hdi yā mama tuṣṭir-adya jātā vyavasāyaś-ca yathā dhṛtau niviṣṭaḥ |
vijane 'pi ca nāthavān-ivāsmi dhruvam-artho 'bhimukhaḥ sa me ya iṣṭaḥ || 5.69
Since there has arisen today in my heart
a certain satisfaction,
Since strenuous fixity of purpose has settled down
into a contented constancy,
And since even in solitude
I feel as if I am in the presence of a protector,
Assuredly, the valuable object to which I aspire is smiling upon me.
The difficulty of today's verse is indicated firstly by the fact that EH Johnston, in his effort to grasp Aśvaghoṣa's gist, amended the original manuscript in two places; and secondly by the fact that EHJ felt the grammar to be worthy of note.
The two amendments EHJ made were 1. to dhṛtau in the 2nd pāda (changed to matau) and 2. to sa me ya in the 4th pāda (changed to sameta).
With regard to the grammar, EHJ noted in his Introduction that in this verse, as also in SN6.47, Aśvaghoṣa used a relative absolutely without postcedent to express the idea 'as for.'
Exactly what EHJ meant by this is not apparent to me from his translation, which is as follows:
Since contentment arises in my heart to-day, and since my resolve is fixed in my mind (matau) and since I have as it were a guide even in loneliness, most certainly the longed for goal has come into (sameta) my view. (EHJ)
In SN6.47, however, EHJ translated yas-tasya bhāvas “such is his feeling” and tvayi yaś-ca rāgo “such his passion towards you.”
Similarly, in today's verse, EBC translated yā tuṣṭir as “such is the firm content”:
Since such is the firm content which to-day is produced in my heart, and since my determination is settled in calm resolve (dhṛtau), and since even in loneliness I seem to possess a guide, — verily the (sa) end which (ya) I (me) desire is now before me. (EBC)
Rather than follow EBC in using “such is” to translate yā, I have followed EHJ in ignoring the yā construction in translation, opting instead to translate tuṣtiḥ and dhṛtau at the end of their respective clauses, in order to bring out their similarity of meaning – since both words, as I read them, express the combination of 1. a feel-good factor, or a sense of contentment, and 2. something expressing certainty, constancy, or security.
Hence in the 1st pāda I have translated tuṣṭiḥ (lit. satisfaction, contentment) somewhat ambiguously as “a certain satisfaction.” I note that EBC in his translation – “firm content” – also used two words instead of one, to convey the sense not only of contentment per se, but also of being firm or secure or certain in one's conviction.
In the 2nd pāda I am on safe ground translating dhṛtau as “into a contented constancy” since constancy and content / satisfaction / joy are included in the dictionary definitions of dhṛti.
In the 3rd pāda, on first reading, I took nāthavān-ivāsmi (“I am as if in the presence of a protector”) as the kind of religious thought or feeling of the kind which I am not immune from having myself –
Guide me O thy great redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak but thou art mighty –
I am weak but thou art mighty –
Hold me in thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven. Bread of heaven.
Feed me till I want no more.
Feed me till I want no more.
What thus seems to link the elements of the four pādas of today's verse is the sensibility of a believer who draws strength and security and comfort and calm contentment from faith in a power greater than himself.
The question that then arises is to what extent, in alluding to such an ostensibly religious sensibility, Aśvaghoṣa has his tongue in his cheek?
Yesterday morning I felt very full of myself, and had no doubt that Aśvaghoṣa's tongue was firmly in his cheek. This morning (using the word “morning” loosely) I am not so sure. Partly as a result of stressing myself yesterday afternoon on a full stomach, I have woken up after just two or three hours sleep and got up in the middle of the night. It is almost as if I have got out of pace with time....
Setting aside such self-doubt for a moment, let us assume that Aśvaghoṣa's tongue was in his cheek. Then the irony that can be read into the 4th pāda is that the object to which the prince aspires is pari-nirvāṇa (see BC5.25 below). But pari-nirvāṇa cannot yet mean anything to the prince, as an object to aspire to, other than as an idea or a concept. Moreover in the way the prince aspires to pari-nirvāṇa – in the way he desires enlightenment, as a sincere man going straight for his goal (BC5.46) – the prince might in fact, because of this very end-gaining desire, be impossibly far from his desired object. In that case, the valuable object to which he aspires, although he feels himself to be basking in its warm glow, might in fact be very far from smiling at him.
Then, he of battle-cry like roaring thunder-cloud, listened to this cry of woe, and experienced a calmness most profound; / For as he heard the words “perfectly contented,” he set his mind on the matter of pari-nirvāṇa – the happiness of complete extinction. // BC5.25 //
But even those ultimate instruments, on a par with heavenly harps, gave him no pleasure nor any joy. / His desire, as a sincere man going straight for his goal, was to get out, in pursuit of the happiness of ultimate riches; and therefore he was not in the mood for play. // BC5.46//
So, I conclude [ed: like a hill-walker getting to what he thought was the top of a hill], in today's verse the prince's self-satisfied sense of certainty can be read as a religious delusion – a state of doubtlessness into which, as described in BC5.67, the prince has descended.
