Friday, November 1, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.13: Imagine – Above Us Only Sky

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
idaṁ puraṁ tena vivarjitaṁ vanaṁ vanaṁ ca tat-tena samanvitaṁ puram |
na śobhate tena hi no vinā puraṁ marutvatā vtra-vadhe yathā divam || 8.13

This city without Him is the woods,

And those woods in his presence are a city.

For in his absence our city does not shine 

Like heaven without marut-attended Indra, at the slaying of Vṛtra
[Or like the sky, without the Almighty and his storm-gods,
at the break-up of a thunder-cloud].”

In this canto so far we have examined how the thinking human Chandaka and the instinctive horse Kanthaka, on their way to the city, have been used symbolically, to cause us to consider how mind and body are on the way to emptiness. In this metaphor the city is the goal, which in BC8.5 is identified with emptiness.

In today's verse again, the city ostensibly represents something to which human beings should aspire, a shining place of comfort, beauty, and civilized behaviour. The woods, on the contrary, ostensibly represent a desolate place of painful practice, a scrubby wilderness.

Ostensibly, then, the common folk are complaining that
(1) Kapilavastu without the prince is a desolate place;
(2) the ascetic woods have become, illuminated by the prince's presence, like a shining city;
(3) Kapilavastu without the prince has lost its mojo and ceased to shine –
(4) Like heaven ceased to shine when, according to a very ancient myth recorded in the Ṛg-veda, Indra killed Vṛtra and removed himself from the scene of the crime.

In later eleborations of the myth, according to a note by PO, Vṛtra was a brahmin whose killing made Indra guilty of one of the most serious of sins. Consequently, the Mahābhārata (CSL V.10.45-46) says that Indra ran to the end of the world to hide and dwelt there concealed in the waters.

So much for the ostensible meaning. Now let us see if we can add a few hundred words to the massive verbal slag heap already formed by this blog, by digging for whatever hidden meaning Aśvaghoṣa may have buried below the surface.

The alternative reading begins by taking the woods to represent not a scrubby thicket but rather a state of grace, or a state of nature, a place where everything exists in natural balance, a state where energy – be it assertive or submissive – is calm.

In that case, in the 1st pāda, tena vivarjitam, lit. “deprived of that one,” or "exempt of Him," might be read as meaning “deprived of that epic hero” and, by extension, “exempt from religious idealism.” The implication, as I take it, is that when we live in a city as devout Buddhists – as for example I lived in Tokyo through the 1980s – then the city is not apt to be a place where everything exists in natural balance. The city is more apt to be a laboratory for study of the truth of suffering. But if, having met on the road the Buddha with a capital B, and killed Him with a capital H, then it might be possible to go into the city, as a non-Buddhist, and find its parks and fountains and trees and people and dogs all abiding in a state of natural balance.

This, then, is a hidden meaning of the 1st pāda, a meaning expressed by the words of common folk who are yet to realize the truth of their own words.

An alternative reading of the 2nd pāda does not spring to mind so readily. "And those woods in his presence are a city." On reflection I think the hidden meaning might be that the city represents a place where the law of the jungle is not the only law – a place, in other words, where what FM Alexander called “man's supreme inheritance” (as opposed to "instinctive guidance and control") is in evidence. So the point might be that a forest in which a buddha or a bodhisattva is practising has ceased already to be a scrubby wilderness, and has become instead a civilized human construct, like a stage purpose-built for the practice of prajñā.

The hidden meaning of the 3rd pāda is more difficult still, but I suspect it is related with the nairguṇyam (the being-without virtue) discussed in connection with BC6.24 and BC6.38, and with the 無仏性 (MU-BUSSHO; being without, the buddha-nature) discussed in Shobogenzo chap. 22, whose title is 仏性 (BUSSHO; The Buddha-Nature)... 

"In his absence our city does not shine."
A city in which a human being abides in the state of being without, looks nothing special.

The 4th pāda, in that case, harks back to the 1st pāda and subverts credence in the ancient legend. Taking vṛtra to mean not a mythical being but a real thunder-cloud, the 4th pāda can be read as suggestive of a sky as it is  a sky that is becoming clear as the wind sees off a thunder-cloud, after the Almighty, together with His miscellaneous hangers on, have all been stripped away.

Sometimes I go to bed reciting the next day's verse and I wake up with an old song playing in my head. This morning was one such morning, and the song was Imagine by John Lennon.

To summarize the hidden meanings of today's verse, then, in four phases, and with reference to that song:

(1) A city, when idealistic religious conceptions are stripped away, can be no different from a natural forest.
No religion.

(2)  A forest, when human intelligence is operating there, can be no different from a civilized city.

[I don't remember this angle being celebrated in song, but if there were a song about a professor of botany going into the woods and thereby turning the woods into a university, that song would fit the bill.]

(3) When a true human being goes into a city or abides in a city, what changes is precisely nothing. Sometimes, it is true, the best medicine is nothing. And sometimes the best strategy in the world is to do nothing – just like when the Dog Whisperer goes into a cage containing an aggressive dog, and says nothing, touches nothing, and even makes nothing in the way of eye contact.

Nothing to kill or die for...

There again,
When you ain't got nothing, you've got nothing to lose.

(4) Again, imagine:
Above us only sky.

idam (nom. sg. n.): this
puram (nom. sg.): n. city
tena (inst. sg.): him
vivarjitam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. avoided , left , abandoned by , destitute or deprived of , free or exempt from (instr. or comp.)
vanam (nom. sg.): n. forest, woods

vanam (nom. sg.): n. forest, woods
ca: and
tat (nom. sg. n.): that
tena (inst. sg.): him
samanvitam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. connected or associated with , completely possessed of , fully endowed with , possessing , full of (instr. or comp.)
puram (nom. sg.): n. city

na: not
śobhate = 3rd pers. sg. śubh: to beautify , embellish , adorn , beautify one's self. (A1.) look beautiful or handsome , shine , be bright or splendid ; with na , " to look bad , have a bad appearance , appear to disadvantage "
tena (inst. sg.): him
hi: for
no (gen. pl.): of/for us
vinā (nom. sg. n.): ind. without , except , short or exclusive of
puram (nom. sg.): n. city

marutvatā (inst. sg.): 'attended by the maruts'; m. N. of indra
marut: the storm-gods (indra's companions and sometimes e.g. Ragh. xii , 101 = devāḥ , the gods or deities in general)
vṛtra-vadhe (loc. sg.): at the slaying of Vṛtra
vṛtra: m, “coverer , investor , restrainer " , an enemy , foe , hostile host ; m. N. of the Vedic personification of an imaginary malignant influence or demon of darkness and drought (supposed to take possession of the clouds , causing them to obstruct the clearness of the sky and keep back the waters ; indra is represented as battling with this evil influence in the pent up clouds poetically pictured as mountains or castles which are shattered by his thunderbolt and made to open their receptacles) ; m. a thunder-cloud
vadha: m. the act of striking or killing , slaughter , murder , death , destruction
yathā: ind. as, like
divam (nom. sg.): n. heaven , sky

此邑成丘林 彼林城郭邑
此城失威徳 如殺毘梨多

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