yad-api syād-asamaye yāto vanam-asāv-iti |
akālo nāsti dharmasya jīvite cañcale sati || 6.21
Though he might be said to have gone at a bad time
To the forest,
In dharma, in truth, no bad time exists –
Life being as fickle as it is.
What the present Canto is all about is what the Buddha's teaching is all about, which is namely, turning back – knowing the path as a turning back. And the fundamental means of knowing the path as a turning back is sitting in lotus. Thus I assume, a priori, that today's verse also is about sitting in lotus. And in this case (totally unlike my former assumption about the direction of the price of gold) my assumption will turn out to have been true.
In yesterday's verse, where the contrast is between artha (riches, things of substance) and dharma (religion, Buddhist law), I argued, Aśvaghoṣa's ironic intention might be to express sitting in lotus as artha – a thing of substance; in other words, the riches of paramārtha, ultimate riches, the one great matter, sitting in lotus.
In today's verse, where the contrast is between syāt... iti (what somebody might say) and dharmasya (being of or in dharma), I think that the truth and the reality of sitting in lotus is expressed as dharma – truth, reality, the teaching of Buddha.
So there is as usual a difference between the ostensible and hidden meanings of today's verse, hinging on the ambguity of dharmasya, but the ostensible and hidden meanings are not in this instance diametrically opposed to each other in the ironic manner which Aśvaghoṣa loves. The difference is more subtle, the difference being that between "for dharma" and "in/of dharma."
In addition to the multiplicity of meanings of the word dharma itself, dharmasya is in the genitive, which has the broadest range of meanings of the Sanskrit cases – so that dharmasya could mean of dharma, or in dharma, or for dharma, or belonging to dharma.
The ostensible meaning of dharmasya, then, as per EBC is “for religious duty (dharma).” EHJ also translated dharmasya as “for dharma.” And PO was even clearer in taking the genitive here to convey a dative sense; hence “for pursuing dharma.”
The ostensible gist of today's verse is that the prince is asking Chanda to relate to the king the principle that any time, when old or when young, is a good time for practising or pursuing dharma.
The hidden meaning, again, is on this occasion not opposed to the ostensible meaning.
The relation between the ostensible gist and the sub-text might be like the relation between the questions “What is the time?” and “What is time?”
What is the time?
What is time?
That is a question best answered from the inside of sitting itself.
Hence, to paraphrase Dogen, when all dharmas are seen as the Buddha-Dharma, then there are good times and bad times, favourable moments and unfavourable moments, auspicious days and inauspicious days.
When the myriad dharmas are each not of the self, then there are movements, fast and slow, like going into a forest.
Because the Buddha's truth is originally transcendent over good and bad, in the sphere of dharma, or in the sphere of practice of the truth, no bad time exists.
And though it like this weeds, though the gardener hates them, seem in no time to spring out of nowhere, and lovely flowers, though the gardener has lavished love and affection upon them, suddenly wilt, and drop down, dead.
The point, in conclusion, is that akālo nāsti dharmasya ostensibly expresses a principle (“there is no bad time for pursuing dharma”) that any bystander can study, like a human being by the side of a pond studying how energy spreads out by observing ripples on the surface of water.
But Aśvaghoṣa poetry, like Dogen's four-phased dialectic, is born from the inside of realization and it can only truly be understood on the basis of the reader's own individual realization, in the way that a fish in a pond knows water.
To paraphrase Dogen again, if for a fish in the water there were a time that was bad for knowing water, the fish would perish at once.
Therefore, life being as fickle as it is – though when it comes to love and money I have shown myself over the years to be terribly bad at cutting my losses – I wrap myself every morning in a traditionally-sewn kaṣāya, for an hour of no bad moments of knowing the path as a turning back.
Today's verse, notwithstading what it seems to say on the surface, is, in truth, shining with realization. Hence the pleasure of translating it, from the inside.
yad-api: even if, although
yad-api: even if, although
syāt (3rd pers. sg. optative as): there might be
a-samaye (loc. sg.): m. non-obligation , absence of contract or agreement ; unseasonableness ; unfit or unfavourable time
yātaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. gone , proceeded , marched ; gone away , fled , escaped
vanam (acc. sg.): n. wood, forest
asau (nom. sg. m.): that, that person
iti: “...,” thus
akālaḥ (nom. sg.) m. a wrong or bad time
nāsti: there is not, does not exist
dharmasya (gen. sg.): of/for/in dharma
jīvite (loc. sg.): n. life, duration of life
cañcale (loc. sg. n.): mfn. (fr. Intens. √cal, to move) moving to and fro , movable , unsteady , shaking , quivering , flickering ; unsteady , inconstant , inconsiderate ; m. the wind ; m. a lover , libertine
sati = loc. abs. as: to be