Tuesday, May 14, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.60: Not Keeping Up Appearances

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
vyapaviddha-vibhūṣaṇa-srajo 'nyā vistāgranthana-vāsaso visaṁjñāḥ |
animīlita-śukla-niścalākṣyo na virejuḥ śayitā gatāsu-kalpāḥ || 5.60

Different individuals,
leaving trinkets jettisoned and garlands trashed,

Unconsciously, in robes of undone knots,

With their bright, motionless eyes open,

Displayed no beauty,
reposing there like women who had breathed their last.

In the 1st pāda of today's verse anyāḥ ostensibly means “other women,” but I think Aśvaghoṣa's real intention is to describe the very same women, the very same contrary individuals (aparāḥ), that he has just described in yesterday's verse. 

These sitting practitioners are different, contrary, other (apara, anya) in the sense of each being an individual in his or her own right – for men are not ants. At the same time they are sitting in a group or as a group, altogether under one roof, and Aśvaghoṣa in today's verse is alluding in generic terms, using anyāḥ in the plural, 1. to their attitude to profit and fame; 2. to the manner in which their robes have been sewn; 3. to their use of their eyes; and 4. to their use of their respiratory mechanisms.

It is not, therefore, that some individuals kept their eyes closed while other individuals kept their eyes open; rather, the same individuals sometimes sat with their eyes closed and sometimes (as in today's verse) sat with their eyes focused on some centrally located spot. Similarly, it is not that some breathed remarkably deeply while others seemed devoid of breath; rather the same individuals sometimes took breaths of extra-ordinary fullness and depth (whether deliberately, at the start of sitting practice, or as an involuntarily response to some release in the natural course of sitting practice) and sometimes breathed so imperceptibly as to seem not to be breathing at all.

Aśvaghoṣa, in the verses we have studied hitherto, has never written about “a Buddhist saṁgha” of the kind which group-minded group-thinkers are ever inclined to want to form, belong to, lead as front man, guide from the wings, invite others to join, exclude others from,  resign from, et cetera, et cetera. But the contrarian individuals now under discussion, it is very obvious from a verse like today's verse, when one stops to think about it, are undeniably a group of sitting practitioners sitting together under one roof.

Funnily enough, of the three previous English translations that I usually refer to on this blog, the first one, EB Cowell's editio princeps, is most amenable to this hidden reading. EH Johnston and Patrick Olivelle, in their efforts to improve on what went before, lent increasingly heavily on the ostensible meaning.Hence EBC described the women more neutrally as “without any beauty,” which nearly fits the hidden as well as the ostensible meaning. But EHJ went with “ugly,” and PO with “revolting.”  Send three and four-pence... 
Others, with their ornaments and garlands thrown off, — unconscious, with their garments spread out unfastened, — their bright eyes wide open and motionless, — lay without any beauty as if they were dead. (EBC)
Others looked ugly, lying unconscious like corpses, with their ornaments and garlands cast aside, the fastening knots of their dresses undone, and eyes moveless with the whites showing. (EHJ)
others looked revolting, lying as if dead, their jewellery and their garlands fallen down, unconscious, with eyes unblinking, the whites gazing in a fixed state; (PO)
Any advance on revolting?

Not from me. What na virejuḥ (“they did not shine forth”) really expresses, in my book, is the absence of any tendency to try to make oneself look good in the eyes of others – a lack of concern, in other words, with keeping up appearances.

That being so, a very timely example of the meaning in the 1st pāda of vyapaviddha-vibhūṣaṇa-srajaḥ (“leaving trinkets jettisoned and garlands trashed”) is provided by this clip of a different individual named Richard Feynman saying what he thinks about the Nobel prize, and why such epilettes and honours are not for him.

I wish I were more like Richard Feynman, in more ways than one. When I look forward to the day when grateful Zen practitioners in America will erect some monumental statue of yours truly sitting in full lotus, for pigeons to crap upon, I am doing so mainly in jest. At the same time, if I succeeded in serving Aśvaghoṣa as I set out to serve him five years ago, then plaudits might be indicative of having done a good job  just as receiving the Nobel prize, whether he liked it or not, was symptomatic of Feynman having done good work. 

The truth might be that, as an inveterate worrier with a congenitally dodgy vestibular-auditory system, I tend to doubt myself. And that tendency is hard for anybody to correct from the outside. While that tendency prevails, any plaudits I do get, paradoxically, only stimulate yet more doubt. Such doubt is partially allayed by reflecting that, however inept my translation and commentary might be, I have scratched the surface of the egg more deeply than any of the English translators who have gone before me. This is mainly due to having been taught that, for a buddha-ancestor like Aśvaghoṣa, the one thing that was paramount — paramārtha — was sitting-meditation itself.

vyapaviddha-vibhūṣaṇa-srajaḥ (nom. pl. f.): with ornaments broken to pieces and garlands trashed
vyapaviddha: mfn. ( √ vyadh) thrown about , broken to pieces ; cast away , rejected
vibhūṣaṇa: n. ornament
sraj: f. a wreath of flowers , garland , chaplet worn on the head
anyāḥ (nom. pl. f.): others, one who were different

visṛtāgranthana-vāsasaḥ (nom. pl. f.): their clothes all unfastened ; in clothes where knots are dispersed in all directions
visṛta: mfn. gone in various directions , dispersed ; fallen off or down
āgranthana: n. a knot
granthana: n. (ifc.) stringing , tying or connecting together (as a chapter or book) , arranging , composing
grantha: m. tying , binding , stringing together
vāsas: n. cloth , clothes , dress , a garment
visaṁjñāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. unconscious ; bereft of sense , lifeless

animīlita-śukla-niścalākṣyaḥ (nom. pl. f.): their bright and motionless eyes open
a-nimīlita: with the eyes not closed ; with eyes open
śukla: mfn. bright, white
niścala: mfn. motionless, fixed
akṣi: n. the eyes

na: not
virejuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. vi- √ rāj: to shine forth
śayitāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. reposed , lying , sleeping , asleep
gatāsu-kalpāḥ (nom. pl. f.): like one who has breathed her last
gatāsu: mfn. one whose breath has gone , expired , dead
gata: mfn. gone
asu: m. breath , life
kalpa: m. (ifc.) having the manner or form of anything , similar to , resembling , like but with a degree of inferiority , almost

種種身散亂 狼籍猶横屍

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