Sunday, September 8, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.18: When the Buddha's Teaching Wears an Ascetic Disguise

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Vāṇī)
evaṁ-vidhaiḥ kāla-citais-tapobhiḥ parair-divaṁ yānty-aparair-n-lokam |
duḥkhena mārgeṇa sukhaṁ kṣiyanti duḥkhaṁ hi dharmasya vadanti mūlam || 7.18

Through painful practices such as these, accumulated over time,

They arrive, via superior practices, at heaven,
and via lowlier ones at the world of human beings.

By an arduous path they come to inhabit ease;

For suffering, they say, is the starting point of dharma.”

After all the uncertainty which the first half of yesterday's verse seemed to stimulate, we return to more familiar territory in today's verse with what seems to be a straightforward divergence between the ostensible meaning and the ironic hidden meaning.

Ostensibly today's verse expresses the ascetic principle of pursuing pain as a means to spiritual advancement, leading ultimately to heaven itself.

But below the surface of today's verse, as I read it, the man born again is ironically expressing the gist of the teaching that the Buddha unfolded for the benefit of fellow human beings on the earth, beginning with duḥkha-satya, the truth of suffering, the first of the four noble truths.

By thus presenting us in today's verse with words that can be read as expressing the gist of asceticism as well as the gist of the Buddha's teachings, Aśvaghoṣa encourages us to be clear about the similarities and differences between the two approaches.

In that sense today's verse, in which the man born again concludes his five-verse monologue, can be read as the verse that unlocks the whole of the present Canto.

The 1st pāda sums up what the two different approaches have in common – the aim of benefitting from painful experiences accumulated over years of practice. 

The 2nd pāda ironically highlights the major difference, in terms of where passing through painful experiences is expected to lead the practitioner. Ascetic self-denial is undertaken with the idea that endurance of pain in itself is a means of climbing up the spiritual food chain until one sits with the gods – or maybe if one is lucky sleeps for a time with the celestial nymphs – in heaven. In the Buddha's teaching lofty aspiring for heaven is eschewed in favour of earthbound activities like counteracting 1g with one's total self, and like counteracting 1g as the total forgetting of one's self. Sitting like this, moreover, is not a means for gaining spiritual ends. It might rather be a means for dropping off spiritual end-gaining ideas and finding oneself instead springing up from the earth. 

The 3rd pāda states a truth  that we come to sukha via a path full of duḥkha  which is common to both the Buddha's teaching and asceticism, but for different reasons.

The sukha of ascetic self-denial is the happiness or pleasure associated with that whizzing around of endorphins which is set in motion by pain itself. We feel this burst of happiness or pleasure after we have sat for a long time with painful legs, for example, or after enduring a cold shower on a cold day. But this is not always the sukha associated with freedom from the enslaving chains of habit – though it might be associated with a certain freedom from habitual worrying about being comfortable. 

In the Buddha's teaching sukha is ease to be experienced within the act of sitting itself, not only after painful sitting practice has been endured. So the ease is different, and at the same time the arduousness or difficulty or painfulness of the path is different. The arduousness of the ascetic path is rooted in the difficulty of enduring pain, pure and simple. The arduousness of the Buddha's path is rooted in the difficulty of enduring not only physical and mental pain, like pain in the legs or pain of separation, but also in the sheer frustration, not to say despair, the practitioner is liable to experience when confronted with the difficulty of cutting out faults which are so deeply-ingrained. This difficulty of the Buddha's path, in other words, is the difficulty of really scratching the surface of the tortoise. Hence the Buddha tells Nanda:
Because of the instinct-led accumulation, from time without beginning, of the powerful mass of afflictions, / And because true practice is so difficult to do, the faults cannot be cut off all at once. // SN16.71 //
For the last three syllables of the 3rd pāda I have followed EBC's reading of kṣiyanti (EBC: they eventually dwell in happiness). EHJ amended to hy upaiti (“For bliss is obtained by the path of suffering”). This amendment does not change the meaning much, though it makes the repetion of hi in the 4th pāda look out of place.

More problematic, however, is EHJ's amendment in the 4th pāda of duḥkhaṁ to sukhaṁ – hence EHJ: for bliss they say is the ultimate end of dharma; PO: for the root of dharma, they say, is bliss.

EHJ adds a footnote that whether one should read duḥkham, as indicated by the old Nepalese manuscript, or sukham as indicated by the Tibetan translation, depends on the meaning given to mūlam. EHJ then proceeds to answer his own question with reference to the ancient Indian text known as the Laws of Manu. EHJ writes: The point is settled by Manu, xi, 235, tapo-mūlam idaṁ sarvaṁ daiva-mānuṣakaṁ sukham. [This basis of asceticism, for all gods and men alike, is pleasure.]

In my book the point is settled by the fact that the original Sanskrit manuscripts have duḥkham not sukham, and neither the Tibetan translation nor an extraneous Hindu text provide a reliable basis for overruling the original manuscript. On top of that, the point of the 4th pāda as I read it is that duḥkham, pain and suffering, is both the foundation of asceticism and the place where the Buddha started his teaching of the four noble truths. 

So EHJ changed duḥkham to sukham, and somehow took mūlam to mean "the ultimate end," and on that basis translated the 4th pāda: for bliss, they say, is the ultimate end of dharma. 

This might be one of the more outstanding examples of “Send reinforcements, we are going to advance!” having turned into “Send three and fourpence, we are going to a dance!”

evaṁ-vidhaiḥ (inst. pl. n.) mfn. of such a kind , in such a form or manner , such
kāla-citaih (inst. pl. n.): piled up over time
kāla: m. time
cita: mfn. piled up , heaped ; placed in a line ; collected , gained
tapobhiḥ (inst. pl.): n. austerities, ascetic / painful practices

paraiḥ (inst. pl. n.): mfn. far , distant , remote (in space) , opposite , ulterior , farther than , beyond , on the other or farther side of , extreme ; better or worse than , superior or inferior to , best or worst , highest , supreme , chief
divam (acc. sg.): n. heaven, sky
yānti = 3rd pers. pl. yā: to go, proceed, move ; to go towards or against , go or come to , enter , approach , arrive at , reach
aparaiḥ: mfn. having nothing beyond or after , having no rival or superior; posterior , later , latter (opposed to pū́rva ; often in comp.) ; inferior , lower (opposed to pára)
nṛ-lokam (acc. sg.): m. the world of men , the earth

duḥkhena (inst. sg. m.): mfn. uneasy , uncomfortable , unpleasant , difficult; n. uneasiness , pain , sorrow , trouble , difficulty
mārgeṇa (inst. sg.): m. the track of a wild animal , any track , road , path , way
sukham (acc. sg.): n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness
kṣiyanti = 3rd pers. pl. √kṣi: to abide , stay , dwell , reside (used especially of an undisturbed or secret residence) ; to remain , be quiet ; to inhabit
hi [EHJ]: for
upaiti [EHJ] = 3rd pers. upa- √i: to go near, approach ; to come near to , reach , obtain , enter into any state , fall into

duḥkham (nom. sg.): n. uneasiness , pain , sorrow , trouble , difficulty
suḥkham [EHJ] (nom. sg.): n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness
hi: for
dharmasya (gen. sg.): dharma
vadanti = 3rd pers. pl. vad: to speak , say , utter , tell , report
mūlam (nom. sg.): n. root ; basis , foundation , cause , origin , commencement , beginning

梵志修苦行 壽終得生天
以因苦行故 當得安樂果 

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