Sunday, August 4, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.53: Non-Emotion Preaches the Dharma

iti tasya vacaḥ śrutvā kanthakas-turagottamaḥ |
jihvayā lilihe pādau bāṣpam-uṣṇaṁ mumoca ca || 6.53

Having listened to these words of his,

Kanthaka, highest among swift-going horses,

Licked his feet with his tongue

And shed hot tears.

What has this verse got to do with sitting-zen? – not a rhetorical question, but the first question, being mindful that Aśvaghoṣa was a Zen patriarch, that one needs to ask.

I think that Aśvaghoṣa may have been conscious of having, in the preceding ten verses of the prince's monologue, from 6.43 to 6.52, presented us with the kind of verbal challenge that seemed to necessitate much consideration and long comments, for example, about the role of inhibition in the practice of detachment.

Today's verse, then, in its own way, subverts that kind of effort – lest we make the mistake of feeling that the intellectual triumph of cracking verbal riddles is something to be proud of.

As Shania Twain catchily put it:

I've known a few guys who thought they were pretty smart
But you've got being right down to an art.
You think you're a genius, you drive me up the wall;
You're a regular original, know-it-all.
Oh-oo-oh, you think you're special,
Oh-oo-oh, you think you're something else.

Okay, so you're a rocket scientist -
That don't impress me much.
So you got the brain but have you got the touch?
Don't get me wrong, yeah I think you're alright
But that won't keep me warm in the middle of the night...

In somewhat similar vein (at least in its subversion of intellectualism), Dogen said in his instructions for sitting-zen: 

Cease the intellectual effort of studying sayings and pursuing words. 
Learn the backward step of turning your light and letting it shine.

So today's verse, in its own way, is also about turning back – turning back from dry intellectual effort and allowing the function of deeper parts of the brain, not to mention the heart.

It might not be a question of turning back from love / attachment or turning back to love / attachment. It might be more a question of turning back from the kind of judgement that tends to be inherent in words like “love” (which sounds like something good) and “attachment” (which sounds like something bad). 

When Aśvaghoṣa uses the word sneha, for example, how should we understand it and how should we translate it? 

That is not a problem that Kanthaka concerns himself with. His emotion is not so sophisticated or analytical (he has never heard of Sigmund Freud, let alone read one of his books), but is rather something as it is – and none the less real for that. In that sense, the love or attachment of an animal like a horse or a dog is nair-guṇyam – it is endowed with the virtue of being without; it is raw, empty, bereft of psycho-babble or Buddhist bullshit, something as it is. 

Does a horse or a dog have the buddha-nature?

Leave it out, mate.

A final point to note is that there are one or two stories about how Aśva-ghoṣa came by his name, which could mean 'The Horse Whisperer' or could mean 'A Horse's Whinny.' Either way, it seems likely that Aśvaghoṣa enjoyed good mutual understanding – at the non-verbal level – with horses.

iti: thus
tasya (gen. sg.): his
vacaḥ (acc. sg.): n. words, saying
śrutvā = abs. śru: to hear, listen to ; attend to ; learn from a teacher ; obey

kanthakaḥ (nom. sg.): m. Kanthaka
turagottamaḥ (nom. sg. m.): 'uppermost of swift-goers'

jihvayā (inst. sg.): f. the tongue
lilihe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. lih: to lick , lap , lick at (loc.) , taste , sip
pādau (acc. dual): m. feet

bāṣpam (acc. sg.): m. a tear, tears
uṣṇam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. hot , warm; ardent , passionate , impetuous
mumoca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. muc: to release, shed
ca: and

白馬聞太子 發斯眞實言
屈膝而舐足 長息涙流連

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