Monday, July 22, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.40: The Fierceness of the Mellow Moon

yo hi candramasas-taikṣṇyaṁ kathayec-chrad-dadhīta vā |
sa doṣāṁs-tava doṣa-jña kathayec-chrad-dadhīta vā || 6.40

For one who would tell of, or have confidence in,

The fierceness of the mellow moon,

He would tell of faults in you, O knower of faults!,

Or would have confidence therein.

Today's verse is a particularly challenging one. It is not difficult to translate, but it challenges our critical faculties. It seems to ask: Well, are you a Buddhist, or not?

On the surface, Chandaka is putting forward an analysis the acceptance of which, for a devout Buddhist, is a no-brainer. The moon in Indian thought, as everybody knows, is a symbol of mellow mildness. Candra, indeed, is given in the dictionary as a lovely or agreeable phenomenon of any kind. So the moon is synonymous with loveliness, and certainly not a symbol of fierceness. Similarly, the founder of the Buddhist religion, peace be upon him, as everybody knows, was a human being without any faults.

Below the surface, Chandaka's words, as I read them, are challenging a non-Buddhist, who has confidence in the fierceness of the moon, to step forward and tell of faults.

For a non-Buddhist, who refuses to believe in Buddha but who rather prefers to investigate for himself the meaning of non-buddha, the mellowness of the moon is only the belief of ancient Indian human beings, stemming largely from imbibing on hot Indian nights intoxication libations prepared from the soma plant. Though I have never been to the moon, I have strong confidence, based on human reason, that if I were up there on a lunar module and I stepped out onto the surface without a supply of oxygen, I would find conditions up there extremely fierce, at least for a minute or two.

In a simliar spirit of scepticism, let us investigate whether or not there were faults in Gautama, who in SN Canto 3, after he became the enlightened Buddha, Aśvaghoṣa describes thus:
For the fathomless sea of faults, whose water is falsity, where fish are cares, / And which is disturbed by waves of anger, lust, and fear; he had crossed, and he took the world across too. // SN3.14 //
Notice here that Aśvghoṣa does not describe the human being who became Gautama Buddha as never having had any faults in him. He rather suggests that whatever faults were there, the Buddha had transcended.

In SN Canto 16 the Buddha himself tells Nanda how faults are to be ended by the triad of śīla, samādhi, and prajṅā, integrity, balance and wisdom: 
Integrity no more propagates the shoots of affliction than a bygone spring propagates shoots from seeds. / The faults, as long as a man's integrity is untainted, venture only timidly to attack his mind. // SN16.34 // But balance casts off the afflictions like a mountain casts off the mighty torrents of rivers. / The faults do not attack a man who is standing firm in balanced stillness: like charmed snakes, they are spellbound. // 16.35 // And wisdom destroys the faults without trace, as a mountain stream in the monsoon destroys the trees on its banks. / Faults consumed by it do not stand a chance, like trees in the fiery wake of a thunderbolt. // SN16.36 //
These three verses do tend to confirm, as a kind of negation of my non-Buddhist antithesis, that the Buddha, as Aśvaghoṣa revered him, was indeed a man who was speaking from his own experience of having ended faults.

A bit further on, however, the Buddha tells Nanda:
So with regard to the truth of suffering, see suffering as an illness; with regard to the faults, see the faults as the cause of the illness; / With regard to the truth of stopping, see stopping as freedom from disease; and with regard to the truth of a path, see a path as a remedy.// SN16.41 // Comprehend, therefore, that suffering is doing; witness the faults (avagaccha doṣān) impelling it forward; / Realise its stopping as non-doing; and know the path as a turning back.// SS16.42 //
Avagaccha here is the imperative of ava-√gam whose meanings include: come to, visit; go near; hit upon, know, understand, assure one's self, be convinced. So when the Buddha tells Nanda here to witness or know the faults, or to assure himself of how the faults impel suffering forward, the Buddha as I hear him is singing from the same hymn sheet as Marjory Barlow who used to tell me so regularly, as her antidote to my trying to be right, “Listen, love! In this work, being wrong is the best friend we have got.”

On this basis, then, I have confidence (I am as sure as eggs is eggs) that the prince Gautama, who after all was a human being, was not devoid in himself of the faults which are the raw material of practice – or “mind weeds” as Shunryu Suzuki called them.

Having already written the above, I was encouraged to think I might be on the right track by reflecting on the irony that Aśvaghoṣa concealed in the vocative expression doṣa-jña (O knower of faults!) – for how could anybody who had never had any faults truly be a knower of faults? 

 As a noun, doṣa-jña is given in the dictionary as “physician” – one who knows the faults (or diseases of the humours) in others. Hence EBC translated doṣa-jña in today's verse as “O physican of faults!”

Since 1999 I have worked in a small way as a physician of faults, helping children and adults, but mainly children, to overcome faults in the vestibular system. I was led into that line of work as a result of a very slow process of becoming aware of faults in my own vestibular system, guided in particular by the late Ray Evans, the head of training at the Alexander school where I trained.

One of the great things about training to teach the Alexander Technique is that the trainee teacher cannot help but see that everything starts with work on the self, and that means doṣajña, knowing the faults, or “knowing what is evil or to be avoided” [MW].

On reflection, then, today's verse is not so challenging after all. When we stop and think about it, the irony in it is obvious – except to those who think that Aśvaghoṣa was a proselytizer of the Buddhist religion. For them today's verse might be totally impenetrable.

O knower of what is to be prevented!  

yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
hi: for
candra-masaḥ (gen. sg.): m. the moon , deity of the moon
candra: m. the moon ; m. a lovely or agreeable phenomenon of any kind
taikṣṇyam (acc. sg.): n. sharpness (of a knife) ; pungency (of drugs) ; fierceness, severity

kathayet = 3rd pers. sg. opt. kath: to converse ; to tell , relate , narrate , report , inform , speak about
śrad-dadhīta = 3rd pers. sg. opt. śrad- √ dhā: to have faith or faithfulness , have belief or confidence , believe
vā: or

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
doṣān (acc. pl.): m. faults
tava (gen. sg.): of you
doṣajña (voc. sg.): mfn. knowing the faults of (comp.) ; knowing what is evil or to be avoided , prudent , wise ; m. a physician ; m. a Pandit , teacher , discerning man

kathayet = 3rd pers. sg. opt. kath: to converse ; to tell , relate , narrate , report , inform , speak about
śrad-dadhīta = 3rd pers. sg. opt. śrad- √ dhā: to have faith or faithfulness , have belief or confidence , believe
vā: or

若言月光熱 世間有信者
脱有信太子 所行非法行

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