Saturday, November 9, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.21: A Mirror for Zen Monks to See Themselves In, Darkly


⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
vilamba-veṣyo malināṁśukāmbarā nirañjanair-bāṣpa-hatekṣaṇair-mukhaiḥ |
⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−
kṛṣṇā vivarṇā mṛjayā vinā-ktā divīva tārā rajanī-kṣayāruṇāḥ || 8.21


8.21
Attired in downward-hanging garments of dirty cloth,

With unrouged faces whose eyes had been marred by tears,

Bereft of cosmetic embellishment,
the women were dimly visible, colourless
[or all were black, caste-less] –

Like stars in the sky when red dawn is dispelling dark night.


COMMENT:
Ostensibly in today's verse Aśvaghoṣa is portraying women in an unfavourable light. But below the surface – as I predicted yesterday, before having studied and translated today's verse (since I know Aśvaghoṣa's modus operandi well enough by now) – Aśvaghoṣa is holding up a mirror in which Zen monks, at least Zen monks with an ironic sense of humour, can take pleasure in seeing themselves.

When this is understood, the 1st pāda is understood to be a reference to the kaṣāya, a garment which, lacking sleeves or legs, simply hangs down, and which is traditionally made from “filthy rags” (Japanese: FUNZO-E). The original Sanskrit term for such rags is pāṁsu-kūla, given in the MW dictionary as: n. a dust-heap, (esp.) a collection of rags out of a dust-heap used by Buddhist monks for their clothing. Categories of such rags listed by Dogen in Shobogenzo chap. 12, Kesa-kudoku (The Merit of a Kaṣāya) include rags chewed by rats and rags soiled by menstruation or childbirth.

A textual issue in the 1st pāda is the old Nepalese manuscript's vilamba-veśyo, which EBC retained but translated as if it were vilamba-veṣyo (“with their dress hanging down”). EHJ amended to vilamba-keśyo (“Their hair was hanging down”). EHJ's amendment is supported by the Chinese translation's 亂髮 (“dishevelled hair”). But, in conformity with the above reading, I have preferred vilamba-veṣyo as a description of a formless robe.

For the 3rd pāda the old Nepalese manuscript has kṛṣṇā vivarṇṇā majayā vinā-kṛtā, which is rendered in EBC's text as kṛṣṇā vivarṇāṁjanayā vinā-kṛtā. (EBC queried in a footnote whether añjanayā might be an irregular inst. sg. f. of añjana.)  EHJ amended to striyo na rejur-mṛjayā vinā-kṛtā. If accepted, this amendment could be interpreted as mirroring the na rarāja (“It no longer exuded lordly splendour”) of BC8.6. So na rejur ("they did not shine") would fit the sense of ironic affirmation of a lack of undue concern for outward show. Such a big change to the text as EHJ made, however, seems to me to be unjustified, and so I have been content simply to amend vivarṇṇā to vivarṇā and majayā to mṛjayā.

Besides closer conformity to the old Nepalese manuscript, an additional merit of leaving the women described as krṣṇāḥ (black, dark, dimly visible) and vivarṇāḥ (colourless), is that vivarṇāḥ has a hidden meaning (discussed already for example in BC6.66 and BC7.32) of having no caste.

Today's verse, then, as I read it, suggests that as Zen practitioners wearing a kaṣāya none of us have a race of our own, but rather we are all black. Nowadays, with advances in genetic science indicating that our human forebears evolved in Africa, the assertion that we are all black might not sound as strange as it would have done a hundred years ago. Could it be that western science with its DNA profiling technology has been catching up with what Aśvaghoṣa intuited way back in an age of donkey power?

[P.S. The answer to this question is very probably "no." See the ERRATA in the comments section.] 


Speaking of common ancestry, my first foray into the outside world as an Alexander teacher was assisting one of the teachers who trained me, Ron Colyer, on a corporate training workshop. I arrived nervous and early, with a view to doing some reconnaissance on the prospective victims of my inexperienced Alexander hands. But they were all in a meeting, so I had nothing to do but pace anxiously around. “Don't worry Mike,” Ron assured me sagely. “They are all human beings and they all pull their head back.”

We are all human beings and we all pull our head back.

In light of that truth, the ultimate Zen koan, in my book is this:

What does it mean to let the head go forward, and up?

And in this light again, the 4th pāda of today's verse, while ostensibly a simile of the jaded beauty of women without their make-up on, might be understood as a metaphor for the fading away of whatever it is that fades away when all of a Zen practitioner's attention is given to a koan, so that body and mind are enabled spontaneously to drop off.


