Tuesday, August 6, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.55: Being Yourself and Becoming Fruitful

muñca kanthaka mā bāṣpaṁ darśiteyaṁ sad-aśvatā |
mṣyatāṁ sa-phalaḥ śīghraṁ śramas-te 'yaṁ bhaviṣyati || 6.55

“Do not shed tears, Kanthaka!

This the true horse-nature is proven.

Let it be.

This effort of yours will rapidly become fruitful.”

Today's verse has so many resonances that this comment, unless some restraint is exercised, could become a book.

If in yesterday's verse Aśvaghoṣa affirmed the prince being like what he was not, in today's verse the prince is affirming the horse being the horse, the whole horse, and nothing but the horse.

The former affirmation, of being like what one is not, can be taken as affirmation of the use of mystical powers, like taking different forms, as a skillful means. The latter affirmation, of being what one originally is, can be read as an expression of the essence of sitting-meditation – i.e. letting body and mind drop off so that one's original features emerge. As examples of the former, a father feigns belief in Father Christmas, to add to the magic of his young son's experience; or Nelson Mandela developed an interest in rugby so as to be able to relate to his jailer. As examples of the latter, a cow chews grass and moos, or a man who loves mountains retires to the mountains; a child of fire comes looking for fire. 

In whispering the latter affirmation, the Horse-Whisperer in the guise of the prince might be whispering to himself, affirming his own nature as a Zen practitioner and as a producer of the poetry that points to what Zen practice is.

As I noted in connection with nair-guṇyam (having the virtue of being without), Aśvaghoṣa seems to eschew explicit discussion of famous Buddhist technical terms like śūnya-tā (emptiness) and buddha-tā (awakenedness / the Buddha-nature). Rather, in verses like today's verse Aśvaghoṣa has the prince use the term sad-aśva-tā (good-horse-ness; being a good / true horse), which conveys the teaching, to those who have ears to sense it, without conveying at the same time that unwholesome stink which tends to accompany technical discussions of Buddhist philosophical terms. 

“The true horse-nature is proven” might mean in other words “a true horse naturally tends to prove himself to be a true horse” or in other words “the right thing does itself” or in other words “Now when we research it, the truth is all around: how could it rely on practice and experience?”

That being so, the passive imperative mṛṣyatām, lit. “let it be forgotten,” might mean in other words: Leave it alone! or Fret not! or Think nothing of it!

On the surface, the verb mṛṣ has connotations of bearing suffering patiently – hence, “bear with it” (EBC); “be patient” (EHJ/PO). But that reading tends to be refuted by the prince's assertion in the 3rd pāda that Kanthaka's effort will become fruitful śīghram, quickly, rapidly, fast. Śīghram as I read it does not mean “eventually” or “soon”; it means instantly, immediately, directly – as sure as night follows day....

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

In today's verse not being false to any man is called “becoming fruitful,” and the point of mṛṣyatām ("Let it be!") as I read it, is that this being true to oneself, and at the same time this becoming fruitful, is primarily an effort of allowing, not an effort of doing.

The teacher who maybe did more than any other to clarify this point to me, incidentally, was also the teacher of Paul & Stella McCartney – though I am fairly sure Paul McCartney's Alexander lessons post-dated his writing of Let It Be.

In Shobogenzo Dogen writes that there must be stepping forward as well as stepping back (or turning back - nivartanaḥ - as per this Canto's title). The two are in antagonistic opposition to each other, in the same way that the knees releasing forward direction is opposed to the back staying back direction; but the opposition does not imply any contradiction or conflict. 

Hence, for the Horse-Whisperer himself, sitting-meditation and writing epic poetry were natural bedfellows. Those scholars who have wondered whether Aśvaghoṣa was primarily monk or primarily poet, or whether he was primarily interested in religious conversion or in literature, have missed the point. Their question is like wondering whether it is more important to be true to oneself or to be fruitful... Have you ever seen an apple tree produce a bountiful crop by trying to look like a pear tree?

muñca = 2nd pers. sg. imperative muc: to release, shed
kanthaka (voc.): O Kanthaka!
mā: a particle of prohibition or negation
bāṣpam (acc. sg.): m. a tear, tears

darśitā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. shown , displayed , exposed to view
iyam (nom. sg. f.): this
sad-aśva-tā: f. true-horse-nature ; being a good horse

mṛṣyatām = 3rd pers. sg. passive imperative mṛṣ: to forget , neglect ; to disregard , not heed or mind , mind , bear patiently , put up with
sa-phalaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having or bearing fruit or seed ; " having seed " i.e. possessing testicles , not emasculated ; having good results , productive , profitable , successful
śīghram: ind. quickly, rapidly, fast

śramaḥ (nom. sg.): m. fatigue ; exertion , labour , toil , exercise , effort either bodily or mental , hard work of any kind
te (gen. sg.): your
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this
bhaviṣyati = 3rd pers. sg. future bhū: to be

汝莫生憂悲 我今懺謝汝
良馬之勤勞 其功今已畢
惡道苦長息 妙果現於今 

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