Was Aśvaghoṣa really out to desecrate Buddhism?
I think that on one level he was – and this is one reason why Aśvaghoṣa's writings, as I read them, are incredibly well suited to our present irreligious age. That my translation of them has not attracted more interest over the past five years – I can't help worrying – might be a reflection of my continuing to make a pig's ear of the whole endeavour.
I apologize for showing my workings in such a haphazard manner, like a scruffy mathematician, but having prepared the above comment and gone back to bed for a couple of hours and then sat again, it occurred to me that the digging whose results are presented above was woefully insufficient. Or, to use the hill-walking metaphor, I realized that what I thought was the top of the hill, when I came to stand on it, or sit on it, was blocking from view another peak, or series of peaks, continuing into the distance.
So at least one deeper level, or one higher peak, needs to be explored, namely that the prince, unbeknowns to himself, is pre-saging the experience he will have as the enlightened Buddha.
In that case, the essence of today's verse is neither a religious agenda nor any irreligious irony. Rather, like every verse that Aśvaghoṣa wrote, today's verse can be read as being rooted in the simple joy of sitting-meditation – whose elements need not include complex philosophical investigation and psychological self-examination, but invariably do include:
- satisfaction (tuṣṭiḥ)
- constancy (dhṛti)
- solitude (vi-jana)
- submission to some kind of redeeming force (nāthavān)
- a sense of something facing in a certain direction (abhimukhaḥ)
- something desired or wished for (iṣṭaḥ), albeit not too greedily or hastily.
A final reflection, apropos of what I wrote yesterday, is that Marjory Barlow saw it as important in teaching the Alexander Technique for a teacher not to pre-judge a pupil on any given day. The thing is rather to approach each lesson with an open mind, aware that the pupil today might be a different person than he was yesterday. In light of all that, it was all the more poignant when Marjory said to me after one lesson, in a spirit of acceptance, or resignation, “You are an inveterate worrier, aren't you?”
“I know,” she then added, “because I am too.”
My spontaneous outpouring in yesterday's post was not one of my finest moments. I would like to apologize to everybody everywhere. I don't know to what extent I am making a pig's ear of this translation project, any more than people knew what the result would be of re-introducing wolves into Yellowstone Park. Notwithstanding the worries of doubters, that trial seems to have worked well, thanks to hungry wolves being nothing other than hungry wolves. So we live in hope. Doubt and hope.
hṛdi (loc. sg.): n. heart
yā (nom. sg. f.): [relative pronoun] which
mama (gen. sg.): my
tuṣṭiḥ (nom. sg.): f. satisfaction , contentment
tuṣ: to become calm , be satisfied or pleased with any one ; to satisfy , please , appease , gratify
adya: ind. today , now
jātā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. born, arisen, produced
vyavasāyah (nom. sg.): m. strenuous effort or exertion; settled determination , resolve , purpose , intention (°yam √kṛ to make up one's mind , resolve , determine) [See BC5.33]
avasāya: m. " taking up one's abode " ; termination ; determination , ascertainment
√ so: to destroy , kill , finish
ava- √ so: to loosen , deliver from ; to unharness (horses) , put up at any one's house , settle , rest ; to unharness (horses) , put up at any one's house , settle , rest ; to finish , terminate (one's work) ; to be finished , be at an end , be exhausted; to decide
vy-ava- √ so: to settle down or dwell separately ; to differ (in opinion) , contest , quarrel ; to separate , divide (opp. to sam- √as) ; to determine , resolve , decide
yathā: ind. as, since
dhṛtau (loc. sg.): f. holding , seizing , keeping , supporting (cf. carṣaṇī- , vi-) , firmness , constancy , resolution , will , command ; satisfaction , content , joy
matau (loc. sg.): f. mind
niviṣṭaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. settled down , come to rest
vijane (loc. sg.): n. a deserted or solitary place , absence of witnesses; mfn. free from people , destitute of men , deserted , solitary , lonely
nātha-vān (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having a protector or master , dependant , subject
nātha: n. refuge , help ; m. a protector , patron , possessor , owner , lord ; m. a rope passed through the nose of a draft ox
iva: like, as if
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be
dhruvam: ind. firmly , constantly , certainly , surely
arthaḥ (nom. sg.): m. aim, purpose ; thing, object ; substance , wealth , property , opulence , money
abhimukhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. with the face directed towards , turned towards , facing ; taking one's part , friendly disposed (with gen. or instr.)
sa (nom. sg. m.): it
me (gen. sg.): me
yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): which
sametaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. come together , assembled , joined , united ; come near or to , got into any state or condition (acc.)
iṣṭaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. sought, wished, desired