Thursday, August 8, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.57: Like Letting a Wild Goose Go

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Sālā)
niṣkāsya taṁ cotpala-pattra-nīlaṁ ciccheda citraṁ mukuṭaṁ sa-keśam |
vikīryamāṇāṁśukam-antar-īkṣe cikṣepa cainaṁ sarasīva haṁsam || 6.57

Unsheathing that dark blue blade
– ushering out the darkness of the 'lotus petal' brand –

He cut off his patterned headdress, along with his hair,

And into the middle distance between earth and heaven,
as the unravelling muslin spread softly shining wings,

He launched it, like a bar-headed goose towards a lake.

In yesterday's verse when the prince is described as removing the sword from its sheath, “from its sheath” is kośāt, and kośa means 1. a cask, 2. a sheath or scabbard, and 3. a bud or flower-cup. So utpala-pattra (blue-lotus petal) in the first pāda may allude to that ambiguity.

At the same time, the compound utpala-pattra also has several meanings including 1. the leaf or petal of a blue lotus, 2. a tilaka (an auspicious or superstitious or religious mark on the forehead; also called viśeṣa, as in tomorrow's verse), and 3. a broad-bladed knife.

In my translation of the 1st pāda, I have tried to make use of the fact that “brand” covers the two meanings of 2. a mark, and 3. a sword. I will come back to the 1st pāda later.

As with yesterday's verse, the most likely starting place in the search for hidden meaning is the 3rd pāda. What was the aṁśukam that was dispersed or diffused into the ether, spreading out like a bar-headed goose spreading its feathered wings?

EBC and EHJ translated aṁśukam as muslin, and PO also as cloth:

Having drawn it forth, dark blue like a blue lotus petal, he cut his decorated tiara and his hair, and he tossed it with its scattered muslin into the air as a grey goose into a lake. (EBC)

Having unsheathed it with its blade dark blue as a lotus petal, he cut off his decorated headdress with the hair enclosed in it and tossed it with the muslin trailing from it into the air, as though tossing a goose into a lake. (EHJ)

Unsheathing the sword, dark as a lotus petal, he cut his ornate head-dress along with the hair, and threw it in the air, the cloth trailing behind – it seemed he was throwing a swan into a lake. (PO)

EHJ offers as a possible explanation for the ostensible meaning that The Buddha's hair was bound up in the headdress and he cuts through the hair below it. Aṁśuka is therefore to be understood as (1) 'cloth', i.e. the muslin wrapped round the framework of the headdress like a modern pagrī [or turban].

EHJ also notes, however, that the Tibetan translation takes aṁśuka as (2) aṁśu in the sense of rays of light. The Apte dictionary also gives aṁśuka in this sense of “mild or gentle blaze of light.”

BC6.59 may hint at this latter meaning as it describes the aṁśukam in terms which seem to emphasize its radiance as kāñcana-haṁsa-citram “with the pattern/conspicuousness/bright-colour of a golden bar-headed goose.” Using more than a little poetic license, I have gone with a translation of the 3rd pāda of today's verse which not only covers both meanings of aṁśuka (as muslin, and as softly shining light) but which has also sprouted wings.

In today's verse as with yesterday's verse, the main as clue to how to read the 3rd pāda may be contained in the metaphor presented in the 4th pāda.

A haṁsa, as we established in connection with SN4.4, is a bar-headed goose, about which three facts may be pertinent: First is the distinctive marking or pattern indicated by the name "bar-headed goose." Is citram in the 2nd pāda refering to this distinctive pattern? Second, the bar-headed goose in flight is a particularly strong climber, since its migration route takes it over the Himālayas. Third, its summer habitat is high-altitude lakes where it grazes on short grass. Taking account of these latter two facts, my image is not of a goose or swan being forcibly thrown into a lake but rather of a goose being released into the air so that it can fly where it wants to go – back to its natural habitat. Hence I have translated the locative sarasi as “towards a lake” rather than “into a lake.”

Reflecting thus on the metaphor of the goose spreading out its wings and going where it wants to go, I am reminded of words that Marjory Barlow spoke to me while I was lying on her teaching table with my head in her hands:

Let it come out. That's where it wants to go.”

It in that context I understood to mean my head. But It might just as well have meant the energy which I was learning to project, as discussed yesterday, in a direction that FM Alexander called “forward and up.”

Now if this is starting to look and sound too abstract and esoteric, or too New Age spiritual, not sufficiently grounded in concrete reality, not sufficiently seasoned with a pinch of salt, that is where hidden meaning in antar-īkṣe might come into play. Antar-īkṣe is translated by the three professors as “into/in the air” but antar means in the middle and the first definition of antar-īkṣa is the intermediate space between heaven and earth.