When I express it like this, what I am saying sounds very similar to what my teacher, Gudo Nishijima, taught in the way of focusing all one's attention on "proper posture." The difference is that Gudo taught me and his other students to do something to cause the spine to stay straight vertically – mainly tensing the lumbar vertebrae and pulling in the chin slightly to keep the neck bones straight – whereas it is recognized in Alexander work that such concentrated doing creates extra tension, which turns out to be the enemy of true attention.

What does it mean to let the head go forward and up?

I do not know. But I know it is not that. It is not the kind of doing that Gudo taught.

Not much to show for 30 years of suffering. But at least I do know that.



VOCABULARY
vilamba-veśyaḥ (nom. pl. f.): “With their dress hanging down” (EBC)
vilamba: mfn. hanging down , pendulous (as arms) ; m. hanging or falling down , pendulousness ; m. slowness , tardiness , delay , procrastination
veśa: " a settler " , small farmer , tenant , neighbour , dependent; often w.r. for veṣa.
veṣa: dress , apparel , ornament , artificial exterior , assumed appearance (often also = look , exterior , appearance in general)

veśī: f. " entering , piercing (?) " , a pin , needle
vilamba-keśyaḥ (nom. pl. f.): “Their hair was hanging down” (EHJ)
keśa: m. the hair of the head; 
keśī: f. a lock of hair on the crown of the head
malināṁśukāmbarā (nom. pl. f): their fine clothes being impure
malina: mfn. dirty , filthy , impure , soiled , tarnished (lit. and fig.) ; of a dark colour , gray , dark gray , black ; n. a vile or bad action
aṁśuka: n. cloth ; fine or white cloth , muslin ; garment, upper garment
ambara: n. circumference , compass , neighbourhood ; clothes , apparel , garment


nir-añjanaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): mfn. unpainted , spotless , pure , simple ; void of passion or emotion
añjana: n. act of applying an ointment or pigment , embellishing , &c , black pigment or collyrium applied to the eyelashes or the inner coat of the eyelids ; n. fire ; (In rhetoric) making clear the meaning of an equivocal expression , double entendre or pun , &c
bāṣpa-hatekṣaṇaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): eyes afflicted by tears
hata: mfn. struck , beaten (also said of a drum) , smitten , killed , slain , destroyed , ended , gone , lost (often ibc. = " destitute of " , " bereft of " , " -less ") ; injured , marred , hurt , wounded (lit. and fig.) ; visited or afflicted or tormented by , struggling with , suffering from (instr. or comp.)
mukhaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. the mouth, face, countenance


kṛṣṇāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. black , dark , dark-blue ; wicked, evil
vivarṇāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. colourless , bad-coloured , pale , wan ; low, vile ; belonging to a mixed caste
majayā = inst. sg. majā = mṛjā (?): f. wiping , cleansing , washing , purification , ablution; purity , cleanliness ; a pure skin , clear complexion
kṛṣṇā vivarṇāṁjanayā [EBC]: “dark and discoloured and destitute of all painting,”
EBC footnote: Is  añjanayā  used here irregularly in the fem. to distinguish it from añjana, ‘the pinguent’?
añjanayā = inst. sg. f. añjana: n. act of applying an ointment or pigment , embellishing , &c , black pigment or collyrium applied to the eyelashes or the inner coat of the eyelids ; n. a special kind of this pigment , as lamp-black , Antimony , extract of Ammonium , Xanthorrhiza , &c ; n. paint , especially as a cosmetic
vinā-kṛtāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. " made without " , deprived or bereft of , separated from , left or relinquished by , lacking , destitute of , free from (instr. abl. , or comp.) ; standing alone, solitary

[EHJ]
striyaḥ (nom. pl.): f. the women
na: not
rejur = 3rd pers. perf. pl. rāj: to reign , be king or chief , rule over (gen.) , direct , govern (acc.); to be illustrious or resplendent , shine , glitter
mṛjayā (inst. sg.): f. wiping , cleansing , washing , purification , ablution ; purity , cleanliness ; a pure skin , clear complexion ; complexion
mṛj: to wipe , rub , cleanse , polish , clean , purify , embellish , adorn


divi (loc. sg.): f. the sky
iva: like
tārāḥ (nom. pl.): m. a star; f. a fixed star , asterism
rajanī-kṣayāruṇāḥ (nom. pl. m./f.): with the redness of dawn diminishing the darkness of their night
rajanī: f. " the coloured or dark one " , night
kṣaya: m. loss , waste , wane , diminution , destruction , decay , wasting or wearing away (often ifc.)
aruṇa: m. red colour ; m. the dawn (personified as the charioteer of the sun) ; m. the sun


亂髮面萎黄 形痩脣口乾
弊衣不浣濯 垢穢不浴身 
悉捨莊嚴具 毀悴不鮮明
擧體無光耀 猶如細小星





15 comments:

Mike Cross said...

ERRATA:

I failed to notice that kṛṣnā has two long syllables, and therefore does not fit the Vaṁśastha metre. (I had it kindly pointed out to me that EBC's reading would give Indravaṁśā in the 3rd pāda.)

