Friday, November 8, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.20: Stepping Forth (With Duly Excited Fear Reflexes)

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
ati-praharṣād-atha śoka-mūrchitāḥ kumāra-saṁdarśana-lola-locanāḥ |
ghād-viniścakramur-āśayā striyaḥ śarat-payodād-iva vidyutaś-calāḥ || 8.20

And so in their exuberant joy,
the women who had been insensible with grief,

Their darting eyes now eager for a sight of the prince,

Stepped forth from their homes full of hope –

Like flashes of lightning from an autumn cloud.

Today's verse is the first of many verses in the present canto (as listed in the comment to BC8.15) whose subject is striyaḥ, the women.

The key to unlocking the hidden meaning of today's verse – and a signal to unlock all the verses in BC Canto 8 whose subject, generically and individually, is women – is Aśvaghoṣa's choice of the word gṛhād in the 3rd pāda.

Gṛhād (EBC: “out of the palace”; EHJ: “out of the buildings”; PO: “from their houses”) is originally singular, in view of which EBC's translation is grammatically accurate. The meaning of gṛha given in the MW dictionary, however, is not palace but house, home, or family life.

Even though EHJ translated gṛhād as “out of the buildings,” he added a footnote explaining that “The autumn cloud and the palace are both white; hence the comparison.” PO picked up on this and expanded it into his own footnote: “Autumn clouds, coming after the rainy season, are white. The comparison appears to be to the white palace, the rushing women being compared to the unexpected lightning in a white cloud.”

So ostensibly gṛhād-viniścakramur suggests (in combination with the simile in the 4th pāda) that the women “rushed out of the palace” (as per EBC) or “rushed... out of the buildings” (as per EHJ), or “rushed... from their houses” (as per PO), but more literally gṛhād-viniścakramur says that “they stepped forth from home” or “they stepped forth from family life.”

I read this as a signal that Aśvaghoṣa, as for example he did extensively in BC Canto 5, is going to use women, generically and individually, to parody and to praise Zen monks.

That being so, I read today's verse as a symbolic representation of that arising of nervous excitement associated with what Dogen called 発無上心 (HOTSU-MUJO-SHIN; “Awakening of the Will to the Supreme”), 発菩提心 (HOTSU-BODAI-SHIN; “Awakening of the Bodhi-mind”) and 道心 (DO-SHIN; “The Will to the Truth”). These are the titles of Shobogenzo chap. 69, chap. 70, and chap. 93, respectively. Such arising of nervous excitement is also the theme of BC Canto 3, whose Sanskrit title saṁvegotpatti, appropriately enough, means “Arising of Nervous Excitement.”

Rushing is an activity that tends to be associated with end-gaining, and consequently with unduly excited reflexes and emotions; and the three professors seem to have read this sense of rushing into vi-niṣ-√kram, based on the lightning simile. But exactly thinking, when lightning emerges from an autumn cloud, even if the emergence is unexpected and startling to the observer, and even though the lightning itself, by definition, is very highly charged, the lightning is not in any rush whatsoever. Just like gold, lightning is totally devoid of any emotion, except that sometimes we human beings, in our greed and anger and impatience, would imbue it with emotion.

For this reason I think a better translation of viniścakramur than “rushed” is “stepped forth” – as per the dictionary, and similar to the title of BC Canto 5, abhi-niṣ-kramaṇaḥ, which means “Getting Well & Truly Out” or, more simply, “Going Forth.”

Ostensibly, then, Aśvaghoṣa is describing pitiful behaviour based on an expectation that is doomed not to be met. But below the surface he might be affirming idealism, pregnant with suffering though it inevitably is.

Reflecting further (having slept and sat) on the suffering that idealism tends to bring with it, I wonder if a distinction can usefully be drawn between the desire to see and the desire to be.

Looking back on my own journey, I think I have been promoted by a sincere desire to see or to know, and have been hampered by an insincere desire to be the one who sees and knows.

Simply wanting to see a beautiful and sincere human being, to be in his or her presence, is not a desire that arises out of any personal agenda. Wanting to be the one, however, is a desire that is totally bound up with a personal agenda.

To see or not to see: is that the real question? 

Again, I hold up Cesar Millan as a mirror in which to see myself. Cesar is evidently a seer. He sees things in the behaviour of dogs, and in the behaviour of their owners, that others do not see. But in the cosmic game of snakes and ladders, it seems that a couple of years ago he was swallowed by a big snake because of also being a want-to-be-er. Nowadays I hope he is once more on the up and up. 

These thoughts were partly stimulated by a post on this blog which touches on having or not having an agenda, and how anger and hatred are related to attachment to views and the desire to be proven right. 

The gold market, incidentally, might be an excellent laboratory to study human greed and anger in the raw.  

So my tentative conclusion is that the excitement associated with wanting to see need not be what FM Alexander called “undue excitement of the fear reflexes and emotions,” whereas the excitement associated with wanting to be is very likely to be associated with “undue excitement of the fear reflexes and emotions” – especially in an individual whose vestibular reflexes, at the deepest level of brain development, were originally not very well integrated.

Unduly excited fear reflexes, moreover, to complete the vicious circle, impair our ability to see – the problem that FM Alexander identified as “faulty sensory appreciation.”

So if we truly wish to see, the first thing to do might be to give up the idea, or the agenda, of being the one who knows. 

This may be why FM Alexander said: 

“Those that have no fish to fry, they see it all right.”

ati-praharṣāt (abl. sg.): through exuberant joy
ati: ind. too much, over the top
praharṣa: m. erection of the hair , extreme joy , thrill of delight , rapture
atha: ind. now, then, and so
śoka-mūrchitāḥ (nom. pl. f.): having been senseless with grief
mūrchita: mfn. fainted , stupefied , insensible ; agitated, excited
mūrch: to become solid , thicken; to grow stiff or rigid , faint , swoon , become senseless or stupid or unconscious

kumāra-saṁdarśana-lola-locanāḥ (nom. pl. f.): with darting eyes eager to see the prince
lola: moving hither and thither , shaking , rolling , tossing , dangling , swinging , agitated , unsteady , restless ; desirous , greedy , lustful , (ifc.) eagerly desirous of or longing for (loc. inf. or comp.)
saṁdarśana: n. the act of looking steadfastly gazing , viewing , beholding , seeing , sight , vision

gṛhāt (abl. sg.): m. a house , habitation , home ; m. the inhabitants of a house , family ; domestic or family life
viniścakramur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. vi-niṣ- √ kram: to step forth , go out , issue from (abl.)
āśayā (inst. sg.): f. wish , desire , hope , expectation
striyaḥ (nom. pl.): f. women

śarat-payodāt (abl. sg.): from an autumn cloud
śarad: f. autumn
payoda: m. “giving water”; a cloud
iva: like
vidyutas = nom. pl. f. vidyut: f. lightning (rarely n.) , a flashing thunderbolt (as the weapon of the maruts)
vi- √ dyut : to flash forth
calāḥ (nom. pl f.): mfn. moving , trembling ; calā: f. lightning

後宮諸婇女 聞馬鳥獸鳴

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