Wednesday, October 16, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.56: Subject Object Gulping Ocean

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Sālā)
spaṣṭocca-ghoṇaṁ vipulāyatākṣaṁ tāmrādharauṣṭhaṁ sita-tīkṣṇa-daṁṣṭram |
idaṁ hi vaktraṁ tanu-rakta-jihvaṁ jñeyārṇavaṁ pāsyati ktsnam-eva || 7.56

For, beneath a straight and high nose,
and lengthened and widened eyes,

With its lower lip the colour of copper,
and its large teeth, sharp and white,

This mouth, with its thin red tongue,

Will drink up the whole ocean of what is to be known.

Today's verse relates to the matter of knowing – to the matter of knowing what is to be known, as all the Zen patriarchs of India, China, and Japan have known what is to be known, by parking their arses for long periods of time upon round black cushions.

Aśvaghoṣa was the 12th Zen patriarch in India. Bodhidharma was the 28th in India and the 1st in China. The 2nd Zen patriarch in China was a monk known in Japanese as Taiso Eka.

When Bodhidharma was about to die, and he asked Taiso Eka to demonstrate what he knew, Bodhidharma wasn't necessarily asking for a ten-thousand word essay. And neither did Taiso Eka serve up a ten-thousand word essay.

That being so, if I was in the business of imitating Taiso Eka, I might not bother writing long comments like the one I wrote yesterday or the one I am writing now.

There again, if Aśvaghoṣa had been in the business of imitating his 11 predecessors, he might not have bothered writing several thousand verses of Sanskrit epic poetry, like the one we are studying now.

The verse begins, according to the old Nepalese manuscript, with the phrase paṣṭoś-ca ghoṇaṁ. This does not seem to mean anything, since paṣṭa is not in the dictionary. EB Cowell's Sanskrit text has puṣṭāśva-ghoṇaṁ, which EBC translated “with the nose of a well-fed horse.” To me the phrase puṣṭāśva-ghoṇaṁ would suggest a meaning like “with the [flaring] nostrils of a complete horse” or “with the [flaring] nostrils of a horse in full cry.”

On the basis of the Tibetan translation, however, EHJ amended to spaṣṭocca-ghoṇaṁ and translated “a straight high nose.”

The Chinese rendering of the 1st pāda is 隆鼻廣長目, “high nose, wide long eyes.”

All things considered, though I am drawn to EBC's version comparing the nose of the Buddha-to-be to the nose of a horse with flaring nostrils, EHJ's amendment looks more likely.

In that case:
the 1st pāda of today's verse expresses balanced proportions and openness;
the 2nd pāda expresses vivid colours;
the 3rd pāda alludes to the thin tongue which is one of the 80 minor marks of a buddha, and at the same time the 3rd pāda relates the face or mouth which is the subject of the verse to action itself (since vaktra literally means “agent of speech”);
and the 4th pāda suggests what real knowing might be, by means of the metaphor of drinking up the whole ocean.

So what?

So, I for one am caused to reflect, there is wanting to know for the sake of being the one who knows. And there is wanting to know for the sake of wanting to know.

Last night, after writing the above, I had a dream in which I was making preparations to go swimming in the sea and was asking if anybody wanted to join me. I didn't actually get as far as the sea-side in the dream. The scene of the action, if it could be called action, was the dining room of a B&B at breakfast time, where I was making an announcement that anybody who wanted a proper swimming lesson from a professional swimming teacher had better go along to the pool with my wife, but I was going to go for a swim in the sea and anybody was welcome to join me if they wanted, on an informal basis – not that I was offering in any way, I wished it to be understood, to take responsibility for anybody else's safety or for teaching them anything.

The dream protected a sleep which followed a day in which, before and after writing the above comment, I had recited today's verse a few times to commit it to short-term memory – as Zen monks would surely have committed Aśvaghoṣa's verses to their memory nearly two thousand years ago.

Consequently, when I woke up, the elements of today's verse seemed to have fallen even more clearly and decisively into a definite order – so that when I considered a title for today's post, the one that came to me was Subject Object Gulping Ocean. Except that the title that actually came to me was Subject Object Gulping Ocean... Fuck Off!