So I shall leave this post as it is, like a mathematician showing his workings, but both the text and the translation of the 3rd pāda needs to be amended.

For the present, I will read the text as
striyo vivarṇā mṛjayā vinā-kṛtā,
and will translate
"Bereft of cosmetic embellishment, the women were colourless."

The comment about the hidden meaning of vivarṇa (without caste) holds good, but EBC's reading of kṛṣnāḥ (lit. "black") is very probably wrong. That the women were dimly visible may be inferred from the metaphor, and from vivaṛṇāḥ, but taking kṛṣnāḥ to mean "dimly visible," I am sure, was a mistake.

8.21
Attired in downward-hanging garments of dirty cloth,

With unrouged faces whose eyes had been marred by tears,

Bereft of cosmetic embellishment, the women were colourless –

Like stars in the sky when red dawn is dispelling dark night.

Mike Cross said...

On 2nd thoughts, it does seem to make sense to have a verb in the 3rd pāda. So I shall defer to EHJ and read

striyo na rejur mṛjayā vinā-kṛtā,
"Bereft of cosmetic embellishment, the women no longer shone forth"

The comment about the hidden meaning of vivarṇa (without caste) in that case, no longer holds good, attached to it though I am.


8.21
Attired in downward-hanging garments of dirty cloth,

With unrouged faces whose eyes had been marred by tears,

Bereft of cosmetic embellishment, the women no longer shone forth –

Like stars in the sky when red dawn is dispelling dark night.

jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

As far as I'm aware, -yaḥ is the nom pl ending only of feminine substantives in -ī. If, as here, the vilamba- compound is being read as a feminine plural bahuvrihi, wouldn't we expect vilamba-veśyāḥ/-veṣyāḥ/-keśyāḥ? Am I missing something?

Mike Cross said...

Hi Malcolm.

Yes, I did wonder about that.

How the rules change for a compound I have no idea, but extrapolating back from EBC's vilamba-veśyo, which he translated as "with their dress hanging down," I concluded that -veśyaḥ must be the nom. pl. f. ifc. ending for veśya = veṣya.

So it seems like ERRATA no. 2 is called for.

veśī: f. " entering , piercing (?) " , a pin , needle
veśa: " a settler " , small farmer , tenant , neighbour , dependent; often w.r. for veṣa.
veṣa: dress , apparel , ornament , artificial exterior , assumed appearance (often also = look , exterior , appearance in general)

I propose (1) to leave the translation of the 1st pāda as it is, but (2) to return the text in due course to vilamba-veśyo as per the original; and (3) to amend the vocabulary section to clarify that the second half of the compound is formed of veśa (= veṣa) and not veśya (= veṣya).

Would that seem reasonable?


jiblet said...


Mike Cross said...

Thanks Malcolm.

jiblet said...

I've been checking Coulson and Macdonell on compounds and I'm confused.

Both say that bahuvrihi (exocentric/possesive) compounds, which I've assumed vilamba-veṣya(etc) to be, agree with their subject in gender, number and case. That's what I'd remembered learning - see Coulson p.117ff.

Coulson also says (bottom p.118) that the final member of a bahuvrihi compound is first reduced to a masculine stem form in '-a'; a feminine final member will have its long a shortened. I also remember learning that. But then how does such a compound agree in gender with a feminine subject? - I've forgotten or never properly understood that.

At the bottom of p.120, Coulson gives two examples of compounds describing a girl. Firt is vadana-paṅkajam ("the lotus of [her] face") - presumably with a neuter ending because paṅkajam/lotus is a neuter substantive, as is vadana. And presumably because it's a face that's being described, rather than a girl. But why 'her' face? Is she implied by the context - which Coulson doesn't give? He contrasts this with paṅkaja-vadanā ("the lotus-faced [girl]"). I'm trying to get my head round the distinction and the reason for the differently-gendered endings. If you get there before me, please explain.

So as things stand this evening I don't feel confident enough to comment on what's reasonable and what isn't. Do what you think best, Mike ;)

jiblet said...

I think Coulson's "the final member of a bahuvrihi compound is first reduced to a masculine stem form in '-a'" is misleading. I don't believe he means that all bahuvrihi compounds are masculine. They are clearly not. Coulson, I think, is simplifying the tendency of these compounds to modify stems to '-a' forms. The real situation, as described at length in M.R.Kale's Higher Sanskrit Grammar, is not so simple.

Whatever, all the grammar texts I've checked are very clear that bahuvrihi compound are adjectival and so agree with the subject they describe, whether expressed or understood.

