Sunday, June 23, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.11: Back to the Future

kim-uktvā bahu saṁkṣepāt-ktaṁ me sumahat-priyam |
nivartasvāśvam-ādāya saṁprāpto 'smīpsitaṁ padam || 6.11

Why say much?

It is a great kindness to me 
that you have, in a word, done.

Take the horse and turn back! 

I have arrived where I wanted to be.”

The 4th pāda of today's verse is difficult in a couple of ways.

First, on a textual point, the old Nepalese manuscript and consequently EBC's manuscripts which were apparently copied therefrom, all end with the word vanam (wood, forest), in which case I would translate “I have reached the wood I wished to reach.” (EBC: “I have attained the desired wood.”)

EHJ amended vanam (wood, forest) to padam (step, footing, place) based on the Tibetan and Chinese translations. The Chinese 所求處今得 does indeed mean “I have arrived at the place I sought.” ( means place, not wood.)

I have accepted EHJ's amendment because I think padam fits with the progession of today's verse through four phases, namely, having to do with (1) words, (2) action itself, (3) a process of turning back, and (4) arrival at a stage in a process. 

Read in that light, today's verse can be understood as pre-saging the whole process by which, from now on, the prince is going to realize himself as the enlightened Buddha.

Hence the second difficulty introduced by saṁprāpto 'smi (lit. “I am arrived”) in the 4th pāda relates to the manifold dangers inherent in the whole concept of (4) arrival.

Before getting there, I shall briefly consider the other three elements of (1) words, (2) conduct, and (3) turning back, and the relations between those elements.

(1) On the subject of words, or speaking, notice that the prince does not negate words or speech per se; the negation he suggests is the negation of too many words or too much speech.

Today's verse is another excellent example (in marked contrast to these commentaries) of Aśvaghoṣa saying a lot very elegantly, in very few words.

Thus with the one word kṛtam (done) in the 2nd pāda, he expresses (2) action itself, as opposed to words.

And with the imperative nivartasva (turn back!) in the 3rd pāda, he expresses the principle of (3) turning back, as per the nivartanaḥ of the Canto title chandraka-nivartanaḥ, The Turning Back of Chandraka.

It is a fine point, but notice that Aśvaghoṣa does not here describe the prince turning back Chandraka. Rather, he quotes words by which the prince invites Chandraka to turn back.

So what?

So sometimes woffling on interminably, instead of just acting, is an irritating mistake.

And sometimes just acting directly, instead of simply requesting politely what ought to be requested, is a fatal error.

On that topic, kṛtaṁ vacena. Enough said.

What might it mean, then, if it is intended as I have interpreted, as a suggestion of enlightenment itself, (4) to have arrived at that step / stage / place (padam) where one wants to be?

All I can talk about from my own experience is timeless moments by the forest in France, whose authenticity, when some problem crops up and my whole world seems to be in danger of crumbling, I can't help subsequently doubting.

