Friday, August 9, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.58: Seizing a Religious Object with Eager Desire

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Māyā)
pūjābhilāṣeṇa ca bāhu-mānyād-divaukasas-taṁ jaghuḥ praviddham |
yathāvad-enaṁ divi deva-saṅghā divyair-viśeṣair-mahayāca cakruḥ || 6.58

With eager desire to worship it,
because it was so greatly to be revered,

The beings who dwell in heaven seized upon that jetsam;

And divine congregations in heaven, with due ceremony,

With special celestial honours,
[or bearing divine sectarian marks,] exalted it.

In today's verse as I read it the grasping attitude of generic religious beings is contrasted with the detached attitude of the prince himself. Thus in yesterday's verse the prince is described as launching the headdress/hair skyward as if he were letting go of a wild goose. The religious types in today's verse, in contrast, far from letting go, show an attitude of grabbing or grasping or seizing, in their eager desire, or religious craving, to worship an especially sacred object.

In the 3rd pāda the word saṅga once again appears as a collective noun for religious or divine or heavenly beings, or in short gods. As I have noted many times before, Aśvaghoṣa never uses the word saṅga in its Buddhist technical sense. Why not? I think it has to do with his desire to champion practice on an individual basis, done by the self, for the self. The Buddha's teaching, Aśvaghoṣa's writing suggests to me (or confirms me in my pre-existing prejudice?) is not about getting together for group hugs and chanting “May all beings be well!” It might be based instead on separating oneself – at least temporarily -- from the human herd and heading for the solitude of the forest or the mountains with a view to working things out for oneself.

In the 4th pāda divyair-viśeṣaiḥ ostensibly means “with divine/celestial (divyaiḥ) special distinctions/honours (viśeṣaiḥ). Hence “with celestial honours” (EBC/EHJ); “with divine honours” (PO). But a secondary meaning of viśeṣa, as discussed yesterday in connection with utpala-pattra, is the sectarian mark (or tilaka) that religious believers in ancient India would paint on their foreheads.

So below the surface Aśvaghoṣa as I hear him might be pointing to the kind of irony whereby the Buddha shaved his head and spent his lifetime extolling and demonstrating the virtue of having small desire and knowing satisfaction, whereupon as soon as he died various saṅghas who were eagerly desirous of something religious to worship coveted and squabbled over his relics.

Irony: Irony (from the Ancient Greek εἰρωνεία eirōneía, meaning dissimulation or feigned ignorance), in its broadest sense, is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or event characterized by an incongruity, or contrast, between reality (what is) and appearance (what seems to be).

The tone of today's verse appears on the surface to be very religious, showing a reverential attitude to the sacred and the divine. But below the surface Aśvaghoṣa's tongue is totally in his cheek, as suggested by the contrast betwee
n bāhu-mānyāt (because of being greatly to be revered, because of being worthy of enormous religious devotion) and taṁ praviddham (that discarded/abandoned [headdress]; that bit of flotsam and jetsam).

None of the three professors, as usual, caught any of the irony. Interestingly, it seems to me that, in their belief in a spiritual religion called Buddhism, they each not only failed to catch the irony below the surface, but also fluffed the ostensible meaning. Thus each took bāhu-mānyāt in an adverbial sense, as a description of the behaviour of the heavenly beings (EBC: “respectfully”; EHJ: “reverently”; PO: “out of reverence”), and each translated taṁ praviddhamas it was thrown.”

And the heavenly beings, with a longing to worship it, seized it respectfully as it was thrown up... (EBC)

And the inhabitants of Heaven caught it reverently, as it was thrown, with the intention of worshipping it... (EHJ)

As it was thrown up, heavenly beings caught it out of reverence so they may worship it... (PO)

In what I am going to write now, whether I like it or not, whether he would like it or not, and whether anybody reading this likes it or not, I am serving nobody other than my own despised teacher Gudo Nishijima, who never missed an opportunity to assert, in his infuriatingly bombastic manner, that what is to be revered in the Buddha's teaching is just reality, nothing sacred.

Thirty years ago I sat listening to Gudo drone on like a dalek, reading out the translation of Shobogenzo that he had done by himself and asked three of his English-speaking students, Jeff Bailey, Michael Luetchford, and Larry Zacchi to re-write. I spent four painful years from 1982 to 1986 struggling with the same ill-conceived rewriting job, before it dawned on me that I needed to give up the modus operandi that Gudo had envisaged, and go back to the original and do the translation myself. 

How stupid was I during those four fruitless years? For fuck's sake, I had done translations of Virgil from the Latin when I was aged 14 and 15, just for fun. But somehow I bought into the idea that was commonplace among Japanese that Dogen's writings were too difficult even for “we Japanese” (ware-ware nihonjin) let alone for a foreigner who wasn't fluent in speaking Japanese. How stupid was I? I was as stupid as EHJ and PO were stupid in following EBC in reading taṁ praviddham as “as it was thrown.” I was as stupid as the millions of Christians in the middle ages who never stopped to question the prevailing belief that the sun orbited around the earth.

I digress. I digress within a digression. Thirty years ago as I sat in the audience of Gudo Nishijima's “Zen Seminar in English,” in the Q & A session after his dalek-like reading, Gudo started pontificating about what we should revere. We should revere this. We should revere that. “Don't you fucking tell me what to revere,” a silent voice said inside my head. “I'll decide for myself what I revere.”

