Wednesday, August 14, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.63: Forest Gear vs Religious Uniform

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
pareṇa harṣeṇa tataḥ sa vanyaṁ jagrāha vāso 'ṁśukam-utsasarja |
vyādhas-tu divyaṁ vapur-eva bibhrat tac-chuklam-ādāya divaṁ jagāma || 6.63

Then, with joy of the highest order,

He took the garment of the forest and gave away his linen finery;

But the hunter, wearing the very essence of the divine,

Went to heaven, taking that whiteness with him.

The contrast indicated in the 3rd pāda by tu (but) is a contrast between vanyaṁ vāsaḥ (garment of the forest) and divyaṁ vapur-eva (the very essence of the divine / a veritable uniform of heaven).

Divyaṁ vapur-eva bibhrat is easily understood as “assuming his heavenly form” (hence EBC: “assuming his heavenly form”; EHJ: “assuming his heavenly form again”; PO: “assuming his own divine form”), but these translations seem to miss the emphasis placed on vapur by eva, and they don't seem to bring out the contrast between the garment of the earthen forest and the form / essence / wonderful appearance of the divine.

However we decide to translate it in English, I think divyaṁ vapur-eva is an expression that is replete with Aśvaghoṣan irony. When he writes of “the very essence of the divine” or “a veritable uniform of heaven,” his tongue is firmly in his cheek. As usual, as I hear him, Aśvaghoṣa is out to subvert the usual assumptions about Buddhism as religion. Why? Because the Buddha-dharma is nothing sacred. The Buddha-dharma, as Isan testified, is as sacred as living on Isan mountain and shitting Isan shit.

Further irony in the 4th pāda, as I read it, is concealed in ādāya, the absolutive form of ā-√dā, which the dictionary defines as “to give to one's self" and hence 1. to take, accept, receive; but also 2. to take back, reclaim; and 3. to take or carry away with one's self.

Going with the last of these definitions, and understanding tac-chuklam (which ostensibly means “that white [robe]”) to refer to the kind of regrettable innocence discussed yesterday, leads to a reading of the 4th pāda that invites a wry smile.

It is as if Aśvaghoṣa is saying to the celestial being: You can take your whiter-than-white religious purity and innocence, your distilled essence of spirituality, and fuck off back to heaven where you belong

Or, to put it more politely: Practice what Jesus preached, and render unto heaven things that are heavenly. And while you are at it, kindly vacate the Daily Service slot on BBC Radio 4 Long Wave, so that I can listen to Book of the Week. 

Nearly 20 years ago while I was training to be an Alexander teacher, having come back home to England after 13 years of Zen training and study in Japan, one of my fellow trainee-teachers said to me, “I am more spiritual than you are!”

Since I have always tended to worry about my ability to live up to expectations placed upon me, I secretly took the remark as probably confirming that I was failing to exude the Zen vibes that I should have been exuding – failing to churn out those gamma waves like Matthieu Ricard, as my son once put it.

But on the basis of today's verse, what I should have said to my spiritual colleague, in all sincerity, is: “Thank you very much. This not being spiritual is the result of 13 years of hard work.”

I don't believe in God and am not religious. But I am interested in spirituality and am attracted to Buddhism.”

If that describes your viewpoint, then you might be reading the wrong blog. Why don't you butt out and mind your own business?

Religion, spirituality, Buddhism: it is all a crock of horse-shit. I fucking love science.”

If that is closer to how you see things, then you are most welcome to carry on eavesdropping here. You might be my target audience – which, more and more as time goes on, is nobody other than myself.

Speaking for myself, I don't believe in God, don't believe in being spiritual, and don't believe in Buddhism. But the joy of the highest order that Aśvaghoṣa describes in connection with an ochre robe of the earthen forest – of that I do have experience.

pareṇa (inst. sg. m.): mfn. extreme, exceeding
harṣeṇa (inst. sg.): m. bristling ; joy , pleasure , happiness
tataḥ: ind. then
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
vanyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. growing or produced or existing in a forest , wild , savage

jagrāha = 3rd pers. sg. perf. grah: to take, grasp
vāsaḥ (acc. sg.): n. cloth , clothes , dress , a garment
aṁśukam (acc. sg.): n. cloth ; fine or white cloth , muslin
utsasarja = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ut- √ sṛj : to let loose, let go ; to sling , throw , cast forth or away ; to lay aside ; to quit , leave , abandon , avoid , eschew ; to grant, give

vyādhaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the hunter
tu: but
divyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. divine
vapuḥ (acc. sg.): n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty ; n. nature , essence
eva (emphatic)
bibhrat = nom. sg. m. pres. part. bhṛ: to bear , carry , convey ; to wear

tat (acc. sg. n.): that
śuklam (acc. sg.): n. brightness , light ; n. a white spot , white substance , anything white
ādāya = abs. ā- √ dā : “ to give to one's self " , take , accept , receive ; to take back , reclaim ; to take or carry away with one's self ; to seize , grasp , take or catch hold of ; to put on (clothes) ; to choose (a path)
divam (acc. sg.): n. heaven , sky
jagāma = 3rd pers. sg. perf. gam: to go

獵者既貿衣 還自復天身

1 comment:

Rich said...

If you live outdoors a robe makes life more survivable. As simple as that.