Tuesday, July 16, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.34: How Not to Part from a Son

putraṁ yāśodharaṁ ślāghyaṁ yaśo-dharma-bhtāṁ varam |
bālam-arhasi na tyaktuṁ vyasanīvottamaṁ yaśaḥ || 6.34

The boy who is Yaśodhara's laudable son,

A most excellent bearer of your glory and dharma –

You should not part from him

In the way that a compulsive grafter forgoes ultimate glory.

Today's verse, as I read it, is a difficult one. Having sat and slept on it and sat again, with dreams and emergent consciousness all infiltrated by the songs of birds of the forest, I am not sure what to make of it, but mainly I think that, below the surface, Aśvaghoṣa is asking us to consider the relation between ends and means.

When Aśvaghoṣa gives a series of metaphors or similes on the same theme, the symbolism is liable to get progressively less obvious. It is as if Aśvaghoṣa draws us into his chosen trench with meanings hidden relatively close to the surface, and then challenges us to dig progressively deeper. A case in point might be his use of slumbering women in Canto 5 as a metaphor for individual Zen practitioners in a meditation hall.

From the previous three verses, we have understood that the hidden meaning of Chandaka's words is “You should forsake / forget / leave your family member, but not in such and such a manner.” Further, we have interpreted that in BC6.31 and BC6.32 “not in such and such a manner” means not in a hard-nosed or brash spirit of “My will be done,” and that in BC6.33 “not in such and such a manner” means not in an unduly weak or soft spirit of “Thy will be done.”

This leads me to think that in today's verse, also, for balance, too much “Thy will be done” is being negated.

With this in mind, I am not persuaded by EBC's reading of vyasanī as “a dissolute spendthrift” or by EHJ's “a vicious man,” or by PO's “a villain” – because dissolute spendthrifts, vicious men, and villains generally all tend towards the “My will be done” end of the spectrum.

I prefer to follow the first reading of vyasanin given in the dictionary, namely “working hard” (i.e. grafting) – with secondary connotations of addictive behaviour and devotion to some favoured pursuit.

If we thus take vyasanī to mean “a compulsive hard worker,” what kind of fault, if any, does the simile represent?

If a fault is being suggested, the fault might be the subtle one of 1. understanding intellectually that if we attend conscientiously to proper means, then ends will tend to take care of themselves; and 2. on the basis of that yet-to-be-abandoned idea, overdoing the emphasis on means.

In that case, the hidden meaning of today's verse might be: You should separate yourself from your son, but the separation should not be like the separation of means and end in the practice of a practitioner who is biased towards means over ends.

That kind of false separation, and that kind of bias (speaking from first-hand experience) is not uncommon in so-called Soto Zen and is also not uncommon in Alexander work, where people are liable to equate the inhibition of end-gaining with negation of gaining ends – whereas in fact inhibition of end-gaining, it may be argued, is ultimately for the purpose of glorious gaining of an end. Hence, FM Alexander wrote:
I wish it to be understood that throughout my writings I use the term "conscious control and guidance" to indicate primarily a plane to be reached rather than a method of reaching it.
A metaphor that occurred to me this morning (stemming from a spell I spent back in 1978 working on a massive Greek cargo ship with holds as big as football pitches carrying grain from Buenos Aires to Hamburg), was of the Atlantic ocean being as calm as a mill-pond and the moon shining brightly over the vast horizon, while down below deck the chief engineer and his grafting grease monkeys keep all 72,000 tons moving in the desired direction.

In that metaphor from my unconscious, however, contrary to my initial thoughts yesterday, the foregoing of ultimate glory might be not so much a subtle fault as the vow of a bodhisattva.

Any way up, I would like the last word to be nivartanaḥ, turning back.

It is hotter than July at present in France and so the time for scything is early morning while the sun is still shaded by the trees. So rather than work on this blog as I normally do immediately after sitting, I made a flask of coffee and took it outside, as I like to do, and alternately grafted for a while then sat for a while sipping coffee. Gudo Nishijima's words came back to me that “Zazen for me is a kind of rest.” Again, Gudo used to say, “This work (he meant work on Shobogenzo) we do for others. Zazen we do for ourselves.”

The main point I take from the 4th pāda, then, in the end, is that hard graft is positive or progressive, but ultimate glory, or glory of the highest order (uttamaṁ yaṣaḥ), might be a turning back.

putram (acc. sg.): m. son
yāśodharam (acc. sg.): m. = yāśodhareya (?) (fr. yaśo-dhara) metron. of rāhula
ślāghyam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. to be praised , praiseworthy , laudable , commendable

yaśo-dharma-bhtām (gen. pl. m.): among bearers of fame and dharma
yaśas: n. beautiful appearance , beauty , splendour , worth ; honour , glory , fame , renown
varaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. " select " , choicest , valuable , precious , best , most excellent or eminent among (gen. loc. abl. , or comp.)
varam [EHJ] (acc. sg. m.): ibid.
vara [Weller] (voc. sg.): O best of...!

bālam (acc. sg. m.) mfn. young ; m. a child , boy (esp. one under 5 years)
arhasi = 2nd pers. sg. arh: to ought
na: not
tyaktum = inf. tyaj: to abandon ; to give up , surrender , resign , part from , renounce ; to shun , avoid , get rid of , free one's self from (any passion &c ) ; to give away , distribute ; to set aside , leave unnoticed , disregard

vyasanī (nom. sg. m.): mfn. working hard , taking great pains ; addicted to any kind of vice or evil practice (as gaming , drinking &c ) , vicious , dissolute ; having a favourite pursuit or occupation
vy- √ as : to throw or cast asunder or about or away , throw (effort) into , divide , separate , dispose , arrange ;
vyasana: n. moving to and fro , wagging (of a tail) ; throwing (effort) into , assiduity , industry ; attachment or devotion or addiction to (loc. or comp.) , passion , (esp.) evil passion , sin , crime , vice (said to arise either from love of pleasure or from anger) ; evil predicament or plight , disaster , accident , evil result , calamity , misfortune
iva: like
uttamam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. highest
yaśaḥ (acc. sg.): n. honour, fame, glory

耶輸陀勝子 嗣國掌正法
厥年尚幼少 是亦不應捨

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