Sunday, November 3, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.15: Doing the Rite Thing, With a Personal Agenda (?)

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
praviṣṭa-dīkṣas-tu sutopalabdhaye vratena śokena ca khinna-mānasaḥ |
jajāpa devāyatane narādhipaś-cakāra tās-tāś-ca yathāśrayāḥ kriyāḥ || 8.15

Whereas, having undertaken complete dedication, 
with a view to getting a son,

His mind exhausted by observance and by sorrow,

The ruler of men spoke in whispers in the temple,

And performed, as he felt fit, various acts.

The tu (but, whereas) in the 1st pāda of today's verse signals a contrast between the approach of the king and that of the women in yesterday's verse. The women responded to their disappointment by closing their windows and wailing. The king, in contrast, is a man with a plan. His agenda is to get back his son, and his plan of action centres on pious muttering of prayers and performance of religious rites.

Even more than he is contrasted with the women, in their uninhibited expression of their emotion, the king is contrasted with the horse Kanthaka. Whereas the king mutters piously with a religious resolve that masks a personal agenda, the women wail emotionally when an expectation arising from their thinking human brain is not met; but Kanthaka's neighing in BC8.4 is natural instinct, pure and simple.

If our pious resolve as Zen practitioners is to drop off body and mind and show our original features, Kanthaka needn't trouble himself with such a vow – he is there already.

 "When an investigation comes to be made it will be found that every single thing we do in the work is exactly what is done in Nature, where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously." 

On a textual note:
The old Nepalese manuscript, and EBC's text, have the king performing rites yathāśrayāḥ (EBC: “as suited the occasion”; MW dictionary [referenced to this verse] “as fit or appropriate”). EHJ amended to yathāśayāḥ (EHJ: “suitable to his intention”; PO: “as he desired.”) Since āśraya originally encompasses a wide range of meanings (including, according to the MW dictionary, appropriate act or one consistent with the character of the agent) I have stuck with the original text.

The tu in today's verse stimulated me to consider who in BC Canto 8 is being contrasted with who, in their grieving. In this particular section, Aśvaghoṣa seems to be rotating through the cast of grievers subject by subject, verse by verse. Thus BC8.14 introduced the women in general. The subject of BC8.15 is King Śuddodhana. BC8.16 takes us back to the horseman Chandaka, and BC8.17 to the horse Kanthaka. The subject of BC8.18 nearby birds and horses, and of BC8.19 nearby common folk.

Looking beyond that, from BC8.20-23 Aśvaghoṣa will devote four verses to describing the women – touching in passing, as described yesterday, on their darting eyes; their fine clothes; their make-up and earrings and anklets (or lack thereof); their tears of emotion; and not neglecting to mention of course their female breasts. The subject of BC8.24 is one woman in particular, Gautamī, the prince's step-mother. Six more verses from BC8.25-30 are devoted to the women, some of whom are described as anyāḥ (different, individual), which is a red flag pointing to hidden meaning, since when Aśvaghoṣa describes women who are different or individual, we have discovered over the years, he tends to be parodying or praising individual monks within an assembly. (Of these six verses, fellow breast-spotters will be delighted to hear, there are only two which fail to mention the women's breasts.) BC8.31 introduces the prince's abandoned wife Yaśodhara, whose lament extends for ten verses from BC8.32-41. From BC8.42-49, Chandaka responds. The women are again the subject of BC8.50 (strangely, no mention of breasts). BC8.51 returns in particular to Gautamī, whose lament continues to BC8.58. It is briefly back to the women in BC8.59 (more disappointment for those expecting further mention of breasts). Then BC8.60 takes us back to Yaśodhara, whose lament continues to BC8.69. The subjects of BC8.70-74 are Yaśodhara, the lotus-like women, and finally the king, who expresses his grief in six verses from BC8.75-80. In the final seven verses of the canto (BC8.81-87) the king is counselled by a wise counsellor who the king despatches, together with his aged family priest, to go to the forest and reason with the prince.

So the subjects are, to recap:

1-2 horseman Chandaka
3-4 horse Kanthaka
5 horseman & horse together
6 city of Kapilavastu (almost emptiness itself)
7 horseman & horse together
8 people of the city
9 common folks
10 horseman Chandaka
11-13 common folks
14 women
15 King Śuddhodhana
16 horseman Chandaka,
17 horse Kanthaka,
18 birds and horses
19 common folks
20-23 women
24 Queen Gautamī
25-30 women (including anyāḥ, different ones)
31-41 Yaśodhara
42-49 horseman Chandaka
50 women
51-58 Queen Gautamī
59 women
60-70 Yaśodhara
71 women
72-81 King Śuddhodhana
82-85 counsellor and family priest
86-87 King Śuddhodhana

The present canto, then, is in marked contrast with a canto like BC Canto 6. That canto is an act in which the Buddha-to-be and Chandaka are the only two players. The present canto considers the expression of grief by a varied cast of characters, including Chandaka, Kanthaka, civilized people of the city, common blokes, the women as a group, women who are different, the King Śuddhodhana, his Queen Gautamī, and Yaśodhara.

When today's verse is thus read in this wider context, the King as I see him emerges as one of several grieving subjects whose response to grief is not enlightened, not effectual, and not exemplary.

In Soto Zen Buddhism in Japan today, rituals are of primary importance. By learning Buddhist funeral rites, in particular, professional Zen priests can earn an income from conducting funerals. There again, on his first attempt to find words in English to represent the Sanskrit kaṣāya, my teacher Gudo Nishijima went with “the ritual robe.”

