Friday, June 7, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.84: A Lion's Roar

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−    Puṣpitāgrā
atha sa vikaja-paṅkajāyat-ākṣaḥ puram-avalokya nanāda siṁha-nādam |
janana-maraṇayor-adṣṭa-pāro na punar-ahaṁ kapilāhvayaṁ praveṣṭā || 5.84

Then he with the lengthened eyes of a lotus
– one born of mud, not of water –

Surveyed the city and roared a lion's roar:

“Until I have seen the far shore of birth and death

I shall never again enter the city named after Kapila.”

The vikaja of the 1st pāda, as per the old Nepalese manuscript, is not in the dictionary. EB Cowell's text has vikaca (from √kac, to shine) which means opened, full-blown, or resplendent; hence EBC “Then he with his eyes long and like a full-blown lotus...” EH Johnston amended vikaja to vimala, which means stainless or white; hence “Thereon he, whose eyes were long like stainless lotuses born of the mud...” and PO “Then he, with long eyes like white lotuses...”

The reading of the old Nepalese manuscript, however, makes sense to me if we take vi- to be a prefix of negation, so that vi-ka-ja means “not water born” in the same way that the oft-encountered Sanskrit word for a lotus, paṅka-ja, means “mud-born.”

Read like that, the 1st pāda is more than a romantic description of a spiritual hero; it is a reminder that the prince was a real human being, who owed his very life to mucky circumstances.

They say that when a healthy baby is fortunate enough to be born naturally from a healthy mother, the baby's nose presents itself in such a way that it smells the faeces that tends to get pushed out as mother and baby combine to get the baby out; and this smell provides a big stimulus to kick the baby's immune system into action.

These are the kind of grounds, truly miraculous grounds, upon which Aśvaghoṣa, as I hear him, is encouraging us to understand the meaning of the lion's roar (siṁha-nādam).

EBC, incidentally, translated nanāda siṁha-nāda as “uttered a sound like a lion,” thereby downgrading Aśvaghoṣa's metaphor into a simile. In the original, the prince roars a lion's roar. So when the prince roared this lion's roar, what kind of roar was this roar?

Googling “lion's roar, Buddhism,” leads us to two Pali discourses on The Lion's Roar, well translated and with an introduction that states,
The expression of the lion's supremacy is its roar – a roar which reduces to silence the cries, howls, bellows, shrieks, barks and growls of lesser creatures. When the lion steps forth from his den and sounds his roar, all the other animals stop and listen. On such an occasion none dares even to sound its own cry, let alone to come into the open and challenge the fearless, unsurpassable roar of the golden-maned king of beasts. The Buddha's discourses, as found in the ancient Pali canon, frequently draw their imagery from the rich and varied animal life of the luxuriant Indian jungle. It is thus not surprising that when the Buddha has occasion to refer to himself, he chooses to represent himself as the stately lion and to describe his proclamation of the Dhamma, bold and thunderous, as a veritable lion's roar in the spiritual domain.
Today's verse, as I read it, contradicts in a couple of ways this conventional explanation of the lion's roar.

First, as I have already intimated, Aśvaghoṣa was talking about what is born of mud, and not a so-called spiritual domain. So I think Aśvaghoṣa is describing a lion's roar that had real resonance, real energy; and this energy, in accordance with the 2nd law of thermodynamics (which describes all phenomena in the real, not the spiritual world) spread out all around, out into the real universe.

Second Aśvaghoṣa is not describing the prince's lion's roar as something in competition with others; rather he is describing the decisive statement of a would-be practitioner who was going on his own way.

In investigating the original meaning of a lion's roar, better places to start, in my book, than the Pali Suttas are:
1. the writings of Aśvaghoṣa, in which the essence of the multifarious and sometimes unreliable Pali Suttas is reliably distilled through the still of Aśvaghoṣa's own wisdom, as 12th in a direct line of succession from the Buddha; and
2. the understanding of those who study in the field, in a scientific manner (i.e. in the field of zoology), the actual behaviour of lions.

On the evidence of this clip, what a male lion is saying to other male lions when he issues his 5-mile roar is not so much a fearless “I am supreme in the spiritual domain” as a wary “Keep away!” And the latter sentiment fits better with the sentiment that the prince, as I hear him, is expressing in today's verse, since the prince's attention is not to announce himself as supreme among rivals, but is rather to go away and solve, for himself and by himself, the problem of how to live and and how to die. 

