Sunday, October 27, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.8: In Celebration of Disjointedness (Leaving Buddhism Behind)

 ¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
niśamya ca srasta-śarīra-gāminau vināgatau śākya-kularṣabheṇa tau
mumoca bāṣpaṁ pathi nāgaro janaḥ purā rathe dāśarather-ivāgate || 8.8

And seeing the pair with disjointed gaits,
their bodies hanging loosely,

Coming back without the bull of the Śākya herd,

The people of the city let their tears fall on the road –

Like in ancient times when the chariot of Rāma,
son of 'Ten Chariots' Daśa-ratha,
came back without Rāma.

To begin on a minor textual doubt, the first word of today's verse, according to the old Nepalese manuscript and EBC's text, is niśamya. For some reason EHJ amended this to niśāmya. Since the meter is unaffected I can't understand why EHJ saw fit to change it. EBC translated “having heard” and EHJ translated “when they saw” – so they both understood the word to be the absolutive of ni-√śam: to observe, perceive, hear, learn. To muddy the waters further, in the text of BC8.11, EHJ went the other way, amending niśāmya to niśamya.

Still in the 1st pāda, srasta, “hanging loose,” is a word on whose ambiguity Aśvaghoṣa has played before. Aśvaghoṣa has hitherto used srasta most commonly in describing the hanging or slipping down of straps or clothing (as in women's lingerie or a monk's robe) – e.g. BC3.14, BC4.33, BC5.49, and BC5.58:
One adorable woman, similarly, was otherwise, her hair being undone (śithila) and dishevelled [or her thoughts being occupied with undoing], and decorative threads having fallen (srasta) from her hips . / She had dropped off, sending her necklaces scattering [or propagating the Neck Sūtra], like a statue-woman, broken by elephants.//BC5.58//
But in BC Canto 3 the buddha-to-be uses the word srasta to describe the arms and shoulders of an old man (or an experienced/enlightened individual) who excites his fear reflexes :
“That individual with an expanded belly, whose body moves as he breathes, whose arms hang loose from his shoulders (srastāṁsa-bāhuḥ), whose limbs are wasted and pale, / And who keeps saying 'Mother!', pathetically, while leaning on others for support: This man is Who?” //BC3.41
Again, there are several verses where the similarly ambiguous śithila (loose, slack, lax, relaxed, untied, flaccid, not rigid) is used ostensibly in a pejorative sense but really in an affirmative sense. The two examples we have met so far are BC5.58 (quoted above) and BC3.28:
Who is this man, O master of the horses, that has appeared with hair all white, hand firmly gripping a staff, / Eyes concealed below his brow, limbs loose and bending (śithilānatāṅgaḥ): Is this strange transformation his original condition? Is it a chance occurrence?//BC3.28//
Is the one word srasta worthy of so much consideration? Yes, on the basis of my own experience, I think it is. Because for the 13 years I practised sitting in Japan, as I was encouraged to sit by my teacher, with maximum tension in my lower back, I would never have guessed in my wildest dreams that emptiness might lie in the direction of srasta, hanging loose, or śithila, being loose, not rigid.

Was Aśvaghoṣa himself aware of the irony whereby the same words, srasta and śithila, could equally well be used to describe women's lingerie and dishevelled hair, or an old man's flaccid body parts; and at the same time the lack of any undue tension and rigidity in the joints of thinking man and instinctive animal (like Cesar and Daddy) walking together, back to emptiness?

You can bet your bottom dollar he was.

Aśvaghoṣa was also well aware – it is equally sure, if the view of professors Gawronski, Johnston and Olivelle is accepted – of the story of Rāma as told in the Rāmāyaṇa.

In the introduction to his translation, PO writes:

As Johnston (1984: xvii, xlvii-l) has shown, Aśvaghoṣa knew the Rāmāyaṇa and presents the Buddha as the new Rāma. He acknowledges Valmīki as the “first poet” (BC1.43) and models the departure of the Buddha from his city to the forest after that of Rāma. Here the Buddha is explicitly compared to Rāma (BC8.8 ; BC9.9).

PO further speculates in his introduction that the Rāmāyaṇa itself was “perhaps taking a page from the early Buddhist works on the life and activities of the Buddha.”

The passages in Johnston's introduction  that PO refers to are as follows:

Turning back now to the colophons we can obtain a few hints of value. As belonging to Sāketa, Aśvaghoṣa is an Easterner, and his origin has left its trace in his work.... the lasting impression which the historical associations of Sāketa made on him is apparent both in the influence of the Rāmāyaṇa displayed by his works and also in the emphasis which he lays from the very start of both poems on the descent of the Śākyas from the Ikṣvāku dynasty.
[pp. xvii]

Many of the stories [Aśvaghoṣa] alludes to are not to be found in the Mahā-bhārata, and despite the many parallels we cannot establish that Aśvaghoṣa knew any portion of the epic in the form in which we know have it. But it does seem certain that he knew much literature dealing with the legends he quotes, possibly often in kāvya form, which is now irretrievably lost to us...

