bhavanti hy-artha-dāyādāḥ puruṣasya viparyaye |
pthivyāṁ dharma-dāyādāḥ durlabhās-tu na santi vā || 6.20
For when a man experiences a reverse and comes to an end
There are heirs to a thing of substance he possesses.
Dharma-heirs, however, on the earth,
Are hard to find, or non-existent.
How one reads this verse depends firstly on how one understands viparyaye (turnaround, reverse, coming to an end), and secondly on how one understands the contrast between artha-dāyādāḥ (inheritors of riches) and dharma-dāyādāḥ (Dharma-heirs).
On the surface puruṣasya viparyaye means at the death or passing of a man, and artha means wealth – hence “At a man's death there are doubtless heirs to his wealth” (EBC); “For when a man passes away, there are heirs to his wealth” (EHJ); “For when a man passes away, there are here heirs to his wealth” (PO).
In BC6.9, however, we read viparyaye as an ironic suggestion not of biological death but rather of ultimate consummation of the practice of turning back:
What person would not tend to turn his face in the direction of 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. // BC6.9 //
Reading viparyaye like this, brings into play some of the many possible alternative meanings of artha, including purpose, thing, substance, property, riches, and meaning. And since artha and dharma appear to be contrasted, how one understands artha in the 1st pāda influences how one should understand dharma in the 3rd pāda.
Dharma-dāyādāḥ (“Dharma-heirs”) means people who inherited what?
Included in the MW dictionary definition of dharma are: morality, religion, religious merit; the law or doctrine of Buddhism ; the ethical precepts of Buddhism; the law of Northern Buddhism). EBC translates dharma-dāyādāḥ as “heirs to his merit,” EHJ and PO as “heirs to dharma.”
On the face of it, then, the prince is suggesting that religious dharma (e.g. Buddhism) abides higher up the food chain than material stuff (or filthy lucre), and in so suggesting the prince seems also to have it in mind, on the surface, to contrast material things of substance with immaterial dharma.
But Aśvaghoṣa in his hidden sub-text, as I read it, might be intending to suggest something very subversive and skeptical about any religious / Buddhist dharma that exists (or, more to the point, does not exist, on the earth) as a purely immaterial or spiritual conception.
My teacher Gudo Nishijima went out of his way to emphasize the value that we should place on the kind of actual objects, as opposed to philosophical abstractions, that Dogen reveres in Shobogenzo -- objects, for example, like a certificate of transmission, a traditionally-sewn robe, and a traditional bowl. Other conspicuous examples of such things of substance celebrated in Shobogenzo are plum flowers, and the moon.
Conversely, as a congenital bookworm and a philosopher in the original sense of the word, Gudo did not have to go out of his way to show his reverence for philosophical thoughts and philosophical systems. Equally, I would argue, such intangibles are also included in artha, as things of purpose, substance, and meaning.
But in conclusion, I think what Aśvaghoṣa had in mind with the word artha was paramārtha, “the ultimate riches” or “the one great matter” which is sitting in lotus, with the material, with the immaterial, and as the dropping off of material and immaterial.
As an act of subversion, then, today's verse does not negate the transmission of the Buddha's dharma as a historical fact; it rather negates, a priori, the existence of any such transmission done separately from things of substance that are possessed. The negation implied in pṛthivyām... na śanti vā ("or non-existent.... on the earth") is deductive rather than inductive.
Any way up, I think that what Aśvaghoṣa really had in mind with artha was the paramārtha (“ultimate riches” BC5.19; BC5.46), called in the Lotus Sutra and in Shobogenzo 一大事因縁 (ICHI-DAIJI-INNEN; "the one great purpose") or for short 一大事 (ICHI-DAIJI; “the one great matter”).
That one great matter,in Dogen's teaching, is very evidently nothing other than sitting in lotus, with body, with mind, and as body and mind dropping off.
Dogen seemed to think that nobody for four or five hundred years had clarified as clearly as his own teacher that sitting is the Buddha-Dharma and that the Buddha-Dharma is sitting.
Few in China, Dogen asserted with regard to his own teacher, have sat shoulder-to-shoulder with him.... Even if some understand with their bodies that sitting is the Buddha-Dharma, no-one has known sitting as sitting. How then can there be any who let the Buddha-Dharma be the Buddha-Dharma?
It would be easy to understand that Dogen with these words was echoing the 3rd and 4th pādas of today's verse. But the truer understanding may be that Dogen, in relating the Zen teaching of the master he met in China, was echoing the 1st and 2nd pādas of today's verse. The 3rd and 4th pādas of today's verse, as I read them, find their echo in other places in Shobogenzo, for example in the poem by Dogen's teacher which concludes with the caution to sternly guard against being deluded by a twirling flower.
bhavanti = 3rd pers. pl. bhū: to be
artha-dāyādāḥ (nom. pl.): m. an heir to wealth, Bcar.
artha: mn. aim, purpose ; thing, object ; substance , wealth , property , opulence , money ; sense , meaning , notion
dāyāda: m. receiver of inheritance , heir ; a son or distant descendant or kinsman
puruṣasya (gen. sg.): m. a man , male , human being
viparyaye (loc. sg.): [see BC6.9] 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
pṛthivyām (loc. sg.): f. the earth or wide world (" the broad and extended One”)
dharma-dāyādāḥ: (nom. pl.): m. heirs to dharma,
durlabhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. hard to find ; rare
santi = 3rd pers. pl. as: to be, exist