Friday, May 17, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.63: Pouring Scorn on Unconstrained Beauty

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
samavekṣya tathā tathā śayānā viktās-tā yuvatīr-adhīra-ceṣṭāḥ |
guṇavad-vapuṣo 'pi valgu-bhāṣā npa-sūnuḥ sa vigarhayāṁ babhūva || 5.63

Beholding them dropped off in irregular fashion, 
in this way and that,

Seeing the lack of constraint in the movement of their limbs,

Perfectly beautiful though those women were in their form,
and beautifully dulcet in their speech, 

The son of the king was moved to scorn: 


The son of a king feels scorn or contempt for women in the court of the king, who he sees to be ugly and dumb, though in fact they are very beautiful in form and speech. 

This is a metaphor for what? I think it is a metaphor for the dissatisfaction a young man feels when reality fails to match his idealistic expectations. It is a metaphor, in a word, for idealism.

The first two pādas ostensibly describe the women as distorted or ugly (vikṛtāḥand as making wild or uncontrolled movements (adhīra-ceṣṭāḥ).  Hence śayānā vikṛtās-tā yuvatīr-adhīra-ceṣṭāḥ is translated by EBC “these young women lying distorted and with uncontrolled gestures" by EHJ “the young women lying... looking so loathsome with their uncontrolled movements”, and by PO “those girls sleeping... their bodies distorted, movements unrestrained." 

If the first two pādas are read like that, then the 3rd pāda only makes sense if it expresses how beautiful the women ordinarily were, as opposed to how loathsome they now appear to be. Hence EHJ added the word “ordinarily” to his translation of guṇavad-vapuṣo 'pi“though ordinarily their forms were beautiful.”

The real meaning of the 3rd pāda that emerges when we follow the metaphorical sub-text, however, is that those individuals, who were beautiful by nature, were still beautiful then and there. They were beautiful 1. in the excellent (albeit irregular) form of their sitting, and 2a. in the sweet sound of their silence, or 2b. in the energetic radiance of their sitting.

According to EHJ's text, in the 3rd pāda the old Nepalese manuscript has valgu-bhāṣā “lovely in their speech” (2a). EBC's text, based on later copies of the old Nepalese manuscript, has valgu-bhāso, “lovely in their lustre” (2b). Both readings make sense to me.  The latter reading makes sense in asserting that the the women were beautiful not only in their external form but also in their energetic content. The former reading makes sense as an ironic allusion to the absence of speech in a meditation hall, and EHJ notes that valgu-bhāṣā is also supported by the Tibetan translation.

EHJ adds: “Otherwise, Speyer's phalgu-bhāso might have been preferable.” So EHJ thought Speyer's phalgu (“weak” or “worthless”) might have been preferable to the original valgu (“lovely”).  This reading does not make sense to me. I think that to have preferred phalgu-bhāso  ("weak in their lustre" i.e. dull [?]) would have been a mistake, born of EHJ's failure, not for the first time, to grasp Aśvaghoṣa's use of irony.

The irony is there, when we dig for it, in the description of the women as "irregular"  (vikṛtāḥand as "not being in control over the movements of their own limbs” (adhīra-ceṣṭāḥ).  A lack of constraint over the movements of one's own limbs can be understood as an ironic description of how a person uses himself when he has dropped off body and mind. When such a person brings his hands together and bows, for example, he does not move with the hyper-mindful carefulness of the Buddhist control freak. No. As Marjory Barlow summed up the essence of truly mindful practice: “Say no [to ideas like trying to be right]. Give your directions. And go into movement without a care in the world. Let it come out in the wash.”

When the son of the king was moved to scorn, then, his scorn was primarily a function not of the people he was beholding, who in fact were paragons of irregular beauty; the prince's scorn was rather a function of the idealistic aesthetics and faulty sensory appreciation of the unenlightened subject. Ugliness was in the eye of the idealistic beholder.

Today's verse thus causes us to reflect further on the meaning of vikṛta, “being irregular,” specifically in connection with the arising of scorn or contempt. Vikṛta means changed for the worse, i.e., irregular in the sense of not being as it was, or not being how it should be. “Not being how it should be” means, in other words, not being as some judging subject perceives that it should be.

