lighter on their feet) “girls.”
The general point might be to subvert idealistic notions of how a generic Zen monk or so-called “Buddhist” practitioner is supposed to be, thereby causing us to shift our consciousness from the sway of ideas of how we might be, in the direction of more real and honest awareness of how we actually are.
How might I be in sitting-meditation? I might be awake, bathed in the golden light of consciousness, my motionless head emerging effortlessly forward and up, like a ping-pong ball on top of a fountain, out of my lengthening-and-widening back, while my legs also continue releasing out of my lengthening-and-widening back... and as my mindful breathing continues, deep and full, in an endless cycle until such time as I open my mouth to chant and shake the house like a rumbling thundercloud....
Today's verse, in contrast, relates more to how, even when sitting on a round black cushion, I actually am – as awake as a slumbering girl whose head is propped precariously on her hand.
What, then, might be represented by the generally cherished but now roughly-treated lute?
Why brightly decorated with gold-leaf?
Is the intention to suggest that the item under consideration may not necessarily be as valuable as it seems to be on the surface?
In that case the intention might be opposite to the intention in a verse like BC5.44 which on the surface seems to be a load of nonsense, without any philosophical meaning, about a chair made of solid gold.
If we jump to Buddhist conclusions, we might jump to the conclusion that a solid gold chair, in the Buddhist value system, is not valuable; whereas traditional insignia like a bowl, a robe, and a shaved head are always supremely valuable.
Aśvaghoṣa, as I read him, is always out, in rugby parlance, to sell us the dummy; i.e., to challenge our assumptions and conclusions – and especially the things that we readily accept as Buddhist no-brainers.
In Aśvaghoṣa's epic story of Beautiful Joy, the characters who seem to worry most about, and to attach most to, the revered insignia of a Buddhist monk are the deeply deluded and unhappy Nanda in SN Canto 7, and the self-righteous striver in SN Cantos 8 & 9, viz:
Bearing the insignia, then, whose form was fixed by his teacher -- bearing it with his body but not with his mind -- / And being constantly carried off by thoughts of his wife, he whose name was Joy was not joyful. // SN7.1 //Thus Nanda frets:
"For though I have adopted the beggar's insignia, and am taught by one who is twice my guru, as elder brother and enlightened sage, / In every circumstance I find no peace -- like a greylag gander separated from its mate. // SN7.17 //... Therefore I shall go back home again and properly make love, as I please! / For the insignia do not sit well upon a backslider from the path of dharma, whose senses are restless and whose mind is elsewhere. // 7.47 // When a man has taken the bowl in his hand, has shaved his head, and, putting pride aside, has donned the patched-together robe, / And yet he is given to pleasure and lacking in firmness and tranquillity, then like a lamp in a picture, he is there and yet he is not. // 7.48 // When a man has gone forth, but the red taint of desire has not gone forth from him; when he wears the earth-hued robe but has not transcended dirt; / When he carries the bowl but is not a vessel for the virtues; though he bears the insignia, he is neither a householder nor a beggar. // 7.49 // I had thought it improper for a man with noble connections, having adopted the insignia, to discard them again: / But even such a scruple fades away, when I think about those royal heroes who abandoned an ascetic grove and went home. // 7.50 For the Śālva king, along with his son; and likewise Ambarīṣa and Rāma and Andha, and Rantideva, son of Sāṅkṛti / Cast off their rags and clothed themselves again in finest fabrics; they cut their twisted dreadlocks off and put their crowns back on. // 7.51 // Therefore as soon my guru has gone from here to beg for alms, I will give up the ochre robe and go from here to my home; / Because, for a man who bears the honoured insignia (pūjyaṃ liṅgam) with unsound judgement, stammering mind and weakened resolve, no ulterior purpose might exist, nor even the present world of living beings." // SN7.52 //
And thus the striver opines:
What is more, when a man of good repute, a man of intelligence and breeding, bears the honoured insignia (arcita-liṅga) / His consciousness inclines towards home no more than a mountain bends in the wind. // 8.27 //
For just as he is blameworthy who, having girded his armour on and taken up a bow, then flees in his warrior's chariot away from the battle; / So he too is blameworthy who, having accepted the insignia and taken to begging, then allows the stallion of his senses to be carted away by desire. // 8.58 //
Am I just interposing my own biased, irreligious view? Or is there a suggestion here, reading behind Aśvaghoṣa's lines, that what is truly valuable is not the superficial forms to which religious Buddhists attach; rather, what is truly valuable is just the real form of sitting itself?