The case is entirely different with the Rāmāyaṇa, for which an inhabitant of Sāketa, the scene of its most poignant episodes and the capital of its dynasty, could not but keep a warm place in his heart, however his religious beliefs [sic] had changed. Aśvaghoṣa never wearies of reminding us that the Buddha belonged to the dynasty of his home and strikes this note in the very first verse of the Buddhacarita. He acknowledges Valmīki as the ādikavi (BC1.43) and calls him 'inspired' (dhīmān; SN1.26). We may therefore expect to find, and we do find, that he has been strongly influenced by it. In so far as this affects his poetic style, I reserve consideration for the next section, but here it is in place to enquire to what extent he knew the poem in its present form.

The late Professor Gawroski proved, conclusively as I hold, that Aśvaghoṣa knew certain portions of the second book [of the Rāmāyaṇa], the Ayodhyākāṇḍa, in very much the condition that we have them in today and that he took pleasure in drawing a comparison between the Buddha quitting his home and Rāma leaving for the forest.
[pp. xlvii-viii]

EHJ notes that the question of the relation of the Buddhacarita to the Rāmāyaṇa was raised by Cowell in the introduction to his edition. EHJ also references Walter (1905); Gawronski (1927); and Gurner (1930).

The passage in question in EB Cowell's introduction (copied and pasted from Ānandajoti Bhikkhu's website) is as follows:

In my preface to the edition of the Sanskrit text I have tried to show that Aśvaghoṣa's poem appears to have exercised an important influence on the succeeding poets of the classical period in India. When we compare the descriptions in the seventh book of the Raghuvaṁsa of the ladies of the city crowding to see prince Aja as he passes by from the Svayaṁvara where the princess Bhojyā has chosen him as her husband, with the episode in the third book of the Buddha-carita (ślokas 13-24); or the description's of Kāma's assault on Śiva in the Kumārasambhava with that of Māra's temptation of Buddha in the thirteenth book, we can hardly fail to trace some connection. There is a similar resemblance between the description in the fifth book of the Rāmāyaṇa, where the monkey Hanumat enters Rāvaṇa's palace by night, and sees his wives asleep in the seraglio and their various unconscious attitudes, and in the description in the fifth book of the present poem where Buddha on the night of his leaving his home for ever sees the same unconscious sight in his own palace. Nor may we forget that in the Rāmāyaṇa the description is introduced as an ornamental episode; in the Buddhist poem it an essential element in the story, as it supplies the final impulse which stirs the Bodhisattva to make his escape from the world. These different descriptions became afterwards commonplaces in Sanskrit poetry, like the catalogue of the ships in Greek or Roman epics; but they may very well have originated in connection with definite incidents in the Buddhist sacred legend.

So there is a lot of scope here for Buddhist scholars to formulate and express views and opinions on the relation between Buddhacarita and Rāmāyaṇa, and between Buddhism and Brahmanism more broadly.

But what is more important, at least in my book, is to know what Aśvaghoṣa was intending to suggest, below the surface, by the compound srasta-śarīra-gāminau (going with body disjointed / hanging loose).

Going further, having pondered the meaning of the 3rd pāda in the wee small hours, I think there may be meaning that should not be overlooked in mumoca baṣpam (letting tears fall).

In first preparing the vocabulary below I simply typed in for √muc “to shed,” knowing from memory, without recourse to the dictionary, that baṣpam √muc means “to shed tears.” I translated the 3rd pāda accordingly, “The people of the city shed tears on the road.” But in the silence of a rainy night, having got the scholarly stuff out of the way yesterday, I reflected further on the meaning of √muc and thought I had better go back to the dictionary after all, and consider its primary meanings: to loose , let loose , free , let go , slacken , release , liberate.

These people who are the subjects of the verb (the action word) mumoca, are nagaro janaḥ, "people of the city"  people of that city which Aśvaghoṣa has identified with śūnyam, emptiness.

Their expression of their emotion – especially when we compare it with the tears that Chandaka failed to banish in BC8.1, in spite of his effort to suppress his grief – might be designed to suggest to us something about how expression of emotion naturally is, in the state of emptiness.

My Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima once confessed, in one of his Saturday afternoon lectures, in answer to a question about the therapeutic value of weeping, that for himself he felt it was not seemly for a man to cry in public. Gudo affirmed that it was natural for a man to cry, but thought it best for him to do his crying “in his private room.” What is described in BC8.1, as I read it, is Chandaka's efforts – failed efforts – to follow this principle. Whereas what is described in today's verse, as I read it, is people of the city making no effort to suppress their emotion, but rather showing some emotion – if you're sad, just let those tears run down. (Though I come from the same neck of the woods as Joan Armatrading, I should add, we didn't go to the same school.)

Understood in this light, as part of the wider consideration of grief and how to express it, the 4th pāda is not so much designed as a stimulus for discussion about Buddhacarita vs Rāmāyaṇa, or Buddhism vs Brahmanism. The intention behind the 4th pāda might rather be to mean, simply, “as it was in the Golden Age” – in the age, that is, before the view came to be widely accepted, even by Zen masters, that big boys don't cry, at least not in public.

A final possibility to consider, bringing together the ambiguity of srasta in the 1st pāda, and the rest of today's verse, is that when the people abiding in the citadel of emptiness let their tears fall on the road, the tears might not necessarily be tears of grief. Rather, when they perceive emptiness being expressed in the loose-limbed movements of people who have left behind the bull of the Śākya herd, it might be that people of prajṇā let fall on the road tears of celebration.

In that case, the most important thing for us to understand might be that Buddha-carita, while it is ostensibly an epic tale, like the Rāmāyaṇa, of a single heroic human being – the bull of the Śākya herd (EBC: the pride of the Śākya race; EHJ/PO: the bull of the Śākya race) – is not what professors of Buddhist studies assume it to be. 

For EBC Buddhacarita means "Life of Buddha," for EHJ "Acts of the Buddha," and for PO "Life of the Buddha." This, to be sure, is the ostensible meaning of Buddha-carita. But I think Aśvaghoṣa's real intention was that we should make into our own possession the reality of Awakened (buddha) Action (carita), and thereby, ultimately, leave the Buddha behind – just like Nanda did in Aśvaghoṣa's other epic tale, the epic tale of Beautiful Happiness.  

In general, though there are certainly individual exceptions, professors of Buddhist studies, while imitating the objective standpoint of true sciences (like Chemistry for example), are full of erroneous beliefs; and, unlike true scientists, they have no wish for their erroneous beliefs to be challenged,  e.g., by the likes of me. Overarching many erroneous beliefs is one big one, which is namely belief in a religion called Buddhism, essential to which is worship of the Buddha.

Where in Aśvaghoṣa's writing is any suggestion that we should form ourselves into Buddhist congregations (samghas) for the worship of the pride/bull of an Āryan race?

The suggestion in today's verse, as I read it, on the contrary, might be that we also, like people abiding in the citadel of emptiness, should leave behind the bull of the Śākya herd and understand, in our own sitting and our own walking, the true meaning of disjointedness.

niśāmya = abs. ni- √ śam: to observe , perceive , hear , learn
ca: and
srasta-śarīra-gāminau (acc. dual m.): going with bodies relaxed / hanging loose
srasta: mfn. fallen , dropped , slipped off , fallen from (abl. or comp.); loosened , relaxed , hanging down , pendent , pendulous ; separated , disjoined
śarīra: n. the body, bodily frame
gāmin: mfn. going anywhere ; going or moving on or in or towards or in any peculiar manner

vinā: inst without , except , short or exclusive of (preceded or followed by an acc. instr. ,)
āgatau (acc. dual m.): coming, arriving
śākya-kularṣabheṇa (inst. sg. m.): the bull of the Śākya clan
kula: n. a herd , troop , flock , assemblage , multitude , number , &c ; a race , family , community , tribe
ṛṣabha: m. bull ; the best or most excellent of any kind or race
tau (acc. dual): the two of them
mumoca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. muc: to loose , let loose , free , let go , slacken , release , liberate ; to shed
bāṣpam (acc. sg.): m. a tear, tears
pathi (loc. sg.): m. way, road
nāgaraḥ (nom. sg. m.): of the town
janaḥ (nom. sg.): m. people

purā: ind. before , formerly , of old
rathe (loc. sg.): m. " goer " , a chariot , car
dāśaratheḥ = gen. sg. dāśarathi: m. 'descendant of daśa-ratha; patronymic of rāma
daśa-ratha: 'having 10 chariots'; N. of rāma's father (descendant of ikṣvāku , sovereign of ayodhyā)
iva: like
āgate (loc. sg. m.): coming, arriving

衆見車匿還 不見釋王子
擧聲大號泣 如棄羅摩還


gniz said...

Hi Mike,

I have enjoyed your last couple of verses and comments on those verses very much.

Is it because they conform a bit to my predefined expectations about awakening and what it consists of?

Most definitely. Is that a bad thing? I think only if I'm in fact headed in the wrong direction.

Thanks for your efforts

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Aaron.

I'll take ownership of the comments but if I've done the job I set out to do, the verses are Aśvaghoṣa's.

As regards the right direction (up?) and the wrong direction (down?), you are probably pointing in the same direction as the point of a triangle in a star of David!