Saturday, September 28, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.38: Coming & Going, Fullness & Emptiness, As Matters of Life & Death

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
tvayyāgate pūrṇa ivāśramo 'bhūt-saṁpadyate śūnya iva prayāte |
tasmād-imaṁ nārhasi tāta hātuṁ jijīviṣor-deham-iveṣṭam-āyuḥ || 7.38

“At your coming the ashram seemed to become full,

At your going, it seems to become empty;

Therefore, my son, you should desist from leaving
this [place of painful exertion] –

Like the cherished life-force [not leaving]
the body of a man who is fighting for his life.

Ostensibly in today's verse the senior ascetic is expressing on behalf of all the ascetics of the ashram their very sincere wish that the Buddha-to-be should stay in their ashram. Ostensibly the old ascetic is saying that they rejoiced when the ashram become as if full, or complete, but now they are sad that it is becoming as if empty.

If a reading is sought that opposes the surface meaning of wanting fullness and fearing emptiness, that reading might point us towards indifference in regard to either fullness or emptiness, or even towards affirmation of both fullness and emptiness.

I have observed before that Aśvaghoṣa seems to eschew philosophical abstractions, or technical terms, like buddha-tā, the Buddha-nature, and śūnya-tā, emptiness, preferring more indirect means and more concrete means, and especially the means of similes and metaphors. So if we want to infer something from today's verse about Aśvaghoṣa's teaching on buddha-tā, the Buddha-nature, and śūnya-tā, emptiness, we had better get out our spades and start digging. 

The first and second stages of sitting-dhyāna, as Aśvaghoṣa describes them, are full of joy. But that joy is described as born of separateness, or born of solitude. And realization of the third and fourth stages of sitting-dhyāna is described as dependent on a decision to carry on up in such a way as to rise above joy towards detachment and empty awareness. So sitting-meditation itself might in some sense be described as coming and going of fullness and emptiness.

Again, the word āśrama, meaning an ashram or abode of ascetics, is from the root √śram which means to make painful effort. So the ascetic in today's verse, in comparing the human body to an ashram, or a place where painful exertion is supposed to go on, points us back to philosophical question number one:

Since we have the buddha-nature already, since we have been living in the truth since our birth, since we climbed up Bodhidharma's intention in our childhood, what is the point of tying our legs in a knot and subjecting ourselves now to painful exertion?

Tapping on a computer keyboard from the comfort of a swivel chair it is easy to negate the ascetic impulse, as the Buddha-to-be has negated it in this Canto, on the basis of reason.

But Aśvaghoṣa will relate at the end of BC Canto 12 how the Buddha-to-be, notwithstanding powers of reasoning much more excellent than anybody today could muster, decides to throw himself after all into ascetic practice. And thus the Buddha-to-be suffers through 
six years of upright sitting.

If even the Buddha-to-be was like that, as Dogen asks us,
how can people today not make effort?

In conclusion, then, the simile in the 4th pāda, as I read it, expresses a sincerity that is not to be dismissed so lightly as the sentimental plea of an old ascetic who has become emotionally attached to a shining young prince. A sentimental plea is what today's verse looks like on the surface. But Aśvaghoṣa's intention is always to invite us to dig below the surface.

tvayi (loc. sg.): you
āgate = loc. sg. past. part ā- √ gam: to come
pūrṇaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. full
iva: like, as if
āśramaḥ (nom. sg.): m. ( √śram) , a hermitage , the abode of ascetics , the cell of a hermit or of retired saints or sages
√śram: to become weary or tired ; to make effort , exert one's self (esp. in performing acts of austerity) , labour in vain
abhūt = 3rd pers. sg. aorist. bhū: to be, become

saṁpadyate = 3rd pers. sg. sam- √ pad: to become , prove , turn into (nom.)
śūnyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. empty
iva: like
prayāte = loc. sg. past. part pra- √yā: to part, go away

tasmād: ind. therefore
imam (acc. sg. m.): this [ashram]
na: not
arhasi = 2nd pers. sg. arh: to ought
tāta (voc.): a term of affection addressed to a junior
hātum = inf. hā: to abandon, leave

jijīviṣoḥ = gen. sg. m. jijīviṣu: mfn. desirous of life
deham (acc. sg.): mn. ( √ dih , to plaster , mould , fashion) the body
iva: like
iṣṭam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. liked, beloved, cherished
āyuḥ (nom. sg.): n. life , vital power , vigour , health , duration of life , long life ; active power , efficacy

汝忽來至此 園林妙充滿
而今棄捨去 遂成丘曠野 
如人愛壽命 不欲捨其身
我等亦如是 唯願小留住 

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