“We should revere reality.” That was Gudo's main message. The unskilful manner in which he went about conveying the message, and the way I instinctively reacted against being told what to revere, made for many difficulties. But Gudo's message and Aśvaghoṣa's message, if one is able to go deep below the surface, instead of misconstruing the words, are the same message – what is greatly to be revered in the Buddha's teaching is reality itself, nothing sacred.

From 1986 onwards, when I endeavoured to explain to Gudo that the translation he had done was like a house built on bad foundations, and so what was required was not a re-writing job akin to a repair, but a whole new translation, Gudo neither revered nor accepted that reality. Thus were sewn the seeds of a Shakespearean tragedy along the lines of fucking King Lear.

Another object that “we should revere,” pontificated Gudo, is the kaṣāya, the ochre robe – or as per Gudo's original translation, which you might agree is somewhat contrary to his professed main message, “the ritual robe.” If the more than ten years I spent from 1986 translating Shobogenzo from the original were tough, in some ways they were not as tough or as painful as the four years I spent from 1982 with nothing better to go on than misleading words like “the ritual robe.”

“Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion,” Gudo opined. Then why the fuck did you translate a Chinese character that simply means robe, or two characters which phonetically represent the Sanskrit kaṣāya, as “the ritual robe”?

It is indeed evident from Shobogenzo, when we read what Dogen actually wrote, that Dogen himself had great reverence for the ochre robe, the kaṣāya. And the material that since ancient times has been regarded as the best and purest material with which to make a robe, Dogen explains in Shobogenzo, is discarded cloth -- i.e. cloth that has been thrown away (praviddham). But the reason Dogen revered the kaṣāya has got nothing to do with religion or religious ritual, and nothing to do with whether or not the cloth used to make it was originally discarded. 

So, to get round to making the point that I wanted to make in connection with taṁ praviddham (that jetsam), Dogen did not regard discarded cloth as greatly to be revered. He saw discarded cloth as to be picked up, to be sorted out, to be washed, to be dyed, and to be sown. But the point is not that the flotsam and jetsam that human beings throw away is to be revered. If that were the case, should we follow buddhas around when they are cutting their fingernails with a view to retaining and worshipping discarded fingernails? No we should not.

The point is, then, that when Aśvaghoṣa describes religious beings being eager to worship cloth and hair that the Buddha had thrown away, Aśvaghoṣa is not holding up those religious beings as an example for us to follow. On the contrary, he is inviting us, if our sense of irony is well enough developed, to chuckle at the absurdity of such behaviour.

rhetorical deviceliterary technique, or event characterized by an incongruity, or contrast, between reality (what is) and appearance (what seems to be).

Gudo Nishijima was a man of very great integrity in himself – even if the way he taught others to sit sent them in the direction of dis-integration. And yet this man of integrity, as a partner in a collaborative translation effort, from where I sit, totally failed to show integrity towards me his partner. Why? Because when the actual work of translation, as an act that takes places within a human brain, passed from his brain to my brain, he could not accept that reality. And old age did not cause him to let go; on the contrary, it seemed to cause him to tighten his grip on a non-reality, so that he acted, from where I sit, like a man who steals an umbrella thinking the umbrella to be his own umbrella. The reality that Gudo spent his life asking others to revere, he himself could not in this instance accept. It is the kind of irony to which we need to be awake in order to catch what Aśvaghoṣa is really saying, which is all below the surface. 

pūjābhilāṣeṇa (inst. sg.): with covetous desire to worship
pūjā: f. honour , worship , respect , reverence , veneration , homage to superiors or adoration of the gods
pūj: to honour , worship , revere , respect , regard
abhilāṣa: m. desire , wish , covetousness , affection (with loc. or ifc.)
abhi- √ laṣ: to desire or wish for (acc.) , covet , crave
ca: and
bāhu-mānyāt (abl. sg.): because of being greatly to be revered
bāhu-mānya = bahu-mānya: mfn. to be thought much of , to be highly esteemed , estimable
bāhu: vṛddhi form of bahu in comp.
bahu: ind. much , very , abundantly , greatly , in a high degree
mānya: mfn. to be respected or honoured , worthy of honour , respectable , venerable

divaukasaḥ (nom. pl.): m. " sky-dweller " , a deity ; a bee
tam (acc. sg.): it, that
jagṛhuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. grah: to grasp, seize
praviddham (acc. sg.): mfn. hurled , cast , thrown ; abandoned , given up
pra- √vyadh: to hurl , cast , throw away

yathāvat: ind. duly , properly , rightly , suitably , exactly
enam (acc. sg. m.): it
divi (loc. sg.): m. heaven, the sky
deva-saṅghāḥ (nom pl. m.): sanghas/congregations of gods

divyaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. divine , heavenly , celestial
viśeṣaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. distinction ; peculiar mark , special property , speciality , peculiarity ; (pl.) various objects ; distinction , peculiar merit , excellence , superiority ; a sectarian mark , any mark on the forehead (= tilaka)
mahayām cakruḥ = 3rd pers. pl. periphrastic perfect mah: to elate , gladden , exalt , arouse , excite ; to magnify , esteem highly , honour , revere ; to rejoice , delight in (instr. or acc.)
ca: and

忉利諸天下 執髮還天宮
常欲奉事足 況今得頂髮
盡心加供養 至於正法盡 


Rich said...

Sounds like gudo is as flawed as the rest of us.

Mike Cross said...

You're welcome to eavesdrop, Rich, but please don't believe a word I write.

Rich said...

Ok, thanks.