Saturday, September 14, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.24: Pursuit of Happiness vs. Pursuit of Happiness

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (ddhi)
ihārtham-eke praviśanti khedaṁ svargārtham-anye śramam-āpnuvanti |
sukhārtham-āśā-kpaṇo 'ktārthaḥ pataty-an-arthe khalu jīva-lokaḥ || 7.24

Some individuals go through grim exhaustion 
for an end in this world,

Others suffer the ascetic grind for an end in heaven –

Pitifully expectant,
having happiness as its end but failing to accomplish its end,

Humankind sinks into end-less disappointment.

Instead of writing first, as he did for example in BC7.16, of anye (ones who are different / odd / other) and then ke-cid (some people), Aśvaghoṣa in today's verse writes first of eke (some individuals) and then anye (others). So this use of eke and anye is more in line with conventional logic, but for Aśvaghoṣa this is a use of anye which itself is anya – alternative, different, not as I was expecting.

The effect is to cause me – with respect to pursuit of ends – to reflect on who the true individuals are, and who others are. 

I think that superstious and irrational Indians who continue to subject themselves to the ascetic grind, with heaven as their end, are anything but true individuals. They are the “sheep” and “slaves” criticized by the late Narendra Dabholkar – founder of MANS, Maharashtra Andha-shraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, Committee for the Eradication of Superstition (andha-śraddha = lit. blind faith) in Maharashtra – who was assassinated on August 20th this year.

No, in today's verse, as I read it, the true individuals are those who go through exhaustion, or agony, or misery, for the sake of an end in this world. One such individual is the prince, the individual who is speaking in today's verse – though he has yet to realize himself as such.

We have seen in the preceeding verses of this monologue that the Buddha-to-be reflects on what it is not, leaving unspoken what it might be – and so for example the Buddha-to-be brings his reasoning faculties to bear on pravṛtti, doing, but leaves us to fill in the gap with reference to the Buddha's teaching on nivṛtti, non-doing.  Similarly in today's verse the Buddha-to-be discusses being unsuccessful  (a-kṛtārthaḥ) in pursuing happiness (sukham),  and the truth which is left unspoken in today's verse is the truth of gaining one's end, i.e. truly being successful (kṛtārthaḥ), by following a constructive way that leads to true happiness (sukham).

Lest there be any doubt that today's verse is designed to stimulate us to think about our proper end, aim, purpose, or object, the word artha (end, aim, purpose, or object) appears no less than five times in today's verse – once in the 1st, 2nd and 4th pādas, and twice in the 3rd pāda – but all within the context of ultimately being unsucessful  (a-kṛtārthaḥ) in pursuing the end of happiness (sukhārtham) . 

The obvious contrast to draw is with the description of Nanda at the beginning of SN Canto 18 as kṛtārthaḥ, “one who gained his end; a success” –
And so like a young initiate who mastered the Vedas, like a trader who turned a quick profit, / Or like a royal warrior who conquered a hostile army, a success (kṛtārthaḥ), Nanda approached the Guru. // 18.1 // For it is pleasant, at a time when wisdom has been fully realized, for teacher to see student, and for student to see teacher, / Each thinking, "Your toil has rewarded me"; for which same reason the wish to see Nanda arose in the Sage. // 18.2 // Thus is a noble person obliged to pay respect, to his face, to the one through whom he has acquired distinction. / Even a noble person who retains the taint of redness is so obliged, out of gratitude: How much more is one with no red taint, all pride having perished? // 18.3 //
This success of Nanda's is equated with gaining the end of true happiness, the highest happiness (uttamaṁ sukham), which is lasting inner happiness (sudhīram-adhyātma-sukhaṃ). Nanda contrasts this with sensual happiness (kāma-sukham) or the happiness that is born of desires (kāma-jaṁ sukham).

Thus the Buddha tells Nanda:
Today, having extinguished the flaming fire of redness, happily (sukham), you will sleep well, free of fever. / For even on a fabulous bed he sleeps badly who is being burned in his mind by the fires of affliction. // 18.29 // ... People in the world are impelled ever forward by thinking 'There might be for me no hardship, just happiness (sukham)....' / And yet the world does not know a means whereby that happiness might come to be -- that rarely attained happiness which you today have properly realized." // 18.38 //

And Nanda tells the Buddha:
Solitude is sweet (sukham) for one who is calm and contented, who looks into and has learned what is. / Again, for one who is sober and shorn of conceits, for one who is detached in his decision-making, dispassion is a pleasure (sukham). // 18.42 // .... For now that I have tasted this pure, peaceful happiness (idaṃ śuci śāmikaṃ sukham), my mind no longer hankers after happiness born of desires (kāmajaṃ sukham) -- / Just as the costliest earthly fare cannot entice a god who has supped the heavenly nectar. // 18.44 //Alas, the world has its eyes closed by blind unconsciousness; it does not see utmost happiness (uttamaṃ sukham) in a different robe. / Flinging away lasting inner happiness (sudhīram-adhyātma-sukhaṃ), it exhausts itself so, in pursuit of sensual happiness (kāma-sukhārtham). // 18.45 // For just as a fool, having made it to a jewel mine, might leave the jewels and carry off inferior crystals, / So would one reject the highest happiness of full awakening (saṃbodhi-sukham uttamam) and struggle to gain sensual gratification (kāma-sukhopalabdhaye). // 18.46 //

The real significance of the present monologue, to repeat a point already made, only emerges at the end of Canto 12, where the Buddha-to-be is described as subjecting himself to extreme asceticism, by fasting, for six years. Even before those six years of ascetic practice, he already sees that people's pursuit of happiness is flawed – our conception of a happy end is flawed and we have no practical conception of what would be a proper means leading to the end of true happiness. The prince's faculty of reasoning and his powers of perception are excellent enough for him to see all this already. And yet, evidently, reason proves not to be sufficient.