So not necessarily "I am supreme in the spiritual domain." Maybe closer to "Fuck off and leave me alone." 

In the 3rd pāda janana-maraṇayor-adṛṣṭa-pāraḥ, lit. “the far shore of living and dying not yet being seen,” might more colloquially be translated “until I have got to the bottom of life and death.”

Apropos of which (apropos of not yet having got to the bottom of living and dying) yesterday I was engaging unconsciously in some stupidity or other, when my wife, sitting on the sofa, said, “I thought you studied Zen.” I walked over to her, made a gesture with my arms as if presenting myself in all my glory and declared, “I am Zen!”

“You can fake other people,” my wife replied, demonstrating her still less-than-perfect English, “but you can't fake me.”

Ah well, better to be a fake who knows he's a fake than a fake trying to prove he's a Zen master. I think you've got quite a lot of those over there in the United States of America, professional Zen masters who can't show themselves to be fakes for fear of losing their livelihood. That's what you get when you turn Zen into a business, as Americans turn everything into a business. 

Now it sounds like I am blaming all Americans. And somewhere deep inside, I am – in the same way that when people commit atrocities on the streets of London in the name of Allah, or when a gang of men of Pakistani descent from the same Oxford mosque groom young white girls for sex, something deep inside me blames all Muslims and hates Islaam. 

A Zen master, needless to say, is not liable to those kind of thoughts. But a fake who knows he's a fake is allowed to have them. If, unconsciously I don't allow myself to have those kind of thoughts and try to suppress them, then I end up unconsciously using as a mirror somebody like Russell Brand who “calls for calm” in a pseudo-Buddhist fashion.

It's not the prejudices I know about that block the spontaneous flow of energy that I aspire to allow; the more serious and dangerous obstacles are the prejudices I don't know about and don't want to know about. 

Is it wrong to blame all Muslims for an atrocity committed by two Muslims in the name of Allah? Yes, of course that is wrong and irrational. Do I want to see myself as harbouring irrational prejudices against people who I ignorantly perceive to be "the other"? No I don't.

For a while I shared a hotel room in Okinawa with a north African Muslim when we were training under the same karate teacher. There was something about sharing a room with this bloke that got mightily on my nerves, and that something was very much tied up with his attitude to Allah. Later in his career, my fellow practitioner expressed a reluctance to bow to the dojo shrine, as was everybody else's custom, or even to the teacher taking the class, because he didn't want to bow to anything other than his imagined Allah. Anything faintly good that happened to him, however trivial, was greeted by an “Alhamdulillah” (Praised be to Allah) in a manner which seemed to me, and still seems to me, to owe much to superstition and little to appreciation of cause and effect. 

If, in light of the mirror principle, I ask myself what particular tendency in him got on my nerves, it might have been the arrogance of one who thinks he is better than others, the infidels, because he knows better than them what is the will of God, or the right direction of the universe. 

I fucking love science. And I fucking hate religion. I hate all religions – Buddhism, Judaism (especially the more idealogical strands of orthodoxy and Zionism), Christianity (Catholicism more than non-conformism), and Islaam. But, in response to recent events, I feel special hatred for Islaam.

Reflecting on that situation, I come back again to what Marjory Barlow reminded me again and again – presumably because she saw that I needed reminding – “Being wrong is the best friend you have got in this work.”

I absolutely do not condone actions done on the basis of hatred for Islaam, like burning down community centres. I do not condone the hatred that I confess to feeling for Islaam. But I do understand the hatred that a growing number of British people feel towards Islaam. And more than that, I confess that I share that hatred. I have a tendency – wrong though it is – to blame all Muslims for the atrocities committed by a few.

Should I bow down before Russell Brand, recognizing his shining example of not being prejudiced, and admiring the Buddhist wisdom in his calls for calm? I don't think so. 

To eliminate wrong tendencies is the starting point of the Buddha's teaching.


In the first place, by recognizing them, not by denying them. Not by being any more of a fake than I already am.

Truly, “Being wrong is the best friend we have got in this work.”

