Saturday, August 10, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.59: Striking Gold & Going for a Kaṣāya

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
muktvā tv-alaṁkāra-kalatravattāṁ śrī-vipravāsaṁ śirasaś-ca ktvā |
dṣṭvāśukaṁ kāñcana-haṁsa-citram vanyaṁ sa dhīro 'bhicakāṅkṣa vāsaḥ || 6.59

He, however, having let go of being wedded to ornaments,

Having acted to banish the crowning glory from his head,

And having seen the softly shining light 
whose brightness was a golden goose
[or whose brightness is the best of gold],

He with firm steadfastness longed for clothing of the forest.

The small word that is important to clarify the relation between yesterday's verse and today's verse is the second word in the verse – in Sanskrit: tu, in English: however.

The point is that the prince is being contrasted with religious beings in heaven. The prince is different from those flotsam-worshipping saṅgas of heavenly beings in four ways -- in a certain order, as represented by three verbs in the absolutive form, namely (1) muktvā, “having let go”; (2) krtvā, “having [concretely] acted, having done”; (3) drṣtvā, “having seen, having realized”; and finally, as a result of letting go, doing, and realizing, (4) sa abhicakāṅkṣa, he knew what he wanted, he longed for clothing of the forest.

When we reflect on this order, or this progression, there might be real wisdom in it. Which is to say, that when we think about it in our minds, a desire or a will comes first, to be followed later by seeing or realizing or understanding something. But when we look back on the basis of having practiced and experienced it, it may be that first there was a letting go; followed by going into movement, or action; followed by seeing or realizing or understanding something. And on this basis, we knew what we wanted to do, or better still, what we had to do – like, for example, sewing a robe and wearing a robe to cover our crossed legs every morning.

In this light, what should we think that the prince is described as seeing or understanding or realizing in the 3rd pāda? For once again in today's verse, it is the 3rd pāda which seems to be most enigmatic, given (a) the ambiguity of aṁśukam discussed in connection with BC6.57 where I translated it twice as “muslin” and (with a questionable degree of poetic license) “softy shining wings”; (b) the many possible meanings of citram, translated in BC6.57 as “patterned” but also given in the dictionary as an adjective: conspicuous, distinctive, bright-coloured; and as a noun: wonder; pun, verbal riddle; sectarian mark; and (c) the possible alternative meaning,  not discussed yet, of haṁsa, which ostensibly means a goose or swan, but when it is used in a compound, can mean the best among.

Here then are three possible readings of the 3rd pāda which I shall give, again, in a certain order:

(1) Verbal level
And having seen in aṁśukam (“the muslin / the gentle blaze of light”) a pun on kāñcan-haṁsa (“a golden goose / the best of gold”),

(2) Objective or material level
And having seen the muslin with its distinctive outline of a golden goose,
And having beheld his upper garment with its embroidered pattern of golden geese,

(3) Level suggestive of a transcendent state of freedom in movement
And having witnessed in the shimmering muslin the wonder of a golden wild goose,

(4) Level of suggestion of reality of sitting-meditation
And having realized the gentle blaze of light whose brightness is the best of gold,

EBC's reading of the 3rd pāda came the closest of the three professors to approaching level (3). Reading chinham for citram, EBC translated:
seeing his muslin floating away like a golden goose,”

EHJ's reading is pitched at the level of material reality (2):
he looked at his garments with their embroidery of golden geese.”

EHJ adds a footnote: For the embroidery of geese Leumann compares a Jain passage, and Gawronski Kumārasaṁbhava. 

The virtue of EHJ's reading might be in its bringing out a contrast between an ornate royal uniform, and clothing of the forest which is nothing fancy. (Having said that, I have seen kaṣāyas that include images akin to golden wild geese embroidered into them.) 

In any event, EHJ's reading is incongruous in that the aṁśukam it refers to (the prince's garments) is different from the aṁśukam referred to just two verses ago (the muslin of the headdress / a gentle blazing light). This seems unlikely. 

PO's reading also favours the objective level (2) but produces a less incongruous and more convincing translation: 
“seeing the cloth band resembling a gold swan.”

As in his use in BC5.44 of the phrase kāñcanam-āsanam, which ostensibly means “golden seat” but which really means “golden sitting,” I am sure that with the compound kāñcana-haṁsa ("the goose of gold" =  "the best of gold") in today's verse Aśvaghoṣa had in mind (4) the practice of sitting in lotus as the most valuable thing there is.

But that is not to refute any of the other readings cited above, not to mention readings that haven't even occurred to me, along with readings which have occurred to me but which I have not bothered to explore further (like taking citram to be another allusion, like utpala-pattra and viśeṣa, to the mark painted on the forehead).

What is for sure, in the end, is that the prince is being described as having a longing which will soon be fulfilled when he comes into possession of an ochre robe, a kaṣāya.

In actual fact, thanks largely to the lifework of Kodo Sawaki, whose Zen retreats my teacher Gudo Nishijima attended from around 1940 onwards, and whose disciple Taisen Deshimaru, accompanied by the young Tsunemasa Abe, went to France in the 1960s, there have been many real life examples, especially in France, of individuals who have demonstrated the four phased process I have described above – i.e. who gave up ornaments, shaved their head, understood something of the supremacy of just sitting in lotus, and on the basis of that progression had a firm and steadfast desire to sew and wear a kaṣaya.

