Friday, May 10, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.56: More Dropping Off

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
paṇavaṁ yuvatir-bhujāṁsa-deśād-avavisraṁsita-cāru-pāśam-anyā |
sa-vilāsa-ratānta-tāntam-ūrvor-vivare kāntam-ivābhinīya śiśye || 5.56

Another young woman had close to her a portable drum,

Whose impeccable strap 
she had let slip down from her shoulder. 

As if the drum were her breathless beloved,
at the end of playful enjoyment,

She had brought it into the open space between her thighs,
and dropped off.

According to the text and translation reproduced on Ancient-Buddhist-Texts.netEB Cowell in translating this verse back in the 1890s only got as far as “Another lay, with her tabour,...” Presumably EBC found the ostensible sexual reference too hot to handle, and he left the rest of the verse untranslated. 

By the time of EH Johnston, via WWI and the anything-goes 1920s, the cultural milieu for Oxbridge professors had relaxed to the point where EHJ could translate:
Another young woman lay, bringing her paṇava, whose beautiful netting had slipped from her armpit, between her thighs, like a lover exhausted at the end of his sport.
Patrick Olivelle translating just a few years ago rendered the ostensible meaning of today's verse in terms that sound more natural to a 21st-century ear:

another girl was lying down
laying her drum between her thighs 
– the drum's beautiful cord
slipping from her shoulder –
like a lover lying exhausted
after making passionate love.

Rather than going further in the direction of sexual explicitness, I have coyly backtracked, suspecting that today's verse is in fact another example of Aśvaghoṣa's characteristic use of “reverse sexual innuendo.” 

In conventional sexual innuendo of the kind heard in British Christmas pantomimes, words that to a child's ear are innocent, have sexual undertones that only the adults in the audience pick up. In Aśvaghoṣa's reverse innuendo, on the contrary, words that are ostensibly sexual have philosophical undertones. 

So in today's verse, as I read it, Aśvaghoṣa's wicked humour is at play. Words that to a Buddhist scholar's ear are too pornographic even to dare to translate, have philosphical and practical undertones that is only picked up by thinking practitioners. EBC, for one, clearly didn't get the joke. Sorry, EBC. Your efforts as a translator are appreciated, but the joke might be on you. 

In the simile in today's verse, then, on the surface, a drum is compared to a woman's sexual partner, her lover, which is one meaning of kāntam (acc. sg. m.), “beloved.” But below the surface, what other, more innocent beloved object might a drum be like?

Might the drum be like a beloved baby, for example, or a toddler, who is left exhausted after playfully romping around? Do mothers ever sit astride their babies like this on the floor?

Again, might the drum be like a beloved Alexander pupil, who is not to do what he habitually does in the way of 'breathing'? In teaching their pupils not to 'breathe," do Alexander teachers ever sit astride their pupils on the floor?

The above are questions that relate to the drum as a simile. But the practical undertones really begin to emerge when we consider (especially in light of the 2nd pāda) what the drum might represent as part of the wider metaphor, in which sleeping women are sitting practitioners dropping off their own body and mind in a meditation hall – in what Aśvaghoṣa would have known as a vihāra.

In a vihāra, what beloved object might a sitting practitioner, after playful enjoyment of walking and sitting, bring into the open space bounded by his thighs?

Might, cāru-pāśam, then, which ostensibly means “a beautiful cord,” carry the hidden meaning of “an approved strap” – a strap, that is, which is approved in the rules of monastic discipline? I ask this question on the basis that the MW dictionary gives both “beautiful” and “approved” as definitions of cāruCāru is actually given as “agreeable, approved,” before it is given as “beautiful.”

A google search for “strap used for Buddhist bowl” leads us to an article by Thanissaro Bhikkhu titled Buddhist Monastic Code II, Chapter 3, Alms Bowls & Other Requisites, containing the following information:
To avoid dropping the bowl, one should not open a door while carrying a bowl in one's hand. According to the Commentary, this prohibition covers opening the door with any part of one's body; opening a door includes opening the latch or the lock; in one's hand means supported by any part of one's body (as, for example, holding the bowl between the knees), although there is an exception if the bowl is hanging by a strap from one's shoulder.... The Commentary also states that one may leave the bowl on one's lap if the bowl is hanging from one's shoulder by a strap.
In Cantos 7, 8, and 9 of Aśvgahoṣa's epic story of Beautiful Happiness, the worried Nanda and the self-righteous Buddhist striver make repeated mention of "the honoured insignia." And in Canto 5, the Buddha uses Nanda's religious attachment to the bowl as a means of pyschologically ensnaring Nanda, as if catching a wild elephant. Neither the Buddha himself nor Aśvaghoṣa, however, seem to do much in the way of verbal preaching about the robe and bowl. But in verses like today's verse, as I read it, the bowl is an integral part of the picture that Aśvaghoṣa is painting. 

paṇavam (acc. sg.): m. a small drum or a kind of cymbal (used to accompany singing)
yuvatiḥ (nom. sg.): f. a girl , young woman
bhujāṁsa-deśāt (abl. sg.): from 'the upper-end of the arm' [MW]; from the region of her shoulder
bhuja: m. the arm
aṁsa: m. the shoulder , shoulder-blade
deśa: m. place ; Often ifc. esp. after a word denoting a country or a part of the body

avavisraṁsita-cāru-pāśam (acc. sg. m.): its beautiful strap fallen down
avavisraṁsita: mfn. ( √sraṁs, Caus.) fallen down
cāru: mfn. agreeable , approved , esteemed , beloved , endeared ; pleasing , lovely , beautiful , pretty
pāśa: m. a snare , trap , noose , tie , bond , cord , chain , fetter (lit. and fig.) ; selvage , edge , border (of anything woven)
anyā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. another

sa-vilāsa-ratānta-tāntam (acc. sg. m.): being tired out, at the end of pleasure-filled enjoyment
sa-vilāsa: mfn. acting coquettishly , wanton , amorous , playful
vilāsa: m. sport , play , pastime , pleasure , diversion (esp. with women &c ; but also applied to any playful action or gesture)
ratānta: m. the end of sexual enjoyment ; the end of enjoyment
rata: mfn. (√ram) pleased , amused , gratified ; delighting in , intent upon , fond or enamoured of , devoted or attached or addicted or disposed to (loc. instr. or comp.) ; (ifc.) having sexual intercourse with ; n. pleasure , enjoyment , (esp.) enjoyment of love , sexual union , copulation
anta: m. end
tānta: mfn. ( √ tam) breathing with difficulty , fainted away , languishing , drooping ; wearied , fatigued , distressed
√ tam: to gasp for breath (as one suffocating) , choke , be suffocated , faint away , be exhausted
ūrvoḥ (gen./loc. dual): m. the thigh

vivare (loc. sg.): m. n. a fissure , hole , chasm , slit , cleft , hollow , vacuity (also applied to the apertures of the body and to gaping wounds) ; expansion , opening , widening
kāntam (acc. sg.): m. any one beloved , a lover , husband ; m. the moon
iva: like
abhinīya = abs. abhi- √ nī: to conduct towards , bring near
abhi: (As a prefix to verbs of motion) it expresses the notion or going towards , approaching , &c
√ nī: to lead , guide , conduct ; to bring into any state or condition
śiśye = 3rd pers. sg. perf. śī: to lie , lie down , recline , rest , repose ; to lie down to sleep , fall asleep , sleep

[No corresponding Chinese]  

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