Monday, August 26, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.5: Ashram-Dwellers (3): Peacocks & Deer

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
hṣṭāś-ca kekā mumucur-mayūrā dṣṭvāmbu-daṁ nīlam-ivonnamantam |
śaṣpāṇi hitvābhimukhāś-ca tasthur-mgāś-calākṣā mga-cāriṇaś-ca || 7.5

Bristling with rapture also, the peacocks let loose their cries,

As if they had seen a dark raincloud rising up;

While, letting grass fall as they turned to face him,

The deer stood still, along with the deer-imitators,
with only their eyes moving.

In his description of the ashram of Kapila Gautama at the beginning of Saundara-nanda, Aśvaghoṣa again refers to the crying of peacocks, which – so I read somewhere – is annoyingly raucous. Whether it it as raucous as the competitive crowing of six cockerels in one enclosure, I do not know, and do not wish ever to find out. My French neighbour has reduced the number of her cockerels from the previous six to the present one, and, on a bad day, he is bad enough. But he is nothing like as bad as six cockerels used to be. So I should be grateful for small mercies.
The sound of the fires receiving offerings, of the peacocks with their crested heads uttering their repetitive cry,/ And of the sacred bathing places, during ablutions, was all that one heard there. // SN1.11 //
This reference to peacocks, as noted then, is a sardonic allusion to the chanting of the ascetics with their dreadlocked hair-dos. The reference to peacocks in today's verse, also, as I read it, is in the same sardonic vein.

With reference to peacocks of the feathered variety, Patrick Olivelle notes that It is a general belief expressed in poetry that peacocks burst into joyous song at the coming of the rains.

That being so, it seems natural to retain the accusative unnamanam (rising up), agreeing with ambu-dam (cloud), rather than amend it to the nominative unnamanah, agreeing with mayurāḥ (peacocks). It seems natural, in other words, to understand that what was rising up was a raincloud, rather than the peacocks. EHJ, however, saw fit to change unnamanam to unnamanaḥ on the basis of the Chinese and Tibetan translations. Even in so doing, though, EHJ noted that unnam is often used of clouds.

The reference in the second half of today's verse to mṛga-cārin, the ascetic practice of living like a deer (mṛga), puts into context Aśvaghoṣa's description of the prince in the opening verse of this Canto as mṛga-vat, like a deer, or like a forest creature. The point is that the prince was already like a creature of the forest without having to try. 

Indirectly, then, today's verse relates to the principle that Dogen expresses at the very beginning of his instructions for how to sit. The principle might be called the root irony which is beneath all of Aśvaghoṣa's irony.

Look at that bloke over there with his ankles on his thighs, making a big effort to be himself.

What an arsehole! Trying to be normal!

Wait a minute....

Is that a person? Or is it a mirror?

Jean-Paul Sartre, as he sat smoking his pipe in the cafes of post-war Paris, was aware of the kind of irony I am referring to, which has its roots in human self-consciousness and is related  with what Sartre called “bad faith” (mauvaise foi). This, according to Wikipedia, describes the phenomenon where a human being under pressure from societal forces adopts false values and disowns his/her innate freedom to act authentically.

Teenagers generally want to be seen as normal, especially if they are in some way abnormal. But even for a teenager I think that I was abnormally self-consciousness and I made efforts to show myself to be normal which in their degree were quite abnormal.

Part of the problem was that I passed an exam to go to the school which was generally regarded as being the “posh” school in Birmingham at that time – where Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher novels, was a year or two ahead of me. Skipping the last year of primary school, and thus becoming the youngest boy in my new school, did not help. Neither did having bright blonde hair and the nickname "Snowy" that benevolent maths teacher Jock Ramsay cruelly saddled me with. Only having one testicle – a secret that I kept to myself – didn't help either.

My efforts to appear normal included having more of a Birmingham accent than came naturally; making and quaffing, from the age of 13 onwards, large quantities of home-brew beer; and standing on the terraces watching Birmingham City FC and singing to opposition fans such edifying chants as “You're going to get your fucking heads kicked in.”

My liking for rugby was not an act, but one occasion stands out in my memory where bad faith caught up with me even on the rugby field. I was playing as a wing-forward for Greater Birmingham under 19s and scored the kind of try that a wing-forward is apt to score, picking up a loose ball and falling over the line. On the way back to the half-way line the burly number eight said to me, “You're a star!”

For fuck's sake. Now I was getting grief even playing rugby, and not from the opposition but from a bloke on my own team! I walked over to him and stood nose to nose. “Do you want to make something of it?” As he put his arms to my neck to push me away, I span to the side and broke his jaw with the point of my elbow, following this move with a knee to the floating ribs that cracked a couple of bones and made breathing difficult for him for a minute or two. As my sardonic team-mate lie gasping on the turf I looked down and asked him, “Normal enough for you?”

Thus, I suppose, was Jack Reacher born. Lee Child didn't go around head-butting and breaking the arms of the ruffians of 1970s Birmingham any more than I did. But he had plenty of cause to fantasize about doing that, and so did I.

On a more positive note, I would say that nothing helps me more to get over Sartre's problem of bad faith than being alone by the forest – by which I mean not only the emptiness of solitude but also the form and substance of trees in the sun and soil.

Not so much the nothingness, in other words, as the sheer solidity of the being.

I wouldn't claim to have got over the deer-imitators' problem of bad faith even now, at the age of 53 – except in odd moments, especially here in France. I'm still apt to be too self-conscious, too mindful, and too concerned what others might think – except in odd moments, like walking back from my Zendo/shed with a view to writing this blog, when the sight of the sun on the trees and the feel of the earth under the feet causes me temporarily to take full ownership of my own human existence.

Does that sound too pseudo to you, too pretentious, too intellectual? If so, do you want to make something of it? 

hṛṣṭāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. mfn. thrilling with rapture , rejoiced , pleased , glad , merry ; bristling, erect, standing on end
ca: and
kekāḥ (acc. pl.): f. the cry of a peacock
mumucur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. muc: to let loose ; send forth , shed , emit , utter , discharge , throw , cast , hurl
mayūrāḥ (nom. pl.): m. a peacock

dṛṣṭvā = abs. dṛś: to see, behold
ambu-dam (acc. sg.): m. 'water-giver', a cloud
nīlam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. of a dark colour , (esp.) dark-blue or dark-green or black
iva: like, as if
unnamantam = acc. sg. m. pres. part. un- √ nam
unnamantaḥ = nom. pl. m. pres. part. un- √ nam
un- √ nam: to bend upwards , raise one's self , rise

śaṣpāṇi (acc. pl.): n. young or sprouting grass , any grass ; loss of consciousness (= pratibhā-kṣaya)
hitvā = abs. hā: to leave , abandon , desert , quit , forsake , relinquish ; to discharge , emit
abhimukhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. with the face directed towards , turned towards , facing (with acc. dat. gen. ; or ifc.)
ca: and
tasthur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. sthā: to stand

mṛgāḥ (nom. pl.) m. beasts of the forest, deer
calākṣāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with restless eyes
cala: mfn. moving , trembling , shaking ,
akṣa: n. [only ifc. for akṣi] , the eye.
mṛga-cāriṇaḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. acting like a deer (as certain devotees)
cārin: mfn. ifc. moving , walking or wandering about , living , being ; acting , proceeding , doing , practising
ca: and

孔雀等衆鳥 亂聲而翔鳴
持鹿戒梵志 隨鹿遊山林
麁性鹿睒 見太子端視 
隨鹿諸梵志 端視亦復然

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