This is something that I will discuss further in the context of tomorrow's verse, in which the middle distance seems to give way to the divine, the spiritual, the celestial, the heavenly – possibly not without a hint of irony on Aśvaghoṣa's part.

If there is indeed originally an irreligious sub-text to these verses (if, in other words, I am not simply committing the translator's cardinal sin of interposing his own view), then a possible hidden meaning of the 1st pāda is to suggest how real direction of energy drives out the poison (nīlam), or exposes to light the darkness (nīlam), of superstitious / religious customs, like the old Indian custom of making a mark on the forehead called an utpala-pattra (lit. "blue-lotus petal/leaf") or a viśeṣa (a special mark; a mark of distinction; a tilaka). 

This subversive reading, if it is intended, is very well hidden and very indirect. But might it not need to have been?

In the background, I suppose, there may have been Aśvaghoṣa's recognition that the prince's cutting off his hair represented – or at least presaged – a clean break, a total severance, from the customs and superstitions of ascetic peacocks with their painted bodies and long dreadlocks, not to mention from the brand of antiquated caste prejudice and discrimination which (as was brought to light in a recent Newsnight expose), some snobbish British Indians have imported into the UK even today.

In conclusion, notwithstanding all of the above intellectual effort to cope with layers of uncertainty, what has today's verse got to say to you, the iron man of Zen?

It might contain an affirmation of your never having to go to the hairdressers. It might also conceal an affirmation of your not wearing any jewellery or any kind of make-up or any kind of religious insignia other than a formless rectangular robe that keeps the mosquitos off your legs. Above all, it might affirm your releasing your head out during sitting-Zen, letting your head go where it wants to go, and letting everything go where it wants to go.

niṣkāsya = abs. niṣ- √ kas: to drive or turn out , expel
tam (acc. sg. m.): it
ca: and
utpala-pattra-nīlam (acc. sg. m.): with the dark blue colour of a blue lotus petal ; tilaka-poison / darkness (?)
utpala-pattra: n. the leaf of a Nymphaea ; a wound on the breast &c of a woman (caused by the finger-nail of her lover) ; a tilaka (or mark on the forehead , made with sandal &c by the Hindus) ; a broad-bladed knife or lancet
utpala: n. the blossom of the blue lotus (Nymphaea Caerulea)
pattra: n. wing, feather ; a leaf , petal (regarded as the plumage of a tree or flower)
nīla: mfn. of a dark colour , (esp.) dark-blue or dark-green or black ; n. dark (the colour) , darkness ; n. any dark substance ; n. black salt ; n. poison

ciccheda = 3rd pers. sg. perf. chid: to cut off , amputate , cut through , hew , chop , split , pierce
citram (acc. sg.): mfn. conspicuous , excellent , distinguished ; bright , bright-coloured ; variegated , spotted , speckled
mukuṭam (acc. sg.): mn. a tiara , diadem , crown ; a crest , point , head (» trim° )
sa-keśam (acc. sg.): mfn. along with the hair ; containing hair (said of food)

vikīryamāṇāṁśukam (acc. sg. n.): its fine cloth being unravelled ; its gentle light being diffused
vikīryamāṇa = pass. pres. part. vi- √ kṛṛ: to scatter , throw or toss about , disperse ; to dishevel ; to tear asunder , cleave , split , rend , burst ; to scatter over
aṁśuka: n. cloth ; fine or white cloth , muslin ; garment , upper garment
aṁśuka [Apte]: n. 1.a cloth; 2.a fine or white cloth; upper garment; under garment; 5.a leaf; 6. mild or gentle blaze of light; 7.the string of a churning stick
aṁśu: m. a filament (especially of the soma plant); a kind of soma libation ; thread ; end of a thread , a minute particle ; point, end ; a ray , sunbeam ; cloth
antar-īkṣe (loc. sg.): n. the intermediate space between heaven and earth; the atmosphere or sky; the air
īkṣa: mfn. ifc. seeing , looking , visiting; n. anything seen (merely for the etym. of antarikṣa)

cikṣepa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kṣip: to throw  , cast , send , despatch ; to put or place anything on or in (loc.) ; to direct (the thoughts) upon (loc.) ; to throw away , cast away , get rid of
ca: and
enam (acc. sg. m.): it
sarasi (loc. sg.): n. " anything flowing or fluid " , a lake , large sheet of water , pond , pool , tank
iva: like
haṁsam (acc. sg.): m. a goose , gander , swan , flamingo (or other aquatic bird) 

寶冠籠玄髮 合剃置空中
上昇凝虚境 飄若鸞鳥翔 

1 comment:

Rich said...

what has today's verse got to say to you, the iron man of Zen?

that's funny, being so fragile, but you are free to move about the country. Sitting morning and night with buzzed head and practicing don't know does not make a Buddha. But seeing those big birds taking off, that,s really something.