Tuesday, June 4, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.81: Like Trotting Lightly Over Lotuses

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−    Puṣpitāgrā
kanaka-valaya-bhūṣita-prakoṣṭhaiḥ kamala-nibhaiḥ kamalān-iva pravidhya |
avanata-tanavas-tato 'sya yakṣāś-cakita-gatair-dadhire khurān karāgraiḥ || 5.81

Bowing yakṣas, their wrists adorned with golden bands,

Their lotus-like hands seeming to emit sprays of lotus flowers,

Their lotus-petal fingertips coyly trembling,

Then bore up that horse's hooves.

From where I sit there are two kinds of verses in this epic story of Awakened Action (buddha-carita): the first kind is verses whose genesis can be traced back to the traditional practice of non-doing as transmitted in activities like slow walking, bowing, and just sitting; and the second kind is verses whose hidden meaning I have not yet understood.

Today's verse seems to me clearly to belong in the former category – which is not to deny that it might belong in the second category.

Either way, today's verse conjured up in my imagination a couple of strong images. 

First up I pictured western Zen practitioners of various shapes and sizes, but most of them with paunches that render the exercise relatively difficult, kneeling down and knocking their foreheads on the floor and then lifting their upraised palms up, with a certain delicacy of movement, above their ears. 

Secondly the image came into my mind of a portly piano player (George Melly? Fats Domino? Les Dawson?) whose trembling fat fingers are very rapidly and delicately tinkling the ivories

If I trust my intuition, then (though experience has often demonstrated this to be a flawed strategy) a yakṣa might be a stocky, powerfully-built being but a benevolent one  like Frank our local English bulldog. Frank has the rippling musculature of a fighting dog, but he would not hurt a fly. This juxtaposition of powerful stocky build and gentle (if stubborn) nature tends to evoke laughter among those who have the pleasure of meeting Frank first hand. No picture of Frank is available at time of writing, but here is the photo of a pretty-boy lookalike copied from the internet: 

The yakṣas, their Wikipedia entry speculates, may have originally been the tutelary gods of forests and villages, and were later viewed as the steward deities of the earth [cue another  NASA photo of the blue planet?] and the wealth buried beneath. In Indian art, male yakṣas are portrayed either as fearsome warriors or as portly, stout and dwarf-like. 

The images that sprang into my mind, then, were based on the latter conception of yakṣas as not so fearsome, but more portly, stout, and dwarf-like. 

Among the following  selection of yakṣa images, the top one is gleaned from the webpage of the National Museum, New Delhi which describes this yakṣa thus:

Friendly, benign and eager to share his mirth with all, his devotees and others, the figure of the Yaksha has been conceived with large bulbous eyes, chubby face, wide open mouth with rows of teeth well revealed as when laughing and in jubilation, expressing delight. 

The whole of today's verse, as I read it, is a kind of ode to non-doing, culminating with Kanthaka being born lightly along on the lotus-like tips of yakṣa fingers. The golden bands around the forearms symbolize, as before, the non-doing wrists of a non-doing practitioner. The sprays of lotus flowers emanating from the hands suggests that flow of directed energy which nobody can do. The coyly trembling fingertips bearing up Kanthaka's hooves might suggest the power of an appreciative mind as opposed to the lesser power of stiff muscular effort – think Bruce Lee's iconic "Not That" scene in Enter the Dragon … 

“Try again, with meaning.” Indeed. 

kanaka-valaya-bhūṣita-prakoṣṭhaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): with fore-arms adorned with bands of gold
kanaka: gold
valaya: a bracelet , armlet , ring (worn by men and women on the wrist)
bhūṣita: mfn. adorned
prakoṣṭha: m. the fore-arm
koṣṭha: m. any one of the viscera of the body (particularly the stomach , abdomen)

kamala-nibhaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): lotus-like
kamala: mfn. pale-red , rose-coloured ; mn. a lotus , lotus-flower
nibha: mfn. ( √ bhā) resembling , like , similar (ifc.) ; (sometimes pleonast. after adj. e.g. cāru-nibhānana , " handsome-faced " , or comp. with a synonym e.g. naga-nibhopama , " mountain-like " ; padma-pattrābha-nibha , " like a lotus-leaf "); m. or n. appearance , pretext (only ifc.)
kamalān (acc. pl. m.): mn. a lotus , lotus-flower
iva: like, as if
pravidhya = abs. pra- √ vyadh: to hurl , cast , throw away or down ; to hurl missiles

avanata-tanavaḥ (nom. pl. m.): their bodies bowed
avanata: mfn. bowed , bent down
tanu: f. the body , person , self
tataḥ: ind. then
asya (gen. sg. m.): of him, the horse's
yakṣāḥ (nom. pl. m.): m. N. of a class of semi-divine beings (attendants of kubera , exceptionally also of viṣṇu ; described as sons of pulastya , of pulaha , of kaśyapa , of khasā or krodhā ; also as produced from the feet of brahmā ; though generally regarded as beings of a benevolent and inoffensive disposition , like the yakṣa in kālidāsa's megha-dūta , they are occasionally classed with piśācas and other malignant spirits , and sometimes said to cause demoniacal possession ; as to their position in the Buddhist system » MWB. 206 , 218)

cakita-gateḥ [original Nepalese manuscript] (gen. sg. m.): going tremblingly
cakita: mfn. trembling , timid , frightened ; n. trembling , timidity , alarm
gati: f. going , moving , gait , deportment , motion in general ; manner or power of going
cakita-gataiḥ [EHJ] (inst. pl. n.): trembling
cakita: mfn. trembling , timid , frightened ; n. trembling , timidity , alarm
gata: mfn. gone to, entered into a state of
dadhire = 3rd pers. pl. perf. dhā: to put, place ; to seize , take hold of , hold , bear , support , wear , put on (clothes)
khurān (acc. pl.): m. a hoof , horse's hoof
karāgraiḥ (inst. pl.) with the tips of their fingers
kara: m. hand
agra: n. tip

四神來捧足 潜密寂無聲

No comments: