Friday, June 21, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.9: Turning It Around

ko janasya phala-sthasya na syād-abhimukho janaḥ |
janī-bhavati bhūyiṣṭhaṁ sva-jano 'pi viparyaye || 6.9

What person would not tend to turn his face 

In the direction of a person who offers promise of reward?
[or a person whose practice is (its own) reward?]

Even one's own people become, 
on the whole, part of common humankind, 

In the event of a turnaround in the opposite direction. 

The difficulty in today's verse centres on the ambiguity of two words, phala-sthasya and viparyaye, which are in the dictionary, and one word janī-bhavati, which is not.

On the surface the first half of today's verse asks a rhetorical question about the ordinary human attitude towards the promise of reward (EBC: “Who would not be favourably disposed to one who stands to him as bringing him reward?”; EHJ: “Who would not be favourably disposed to a man in a position to reward him?”; PO: “What man will not fawn upon someone bestowing rewards?”)

Ostensibly, then, the prince is suggesting that Chandraka is a special kind of person, since  ordinary people are motivated by expectation of reward, whereas Chandraka was not. 

But I think that what Aśvaghoṣa might really mean to suggest by  janasya phala-sthasya is a buddha, in following whose teaching we are required to turn our attention from outside to inside ourselves. 

Phala needs to be translated as “reward” for conformity with the previous verse, and to convey the sense that a question under consideration is indeed purity of motivation – i.e. whether or not action is tainted by expectation of reward. At the same time, pala-stha is given in the dictionary as “useful,” and taking the compound literally it also means “abiding in the fruit” or “practising the fruit.”

With these latter meanings janasya phala-sthasya suggests not so much a person who is in a position to bestow rewards on others as a buddha (one who is abiding in the fruit or one who is practising the fruit), in which case the answer to the prince's question "What person would not keep his face turned theretowards?" might be provided by the Buddha himself in SN Canto 14:

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, a knower of the taste of peace and ease, whose mind is made up --
He avoids involvement with others like a thorn. // SN14.50 //

The closing word of the verse, viparyaye, is given in the dictionary as meaning, in its indeclinable form, in the opposite case, otherwise. (Hence EHJ: “In the opposite case...”Viparyaye, however, can also be read as the locative of viparyaya, whose meanings include (1) reverse of fortune (hence EBC: “in a reverse of fortune”); and (2) turning round (hence PO: “When the tide turns...”).

In all three of these renderings of viprayaye, the suggestion is of a reversal or turnaround on the outside  a reverse   such that even family members, for example, begin to squabble with each other.

But I think the real or hidden meaning that Aśvaghoṣa intended to suggest is a turnaround from the outside to the inside.

This turnaround is a function of learning, to use Dogen's famous phrase, the backward step of turning one's light and letting it shine.

When this kind of turnaround is realized, the hidden suggestion seems to be, the distinction between one's own people (sva-jana) and people in general (jana / janya) falls away. This mirrors what the Buddha tells Nanda in SN Canto 15:

saṃsāre kṛṣyamāṇānāṃ sattvānāṃ svena karmaṇā /
ko janaḥ sva-janaḥ ko vā mohāt sakto jane janaḥ // SN15.31 //

Among beings dragged by our own doing through the cycle of saṁsāra, / Who are our own people, and who are [other] people? It is through ignorance that people attach to people.//

As regards the problematic janī-bhavati, EBC notes: Janībhavati may be a quaint expression for parajano bhavati — this seems the meaning of the Tibetan. Or we might read janyo bhavati.

EHJ notes that against janībhavati the old Nepalese manuscript has an old marginal gloss apara (the other); and EHJ also makes the connection with the use of jana in SN15.31.

Since I do not know what janī means, and since paleographically janī and janyo  are fairly similar, I have gone with EBC's conjecture of  janyo [but see comment below].  Either way, whether we read janī-bhavati or janyo bhavati, the gist of today's verse as I read it is:

(1) On the surface, that ordinary human beings (in contrast with the stalwart Chandraka) are liable to change our tune when expected reward turns into impending retribution, in such a way that even a family member is liable to be relegated in our esteem to the level of any old person, a stranger.

(2) Below the surface, that through the solitary practice of learning to turn our own light and let it shine, each one of us can transform ourselves in such a way that everybody on the planet is elevated in our esteem to the level of a human brother or sister, or son or daughter.

The difficulty with (2) is that getting people to subscribe to this gist as a nice idea is one thing, but actually being willing to realize the turnaround in practice is a whole other thing.

