Thursday, July 18, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.36: Levels of Leaving

nāsmi yātuṁ puraṁ śakto dahyamānena cetasā |
tvām-araṇye parityajya sumantra iva rāghavam || 6.36

I am not able, with a mind that is burning,

To go to the city,

Having left you behind in the woods –

As Sumantra was unable to leave behind Raghu-descended Rāma.

The old Nepalese manuscript has Sumitra in the 4th pāda, and EBC's text retains Sumitra from his manuscripts, with a note referencing Sumantra to Rāmāyaṇa Book 2, Canto 57. Sumitra, which means “Good Friend,” is the name of one of the wives of Rāma's father, and she is mentioned in Rāmāyaṇa Book 2, Canto 56. So either Aśvaghoṣa originally wrote Sumantra and a later copyist made a copying error, confusing Sumitra and Sumantra, or Aśvaghoṣa called Sumantra su-mitraḥ, “a good friend.”

Either way, the 4th pāda refers to the 57th canto in the 2nd book of the Rāmāyaṇa, titled Sumantra's Return. As the title suggests, the 57th canto does not in fact describe Sumantra leaving Prince Rāma; what it does rather describe is Sumantra's emotional disquiet on having left Rāma and on returning to Ayodhya without him.

The Rāmāyana is written in the same 32 syllable per verse (8 syllable per pāda) metre as all the verses we have covered in BC Canto 6 to date. And the sense of the Rāmāyana being a poem is impressively brought out by the translation that Ralph T. H. Griffith accomplished between 1870 and 1874. Here is Griffith's translation of the opening verses of Rāmāyaṇa 2.57, with the parts highlighted that describe Sumantra's failure to put Rāma behind him.

When Ráma reached the southern bank,
King Guha's heart with sorrow sank:

He with Sumantra talked, and spent
With his deep sorrow, homeward went.
Sumantra, as the king decreed,
Yoked to the car each noble steed,
And to Ayodhyá's city sped
With his sad heart disquieted. 

On lake and brook and scented grove
His glances fell, as on he drove:
City and village came in view
As o'er the road his coursers flew.
On the third day the charioteer,
When now the hour of night was near,
Came to Ayodhyá's gate, and found
The city all in sorrow drowned.
To him, in spirit quite cast down,
Forsaken seemed the silent town,
And by the rush of grief oppressed
He pondered in his mournful breast:
'Is all Ayodhyá burnt with grief,
Steed, elephant, and man, and chief?
Does her loved Ráma's exile so
Afflict her with the fires of woe?'
Thus as he mused, his steeds flew fast,
And swiftly through the gate he passed.

In the true sense, then, Sumantra was not able to leave behind Rāma just as Chandaka now admits he is unable to leave the prince behind, and just as in Saundarananda Nanda was initially unable to leave Sundarī behind.

So today's verse as I read it, is primarily a stimulus to consider what it means, at various levels, to leave and to have left behind.

Today's verse is the last in a series of six verses featuring four verbs meaning to forsake, to forget, to leave, and fully to leave behind, viz:

1. vihātum, from vi- √hā – translated as to forsake (BC6.31);
2 .vismartum, from vi- √smṛ – translated as to forget (BC6.32);
3. tyaktum, from √tyaj – translated as to leave / abdicate (BC6.33); to part from / forego (BC6.34) ; to renounce / abandon (BC6.35);
4. parityajya, from pari- √tyaj – translated as having left behind (BC6.36 ).

Is any of this at all relevant to sitting-meditation?

Here is one way of seeing a connection:

1. vi- √hā, as well as meaning “to leave behind” also means “to go apart from”; to separate oneself from. The connection therefore is to the description of the first dhyāna as “born of separation.”

2. vi- √smṛ means to forget or to be unmindful of. The verb can therefore be read as representing the anti-thesis, or an antidote, to the habitual tendency of meditators to try to concentrate their minds. “Forget involvements forever,” exhorted Dogen in the first edition of his rules of sitting-meditation.

3. √tyaj expresses the essence of sitting-meditation as to leave – but not like that! As such it brings to mind what FM Alexander famously said to a pupil he was giving a lesson to: “You are doing what you call leaving yourself alone.” The point is that the essence is to leave, or let, or allow, but knowing that intellectually is just as liable to be a hindrance as a help. Hence:

4. pari- √tyaj adds to √tyaj the prefix pari- which expresses roundness or fullness. Besides which, whereas vihātum, vismartum, and tyaktum are infinitives, parityajya is absolutive, and so it adds further to the sense of a completed act, as opposed to a nice idea.

Once parityaja in the 3rd pāda of today's verse is understood like this, the hidden meaning of the first two pādas comes into focus. Ostensibly Chandaka is expressing something that he personally finds difficult to do but which he has no choice but to do -- “ It is hard for me to go to the city with my mind burning like this, leaving you here in the woods as Sumantra left Rāma.” But Aśvaghoṣa's real intention might be to emphasize a universal truth of practice, which is that a burning mind and real leaving / letting / allowing are mutually exclusive. In other words, while my mind is burning it is utterly impossible for me to go to or truly be in place B having already left, or completely transcended, person A.