Nevertheless, I read today's verse as one of those verses that point indirectly to what the Buddha's teaching is all about, by describing what the Buddha's teaching is NOT all about. It is NOT all about responding to grief by religious observances, muttering of prayers and performance of rites.

Correct me if I am wrong, but in SN Canto 17 when Nanda, wearing a robe of the forest, heads for the forest in order to make the four noble truths into his own possession, he doesn't go equipped with sticks of incense and a statue of Buddha....

Correcting myself, because I am wrong, in the room where I have just sat this morning, there is on a small shelf a jade Buddha-image that I bought in an antique shop in Birmingham in 1989. And there are also sticks of incense and an incense burner. To proclaim like some primitive sectarian Islaamist arsehole that performance of this or that rite is the mark of the infidel, and so death to the infidel, evidently, would not be true. 

In conclusion, in the work of learning to realize consciously what happens in Nature naturally, burning a stick of incense or performing some other rite may help or it may not help. What is mainly suggested in today's verse, as I read it, is the sadness of performing this or that rite while not going in the direction of emptiness but while being led, on the contrary, by a personal agenda.

The king, even while presiding over the city which symbolizes emptiness, is being led by a personal agenda. Hmmm. What kind of a cautionary metaphor could it be?

It could be a metaphor that cautions against doing the rite thing with a personal agenda. And it could be a metaphor that cautions against negating the rite thing with a personal agenda.

When in Nature the conditions are right, it may be that no human personal agenda is to the fore. Hence, notwithstanding the possibility of a city's parks and fountains and people and dogs all being no different from a natural forest, the Buddha recommended Nanda to go and make the noble truths his own not in the city but in the forest itself. In the wasteland, in the wooded wilderness, where human beings with their personal agendas – aside from maybe the occasional avid mushroom-hunter – are nowhere to be seen.  

My Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima once said to me, in all sincerity, "There is no me in me. There is only Dharma in me." And I almost believed it. It sounded true and it very nearly was true. But it wasn't true. He was lying to himself. His very sincere wish to be totally true turned my teacher into a liar – a tough lesson, but one that prepared me well to appreciate the irony that pervades Aśvaghoṣa's writing. 

You can make of this postscript what you will, but after publishing the blog and retiring to the front garden to do some sawing and chopping, it occured to me that – with no little irony – I might have totally missed a hidden reading of today's verse whereby the ruler of men represents a Zen patriarch who, having dedicated himself completely (praviṣṭa-dīkṣaḥ), with a view to gaining Dharma-heirs (sutopalabdhaye), exhausts himself by grieving for a suffering world and by practice. Such a master is able to convey his teaching by secret whispers in a temple, or by acting just as he pleases. 

So as not to blot out this hidden meaning, I have changed the translation, which when I published it read like this: 

Whereas, having entered into religious observances,
with a view to getting back his son,

His mind wearied by the mix of grief and pious resolve,

The ruler of men muttered prayers in the temple,

And performed, as he felt fit, various rites.

praviṣṭa-dīkṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): entered into religious observances
praviṣṭa: mfn. entered ; one who has entered upon or undertaken , occupied with , intent upon , engaged in (loc. or comp.)
dīkṣā: f. preparation or consecration for a religious ceremony , undertaking religious observances for a partic. purpose and the observances themselves; self-devotion to a person or god , complete resignation or restriction to , exclusive occupation with (comp.)
dīkṣ: to consecrate or dedicate one's self (esp. for the performance of the soma-sacrifice) ; to dedicate one's self to a monastic order  Buddh
tu: ind. but
sutopalabdhaye (dat. sg.): for taking possession of his son
suta: m. son
upalabdhi: f. obtainment , acquisition , gain
upa- √ labh:  to seize , get possession of , acquire , receive , obtain , find

vratena (inst. sg.): m. (√vṛ, to choose) will , command ; obedience, service ; a religious vow or practice , any pious observance , meritorious act of devotion or austerity , solemn vow , rule , holy practice ; any vow or firm purpose , resolve
śokena (inst. sg.): m. sorrow, grief
ca: ca
khinna-mānasaḥ (nom. sg. m.): with wearied mind
khinna: mfn. depressed , distressed , suffering pain or uneasiness ; wearied, exhausted

jajāpa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. jap: to utter in a low voice , whisper , mutter (esp. prayers or incantations)
devāyatane (loc. sg.): n. " the dwelling of a god " , a temple
narādhipaḥ (nom. sg.): 'lord of men'; king
adhipa: m. a ruler , commander , regent , king
cakāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kṛ: to do, make

tās-tāḥ (acc. pl. f): this and that, various
ca: and
yathāśrayāḥ (acc. pl. f.): mfn. as fit or appropriate, Bcar. viii, 15
āśraya: m. that to which anything is annexed or with which anything is closely connected or on which anything depends or rests ; depending on , having recourse to ; appropriate act or one consistent with the character of the agent ; mfn. ifc. depending on , resting on , endowed or furnished with
yathā: ind. according to
yathāśayāḥ [EHJ] (acc. pl. f.) in accordance with the seat of his feelings and thoughts
āśaya: m. resting place, seat ; the seat of feelings and thoughts , the mind , heart , soul
kriyāḥ (acc. pl.): f. doing, action , undertaking , activity , work , labour; a religious rite or ceremony , sacrificial act , sacrifice

失太子憂悲 加増怖懼心

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