Thursday, June 27, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.15: Keeping Calm and Carrying On

jarā-maraṇa-nāśārthaṁ praviṣṭo 'smi tapo-vanam |
na khalu svarga-tarṣeṇa nāsnehena na manyunā || 6.15

'For an end to aging and death,

I have entered the ascetic wood;

Not out of any thirst for heaven,

Nor disaffectedly nor with zealous ardour.

The 1st pāda relates to the prince's motivation: he is motivated to solve a problem.

The 2nd pāda emphasizes that the problem is not just an abstract philosophical problem: it is a practical problem, in order to solve which he has entered a place where people go to devote themselves to hard practice.

In the 3rd pāda the prince states that his motivation is not any kind of religious mania; it does not arise from a strong delusory desire for what does not exist (like re-union with the Supreme Spirit).

And in the 4th pāda he states that his motivation does not arise from emotional imbalance, one way or the other.

In today's verse in the round, then, as I read it, the prince is exuding a calm determination which may be contrasted to the nervous agitation that is described arising in him in BC Canto 3.

On a couple on textual points, EHJ amended jarā (aging) to janma (birth) and PO rendered the 4th pāda as nāsneheneha (na + asneha + iha) na manyunā. EHJ's amendment is neither refuted nor supported by the Chinese whose 爲脱生老死 means “in order to be free of birth, aging and death”; and PO's addition of the iha was clearly a slip, since it resulted in the pāda having nine syllables (i.e. one syllable too many).

If we look as usual for a surface meaning and a sub-text in today's verse, ostensibly the prince is choosing words whose communication to the king via Chandaka will assuage the king's anguish; and the sub-text is that Aśvaghoṣa is letting us the readers know what mind it was that caused the prince eventually to realize the deathless step (a-mṛtaṁ padam) – that stage in a practical process which is akin to an eternal refuge.

Concepts like “the end of aging and death” (jarā-maraṇa-nāśa) or as per EHJ “an end to birth and death” (janma-maraṇa-nāśa) were current before the time of the Buddha in Brahminist teaching of cause and effect continuing from one re-birth to the next, until attainment of nirvāṇa (nirvāṇa = final emancipation from matter and re-union with the Supreme Spirit [MW]). So telling the king that his motivation was jarā-maraṇa-nāśārtham (“to put an end to aging and death”) would have been understandable to the king, as would entry into an ascetic wood, in which case the 3rd and 4th pādas are providing added re-assurance that there is nothing for the king to worry about in terms of his son's emotional state.

But for our purposes, “the end of aging and death” has to mean something totally and utterly different from the kind of “re-union with the Supreme Spirit” that was targeted by asceticism in the Brahmanical tradition.

In the Buddha's teaching, again, the end of aging and death is something to be experienced as a stage of practice, by a practitioner who has worked on himself in the direction of cutting out faults.

Thus in Canto 16 of Aśvaghoṣa's epic tale of Beautiful Joy, the Buddha tells Beautiful Joy:
So my friend, with regard to the many forms of becoming, know their causes to be [the faults] that start with thirsting / And cut out those [faults], if you wish to be freed from suffering; for ending of the effect follows from eradication of the cause. // SN16.25 // 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, // 16.26 // 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, 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. // 16.29 //

Dogen in a chapter of Shobogenzo titled Shizen-biku, “The Beggar of the Fourth Dhyāna,” tells the story of a practitioner who mistakenly considered himself to have experienced for himself the fourth and final stage (that eternal refuge which is not subject to aging and death), when in fact he had only experienced the fourth stage of sitting-meditation.

So in some sense that chapter of Shobogenzo, is a cautionary tale of pride coming before a fall, and when I translated the chapter twenty or so years ago I had the sense, or fear, that I didn't want in any circumstances to be another shizen-biku.

I secretly fancied (not discouraged in such fantasies I might add by my teacher Gudo Nishijima) that my role models ought rather to be the famous patriarchs who were instrumental in the spread of the Dharma from one great nation to another, like Dogen himself, or like Taiso Eka, or Bodhidharma.

In recent days and weeks, however, I must confess, having put myself in a position where I could be severely punished by any sharp downturn in the price of gold, which has duly materialized, it occurs to me that the anonymous beggar of the fourth dhyāna, who fell from grace but subsequently got back on track, might not be such a bad role model after all.

Feeling myself right now to be in a severe financial predicament, I remember two years or so after I last saw Gudo, which is to say three years or so before he ripped the heart out of our translation partnership, Gudo wrote me that he had entered into “a very severe situation.” Gudo was referring to the aftermath of the decision by Michael J. Luetchford to proceed on his own with what began as a joint collaboration between Gudo and MJL to translate Nāgārjuna's MMK.

“Cause and effect” as Gudo once said to me, many years earlier, in a different context, while rubbing cream into his knee, “is so severe.”

Severe though it is, there might be no other vehicle by which a practitioner can, by gradually cutting out faults, experience for himself or herself the ending of aging and death.

On that point, in their affirmation of karma, or cause and effect, Brahmanism and the Buddha's teaching might have something in common. In their affirmation of the value of going to practise a celibate life in a forest or wood, again, the two traditions might have something in common. Perhaps the most fundamental difference, however, is that the prince – even before he became the enlightened Buddha – realized that asceticism was not the way to cut out faults.

So Brahmanism and the Buddha's teachings have some aspects in common. And their aim, in Sanskrit words, sounds exactly the same – jarā-maraṇa-nāśa, the ending of aging and death. But in practice the aim of each is utterly different. And the means of each for pursuing the aim is also utterly different.

When Patrick Olivelle asserts, then, that “Even though Aśvaghoṣa sought to present Buddhism as an integral part of Brahmanism, the reality was that there was an ongoing debate between the two traditions,” I think he does Aśvaghoṣa a disservice.

The reality, notwithstanding some points in common, is that the aims of the two traditions are utterly different, and the means also are utterly different. Notwithstanding some formal similarities, the integral parts of the two traditions are utterly different.

And so Aśvaghoṣa's hidden agenda in a verse like today's, as I have thus found myself responding to it, might be to cause us to remain mindful of exactly how Brahmanism and the Buddha's teaching are different. 

The difference, in a nutshell, might be practising asceticism with a view to union with Supreme Spirit vs sitting in such a manner as to cut out faults. 

jarā-maraṇa-nāśārtham (acc. sg. n.): in order to destroy old age and death
jarā: f. aging, old age
maraṇa: n. dying, death
nāśa: m. the being lost , loss , disappearance , destruction , annihilation , ruin , death
artha: mn. aim, purpose

praviṣṭaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. entered
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be
tapo-vanam (acc. sg.): the ascetic grove

na: not
khalu: ind. (as a particle of asseveration) indeed , verily , certainly , truly ; na khalu , by no means , not at all , indeed not
svarga-tarṣeṇa (inst. sg.): because of thirst for heaven

na: not
asnehena (inst. sg.): m. want of affection
sneha: m. blandness , tenderness , love , attachment to , fondness or affection
iha: ind. here, now, the here and now
na: not
manyunā (inst. sg.): m. spirit , mind , mood , mettle (as of horses) ; high spirit or temper , ardour , zeal , passion; rage , fury , wrath , anger , indignation ; grief , sorrow , distress , affliction

爲脱生老死 故入苦行林
亦不求生天 非無仰戀心
亦不懷結恨 唯欲捨憂悲 

No comments: