paramam-iti tato npātmajas-tam-ṣi-janaṁ pratinandya niryayau |
vidhivad-anuvidhāya te 'pi taṁ praviviśur-āśramiṇas-tapo-vanam || 7.58
iti buddha-carite mahākāvye tapo-vana-praveśo nāma saptamaḥ sargaḥ || 7 ||
“Very well,” said the son of a protector of men;
Then, bidding a glad farewell to that group of seers, he went out.
For their part, having duly seen him off,
The ashram-dwellers entered anew the woods of painful practice.
The 7th canto, titled Dipping into the Woods of Painful Practice, in an epic tale of awakened action.
In the 3rd pāda of today's verse, what did Aśvaghoṣa mean to suggest by vidhivad-anuvidhāya? Vi-√dhā can simply mean to do, and the prefix anu- means going along with, or following in order, one after another. So vidhivad-anuvidhāya means that, after the prince bid farewell to the ashram-dwellers, they duly (vidhivad) did [likewise] in order (anuvidhāya). Hence:
vidhivad-anuvidhāya te 'pi tam
the hermits also having duly performed to him all the rites of courtesy (EBC)
the hermits too, after showing him due honour (EHJ)
the hermits too duly saluted him (PO).
But since the dictionary defines anu-vi-√dhā as “to assign to in order; to regulate, lay down a rule,” the phrase vidhivad-anuvidhāya as I read it conveys a greater emphasis than perhaps these translations convey, on things being done in an ordered and orderly manner.
Having just re-read this canto, I feel it to be more than usually full of hidden meanings, so that the meaning of some English verses strikes me on re-reading them as impenetrable, even though I translated them only a few weeks ago.
Besides that, the last 58 days have been full of a sense of having messed up personally, those feelings being centred on the loss of my wife's dog, which has been like a kind of family bereavement.
So the view I am expressing now may be influenced by a feeling that I wish everything were clearer and tidier. For whatever reason, I get a sense from vidhivad-anuvidhāya of loose ends being tidied up, clutter being tidied away, and scattered things getting put back in their proper place.
As a translation of vidhivad-anuvidhāya tam, however, I am not sure that “having duly seen him off” fits the bill better than any of the three professors' translations. At least it has the merit of being short – unlike these comments, which I have long since given up trying to keep succinct.
In the 4th pāda praviviśur-āśramiṇas-tapo-vanam mirrors the canto title tapo-vana-praveśaḥ. Hence:
the hermits... entered again into the ascetic grove (EBC)
the hermits... entered the penance grove (EHJ)
the hermits... entered the ascetic grove (PO)
[EBC did not translate canto titles]
Entry Into the Penance Grove (EHJ)
Entering the Ascetic Grove (PO)
On further reflection, however, the ostensible subject of the canto title is the prince, whereas the subject of the 4th pāda of today's verse is āśramiṇaḥ, the ashram-dwellers or hermits.
So the juxtaposition in the final pāda and the canto title of like terms with different subjects seems designed to cause us to engage our grey matter and think.
Originally I had thought to translate the canto title Entering the Woods of Asceticism – since I assumed the canto would be all about the heroic Buddha-to-be going deeply into the woods of a villainous -ism. But upon investigation the canto may really be more about the Buddha-to-be taking a relatively shallow peek into the profound area of painful practice itself.
Yes, pra-√viś, simply thinking, means to enter. But in Sanskrit as in English, this can mean (1) really to enter, to go into, to penetrate; and also (2) to commence, to begin, to embark on. And when we think about the content of the canto, it is only the ashram-dwellers, and not the prince, who have really gone into the woods of tapas, which, before it means asceticism, simply means pain. The prince has rather poked his head for a few days into the woods of painful practice, made his mind up on the basis of reason, and hot-footed it out again.
Considered in this light, might the praveśa of the canto title itself conceal an ironic meaning? Yes, the dictionary gives praveśa as (1) entering, entrance, penetration into; but it also gives praveśa as (2) intrusion into; interfering with another's business, obtrusiveness.
An alternative (and subversive) reading of tapo-vana-praveśaḥ, then, might be “Intruding into the Woods of Painful Practice” or “Poking His Nose into the Woods of Painful Practice.”
So, in conclusion, the conclusion of this canto might not be so tidy after all. The truth might be that the whole blooming thing, from beginning to end, is shot through with hidden meanings and ambiguity – almost as if Aśvaghoṣa wished to cause us to doubt, in conclusion, whether we have really understood a single word he wrote.
In the narrative of this canto, is the prince the hero who goes among the misguided villains of asceticism? Or are those with real experience of painful practice the true heroes, the truth of whose teaching the prince, for all his intellectual perspicacity, and for all the unfathomable depth, brilliance and signs of impending Buddahood, so far fails to penetrate?
I don't know, any more than I know whether in the narrative of my own life I am playing the role of hero or villain. My occasional resort to villainous bad language may be symptomatic of deluded struggling to remove such uncertainty.
There may be more wisdom in deliberately and whole-heartedly going down a wrong path than in trying to be right – as demonstrated by the contrasting approaches to teaching Nanda of the striver in SN Cantos 8 & 9, and the Buddha and Ānanda in SN Cantos 10 & 11. But certainly there is no textual evidence to suggest that F-ing and blinding was traditionally practised in the house of Zen patriarchs.
In Japanese they say owari yokereba subete yoshi, "If the end is good, all is good." or "All's well that ends well." But it feels to me more like a case of the conclusion is uncertain and the whole bloody thing remains an ambiguous mess.
paramam: ind. yes , very well
iti: “...,” thus
tataḥ: ind. then ; often superfluous after an ind.p.
nṛpātmajaḥ (nom. sg. m.): m. a king's son , a prince; mfn. of royal birth
tam (acc. sg. m.): that
ṛṣi-janam (acc. sg. m.): group of seers
pratinandya = abs. prati- √ nand: , to greet cheerfully , salute (also in return) , bid welcome or farewell , address kindly , favour , befriend ; to receive joyfully or thankfully , to accept willingly
niryayau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. nir- √ yā : to go out , come forth , go from ; to depart from life , die ; to pass away
vidhivat: ind. according to rule , duly
vidhi: m. a rule , formula , injunction , ordinance , statute , precept , law , direction (esp. for the performance of a rite as given in the brāhmaṇa portion of the veda); any prescribed act or rite or ceremony
anuvidhāya = abs. anu-vi- √ dhā: to assign to in order ; to regulate , lay down a rule
anu-: ind. (as a prefix to verbs and nouns , expresses) after , along , alongside , lengthwise , near to , under , subordinate to , with. (When prefixed to nouns , especially in adverbial compounds) , according to , severally , each by each , orderly , methodically , one after another , repeatedly)
vi- √ dhā: to distribute , apportion , grant , bestow ; to put in order , arrange , dispose , prepare , make ready ; to ordain , direct , enjoin , settle , appoint ; to perform , effect , produce , cause , occasion , make , do
te (nom. pl. m.): they
tam (acc. sg. m.): him
praviviśur = 3rd pers. pl. perf.: 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.)
āśramiṇaḥ (nom. pl. m.): the hermits, the ashram-dwellers
tapo-vanam (acc. sg. m.): the woods of asceticism
buddha-carite mahākāvye (loc. sg.): in an epic tale of awakened action
tapo-vana-praveśaḥ (nom. sg. m.): entry into the ascetic woods
praveśa: m. (from pra-√viś) entering , entrance , penetration or intrusion into (loc. gen. with or without antar , or comp.); entrance on the stage ; interfering with another's business , obtrusiveness
nāma: ind. by name
saptamaḥ sargaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the 7th canto