Tsunemasa Abe was like a grandson to the aged Master Kodo, and he taught me in a brief period after I met him in Japan the early 1990s, before I decided to come back to England to train as an Alexander teacher in 1994. He told me how Master Kodo taught him things like, for example, how to be patient after taking a piss, shaking off every last drop. He told me how at the end of his life Master Kodo suffered during and after his Zen retreats with terrible pain in the neck, whereupon he began to realize that he had been overdoing the (“back and up” – my words) direction of the neck. Notwithstanding this realization, Tsunemasa Abe himself, the way I see it from an Alexander perspective, continued to overdo that direction, which Gudo expressed in English as “to pull the chin in slightly in order to keep the neck bones straight.”

Tsunemasa Abe also told me that my teacher Gudo Nishijima was not formally a student of Master Kodo, because Master Kodo was choosy about who he accepted as a student, and he did not accept Gudo. When I asked Gudo about this, Gudo confirmed that, yes, it was true -- Master Kodo was rather selective. Nevertheless, I never heard Gudo speak a bad word about Kodo. Gudo did not seem to bear Kodo any resentment (not like I have continued to bear towards Gudo, for example), but rather seemed devoted to doing his best to transmit Kodo's teaching of Zazen -- notwithstanding the fact that the teaching was flawed, as even Kodo himself recognized in the end. This, incidentally, may also be part of the background to why Gudo, to the best of my knowledge, never refused anybody as a student. 

So what? So here in reality, just as in Aśvaghoṣa's poetry, there is much more going on below the surface than initially meets our eye or meets our ear. That is why I ask people reading these comments not to believe a single word I write. Do your own research. Blow your own nose. Sew what? Sew your own kaṣāya. And if you want to use this blog as a basis for doing your own translation, be my guest. If you've got any talent as a poet, you should be able to make a more beautiful ornament than can be made by the likes of a shit-shovelling miner like me.

The Japanese have a saying: kusai mono ni futa, "on something that stinks, put a lid." I suppose it is akin to the English proverb about not airing your dirty laundry in public. Sometimes there is wisdom in proverbs. But fuck it. My principle -- however crap I am at following it in practice -- is just to sit and not to worry about good and bad, not to be interested in right and wrong. This as a matter of fact is Kodo's principle which I received through Gudo in a one-to-one transmission, though not a formal one. 

Kodo found that Gudo was not his cup of tea. 
Gudo, when it came to drinking tea, didn't pick and choose. 
Who was right and who was wrong? 
From where I sit they were both dead wrong, as was Taisen Deshimaru, as was Tsunemasa Abe. They all failed to understand in practice what Dogen meant by TANZA, sitting upright, and by the principle of MU-I, spontaneity, non-doing. 

Yes, it stinks. But there it is. 

muktvā = abs. muc: to loose , let loose , free , let go ; to relinquish, abandon , give up
tu: but
alaṁkāra-kalatravat-tām (acc. sg. f.): state of being wedded to ornaments
alaṁ-kāra: m. the act of decorating ; ornament , decoration
kalatra-vat: mfn. having a wife , united with one's wife
kalatra: n. a wife
-tā: (feminine abstract noun suffix)

śrī-vipravāsam (acc. sg.): banishing of his crowning glory [see also SN5.51-52]
śrī: f. radiance , splendour , glory ; prosperity , welfare , good fortune , success , auspiciousness , wealth , treasure , riches (śriyā , " according to fortune or wealth ") , high rank , power , might , majesty , royal dignity ; symbol or insignia of royalty
vipravāsa: m. going or dwelling abroad , staying away from (abl. or comp.) ; m. ( √4. vas) the offence committed by a monk in giving away his garment
śirasaḥ (abl. sg.): n. head
ca: and
kṛtvā = abs. kṛ: to do, make ; have done with

dṛṣṭvā = abs. dṛś: to see , behold , look at , regard , consider; to see with the mind , learn , understand
aṁśukam (acc. sg.): n. cloth ; fine or white cloth , muslin ; upper garment ; [Apte] mild or gentle blaze of light
kāñcana-haṁsa-citram (acc. sg. n.): the wonder of the golden bar-headed goose ; the riddle of the best kind of gold (?) ; [EHJ: with their embroidery of golden geese]
kāñcana-haṁsa-cihnam [EBC] (acc. sg. n.): the sign of the golden bar-headed goose ; [EBC: floating away like a golden goose]
kāñcana: n. gold
haṁsa: m. a goose , gander , swan , flamingo (or other aquatic bird , considered as a bird of passage ; sometimes a mere poetical or mythical bird , said in RV. to be able to separate soma from water , when these two fluids are mixed , and in later literature , milk from water when these two are mixed ; also forming in RV. the vehicle of the aśvins , and in later literature that of brahmā ; ifc. also = " best or chief among ") ; the soul or spirit (typified by the pure white colour of a goose or swan , and migratory like a goose ; sometimes " the Universal Soul or Supreme Spirit " ,
citra: mfn. conspicuous ; bright , clear , bright-coloured ; strange , wonderful ; n. anything bright or coloured which strikes the eyes ; n. a brilliant ornament , ornament ; n. a bright or extraordinary appearance , wonder ; n. the ether , sky ; n. a sectarial mark on the forehead ; n. a picture , sketch , delineation ; n. punning in the form of question and answer , facetious conversation , riddle ,
cihna: n. a mark , spot , stamp , sign , characteristic , symptom ; a banner , insignia; aim, direction towards

vanyam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. growing or produced or existing in a forest , wild , savage
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
dhīraḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. firm, constant, steadfast
abhicakāṅkṣa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. abhi- √ kāṅkṣ: to long for, desire ; to strive
vāsaḥ (acc. sg.): m. (fr. √4. vas) a garment , dress , clothes ; m. (fr. √5. vas) staying , remaining (esp. " overnight ") , abiding , dwelling , residence

太子時自念 莊嚴具悉除
唯有素繒衣 猶非出家儀

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