The last surviving first-generation teacher of the Alexander Technique (i.e. a teacher trained by FM  Alexander himself) lives just 20 miles up the road from here in Oxford. Her name is Elizabeth Walker, and she is getting on for a hundred years old.  A couple of years back I visited an Alexander training school shortly after Elizabeth had been teaching there and I heard that she was heard to say  never in a heavy kind of way  that one needs to love everybody. 

This statement is all the more remarkable to me, and all the stronger corroboration of the transformative power of Alexander work, when I reflect that Elizabeth tragically lost her young son shortly after WWII when he went in for a simple operation to have his tonsils out but the operation went wrong. 

If the Buddha's teaching is that, through the transformative power of practice, one can come to love every human being on the planet as if he or she was one's own son or daughter.... that, at least, might be something to work towards. 

Immediately, however, one or two examples spring to mind in regard to whom I would like to ask for special dispensation. Still, I am a young whipper-snapper with less than 20 years behind me in Alexander's work, and not much more than 30 years of daily sitting practice. 

Yesterday a friend reminded me, with an example he cited of instant retribution, of the principle of how karma operates in three times. Yesterday also the price of gold went down to another level, which caused me to wake up in a sweat at about 1 o'clock in the morning. Reflecting on cause and effect, however, I fell back into a deep and peaceful sleep, secure in the knowledge that however much of the family savings I have lost, it is totally my own damn fault  whereas when I have suffered other big losses in the past, like the loss of my translation partnership and friendship with Gudo Nishijima, the picture was somehow complicated by the black deeds of others besides me, which made it somehow more difficult for me to get my head and heart around it. I begin to see, painful insight though it is, why George Soros found the financial markets to be a clean laboratory for testing out his Popperian-based philosophy, with its dual pillars of fallability and reflexivity. 

These comments of mine are getting to be so long that it is ridiculous. I hope, if nothing else, that they serve to demonstrate how much lies beneath the surface of every verse that Aśvaghoṣa wrote, if we take the time to dig for it. 

kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who, what
janasya (gen. sg.): m. person
phala-sthasya (gen. sg. m. ): mfn. useful (cf. -saṁstha, bearing fruit) ; abiding in the fruit ; practising the fruit
phala-saṁstha: mfn. bearing fruit
phala: n. fruit; fruit (met.) , consequence , effect , result , retribution (good or bad) , gain or loss , reward or punishment , advantage or disadvantage ; benefit
stha: mfn. standing , staying , abiding , being situated in , existing or being in or on or among; occupied with , engaged in , devoted to performing , practising

na: not
syāt = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be
abhimukhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. with the face directed towards , turned towards , facing ; taking one's part , friendly disposed (with gen. or instr.)
janaḥ (nom. sg.): m. person

janī-bhavati = 3rd pers. sg. janī-bhū: to become 
jana: m. creature , living being , man , person , race; m. people; m. a common person , one of the people
janyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. jána) belonging to a race or family or to the same country , national; belonging or relating to the people ; m. a common man
para-janaḥ (nom. sg. m.): m. another person , a stranger
bhavati = 3rd pers. sg. bhū: to be , become
bhūyiṣṭham: ind. for the most part , mostly , chiefly ; abundantly , numerously ; in the highest degree , very much
bhūyiṣṭha: mfn. (accord. to Pa1n2. 6-4 , 158 superl. of bahu) most numerous or abundant or great or important , chief , principal

sva-janaḥ (nom. sg. m.): one's own people
api: even
viparyaye (loc. sg.): m. turning round , revolution ; m. running off , coming to an end; m. transposition , change , alteration , inverted order or succession , opposite of; buddhi-v° , the opposite opinion ; svapna-v° , the opp of sleep , state of being awake ; saṁdhi-viparyayau , peace and its opposite i.e. war ; °yaye ind. ,°yena ind. and °yāt ind. in the opposite case , other wise ; m. change for the worse , reverse of fortune , calamity , misfortune
vi-parā- √i : to go back again , return

捐棄世榮利 進歩隨我來
何人不向利 無利親戚離
汝今空隨我 不求現世報  

[Conflated with previous verse]


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

Might not janī-bhavati be an example of the type of compound mentioned by Coulson on pp 190-191 of TYS, in which the stem of the predicate is changed to ī, compounded with -kṛ or -bhū and used in the sense of 'turn into' or 'become'?

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Malcolm.

I have restored the text and amended the vocabulary in accordance with your clarification.

Much obliged.