Monday, July 8, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.26: Sitting Below the Surface

anena tava bhāvena bāndhavāyāsa-dāyinā |
bhartaḥ sīdati me ceto nadī-paṅka iva dvipaḥ || 6.26

“Because of this purport of yours,

Which so exercises those who are close to you,

My heart, Master!, sinks,

Like an elephant into mud by a river.
[Or my mind sits, like an elephant on the mud in a river].

Ostensibly the anguished Chandaka is complaining about the prince's intransigent purport which is the cause of distress to his kinsmen.

Hence: “At this state of mind of thine, causing affliction to thy kindred” (EBC); “At this disposition of yours, which must cause distress to your kinsfolk” (EHJ): “Seeing you in this frame of mind, causing anguish to your kinsfolk” (PO).

The irony is that, unbeknowns to himself, Chandaka's words are describing how the Buddha will inspire others to exert themselves, i.e. not to be lazy in practice, following his example.

This irony centres on the ambiguity of āyāsa (effort, or trouble) in bāndhavāyāsa-dāyinā = bāndhava (kinsmen, friends) + āyāsa (1. effort, exertion, 2. trouble, anguish) + dāyin (causing).

The English word that might best cover both senses of āyāsa-dāyin (i.e. 1. causing effort 2. and causing anguish) is exercising, as per definition 3. in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

exercise: 3.
a : to engage the attention and effort of
b : to cause anxiety, alarm, or indignation in 

If we take āyāsa in the 2nd pāda to mean trouble or anguish, then in the 3rd pāda  sīdati me cetas means “my heart sinks” or “my mind sinks down into dispondency and/or distress.” In that case, with the elephant simile, Chandaka is ostensibly comparing the sinking of his heart, or the sinking of his mind into despondency, to the sinking of an elephant into mud by a river.

Before it means to sink down, however, the verb sad means to sit down – √sad is the root from which is derived ā-sanam (sitting) as in kāñcanam-āsanam (golden sitting). Thus a hidden meaning of sīdati me cetas which appeals to me is “my mind sits.” In that case Aśvaghoṣa is causing Chandaka, unbeknowns to himself, to compare the sitting of his mind to the sitting of an elephant on mud in a river.

Before recognizing this hidden meaning, I spent half an hour or so watching You-Tube video clips of elephants engaged in various activities. The first thing I pictured in my brain and sought confirmation for on You-Tube was footage of an elephant's feet sinking into mud as it walked onto a muddy riverbank. But no such footage materialized. Rather, it turns out that elephants have evolved feet that spread out precisely to prevent them from sinking into mud when walking. 

There is plenty of footage of baby elephants slipping and sliding on muddy banks, in need of a helping trunk up from a mother or auntie.  

And here is an elephant who is not so much sinking as sunk, having got its back legs well and truly stuck in the mud. 

Overall, however, I failed to find any clip that demonstrates the ostensible meaning of the elephant simile in today's verse. It seems to me, rather, that in general elephants do not sink into river mud, because of their spreading feet.

What I did find was footage that nicely demonstrated the hidden meaning of the elephant simile. Here are two elephants that seem only too happy to sit on mud in a river – one of them stubbornly continuing to sit contary to the intention of its handler that it should get up off its elephantine backside and entertain the tourist riding on its back. 

What is particular about an elephant sitting like this on the mud in a river, as distinct from, say, a dog or a cat sitting on the ground?

For one thing, the elephant doubtless enjoy the cooling effect of the water on a hot day. But I think the main point might be that when a giant like an elephant or a hippo sits in a river, the big beast must feel comfort and relief that its great weight is supported by the water, so that it can enjoy a sense of relative weightlessness. And this sense of weightlessness of a big beast in water, I am guessing, might be similar to the sense of weightlessness that a sitting practitioner enjoys when he sits nair-guṇyāt (on the grounds of the Buddha-nature; BC6.24).

I am emboldened to think that I might be on the right track here given that, in yesterday's comment, even before I considered the hidden meaning of sīdati in today's verse, Aśvaghoṣa had somehow prompted me already to talk about sitting with the mind.

But what does it actually mean to sit with the mind?

To sit with the mind is to sit so that one is supported, or taken up, or uplifted by something other than one's own physical doing.

This possibility of being taken up by something other than one's own doing is what is investigated in practice in Alexander work, and it is the reason I decided in 1994 to up sticks from Japan and come back to England to train as a teacher of the FM Alexander Technique.

So in today's verse, as I read it, Aśvaghoṣa is hinting at this possibility by putting into the mouth of the anguished Chanda the simile of an elephant who appears on the surface to be sinking unhappily into mud, but who might really below the surface be sitting very happily on mud, like a great big lotus.

anena (inst. sg. m.): this
tava (gen. sg.): of yours
bhāvena (inst. sg.): m. becoming , being ; manner of being ; manner of acting ; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling , sentiment , opinion , disposition , intention ; purport , meaning ; love, affection ; the seat of the feelings or affections , heart , soul , mind

bāndhavāyāsa-dāyinā (inst. sg.): causing distress to kinsmen , causing friends to exert themselves
bāndhava: m. (fr. bandhu) a kinsman , relation (esp. maternal relation) , friend
āyāsa: m. effort , exertion (of bodily or mental power) , trouble , labour ; fatigue, weariness
dāyin: mfn. (ifc.) giving , granting , communicating ; causing, producing

bhartaḥ (voc. sg.): m. a bearer ; a preserver , protector , maintainer , chief , lord , master
sīdati = 3rd pers. sg. sad: to sit down (esp. at a sacrifice) ; to sit down (esp. at a sacrifice) , sit upon or in or at (acc. or loc.); to sink down , sink into despondency or distress , become faint or wearied or dejected or low-spirited , despond , despair , pine or waste away , perish
me (gen. sg.): my
cetaḥ (nom. sg.): n. consciousness , intelligence , thinking soul , heart , mind

nadī-paṅke (loc. sg.): into/onto river mud
iva: like
dvipaḥ (nom. sg. m.): m. elephant (lit. drinking twice , sc. with his trunk and with his mouth)

如勅具宣言 恐更増憂悲
憂悲増轉深 如象溺深泥

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