Why did Russell Brand's article on not blaming Muslims disturb me more than the Woolwich murder itself disturbed me? Because more than the Islaamic militants who think they know the will of God held up a mirror to me, Russell Brand held up a mirror to me, in which I saw a fake whose primary concern is not to tell the truth but rather to put on a good show and garner applause. 

atha: ind. and so, then
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
vikaja-paṅkajāyatākṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): with not-produced-by-water, produced-from-mud, lengthened eyes (?)
vi: It is esp. used as a prefix to verbs or nouns and other parts of speech derived from verbs , to express " division " , " distinction " , " distribution " , " arrangement " , " order " , " opposition " , or " deliberation "; it may also be used in forming compounds not immediately referable to verbs , in which cases it may express " difference " (cf. 1. vi-lakṣaṇa) , " change " or " variety " (cf. vi-citra) , " intensity " (cf. vi-karāla) , " manifoldness " (cf. vi-vidha) , " contrariety " (cf. vi-loma) , " deviation from right " (cf. vi-śīla) , " negation " or " privation " (cf. vi-kaccha , being often used like 3. a,nir ,andnis [qq. vv.] , and like the Lat. dis , se , and the English a , dis , in , un &c )
ka-ja: mfn. produced in or by water , watery , aquatic ; n. a lotus
ka: n. happiness , joy , pleasure ; n. water ; n. the head ; n. hair , a head of hair
vi-kaca: mfn. hairless , bald ; m. a Buddhist mendicant ; mfn. ( √ kac, to shine) opened , blown ; shining , resplendent , brilliant , radiant with (comp.)
vi-mala: mfn. stainless , spotless , clean , bright , pure (lit. and fig.) ; clear , transparent ; white
paṅka-ja: " mud-born " , a species of lotus , Nelumbium Speciosum (whose flower closes in the evening) ;
āyata: mfn. stretched , lengthened
akṣa: n. [only ifc. for akṣi] the eye.

puram (acc. sg.): n. the city
avalokya = abs. ava- √ lok : to look upon or at , view , behold , see , notice , observe
nanāda = 3rd pers. sg. perf. nad: to sound , thunder , roar , cry , howl &c
siṁha-nādam (acc. sg.): m. a lion's roar ; a war-cry ; a confident assertion ; recital of the Buddhist doctrine
nāda: m. ( √ nad) a loud sound , roaring , bellowing , crying
nad: to sound , thunder , roar , cry , howl &c

janana-maraṇayoḥ (gen. dual): birth and death
janana: n. birth , coming into existence
maraṇa: n. the act of dying , death ;
adṛṣṭa-pāraḥ (nom. sg. m.): the far shore being not experienced
adṛṣṭa: mfn. unseen , unforeseen , invisible , not experienced , unobserved , unknown , unsanctioned
pāra: n. the further bank or shore or boundary , any bank or shore , the opposite side , the end or limit of anything , the utmost reach or fullest extent RV. &c (dūré pāré , at the farthest ends RV. ; pāraṁ- √gam &c with gen. or loc. , to reach the end , go through , fulfil , carry out [as a promise] , study or learn thoroughly [as a science])

na: not
punar: ind. again, once more
puram (acc. sg. m.): the city
aham (nom. sg. m.): I
kapilāhvayam (acc. sg.): n. (with or without pura) the city of kapila-vastu
āhvaya: m. appellation , name (generally ifc.)
praveṣṭā = 1st pers. sg. periphrastic future pra- √ viś: to enter , go into

清淨蓮花目 從淤泥中生
顧瞻父王宮 而説告離篇
不度生老死 永無遊此縁 


Jordan said...

Have you read the Qur'an?

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan,

I heard it proclaims that there is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.

Maybe something was lost in translation, but this sort of puts me off.

Jordan said...

Here are some Clif's notes:

I'd say the religion of peace pretty much wants to kill every non believer.

Mike Cross said...

Coming from somebody who has been directly in the firing line, your testimony carries the ring of truth.

It also tallies with the video footage of the Woolwich murderer who does not come across, as Russell Brand would have us believe, as mad. He rather comes across as somebody who is acting in accordance with a principle. And that principle seems to be, as you suggest, the killing of a non-believer.

What do you propose we do about it?

Jordan said...

In my country, folks are fighting to keep our second amendment rights.

Mike Cross said...

The right to bear arms is evidently something you've had cause to reflect on more deeply than I have.

If I have my own sissy English view on it, a la Piers Morgan, probably I should drop it off and mind my own business -- or take the 5th amendment?

Other than that, I won't stop putting my head above the parapet as a confirmed irreligious non-believer.