Friday, June 14, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.2: The Meaning of Success


¦⏑⏑⏑−¦¦−−⏑⏑¦⏑−⏑−   navipulā
supta-viśvasta-hariṇaṁ svastha-sthita-vihaṅgamam |
¦⏑−−−¦¦⏑−⏑⏑¦⏑−⏑−    pathyā Śloka 
viśrānta iva yad-dṣṭvā ktārtha iva cābhavat || 6.2

6.2
Deer there breathed easy, in unsuspecting sleep,

Birds perched with self-assurance –

On seeing which he seemed reposed,

Like one who has been successful.


COMMENT:
The difficulty of today's verse, as I read it, stems from not knowing what Aśvaghoṣa might have been alluding to with viśrānta (rested [EHJ]? restful [EBC]? refreshed [PO]? relaxed? reposed?) and with kṛtārtha (successful in some task, having gained an end).

The MW dictionary gives kṛtārtha as one who has attained an end or object or has accomplished a purpose or desire, successful, satisfied, contented.

When the compound appeared in Aśvaghoṣa epic tale of Beautiful Happiness, as far as I remember (it may have appeared in other verses), I translated kṛtārtha as “successful.” Hence:
To the Fully Awakened Buddha, by virtue of that confidence, he seemed already to be a success (kṛtārtham-iva) ; / And to himself, having been initiated by the Buddha, he felt as though he had arrived already on the better path. // SN13.2 //
One who eats anything at any place, and wears any clothes,
Who dwells in enjoyment of his own being and loves to be anywhere without people: /
He is to be known as a success (kṛtārthaḥ), a knower of the taste of peace and ease, whose mind is made up --
He avoids involvement with others like a thorn. //SN14.50 //
And so like a young initiate who mastered the Vedas, like a trader who turned a quick profit, /Or like a royal warrior who conquered a hostile army, a success (kṛtārthaḥ), Nanda approached the Guru. // SN18.1 //
In SN13.2 Aśvaghoṣa describes Nanda as seeming to be a success (kṛtārtham-iva). In SN14.50 the Buddha says that a practitioner who enjoys solitude is to be known as a success. And in SN18.1 Aśvaghoṣa describes Nanda as being a success.

Looking ahead to BC Canto 12, I happened to notice while browsing, kṛtārthaḥ (being a success) and kṛtārtha iva (feeling like / seeming to be a success) are juxtaposed in the same verse, in which the prince tells Arada:
a-kṛtārtho 'py-anenāsmi kṛtārtha iva saṁprati
Thanks to this [kindness of yours], though I am not yet successful, 
I feel now as if I had been successful. (BC12.12)

In BC Canto 12 and SN Canto 17, older and younger brother, Gautama and Nanda, each succeeds in attaining the first dhyāna, but thinks “No, not that.” And so on through the second, third, and fourth dhyānas. 

The prince Gautama does not consider his attainment of the fourth dhyāna under Arada to constitute ultimate success, so he says his polite goodbyes and leaves. 

Similarly, Aśvaghoṣa calls Nanda a success in SN Canto 18 not because Nanda had realized the fourth dhyāna but rather because Nanda had realized the worthy status of an arhat. But even after that the Buddha entrusted Nanda with another task, which was namely to carry the lamp of the transmission of his dharma. So even beyond attainment of arhathood, there may have been a further criterion of success. 

What is real success (kṛthārtha without the iva)? I asked myself yesterday while working on today's verse. 

A loaf of bread comes out well. A sharp axe splits a thick log into serviceable firewood.

Those are limited victories, which make me feel successful – but that feeling might be like the feeling of success that those financial traders got who were said to be picking up pennies (or dimes) before a steamroller. A lot of small successes of that kind can, in the light of one big loss, come to be seen as part of one big failure.

Conversely, can a lot of failures come to be seen, in the light of a massive win, as part of one great success? 

A man of 86 shuns the medicine that his doctor would like to give him, preferring to let nature take its course.