Our human minds form a notion of how a woman, or, say, a Catholic cardinal, or a Zen master, or an Alexander teacher who talks the talk of conscious control, ought to be; and when we meet a living person who seems to fit the bill we fall in love with her, or worship and adore him, or try to make ourselves like an empty cup to receive his or her teaching. But then something happens, something ceases to fit, some irregularity is detected, we perceive that a change for the worse has taken place, and the dream is shattered. The fairy story comes to an unexpected end with the hero languishing at the bottom of a deep moat, slayed by dragons. The happy ending that was once believed in fades rapidly out of sight. And so the object that we formerly loved, adored or listened to with open ears, is suddenly turned into an object of scorn and contempt.

This may not be how our minds should be. But this is how our minds are. At least this is how my mind is. I know whereof I speak – both from the viewpoint of blaming subject and from the standpoint of blamed object.

Reflecting on today's verse in this light, we see that the central irony in the present Canto, whose title is abhi-niṣ-kramaṇaḥ, “Getting [Oneself] Out” or “Transcending,” is that the prince whose judgemental mind causes him to feel scorn for what he perceives as irregularity, is conspicuously not yet out. Ostensibly he is on his way out of a palace, but in the real sense of getting out, he is not yet even on his way. The 'irregular' women, in contrast, as human beings who have dropped off their own bodies and minds, are truly ones who are already out. And that, I think, is why Aśvaghoṣa describes them in today's verse as guṇavad-vapuṣo 'pi valgu-bhāṣāḥ, "perfectly beautiful in their form, and beautifully dulcet in their [non-]speech," or guṇavad-vapuṣo 'pi valgu-bhāsaḥ, "perfectly beautiful in their bodily form, and lovely in their radiant lustre."

samavekṣya = abs. sam-ava- √īkṣ: to look at , behold , observe , perceive , notice
tathā tathā: ind. in this and that manner
śayānāḥ ( f.): mfn. lying, sleeping

vikṛtāḥ ( f.): mfn. transformed , altered , changed &c ; (esp.) deformed , disfigured , mutilated , maimed , unnatural , strange , extraordinary ; ugly (as a face)
vi- √ kṛ: to make different , transform , change the shape (or the mind) , cause to alter or change (esp. for the worse) , deprave , pervert , spoil , impair
tāḥ ( f.): those
yuvatīḥ (acc. pl.): f. a girl , young woman ,
adhīra-ceṣṭāḥ ( f.): with their uncontrolled gestures
adhīra: mfn. imprudent ; confused ; deficient in calm self-command; excitable
ceṣṭa: n. moving the limbs , gesture ; n. behaviour , manner of life
ceṣṭā: f. moving any limb , gesture ; f. action , activity , effort , endeavour , exertion ; f. doing , performing ; f. behaving , manner of life

guṇavad-vapuṣaḥ (acc. pl. f.): mfn. excellent in form
guṇa-vat: mfn. endowed with good qualities or virtues or merits or excellences , excellent , perfect
vapus: n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty ; n. nature , essence ; n. the body
api: even, though
valgu-bhāṣāḥ [EHJ] ( f.): lovely in their speech
valgu-bhāsaḥ [EBC] ( f.): lovely in their lustre
phalgu-bhāsaḥ [Speyer] ( f.): reddish / weak (??) in their lustre
valgu: mfn. handsome , beautiful , lovely , attractive
phalgu: mfn. reddish , red ; small , minute , feeble , weak , pithless , unsubstantial , insignificant , worthless , unprofitable , useless
bhāṣā: f. speech , language
bhās: nf. light or ray of light , lustre , brightness ; an image , reflection, shadow ; glory , splendour , majesty

nṛpa-sūnuḥ (nom. sg. m.): the son of the guardian of men
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
vigarhayām babhūva = 3rd pers. sg. periphrastic perf. vi- √ garh: to blame , abuse , revile , reproach , despise , contemn : Caus. -garhayati , to revile , rail at , vituperate

時太子端坐 觀察諸婇女
先皆極端嚴 言笑心諂黠
妖豔巧姿媚 而今悉醜穢

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