Is Aśvaghoṣa suggesting that it is not all about performing a religious bow to what has the semblance of value, like an object covered in gold-leaf, but it is really all about finding the real gold in one's own sitting?
I think Aśvaghoṣa, in his softly softly manner, might be suggesting just that.
In conclusion, the major contrast in the present series of 14 verses is the contrast between the darkness of sleep, as manifested by grotesque and precarious postures, and the golden consciousness of sitting, as manifested by easy upright balance.
But if we fear one side and feel spiritual greed for the other, we haven't yet got the point. We haven't yet experienced on a sufficient number of mornings how the brightest gold of sitting emerges out of the deepest darkness of sleep. In which case should we not be equally appreciative of the darkness of sleep as we are appreciative of the gold of sitting?
A particular contrast in today's verse is represented by dayita (cherished, revering) and kopita (enraged, angry). The image of the cherished lute cast aside in anger brought to my mind a clip that was shown at the end of Newsnight a couple of nights ago. Researchers at Emory Univeristy conducted an experiment that lends evidence to the idea that monkeys, like children, have a highly developed sense of what is and is not fair. A monkey in a cage passed a small rock through a hole in the front of the cage, and the researcher rewarded the monkey with a piece of cucumber, which it duly ate. Another monkey in a neighbouring cage was rewarded for the same act with a grape. The first monkey duly observed this. Next time, when the first monkey was rewarded again with a piece of cucumber instead of the desired and expected grape, the first monkey threw the cucumber back at the researcher and threw a hissy fit. If you watch it, you couldn't help but laugh.
Reflecting on this in light of the Buddha's teaching, the first thing for a follower of the Buddha might be not to get caught in a monkey cage. But if one does find oneself being subjected to unfair treatment while temporarily caught in a monkey trap, the next best option might be at least to retain the latitude to laugh about it. And that latitude, if it is to be found anywhere, might be found in the ultimate teaching, referred to so often on this blog, of the Buddha on the night before he died, that teaching being namely alpecchu-saṁtuṣṭa, 少欲 知足 (Jap: SHOYOKU CHISOKU), wanting not much and being content.
Still, one cannot help but laugh at the greedy monkey who so perfectly holds up the mirror of righteous anger.
abhavat = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect bhū: to be
śayitā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. reposed , lying , sleeping , asleep
tatra: ind. there
kā-cid (nom. sg. f.): somebody; one woman
viniveśya = abs. caus. vi-ni- √ viś: to cause to enter into , set down or place in , put on
pracale (loc. sg. m.): mfn. moving , tremulous , shaking
prabale (loc. sg. m.): mfn. strong , powerful , mighty , great , important (as a word) , violent (as pain) ; dangerous , pernicious
kare (loc. sg.): m. " the doer " , the hand
kapolam (acc. sg.): m. the cheek (of men or elephants &c )
dayitām (acc. sg. f.): mfn. cherished , beloved , dear
rukma-pattra-citrām (acc. sg. f.): brightly decorated with gold-leaf
rukma-pattra: mfn. decorated with gold-leaf
rukma: n. gold
pattra: n. feather, leaf, petal ; any thin leaf or plate of metal or gold-leaf
citra: mfn. bright , clear , bright-coloured ; variegated, speckled
kupitā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. provoked , incensed , offended , angry
iva: like, as if
aṅka-gatām (acc. sg. f.): lying in her lap
aṅka: m. a hook ; the curve in the human , especially the female , figure above the hip (where infants sitting , astride are carried by mothers hence often = " breast " or " lap ")
vihāya = abs. vi- √ hā: to leave behind, abandon ; to give up , cast off , renounce , resign
vīṇām (acc. sg.): f. the vīṇā or Indian lute