If not reason alone, then, by what other power did the Buddha eventually cross over to the far shore of true happiness? At the beginning of BC Canto 14, after the Buddha-to-be has defeated Māra, just by sitting resolutely in stillness, the process leading up to his enlightenment begins with him recollecting past lives. So this relating of the legend seems designed to remind us of the influence of karma – the influence for good or ill, felt over three times (short, medium and long term), of all our actions. But this karma, I should like to emphasize, is never that karma which has been used in India since ancient times as a means for subjugating sheep and slaves. I come back to this point having been stimulated by the obituary of Narendra Dabholka in this week's issue of the Economist, which contains the following paragraph: 
The only inexplicable thing, [Narendra Dabholka] would say (all other “inexplicable” things being rationally explained by natural laws) was that India in the 21st century was still so full of superstition. It launched its own satellites, but before a launch the gods would be invoked with flowers and sandalwood paste; its IT was the envy of the world, but even middle-class people would not start a new project on “inauspicious” Saturdays. The cult of the individual was gathering pace, but people still believed that their fates were in the hands of the gods, not themselves. They clung blindly to karma, which was a law for “sheep” and “slaves”.

As a final post-script to today's comment, it so happened last night that my elder son, on a brief overnight visit to pick up some stuff, opened an email from the Chemistry Department of Imperial College London which confirmed that he would be graduating with a first class honours degree. So this strikes me as a conspicuous example of the gaining of an end in the world, which required the individual to put himself through some truly grim and exhausting times, especially in the final two years of the four-year degree. It represents kṛtartha (success, achievement of an end) not only for him but maybe even moreso for me, and maybe still moreso for his mother – especially when we think back to our son's first year at the primary school whose playground I can now see from the office where I am writing this. When he started there, our son really struggled, hampered by the fact that Japanese rather than English was his language and he could not understand much of what was being said.

So this is the gaining of an end, and is a kind of happiness – neither of which is to be denied. But what the Buddha-to-be is reflecting in today's verse is that insofar as happiness is our end, this kind of gaining an end in the world, in his book, does not constitute accomplishment of it. What it might be, and how to go about realizing it, the Buddha-to-be does not yet know. He only knows, using his top two-inches well, that asceticism cannot be the way to it ... and yet at the end of BC Canto 12 he still decides after all, just in case, to throw himself into that way, and for no less than six years there on that unreasonable way he relentlessly subjects himself  to the ascetic grind.

ihārtham: ind. for the sake of this world
iha: ind. in this place , here ; in this world
artha: aim, purpose (very often artham , arthena , arthāya , and arthe ifc. or with gen. " for the sake of , on account of , in behalf of , for ")
eke (nom. pl. m.): one ; one of two or many (eka - eka , eka - dvitīya , the one - the other ; esp. pl. eke , some , eke - apare some - others , &c )
praviśanti = 3rd pers. pl. pra- √ viś: to enter , go into , resort to (acc. or loc.) ; to enter upon , undertake , commence , begin , devote one's self to (acc. , rarely loc.)
khedam (acc. sg.): m. lassitude , depression ; exhaustion , pain , affliction , distress
khid: to strike , press , press down ; to be depressed or wearied ; khintte , to be pressed down , suffer pain

svargārtham: ind. for the sake of heaven
anye (nom. pl. m.): others
śramam (acc. sg.): m. fatigue , weariness , exhaustion ; exertion , labour , toil
śram: to be or become weary or tired , be tired of doing anything ; to make effort , exert one's self (esp. in performing acts of austerity) , labour in vain
āpnuvanti = 3rd pers. pl. āp: to reach , overtake , meet with , fall upon ; to undergo , suffer

sukhārtham: ind. for the sake of pleasure / happiness / ease
āśā-kṛpaṇaḥ (nom. sg. m.): being pitiable in its expectation
āśā: f. wish, desire, hope, expectation
kṛpaṇa: mfn. inclined to grieve , pitiable , miserable , poor , wretched , feeble
akṛtārthaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having one's object unaccomplished , unsuccessful

patati = 3rd pers. sg. pat: to fall; to fall down or off , alight , descend (with acc. or loc.) , fall or sink
an-arthe (loc. sg.): m. non-value , a worthless or useless object ; disappointing occurrence , reverse , evil
khalu: ind. (as a particle of asseveration) indeed , verily , certainly , truly ; in later Sanskrit khalu frequently does little more than lay stress on the word by which it is preceded , and is sometimes merely expletive
jīva-lokaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the world of living beings, mankind

此生極疲勞 將生復不息
任苦求現樂 求生天亦勞

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