Why the impulse to taint something that sounds good by adding a profanity? Possibly a certain skepticism towards any words that purport to sound too good. At the same time, part of the answer is possibly in the dream. It is difficult enough being responsible for my own vestibularly-challenged self. Taking responsibility for others in a professional sort of a manner might cause me not to sleep so easily. Better leave that to others like my brother and my wife, who are happy to teach people on a professional basis. And since, following in my footsteps, they both trained as teachers of the FM Alexander Technique, what they actually teach in the water is not so much swimming. I would say that they teach others to know, in water, that stillness in which knowing abides. But there again, fuck off!

Seeing elements as being presented in a certain order is an aid to memorizing them, and conversely memorizing each verse is an aid to seeing how the elements fall into a certain order, so that, to put it another way:
the 1st pāda of today's verse describes facial proportions that represent a balanced mind;
the 2nd pāda expresses colours that suggest a healthy physical body;
the 3rd pāda expresses the agents of an action (speaking) that joins subject and object.
and the 4th pāda expresses the agents of an action (drinking) that joins object and subject – or, maybe more to the point, an action (drinking/knowing) that causes object and subject to be subsumed into a greater whole of knowing.

So what?

So in wanting to know for the sake of being the one who knows, there is the subject who wants to be the one, and there is knowing as an object. But drinking up the whole ocean of what is to be known is too ambitious a target even for the most ambitious of drinkers. The action which most properly and happily joins the subject who wants to know with the ocean of what is to be known, might be the action of swimming, or the action of diving, so as to submerge oneself in the ocean and lose oneself in the ocean. Fuck off!

A phrase in Saundara-nanda with which this echoes is in Aśvaghoṣa's description in SN Canto 17 of the fourth of the four stages of sitting-zen (which, it should be clearly understood, is not the same as the fourth effect i.e. the fruit of arhathood):
Since in this there is neither ease nor suffering, and the act of knowing abides here, being its own object (jñānaṃ ca tatrāsti tad-artha-cāri), / Therefore utter lucidity through indifference and awareness is specified in the protocol for the fourth stage of meditation. // SN17.55 //

Fuck off!

puṣṭāśva-ghoṇam [EBC] (nom. sg. n.): 'with the nose of a well-fed horse' (EBC)
puṣṭa: mfn. nourished , cherished , well-fed , thriving , strong , fat , full , complete , perfect , abundant , rich , great , ample ; full-sounding , loud ;
aśva: m. horse
ghoṇā: f. the nose (also of a horse)
spaṣṭocca-ghoṇam [EHJ] (nom. sg. n.): with its straight and high nose
spaṣṭa: mfn. clearly perceived or discerned , distinctly visible , distinct , clear , evident , plain , intelligible ; straight (opp. to " crooked ") ; n. growth , increase , gain , acquisition , wealth , property (esp. of children or cattle)
ucca: mfn. high , lofty , elevated ; tall
vipulāyatākṣam (nom. sg. n.): with its large and lengthened eyes
vipula: mfn. large , extensive , wide , great , thick , long (also of time) , abundant , numerous , important , loud (as a noise) , noble (as a race)
āyata: mfn. stretched , lengthened ; extended, long
akṣa: n. eye

tāmrādharauṣṭham (nom. sg. n.): with its coppery red lower lip
tāmra: mfn. of a coppery red colour
adhara: mfn. lower
oṣṭha: m. the lip
sita-tīkṣṇa-daṁṣṭram (nom. sg. n.): with its white, sharp large teeth
sita: mfn. white, bright
tīkṣṇa: mfn. sharp
daṁṣṭra: m. a large tooth , tusk , fang

idam (nom. sg. n.): this
hi: for
vaktram (nom. sg.): n. " organ of speech " , the mouth , face , muzzle , snout
tanu-rakta-jihvam (nom. sg. n.): with thin, red tongue
tanu: mfn. thin , slender , attenuated , emaciated , small , little , minute , delicate , fine (texture) ; (said of a speech or hymn) accomplished (in metre) ; f. the body , person , self ; m. form or manifestation ; m. the skin
rakta: mfn. red, crimson
jihva: m. the tongue
tanu-jihvatā: f. the having a thin tongue (one of the 80 minor marks of a buddha)

jñeyārṇavam (acc. sg. m.): the ocean of what is to be known
jñeya: mfn. to be known ; to be learnt or understood or ascertained or investigated or perceived or inquired about
arṇava: m. the foaming sea
pāsyati = 3rd pers. sg. future pā: to drink
kṛtsnam (acc. sg. m.): all , whole , entire
eva: (emphatic)

隆鼻廣長目 丹脣素利齒
薄膚面光澤 朱舌長軟薄
如是衆妙相 悉飮爾炎水

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