Thursday, July 4, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.22: Many Layers of Meaning & the Ultimate Conversation Stopper

tasmād-adyaiva me śreyaś-cetavyam-iti niścayaḥ |
jīvite ko hi viśrambho mtyau praty-arthini sthite || 6.22

Therefore my [resolve or intention or] conviction is that,
this very day,

[I must pursue ultimate happiness; or
Good shall be heaped upon good; or]
The better state is there to be garnered in me.

For who can rely on lasting life

While inimical death stands by?'

At least three layers of meaning in today's verse are overlain with the three-word phrase me śreyaś-cetavyam, in which each word can be read in numerous ways.

Cetavyam can be understood as the gerundive (or future passive participle) of either √1. ci, to pile up, to collect; or √2. ci, to seek for.

Depending on how we read cetavyam, the nominative neuter noun śreyas can also be translated in a number of ways – literally as “better” or “the better state” or “a better way;” or as representing śreyas in its masculine form, for which MW gives good, bliss, happiness, and the bliss of final emancipation.

To add further ambiguity, me could modify 
1. śreyas (my good / the good in me,); and/or 
2. cetavyam (to be piled up / collected / sought for by me); and/or 
3. niścayaḥ (my resolve / intention/ conviction).

If cetavyam is understood as “to be piled up,” then the concreteness of śreyas needs to be brought out by a translation like “the good.”

Taking cetavyam as meaning “to be sought for,” or “to be pursued,” my first instinct was to to read me as modifying not only niścayaḥ but also śreyas – “the better state in me is to be sought out.”

This reading of me is as per EBC's translation: Therefore my determination is, ‘I must seek my supreme good this very day.'

EHJ understood me to modify niścayaḥ and cetavyam, hence: Therefore my determination is that the supreme good must be sought by me this very day.

PO also understood me to modify niścayaḥ and cetavyam, and made me (I) into the subject, for a translation that sounds more natural in English:  Therefore, I have resolved, I must this very day seek final bliss.

If we want to clarify as big a gap as possible in today's verse, then, between ostensible and hidden meanings, PO's I must seek final bliss might have the virtue of bringing out the ostensible, or idealistic meaning, most conspicuously.

Therefore my resolve is that, this very day, I must pursue ultimate happiness.

If we take this pursuit of final bliss / ultimate happiness as the idealistic thesis, the concrete anti-thesis might be represented by “the heaping up of good”:

Therefore my [practical] intention is that, this very day, good shall be heaped upon good.

The heaping up of good, in this case, would suggest the heaping up of good karma, by one's concrete actions and concrete inactions in everyday life. I am probably deluding myself, but I would like to think that this translation effort day by day is the heaping up of good upon good – as opposed, say, to heaping up black karma as I bury Aśvaghoṣa's gold beneath layer upon layer of Mike Cross's dust.

Either way, moving on, as every good student of dialectic philosophy knows, where there is a thesis and an anti-thesis, somewhere in the middle a synthesis is to be dug out, and a synthesis might be represented here by “garnering the better state”:

Therefore my resolve is that, this very day, the better state is to be garnered in me.

This, to my ears, is an expression of the fundamental point of sitting-meditation – learning the backward step of turning one's light and letting light shine, in such a way that body and mind spontaneously fall away and one's original features are allowed to emerge.

This, then, is the translation which I think, to a bloke whose main thing is sitting, delivers the strongest hidden or real meaning. It brings back to mind what Shinryu Suzuki says in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind about sitting with strong confidence in our original nature. That being so, better to fit that teaching of a Zen ancestor, I would lke to translate niścayaḥ not so much as “resolve” or “intention” as “conviction.”

Therefore my conviction is that, this very day, the better state is there to be garnered in me.

Understood like this, then, using to the full the ambiguity of Sanskrit words, Aśvaghoṣa has expressed in one line the first three phases of the four-phased dialectic outlined yesterday.

Not having the means to pull off a similar act of literary genius in English, I have resorted again to the refuge of the pedantic translator – the use of square brackets.

Ultimately, in the fourth phase, Buddha-ancestors who were also poets, like Aśvaghoṣa and Dogen, used words whose function it was to turn our minds back from words. And to that end there may be no better conversation stopper than the maker of all ends – inimical Death.

tasmād: ind. therefore, from that
adya: ind. today
eva (emphatic)
me (gen. sg.): of/in me
śreyaḥ (nom. sg.): n. the better state , the better fortune or condition (sometimes used when the subject of a sentence would seem to require the masc. form); m. good (as opp. to " evil ") , welfare , bliss , fortune , happiness ; m. the bliss of final emancipation , felicity

cetavyam = nom. sg. n. gerundive ci:
√1. ci: to arrange in order , heap up , pile up , construct (a sacrificial altar ) ; to collect , gather together , accumulate , acquire for one's self ; to search through (for collecting ; cf. √2. ci)
√2. ci: to observe , perceive ; to fix the gaze upon , be intent upon ; to seek for
iti: thus
niścayaḥ (nom. sg.): m. inquiry , ascertainment , fixed opinion , conviction , certainty , positiveness ; resolution , resolve, fixed intention , design , purpose , aim

jīvite (loc. sg.): n. life, duration of life
kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who? which? what? (ka with or without √as may express " how is it possible that? ")
hi: for
viśrambhaḥ (nom. sg.): m. trust , confidence in (loc. gen. , or comp.)
vi- √ śrambh: to confide , be confident , trust in or rely on (loc.) ; (causative) to relax , loosen , untie ; to inspire with confidence , encourage
√ śrambh: to be careless or negligent ; to trust , confide

mṛtyau (loc. sg.): m. death , dying
praty-arthini (loc. sg. m.): mfn. hostile , inimical
sthite (loc. sg. m.): mfn. standing

無常無定期 死怨常隨伺
是故我今日 決定求法時 

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