Saturday, July 27, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.45: Towards a Bit of Nothing

mahatyā tṣṇayā duḥkhair-garbheṇāsmi yayā dhtaḥ |
tasyā niphala-yatnāyāḥ kvāhaṁ mātuḥ kva sā mama || 6.45

With a great desire, and attendant sufferings,

She bore me in her womb:

When her effort's fruit is naught,

Where will I be, for my mother? Where she, for me?

Extra motivation to find hidden meaning is provided in today's verse by the difficulty in understanding the ostensible gist of the verse, and especially of the 3rd pāda.

She, my mother, by whom I was borne in the womb with great thirst and pains, — where am I now with regard to her, all her efforts fruitless, and where is she with regard to me? (EBC)

My mother bore me in her womb with pains and great longing. Her efforts have been fruitless. What am I to her now or she to me? (EHJ)

She bore me in her womb with great yearning and pain; Yet her efforts are vain: What am I to my mother? What is she to me? (PO)

The three professors thus each took the 3rd pāda, whose elements are genitive, as a straight description of the vain or fruitless efforts of the genitive mātuḥ (mother) in the 4th pāda.

But those translations do not seem to me to make any sense, even at the ostensible level. Why would the prince say that his mother's efforts to date had been fruitless? After all, the prince had got as far as he had got, had he not? – he had awakened the will to the truth and arrived where he wanted to be in the forest.

In my book, even at the ostensible level the 3rd pāda is better read as the genitive absolute, or something akin to the genitive absolute, so that the prince, following on from the discussion of death in yesterday's verse, is ostensibly saying “When her effort has ceased to bear fruit (i.e. when I am or we are dead), what use will I be to my mother, and she to me?”

So much for the surface meaning. What lies today below the surface?

The first thing to note might be the antagonistic interplay between mumukṣayā (retaining the desire to be free) in yesterday's verse and mahatyā tṛṣṇayā (with a great thirst/desire) in the 1st pāda of today's verse. 

If yesterday's thesis is the need for a practitioner to keep nurturing the flame of his desire for liberation, today's antithesis is the noble truth that great desire is invariably attended by sufferings – even if the desire in question is something so natural and noble as a woman's longing or yearning to have a baby. The unspoken synthesis might be the teaching that to have small desire (Skt: alpecchu) is already to have nirvāṇa.

But the main key that unlocks the hidden meaning of today's verse might be in the 3rd pāda in the niṣ- of niṣphala. The niṣ- of niṣphala, I venture to submit, is the nair- of nair-guṇyam. Just as the hidden meaning of nair-guṇyam is “having the virtue of being without,” the hidden meaning of niṣ-phala is “the fruit which is to be without” or “the effect which is emptiness.” Tasya niṣphala-yatnāyāḥ, then, might literally mean (if we take the phrase as genitive absolute) “while her effort is being directed towards the fruit which is emptiness....”

The prince's question, in that case, might be about the practical consequences  (whether the agent of realization is understood to be the mother or her son, or both) of an individual's realization of emptiness. The practical consquences of realizing emptiness.... Hmmm. Food for thought. 

Any way up, as evidence in support of the above reading of the hidden meaning of niṣ-phala, I would like to refer to SN Canto 17 in which Aśvaghoṣa describes Nanda successively attaining four fruits of dharma, viz:

- he attained the first fruit of dharma
(dharmasya pūrvāṃ phala-bhūmim-āpa; SN17.27)

- he obtained the second fruit in the noble dharma
(prāpa dvitīyaṃ phalam-ārya-dharme; SN17.37)

- So that he attained, because of practice, the fruit of not returning, and stood as if at the gateway to the citadel of nirvāṇa
(yogād-anāgāmi-phalaṃ prapadya dvārīva nirvāṇa-purasya tasthau ; SN17.41)

The fourth of these four fruits is the worthy state of the arhat, known in Chinese and Japanese as 四果 (Jap: SHIKA), “the fourth fruit” or “the fourth effect.”

And the fourth effect as Aśvaghoṣa describes it is very much a matter of nir- and niṣ- and vi- and vita-, all of which prefixes mean “being without":-
Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served. Without ambition (nir-utsuko), without partiality (niṣ-praṇayo), without expectation (nir-āśaḥ); / Without fear (vi-bhīr), without sorrow (vi-śug), without pride (vīta-mado), and without the red taint of passion (vi-rāgaḥ); while being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different. // SN17.61 //
arhattvam-āsādya sa sat-kriyārho nirutsuko niṣpraṇayo nirāśaḥ /
vibhīr-viśug-vītamado virāgaḥ sa eva dhṛtyānya ivābabhāse // 17.61 //

Speaking of being without, eight or nine years ago while practising alone by the forest in France as I am doing now, I came up, on the basis of sitting-dhyāna, with the following attempt to express in my own words that empty fruit (niṣ-phalam) which is endowed with the virtue of being without (nair-guṇyam).

Without fear or greed,
From dawn until dusk,
Sits Buddha's mind-seed,
Untainted by husk.

Since then events seem to have conspired to test how real or constant the realization was that I was presuming to express then. For example, when the current financial crisis first hit the news in 2007, how amenable were my fear reflexes to being excited? Again, when in response to the financial crisis I turned to gold, and the strategy proved successful, how capable was my fear of turning into greed?

The answer to those question might be: 1. Very amenable, and 2. Very capable.

Small desire is not no desire, but neither is it greed.

The Buddha's ultimate teaching, the teaching of small desire, is too simple for words. A child of three could understand it, and yet...

mahatyā (inst. sg. f.): mfn. great
tṛṣṇayā (inst. sg.): f. thirst ; desire , avidity (chiefly ifc.)
duḥkhaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. pain, sorrow, suffering

garbheṇa (inst. sg.): m. the womb
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be
yayā (inst. sg. f.): by whom
dhṛtaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. held, borne, maintained

tasyāḥ (gen. sg. f.): her
niṣphala-yatnāyāḥ (gen. sg. f.): efforts being fruitless ; effort bearing the fruit of nothingness
niṣphala: bearing no fruit , fruitless , barren , resultless , successless , useless , vain
yatna: m. (also pl.) effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care

kva: ind. where? (with √bhū , √as) how is it with? what has become of? i.e. it is done with ; or kva alone may have the same meaning (e. g. kva sukham , where is happiness? i.e. there is no such thing as happiness ; kva - kva or kutra-kva (implying excessive incongruity) where is this? where is that? how distant is this from that? how little does this agree with that?
aham (nom. sg. m.): I
mātuḥ (gen. sg. f.): of mother
kva: ind. where?
sā (nom. sg. f.): she
mama (gen. sg.): of me

慈母懷妊我 深愛常抱苦
生已即命終 竟不蒙子養
存亡各異路 今爲何處求 

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