For Nanda person A was originally his beautiful wife Sundarī, the fire for whom was replaced in his heart, via some skilful means on the part of the Buddha, by a fire for persons C, the celestial nymphs. Hence, in Saundarananda Canto 11, with a view to quenching that fire, Ānanda teaches Nanda:
Blazing with a fire of desire in your heart, you carry out observances with your body: / What is this devout abstinence of yours, who does not practise abstinence with his mind? // SN11.30 // Again, since in spiralling through saṁsāra you have gained celestial nymphs and left them / A hundred times over, what is this yearning of yours for those women? // 11.31 // A fire is not satisfied by dry brushwood, nor the salty ocean by water, / Nor a man of thirst by his desires. Desires, therefore, do not make for satisfaction. // 11.32 // Without satisfaction, whence peace? Without peace, whence ease? / Without ease, whence joy? Without joy, whence enjoyment? // 11.33 // Therefore if you want enjoyment, let your mind be directed within. / Tranquil and impeccable is enjoyment of the inner self and there is no enjoyment to equal it. // 11.34 // In it, you have no need of musical instruments, or women, or ornaments; / On your own, wherever you are, you can indulge in that enjoyment. // 11.35 // The mind suffers mightily as long as thirst persists. / Eradicate that thirst; for suffering co-exists with thirst, or else does not exist. // SN11.36 //

Read in this light, in conclusion, the having left behind in today's verse is again intimately related with turning back. Because turning back is the means to eradicate that thirst, and without eradicating that thirst, there is no having left behind

Ostensibly in this Canto, Chandraka is the one who turns back, leaving the prince behind. But really Chandaka does not yet know the path as a turning back, and so he is not able to leave the prince behind – just as Sumantra was unable, in the true sense, to leave Rāma behind.

I hope this makes it clear why, as a translation of the 4th pāda of today's verse, I have eschewed the simpler “As Sumantra left Raghu-descended Rāma” in favour of what I think is the more accurate As Sumantra was unable to leave behind Raghu-descended Rāma.”

Today's verse looked quite straightforward at first glance, apart from the need to clarify a textual uncertainty surrounding Sumantra vs Sumitra.

Should have known better.

A final reflection on the meaning of leaving behind stems from having heard an account on the radio of the daughter or granddaughter of an officer in the Indian army (think Joanna Lumley) who made a kind of pilgrimage to India to return to the Dalai Lama some old relic her relative had stolen from Tibet, along with a photo of how the Potala palace used to be. DL, it was reported, politely received the object, politely examined the photo for a while, and then made a kind of sweeping gesture motioning back with his hands, as if to say all that belonged behind him, in the past.

Again, my own teacher Gudo Nishijima, who was as I knew him – along with many Japanese – something of an expert in living in the present, used to speak of things of no importance being “as important as last year's calendar.”

Speaking for myself, in contrast, I have a terrible deluded tendency – much more persistent than Nanda's – to hark back to my glory years, before I got sidetracked by Zen, when all my karma was glowing, everybody loved me, and the world was my oyster. In this I may have something in common with a certain class of Brits in the second half of the 20th century who mourned the loss of our glorious empire. Added to which, I have always since childhood been a terrible loser. In preaching the true meaning of “having left behind,” then, I, along with hypocrites everywhere, would ask readers to do as I say, and not as I do.

na: not
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be
yātum = inf. yā: to go
puram (acc. sg.): n. the city
śaktaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. able

dahyamānena = inst. sg. n. pres. part. passive daḥ: to be burned, to burn, to be consumed by flames
cetasā (inst sg.): n. mind, heart

tvām (acc. sg.): you
araṇye (loc. sg.): n. a distant land ; a wilderness , desert , forest ; the wilds, the back of beyond, the boondocks
parityajya = abs. pari- √ tyaj : to leave, quit, abandon
pari-: ind. around, fully

su-mantraḥ (nom. sg.): m. 'following good advice'; name of a minister and charioteer of daśa-ratha
mantra: m. " instrument of thought " , speech , sacred text or speech , a prayer or song of praise; consultation , resolution , counsel , advice , plan , design , secret
su-mitraḥ (nom. sg.): m. 'having good friends' ; m. a good friend ; m. name of various men ; m. name of one of the wives of daśa-ratha (mother of lakṣmaṇa and śatru-ghna)
iva: like
rāghavam (acc. sg.): m. (fr. raghu) a descendant of raghu patr. of aja , of daśa-ratha , and (esp.) of rāma-candra

我心懷湯火 不堪獨還國 
今於空野中 棄捐太子歸
則同須曼提 棄捨於羅摩

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