Although Coulson says "a pollysyllabic feminine -ī is hardly to be found at the end of a bahuvrili" (top p.119), like you, I checked anyway, and I think we may have got lucky! 'vilamba-keśī' (vilamba-keśyaḥ in the plural) seems very possible - even likley - to me.

Perhaps H.I. or another pandit will come along and prove me very wrong. Not looking forward to that, I'm sorry to say.

Mike Cross said...

For the 3rd pāda, the Chinese has
擧體無光耀

無光耀 "without shining" is probably (together with the Tibetan translation) where EHJ got na rejur.

無光耀 could be the Chinese rendering of na rejur. It could also be the Chinese rendering of mṛjayā vinā-kṛtā. And it could also be the Chinese rendering of vivarṇa.

But of what Sanskrit was 擧體 ("raised [擧 = 挙] their bodies") the Chinese rendering?

Mike Cross said...

One candidate that fits the metre is jagur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. gā: to go , go towards , come , approach.

jagur vivarṇā mṛjayā vinā-kṛtā

They approached, colourless, bereft of cosmetic embellishment --

Like stars in the sky when red dawn is dispelling dark night.


To be continued ...

Mike Cross said...


A better candidate might be yayur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. yā: to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey.

yayur vivarṇā mṛjayā vinā-kṛtā

They moved / advanced, colourless, bereft of cosmetic embellishment --

Like stars in the sky when red dawn is dispelling dark night.

jiblet said...

Backtracking...

I wrote: "Although Coulson says "a pollysyllabic feminine -ī is hardly to be found at the end of a bahuvrili" (top p.119), like you, I checked anyway, and I think we may have got lucky! 'vilamba-keśī' (vilamba-keśyaḥ in the plural) seems very possible - even likley - to me."

Wrapped up in my own efforts, I forgot you'd already mentioned that this was EHJ's ammendment and that it agreed with the Chinese.

I'll move on now. Perhaps to the third pada!

Mike Cross said...

As a result of a totally thorough clarification gratefully received from H.I., I now understand that the case for EHJ's amendment to vilamba-keśyo is stronger than I realized.

It is also clear that the amendment I originally proposed, to vilamba-veṣyo, is not good.

If I were going to amend vilamba-veśyo so that it described attire rather than hair, the amendment might have to be to vilamba-veṣā, which would fit the metre and would make sense to me -- but it would be more of a paleographical leap than EHJ's amendment to vilamba-keśyo.

A case can still be made for retaining vilamba-veṣyo as per the old Nepalese manuscript and EBC's text, given that:
(1) veṣī and veṣā are both given as feminine forms of veṣa; and
(2) veṣa is often encountered (according to the MW dictionary) as a "wrong reading" for veśa.
But in H.I.'s judgement, which I am inclined to trust, the case -- except on paleographical grounds -- is a weak one.

If EHJ's amendment to vilamba-keṣyo is accepted, is it possible to read the compound, below the surface, as describing "the hair dropping down" (having been shaved off)?

I will ponder it a while longer and then arrive at a tentative conclusion for how to amend the text and translate accordingly.

In the meantime, I have copied and pasted into a separate post H.I.'s clarification, which not only helps to understand the issues raised by today's verse but is very helpful in clarifying the adjectival use of Sanskrit compounds in general.

http://nothingbutthelifeblood.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/bc821-revisited-hanging-down-of-robe-or.html

Mike Cross said...

On further reflection, a much better candidate than yayur might be babhur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. bhā: to shine , be bright or luminous ; to shine forth , appear , show one's self ; to appear as , seem , look like , pass for (nom. with or without iva).

I like babhur because ostensibly it is able to convey a weak meaning – the women seemed to be colourless, like stars fading from view. But below the surface it suggests, albeit indirectly, a very strong meaning; which is namely that in being steadfastly colourless (vivarṇa), followers of the Buddha cause to shine forth that teaching which totally breaks with the ancient Indian caste system, and all other forms of apartheid.

vilamba-keṣyo malināṁśukāmbarā nirañjanair-bāṣpa-hatekṣaṇair-mukhaiḥ |
babhur vivarṇā mṛjayā vinā-ktā divīva tārā rajanī-kṣayāruṇāḥ || 8.21

8.21
Their hair having dropped down, wearing garments of dirty cloth,

With unrouged faces whose eyes had been marred by tears,

Bereft of cosmetic embellishment, they manifested themselves as colourless –

Like stars in the sky when red dawn is dispelling dark night.

jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

A while back you wrote: "On 2nd thoughts, it does seem to make sense to have a verb in the 3rd pāda..."

For what it's worth, the fact that verses 8.21 and 22, without verbs, are packed with nothing but plural instrumentals and adjectival compounds describing women who in 8.20 "stepped forth" (viniścakramur) and who 'wait' until 8.23 to weep (rurudur) appeals to me; strikes me as a deliberate poetic/dramatic device. For what it's worth.