An abudance of more reliable clues, however, is provided in Saundara-nanda, Aśvaghoṣa's epic story of Beautiful Happiness:
Sitting there, mind made up, as unmovingly stable as the king of mountains, / He overcame the grim army of Māra and awoke to the step (padam) which is happy, irremovable, and irreducible. // SN3.7 //
Again, the ending of suffering follows from the disappearance of its cause. Experience that reality for yourself as peace and well-being, / A place of rest, a cessation, an absence of the red taint of thirsting, a primeval refuge which is irremovable and noble, // SN16.26 // In which there is no becoming, no aging, no dying, no illness, no being touched by unpleasantness, / No disappointment, and no separation from what is pleasant: It is an ultimate and indestructible step (padam), in which to dwell at ease. // 16.27 // A lamp that has gone out reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky, / Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point: Because its oil is spent it reaches nothing but extinction. // 16.28 // In the same way, a man of action who has come to quiet reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky, / Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point: From the ending of his afflictions he attains nothing but extinction. // SN16.29 //
The action which on fire, trees, ghee and water is exerted by rainclouds, wind, a flame and the sun, / Nanda exerted that action on the faults, quenching, uprooting, burning, and drying them up. // SN17.59 // Thus he overcame three surges, three sharks, three swells, the unity of water, five currents, two shores, / And two crocodiles: in his eight-piece raft, he crossed the flood of suffering which is so hard to cross. // 17.60 // Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served. Without ambition, without partiality, without expectation; / Without fear, sorrow, pride, or passion; while being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different. // SN17.61 //
Then, after listening to him who had emerged already out of heedlessness, after hearing his firmness and his testimony / And a clarity consistent with the gist of dharma, the Sage boomed at him like a thundercloud: // SN18.21// "You who stands firm in the dharma which is loved by those who study it, stand up! Why are you fallen with your head at my feet? / The prostration does not honour me so much as this surefootedness in the dharma. // 18.22 // Today, conqueror of yourself, you have truly gone forth, since you have thereby gained sovereignty over yourself. / For in a person who has conquered himself, going forth has worked; whereas in an impulsive person whose senses remain unconquered, it has not. // 18.23 // Today you are possessed of purity of the highest order, in that your voice, body, and mind are untainted, / And in that, henceforward, my gentle friend, you will not again be confined in the ungentle womb of unready slumber. // 18.24 // Listening ears open to the truth which is replete with listening, and with purpose, today you stand surefooted in the dharma, in a manner that befits the listening tradition. / For a man equipped with listening ears who is wavering is like a swordsman lacking valour: he is worthy of blame. // 18.25 // Ah! What firmness in you, who is a slave to objects no more, in that you have willed the means of liberation. / For, facing the end of existence in this world and thinking 'I will be finished,' it is a fool who gives in to a state of quivering anxiety. // 18.26 // Happily, this meeting with the present moment, which is so hard to come by, is not being wasted under the sway of ignorance. / For a man who has been down goes up with difficulty, like a turtle to a hole in a yoke, in the foaming sea. // 18.27 // Having conquered Māra, who is so hard to stop in battle, today, at the forefront of the fight, you are a hero among men. / For even a hero is not recognized as a hero who is beaten by the foe-like faults. // 18.28 // Today, having extinguished the flaming fire of redness, happily, you will sleep well, free of fever. / For even on a fabulous bed he sleeps badly who is being burned in his mind by the fires of affliction. // 18.29 // You used markedly to be mad about possessions; today, because you have stopped thirsting, you are rich. / For as long as a man in the world thirsts, however rich he may be, he is always deprived. // 18.30 // Today you may fittingly proclaim that King Śuddhodana is your father. / For it is not commendable for a backslider, after falling from the dharma alighted on by ancestors, to proclaim his lineage. // 18.31 // How great it is that you have reached the deepest tranquillity, like a man making it through a wasteland and gaining possession of treasure. / For everybody in the flux of saṁsāra is afflicted by fear, just like a man in a wasteland. // 18.32 // 'When shall I see Nanda settled, given over to the living of a forest beggar's life?', / So thinking, I had harboured from the start the desire to see you thus. What a wonderful sight you are for me to behold! // 18.33 // For even an unlovely sort is a sight to behold when he is well-adorned with his own best features. / But a man who is full of the befouling faults, strikingly beautiful man though he may be, is truly ugly. //18.34 // Developed in you today is the real wisdom by which you have done, totally, the work you had to do on yourself. / For even a highly educated man lacks wisdom, if wisdom fails to show in his practice of a better way. // 18.35 // So it is with seeing, among people with eyes open and with eyes closed. / For when a man lacks sight that is packed with intuition, though he has eyes, the Eye is not present in him. // 18.36 // Struck by calamity, stung to do something to combat suffering, the world exhausts itself with work like ploughing; / And yet it is ceaselessly re-visited by that suffering, to which, using what you know, you today have put an end. // 18.37 // People in the world are impelled ever forward by thinking 'There might be for me no hardship, just happiness....' / And yet the world does not know a means whereby that happiness might come to be -- that rarely attained happiness which you today have properly realized." // SN18.38 //

Sometimes it helps me to allay my doubts if I reflect that padam originally means not only a stage or state but also a step -- a backward step that is always available, that is never further away than the nearest round black cushion. But any allaying of self-doubt that arises from such reflection is at best temporary. No, let us not kid ourselves. What Aśvaghoṣa and the Buddha appear to be pointing to is arrival (notwithstanding the 2nd law of thermodynamics) at something more final. A stage in a process of turning back, yes, but at the same time, a final stage, from which there is no backsliding. 

Turning back as an endless process is all very well, at the 3rd of the aforecited four phases. But in the 4th pāda of today's verse, as I read it,  as one who has not finally arrived yet, saṁprāpto' smīpsitaṁ padam ("I have arrived where I wanted to be"), is pointing back to the future. 

kim: ind. why?
uktvā = abs. vac: to speak
bahu: ind. much , very , abundantly , greatly , in a high degree
saṁkṣepāt (abl. sg.): m. throwing together ; - āt " briefly " , " concisely " , " in short "

kṛtam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. done
me (gen. sg.): of/for me
su-mahat (nom. sg. m.): mfn. very great , huge , vast , abundant
priyam (nom. sg.): n. love , kindness , favour , pleasure

nivartasva = 2nd pers. sg. imperative ni- √ vṛt : to turn back , stop
aśvam (acc. sg.): m. horse
ādāya = abs. ā- √ dā: " to give to one's self " , take ; to take back , reclaim ; to take or carry away with one's self

saṁprāptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who has reached or attained , arrived at , met with , fallen into (acc.)
sam-pra- √āp: to reach or attain fully to , arrive at , effect , accomplish ; to get , obtain , acquire , partake of , incur , undergo
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be
īpsitam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. (Desid. of √āp)wished , desired
vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest
padam [EHJ] (acc. sg.): n. step ; a footing , standpoint ; position , rank , station , site , abode , home ; a plot of ground

至言不煩多 今當略告汝
汝事我已畢 今且乘馬還
自我長夜來 所求處今得 

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