Saturday, May 4, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.50: Two Soft Arms Form Golden Embrace, All for the Beat of a Drum

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
nava-puṣkara-garbha-komalābhyāṁ tapanīyojjvala-saṁgatāṅgadābhyām |
svapiti sma tathāparā bhujābhyāṁ parirabhya priyavan-mdaṅgam-eva || 5.50

With her two arms 
as soft as the sepals of young lotuses,

With her two arms 
whose blazing golden bands had merged together,

Slept an individual who thus was different,

Embracing, as if it were a beloved friend,
nothing more or less than a drum.

The sepals of young lotuses should be as soft as portrayed in this image gleaned from the internet, which is to say as soft as an Alexander teacher's wrists, which is to say as soft as the arms of a sitting buddha.

Soft arms are conduits of golden energy. But here comes the tricky part: the intention to be a conduit for golden energy is liable to block the flow of energy as surely as if a door had been bolted with an iron bar.

On the face of it, today's verse does not have much to do with non-doing as practised in the FM Alexander Technique, nor much to do with sitting-zen. Nevertheless – whether like a heroic miner emerging from a deep pit bearing golden nuggets, or whether like a pathetic gullible Christian who contrives to see the face of Jesus in his cheese on toast – I have thus read today's verse as intimately related with two of my favourite things.

And why stop there? Can today's verse also be read as representing the Buddha's dialectic philosophy of the middle way?

On the face of it, again, not easily.

But if one accepts that a gilded lute and a bamboo flute symbolize, as I have insinuated, something religious and something irreligious, then today's verse ought to speak of synthesis, or uniting of spirit and matter in action. This, I venture to submit, might be one of the things that is hinted at by the coming together of left and right arms, and what is represented by the drum.

If I quote from my comment of 2nd March:
In Gudo's version of dialectic Buddhism, Hegelian dialectic idealism constituted a thesis, to which Marxist dialectic materialism constituted the anti-thesis, and Gudo's “philosophy of action” constituted a new synthesis. In Gudo's synthesis, subject and object are joined in the reality of the action, that real action being totally separated from thinking, which is not real.
During the same decade of the 1980s, it turns out, George Soros was working out his own new synthesis, centred on the concept of reflexivity. In the epilogue to his The Alchemy of Finance (first published 1987), Soros writes:
Hegel propounded a dialectic of ideas; Marx turned the idea on its head and espoused dialectic materialism; now there is a new dialectic that connects the participants' thinking with the events in which they participate – that is, it operates between ideas and material conditions. If Hegel's concept was the thesis and Marxism the antithesis, reflexivity is the synthesis.

The woman in today's verse is described in the 3rd pāda as tathāparā (= tathā + aparā), translated by EBC and PO as “another”; and by EHJ as “Similarly, a third [was sleeping]....” EBC and PO evidently regarded tathā as inconsequential and ignored it. EHJ translated tathā as “similarly,” suggesting that the woman in today's verse was similar to the women in the two previous verses insofar as she was sleeping.

The merit of taking tathā to mean “similarly” or “in the same vein” is that this would allow an attention-arousing juxtaposition of the sameness in tathā and the difference in aparā; hence, for example, “An individual who – in the same vein – was different.” The juxtaposition of same and different would thus encourage us to consider in what way these three individual women described so far are the same and in what way they are different.

This line of inquiry might lead to the conclusion that the three women are all the same in being different – different in the sense of each being individuals in their own right; or in other words, being real, being different from a generic concept.

The way I have ended up reading tathāparā, however, is to take tathā (“thus”) as referring to this third woman's use of her two arms, in such a way that the arms are soft, and in such a way that the left and right arms cross the mid-line and form a circuit that allows energy to flow left to right and right to left. In this way, the woman in today's verse, or the metaphorical monk she represents, is different (aparā / apara) from, or is a cut above, religious and irreligious people who do not sit like this.

Sitting like this means sitting with soft arms, sitting such that golden energy flows, sitting such that left and right sides are integrated, and sitting as an individual.

In conclusion, then, I think embracing mṛdaṅgam-eva as if it were a beloved friend suggests embracing in this manner the action of just sitting. I take the mṛdaṅgam (drum) as a symbol of beating of the drum, i.e. action itself – like the TA (lit. “to strike”), in 祗管打坐 SHIKAN-TAZA (“just sitting”). And I take the emphatic eva as corresponding to the 祗管 SHIKAN (“just”) of 祗管打坐 SHIKAN-TAZA (“just sitting”). 

For this reason, having slept on it, and upon further reflection, I saw that I had to translate eva as “nothing more or less than” – because, in the end, that is what golden sitting (kāñcanam-āsanam) means, and that is what the Buddha's lifeblood might be: nothing less than sitting. And nothing more.

nava-puṣkara-garbha-komalābhyām (inst. dual m.): tender as the hearts of new lotuses
nava: mfn. new, young
puṣkara: n. a blue lotus-flower , a lotus
garbha: m. the womb ; the inside , middle , interior of anything , calyx (as of a lotus)
komala: mfn. soft, tender , bland , sweet , pleasing , charming , agreeable ; n. water, silk

tapanīyojjvala-saṁgatāṅgadābhyām (inst. dual m.): their blazing golden armlets having come together
tapanīya: 'to be heated'; n. gold purified with fire
ujjvala: mfn. blazing up , luminous , splendid , light
saṁgata: mfn. come together , joined, united ; fitted together
aṅga-da: n. a bracelet worn on the upper arm.
aṅga: n. a limb of the body; member ; the body
da: mfn. giving , granting , offering , effecting , producing

svapiti = 3rd pers. sg. svap: to sleep
sma: (joined with a pres. tense or pres. participle to give them a past sense)
tathā: ind. in that manner , so , thus ; so also , in like manner
aparā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. other, another ; different
bhujābhyām (inst. dual): m. the arm

parirabhya = pari- √ rabh: to embrace , clasp
√ rabh: to take hold of , grasp , clasp , embrace ; to desire vehemently ; to act rashly
priyavan (acc. sg. n.): mfn. 1. possessing friends; 2. like a friend / lover
priya: m. a friend; a lover , husband
-vat: 1. possessive affix
-vat: 2 an affix added to words to imply likeness or resemblance , and generally translatable by “as” or “like"
mṛdaṅgam (acc. sg.): m. (prob. fr. mṛdam + ga , " going about while being beaten ") a kind of drum , tabour
eva: in its most frequent use of strengthening the idea expressed by any word , eva must be variously rendered by such adverbs as) just , exactly , very , same , only , even , alone , merely , immediately on , still , already , &c

纓絡如曳鎖 衣裳絞縛身
抱琴而偃地 猶若受苦人

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