Thursday, September 5, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.15: 'Other' Steps – Dietary Habits and Other Behaviours of Ones who are Different

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Vāṇī)
uñchena jīvanti kha-gā ivānye tṇāni ke-cin-mgavac-caranti |
ke-cid-bhujaṅgaiḥ saha vartayanti valmīka-bhūtā iva-mārutena || 7.15

Ones who are different live by gleaning crumbs
– like movers in emptiness, or birds 

Some graze on leaves of grass
– like deer –

Some, together with sitters in coils, or snakes,

– As if they were ant-hills – subsist on thin air.

My wife told me on the phone yesterday (Wednesday) morning that her dog, even though she is no longer with us, is still teaching her something. I hope she will carry on teaching me something, too – something about living in the present, and not wasting emotional energy by non-constructive blaming of self and others for what happened in the past and has already gone.

In that spirit I turned my attention to today's verse with renewed determination – as I was determined five years ago when beginning this translation project – to provide some kind of constructive service, to Aśvaghoṣa himself and to anybody who wants to deepen their understanding of Aśvaghoṣa's teaching.

Such deepening, we have found in verse after verse after verse, depends on seeing both the meaning that each verse is intended to convey on the surface and also the deeper layer or layers of meaning hidden below the surface. And today's verse, as I read it, is no exception.

The first clue to hidden meaning is the fact that anye (other) in the 1st pāda preceeds ke-cid (some) in the 2nd and 3rd pādas. Logically we would expect the two terms to be the other way round – first some, then other. Hence EBC in his translation reversed the order of other and some and wrote: Some live like the birds on gleaned corn, others graze on grass like the deer, others live on air with the snakes, as if turned into ant-hills.

Likewise EHJ: Some live like the birds by what they can pick up from the ground, others graze on grass like the deer, and others pass their time with snakes, turned into anthills by the forest wind. 

PO translates: some live by gleaning like the birds, some, like the deer, subsist on grass, others live in the company of snakes, turned into anthills by the forest winds.

I think the anomaly signals that Aśvaghoṣa is using anye not only in its ostensible meaning as one half of “some” and “others” but also as a hidden affirmation of the principle of the individual – a person who is different, odd, other than expected, not a generic stereotype.

Once put on the scent by this hint from anye, the next thing to notice might be the ambiguity of the three verbs jīvanti (they live by), caranti (they graze on) and vartayanti (they subsist on), each of which ostensibly in context means to receive sustenance through food, but each of which carries an original meaning which is not specificially related to food: jīvanti (they live), caranti (they move) and vartayanti (they act).

So while the man who was born again is ostensibly describing the eating habits of ascetics, he might below the surface be describing the everyday life of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and mahāsattvas.

Read in that light uñchena, in the 1st pāda, which the dictionary gives as gleaning, gathering grains, and which EHJ translates as by what they can pick up from the ground, could suggest our efforts to glean the Buddha's wisdom from such sources as we are now scouring. Again, it could suggest the traditional practice of picking up discarded cloth to make into a kaṣāya.

In the 2nd pāda, again, tṛṇāni caranti (grazing on blades of grass) could suggest efforts to give due attention to small tasks – following minute and paltry straws. It is failure in this regard, I can't help noting in passing, that has so often tripped me up in life.

The difficulty of the 3rd and 4th pāda is discussed in footnotes by EHJ and PO.

EHJ notes, with reference to the Chinese translator's 吸風蟒陀仙, [the 3rd and 4th pāda] implies no doubt that they lived on air, C's 'air-inhaling snake-ṛṣis,' and one could construe vartayanti vana-mārutena as 'feed on the forest wind.' But as I understand it, the wind piles up earth around the motionless ascetics lying on the ground, turning them into anthills, and thus giving them an additional resemblance to snakes who are often mentioned as living in anthills. For vana-mārutena, Bodhicaryāvatāra, viii. 86.

Why EHJ saw fit to amend iva mārutena to vana-mārutena  incidentally, I cannot suppose. The verse seems to me to work better with the iva construction mirroring the two previous iva. 

In any event, PO's note is more persuasive, indicating that what piles up the earth of the anthill is not the forest wind but rather ants, or termites:

It is a common theme in the epic literature that an ascetic who sits immobile in meditation for long periods of time could become an anthill; termites would build their mound around him. The Mahābhārata (CE III.122) describes how the sage Chyāvana turned into an anthill in that manner. Seeing his eyes beneath the earth, Sukānya did not know what to make of it and pricked the eyes with a thorn.

