Tuesday, August 27, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.6: Ashram-Dwellers (4): Those Who Were Milked

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Buddhi)
dṣṭvā tam-ikṣvāku-kula-pradīpaṁ jvalantam-udyantam-ivāṁśumantam |
kte 'pi dohe janita-pramodāḥ prasusruvur-homa-duhaś-ca gāvaḥ || 7.6

Seeing him, the lamp of the Ikṣvāku tribe,

Shining like the rising sun,

The cows that were milked for offerings,
though they had already been milked,

Were overjoyed, and they flowed forth again.

At the beginning of Saundara-nanda, Aśvaghoṣa describes the champion of asceticism and ashram-founder Kapila Gautama in terms which on the surface seem to be glowing, but which below the surface conceal barbed irony. Thus,
A sage named Kapila Gautama, an outstanding upholder of dharma, / Became as consumed in ascetic practice as was Kākṣīvat Gautama./ SN1.1 // Ceaselessly he shone his light, like Kāśyapa the sun, on blazing asceticism; / And in promoting that asceticism he pushed himself, like Kāśyapa the sage, to extreme achievement. // 1.2 // For the offerings he served himself, he milked a cow, like Vasiṣṭha. / In schooling his disciples in asceticism, he milked a cow, like Vasiṣṭha. // SN1.3 //
Milk (2b) : to draw or coerce profit or advantage from illicitly or to an extreme degree : exploit 

Thus it ever was: dumb beasts were milked in ancient India just as dumb western investors in gold exchange-traded funds have been milked in recent months of their gold. Mrs Wang, in contrast, has not been so dumb.

For Mrs Wang and Mrs Lee, and for me also, and I think also for Aśvaghoṣa, physical gold is an example of what is true, authentic, real. What are conspicuously not as true, authentic and real as physical gold are government promises which countries can only keep by creating money out of nowhere – providing that they are countries which (unlike Greece, say, or Portugal) have their own central banks.

Mining Aśvaghoṣa's gold is a metaphor for seeking truth or authenticity, especially in the context of sitting – hence the above strap line Digging out the meaning of kāñcanam-āsanam.  

Kāñcanam-āsanam means sitting made of gold.

This is a photo of Chilcote junior school first XI in the 1970-71 season that an old friend of mine recently posted on facebook. When I look at the photo it bugs me that I am missing from it, since, as I confessed yesterday, by the 1970-71 season I was already busy trying to adapt to the challenge of being promoted to Birmingham's top school for intellectual poshos. And trying was the operative word.

That's the personal background to how I understand Aśvaghoṣa's description of the ascetic peacocks and the deer-imitators. Peacocks are in the business of putting on a good show to impress others, which is the essence of bad faith. And deer-imitators are trying to be natural, trying to be authentic – sort of like paper gold. But Mrs Wang prefers the real thing, and my fellow travellers on the top deck of the 91 bus, who watched me trying every morning to look normal as I made my way to the school for intellectual poshos, told me in later years that they thought I was a complete wanker. In trying so hard to look normal, I stood out as much more inauthentic than the middle-class aspirants I wished to look different from. 

I am endeavoring to clarify, with reference to Aśvaghoṣa's writing and my own stumbling and falling through life, what I called yesterday the root irony. We are here to pursue the truth of the Buddha's teaching not only intellectually by reading, and not only emotionally by burbling on about compassion, but physically by sitting. That being so, we are interested in sitting not as a manifestation of bad faith but as the gold standard for authentic action. But here is the root irony: becoming conscious of authentic action as a goal and pursuing it as such, is apt to be seen by others, with justification, as the essence of inauthenticity. Trying to be right, in other words, makes us wronger and wronger. Quad Erat Demonstrandum. 

Yesterday's verse, then, does not seem to have anything to do with golden sitting. But, for those of us who are interested in mining Aśvaghoṣa's gold, just that is the point. Sitting like an ascetic peacock or a deer-imitator is precisely NOT it.

Today's verse, similarly, is pointing to what authentic sitting is NOT. Authentic sitting is not done with the mind of “what's in it for me?”

Most “holy men,” since their life is given over to higher spiritual pursuits, eschew the kind of gainful employment that would cause them to earn any money, whether of the gold or silver physical variety, or whether money in paper or digital form. At the same time, even the holiest of holy men still has to eat. Clearly recognizing this situation, one aged non-hypocrite in ancient China famously refused to eat after people had hidden his spade and mattock, saying “A day without work is a day without food.”

I think that Aśvaghoṣa also clearly recognized the hypocrisy that prevailed in the ashrams of ancient India, and which doubtless still prevails today, and this is what the reference to milking offerings is all about. The lamp shining like the rising sun, as I read it, might be intended to dazzle the eyes of those ascetic holy men, who have been held in such high regard in India, from ancient times through to the present day, so that the ascetic holy men might not notice how Aśvaghoṣa was ripping the piss right out of them.

dṛṣṭvā = abs. dṛś: to see
tam (acc. sg. m.): him
ikṣvāku-kula-pradīpam (acc. sg. m.): the light of the Ikṣvāku line
ikṣvāku: m. name of a son of manu vaivasvata (father of kukṣi and first king of the solar dynasty in ayodhyā); a descendant of ikṣvāku
kula: n. herd ; a race , family , community , tribe , caste , set , company
pradīpa: m. a light , lamp , lantern

jvalantam = acc. sg. m. pres. part. jval: to burn brightly , blaze , glow , shine
udyantam = acc. sg. m. pres. part. ud- √ yā : to rise (as the sun)
iva: like
aṁśu-mantam (acc. sg.): m. the sun , the moon ; mfn. fibrous , rich in filaments ; radiant, luminous

kṛte (loc. sg. m.): mfn. done , made , accomplished , performed
api: though
dohe = loc. sg.doha: mfn. ( √ duh) milking i.e. yielding , granting ; m. milking or milk
janita-pramodāḥ (nom. pl. f.): with gladness engendered in them
janita: mfn. born ; engendered, produced
pramoda: m. excessive joy , delight , gladness

prasusruvur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. pra- √ sru : to flow with , let flow , pour out (acc.)
homa-duhaḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. (a cow) giving milk for an oblation
homa: m. the act of making an oblation to the devas or gods by casting clarified butter into the fire, oblation with fire , burnt-offering , any oblation or sacrifice
duh: mfn. milking; yielding, granting
ca: and
gāvaḥ (nom. pl. f.): cows

甘蔗燈重明 猶如初日光
能感群乳牛 増出甜香乳

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