That was another example of success that sprang into my mind yesterday, and the man I had in mind was FM Alexander. If success in working on the self is to allow something, then ultimate success might be to allow nature to take its course like that.

After that reflection, I happened to see an account on the BBC One Show of the career prospects of a male stickleback who succeeds, by his vigorous dancing around and by his skillful nest-building, in attracting a mate. The female deposits her eggs in the nest built by the successful male who then fertilizes the eggs and proceeds to exhaust himself by fanning water over the eggs to oxygenate them, until they hatch, and then he exhausts himself further by guarding the hatchlings. After that, having thus exhausted himself and not bothered to eat, the successful male stickleback then generally dies.

Such, evidently, is the meaning of success in nature.

In light of these reflections, then, and having sat on it, I have provisionally decided to translate viśrāntaḥ as “reposed,” which can mean “rested” and can mean “lying dead” – like, for example, a dead Zen ancestor who has finished carrying the torch.


VOCABULARY
supta-viśvasta-hariṇam (acc. sg. n.): its trusting deer sleeping
supta: mfn. having beautiful braids of hair ; mfn. fallen asleep , slept , sleeping , asleep
vi-śvasta: mfn. full of confidence , fearless , bold , unsuspecting ; trusted , confided in , faithful
vi- √ śvas: to draw breath freely , be free from fear or apprehension , be trustful or confident , trust or confide in , rely or depend on
hariṇa: m. a deer , antelope , fawn , stag

svastha-sthita-vihaṅgamam (acc. sg. n.): its sky-goers remaining well in themselves
sva-stha: mfn. self-abiding , being in one's self (or " in the self " Sarvad. ), being in one's natural state , being one's self uninjured , unmolested , contented , doing well , sound well , healthy (in body and mind) , comfortable , at ease ; relying upon one's self , confident , resolute , composed
sthita: mfn. standing , staying , situated , resting or abiding or remaining in; being or remaining or keeping in any state or condition
viha-ṁ-gama: mfn. moving in the sky , flying ; m. a bird

viśrāntaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. reposed , rested ; reposing , taking rest
vi- √ śram: , to rest , repose , recreate one's self. ; to rest from labour , cease , stop , desist ; to feel at ease or comfortable
iva: iva: like, as if, almost
yad (acc. sg. n.): [relative pronoun] which, it (the aśram)
dṛṣṭvā =abs. dṛś: to see

kṛtārthaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who has attained an end or object or has accomplished a purpose or desire , successful , satisfied , contented
iva: like, as if, almost
ca: and
abhavat = 3rd pers. sg. imperf. bhū: to be, become

林流極清曠 禽獸親附人 
太子見心喜 形勞自然息
此則爲祥瑞 必獲未曾利

3 comments:

Happi said...

Hi Mike –

In your description of “success” for the stickleback you’ve left out an important distinction -- namely that stickleback is genetically programmed to do the “right thing” automatically. The stickleback doesn’t realize what a sad story this is from a human perspective. The fact that he is oblivious to the existence of alternatives ensures the best chance of the survival of the stickleback species as a whole.

In contrast, the human mind is aware of a multitude of alternatives, but society typically programs our minds into habitual patterns of thinking and doing. Moreover, with sitting as we become more aware, it almost feels like the mind gets caught second guessing itself.

Happi said...

For example, lately I’ve wondered if I hadn’t compiled when you told me to “drop off views” in 2010 (in what appears to be the “mindful and compassionate” way, at least at first at least) whether we mightn’t have been more successful at addressing and resolving the key issues thereby avoiding the difficult exchanges since then as we struggle with our individual perspectives.

Mike Cross said...

I think the difficulty in sitting-meditation is to allow consciously what happens in nature naturally.

Hence, for example:

So for the giving up, in short, of all these ideas, / Mindfulness of inward and outward breathing, my friend, you should make into your own possession. // SN15.64 //