Wednesday, July 24, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.42: Listening & Speaking As Oneself

iti śokābhibhūtasya śrutvā chandasya bhāṣitam |
svasthaḥ paramayā dhtyā jagāda vadatāṁ varaḥ || 6.42

Having listened to this speech

Of the grief-stricken Chanda,

Being at ease in himself,
thanks to constancy of the highest order,

The best of speakers spoke:

The main point of today's verse, at least on the surface, is to contrast Chandaka's emotional reaction with the prince's unemotional response. On this level, sva-sthaḥ and paramayā dhṛtyā express the prince's self-possession and his firmness or resolve. Hence “self-possessed and with the utmost firmness” (EBC/EHJ); “self-composed... with the utmost resolve” (PO).

Digging deeper, what is interesting is that Aśvaghoṣa describes the as-yet-unenlightened prince as “the best of speakers,” a term that one would expect him to reserve for the enlightened Buddha. What could be the reasoning behind this?

The first clue might be śrutvā, the absolutive of śru, to hear or to listen – the suggestion being that when a person truly listens, he or she is buddha already.

Secondly, calling the prince “the best of speakers” might be an invitation to look for deeper layers of meaning in those multi-dimensional expressions sva-sthaḥ and paramayā dhṛtyā.

As discussed in connection with BC4.58,  sva-sthaḥ can be read in a pejorative sense as meaning “smugly self-assured” – a state very different from the arising of nervous agitation described in BC Canto 3, saṁvegotpattiḥ. But in an adulatory sense sva-sthaḥ can mean “totally at ease in his own skin” – sva-sthaḥ, in other words, can be taken as synonymous with that realization of one's original nature that Aśvaghoṣa ironically describes as nairguṇyam, “having the virtue of being without.”

Similarly, dhṛti is given in the dictionary as “firmness” and as “resolution” – qualities one would tend to associate with strong goal orientation, or with awakening of the bodhi-mind. And parama is naturally understood as meaning “utmost,” as if it is describing something at the far end of a scale.

As an epithet of the Buddha, however, “the best of speakers” might be reserved for one whose constancy was off the scale, or for one whose constancy totally transcended the scale – i.e. for one whose constancy was a cut above the firmness of resolve even of people's whose determination deserved ten out of ten.

The point is, in terms of the turning back of the Canto title, that when a person, consciously or unconsciously, has his or her mind firmly set on being or proving or achieving something in the world, that is a recipe for suffering, for being at odds with oneself, and for living life like a roller-coaster. (“My life is not a roller-coaster / When I belong to Aśvaghoṣa” – Anon) So the secret of truly being at ease in one's own skin, and truly being constant, might reside in turning back from habitual hit-and-miss endgaining, and constantly attending instead to a process, constantly coming back to a means-whereby. Being at ease in oneself and constancy, then, might be the same thing. Or it might be that one becomes at ease in oneself because of constancy (dhrtyā) – taking the instrumental to express causation.

Read in this light, the 3rd pāda of today's verse either presages or echoes (depending on which you read first) the description of the enlightened Nanda in SN Canto 17:
Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served. Without ambition, without partiality, without expectation; / Without fear, sorrow, pride, or passion; while being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different (sa eva dhṛtyānya ivābabhāse). // SN17.61 //
These might be my all-time favourite words of Aśvaghoṣa: sa eva dhṛtyānya ivābabhāse. Being nothing but himself (sa eva), with / because of constancy (dhṛtyā), he appeared to be different / other / individual (anya ivābabhāse).

In conclusion, then, I read today's verse as another verse whose subtext is to point to that practice whose direction – which is primarily a going up, and at the same time primarily a turning back – never changes, and which is best expressed not in words but by an individual effortlessly breaking a round cushion with his or her sitting bones.

This comment might sound good, but I am acutely aware of not having done Aśvaghoṣa justice with all these words. So now I am going outside to sit. And doubtless that won't do him justice either.

iti: thus
śokābhibhūtasya (gen. sg.): overcome by grief
śoka: m. sorrow, grief
abhibhūta: mfn. surpassed , defeated , subdued , humbled; overcome, injured

śrutvā = abs. śru: to hear, listen
chandasya (gen. sg.): m. Chanda
bhāṣitam (acc. sg.): n. speech , language , talk

sva-sthaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. self-abiding , being in one's self (or " in the self " Sarvad. ), being in one's natural state , being one's self uninjured , unmolested , contented , doing well , sound well , healthy (in body and mind ; often v.l. for su-stha) , comfortable , at ease ; composed
paramayā (inst. sg. f.): mfn. (superl. of pára) most distant , remotest , extreme ; chief, highest
dhṛtyā (inst. sg.): f. holding , seizing , keeping , supporting (cf. carṣaṇī- , vi-) , firmness , constancy , resolution , will , command

jagāda = 3rd pers. sg. perf. gad: to speak articulately , speak , say
vadatām = gen. pl. pres. part. vad: to speak
varaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. " select " , choicest , valuable , precious , best , most excellent or eminent among (gen.)

太子聞車匿 悲切苦諫言
心安轉堅固 而復告之曰

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