Ostensibly in the 3rd and 4th pāda, then, the man born again is describing the behaviour of devotees of asceticism, sitting still for long periods like snakes lying in their coils, not eating any food but just oxygenating food they ate already; but below the surface, the man born again might be describing the behaviour of people who are not devoted to asceticism but who are steeped in painful practice, sitting still for long periods like snakes lying in their coils, not eating any food but just oxygenating food they ate already.

The reason this post is late is that I cycled through the night last (Wednesday) night to catch the morning ferry. I must have ridden around a hundred miles during ten hours in the saddle – around 35 miles more than necessary due to taking a short intentional detour that turned into a long unintentional detour. I surprised myself with how much energy I had, since the journey towards the forest in the middle of July was hard work even taken in two bites of the cherry with an overnight stay in a motel at the halfway point, in Falaise. As usual a few weeks living on my own eating whatever food I fancy whenever I fancy it has caused me to shed a few pounds. Besides which I was sitting a lot and working in the garden, which must have been good for my heart. “Good old heart, shame about the brain” as I emailed my son this morning from the Brittany Ferries ferry terminal.

In the background to this message, I had been worried when I set off that I might well be setting off on my last ever journey. I thought my heart, with the emotional stress of losing our family pet, might not be able to take the pressure. This just goes to show how well I know, or don't know, myself.

Anyway, as I cycled through the night, I reflected it was too late to save the dog we have just lost, but not too late  to work for the salvation of all living beings. But then when I embarked on the ferry, I naturally enough crashed into a deep sleep for two or three hours. After that as I sat reflecting in the cafeteria with a cup of coffee and a dispersible aspirin, I wondered what this new phase of working for the salvation of all living beings might involve, and I perceived that despite my renewal of good intentions, I would not be able to publish this post as per my normal schedule....

This rambling is probably symptomatic of my having been on the move all night and all day – in anything but an anthill-like manner.

Anyway my tentative conclusion, though nothing original, is to keep calm and carry on – but hopefully, by degrees, better. Or more constructively, with fuller attentiveness to preventing karma of the kind which did for our dog.  

Whether these daily posts are any use to man or beast, I don't know. But given my strengths and weaknesses – at least as far as I know them, albeit with unreliable sensory awareness – I don't see anything else that I am better equipped, or more naturally inclined, to do for others, than this translation work. 

uñchena (inst. sg.): m. gleaning , gathering grains
uñch: to gather , glean
jīvanti = 3rd pers. pl. jīv: to live, to live by (instr. ; exceptionally loc.)
kha-gāḥ (nom. pl. m.): 'sky-goers', birds
kha: n. a cavity , hollow , cave , cavern , aperture ; vacuity , empty space , air , ether , sky
ga: mfn. ifc. going, moving ; staying , being , abiding in
iva: like
anye (nom. pl. m.): others, different ones

tṛṇāni (acc. pl.): n. grass , herb , any gramineous plant , blade of grass , straw (often symbol of minuteness and worthlessness)
ke-cid (nom. pl. m.): some ones, some
mṛgavat = ind. like the deer
caranti = 3rd pers. pl. car: to move, go, walk ; to move or travel through , pervade , go along , follow ; to consume , eat (with acc.) , graze

ke-cid (nom. pl. m.): some ones, some
bhujaṅgaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. (fr. bhujam ind. p. of √bhuj, to curve, + ga) a serpent , snake , serpent-demon
saha: ind. together with
vartayanti = 3rd pers. pl. vṛt: to turn, move, get along ; to live on , subsist by (instr. or ind.p.); to act , conduct one's self

valmīka-bhūtāḥ (nom. pl. m.): being an ant-hill
valmīka: mn. an ant-hill , mole-hill , a hillock or ground thrown up by white ants or by moles; swelling of the neck or of the chest and other parts of the body , elephantiasis ; m. = sātapo meghaḥ or = sūryaḥ
bhūta: mfn. become; (ifc.) being or being like anything , consisting of , mixed or joined with
iva: like, almost
mārutena (inst. sg.): m. (= marut) wind , air , the god of wind ; vital air , one of the 3 humours of the body ; breath ; m. a chief of the maruts ; name of agni: mfn. relating to the maruts; relating to or derived from the wind
vana-mārutena [EHJ] (inst. sg.): by the forest wind

或習於鳥生 兩足鉗取食
有隨鹿食草 吸風蟒陀仙 

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