nirīkṣya tā bāṣpa-parīta-locanā nir-āśrayaṁ chandakam-aśvam-eva ca |
viṣaṇṇa-vaktrā rurudur-varāṅganā vanāntare gāva iva-rṣabhojjhitāḥ || 8.23
Looking through tearful eyes
At the destitute Chandaka-and-horse,
having nothing to depend upon,
Those beautiful women wept, with downcast faces,
Like cows in the woods abandoned by the bull.
The first decision to make is whose eyes are filled with tears.
The old Nepalese manuscript has bāṣpa-parīta-locana, which is either missing a stroke to make the short a into a long ā, for bāṣpa-parīta-locanā[ḥ] (nom. pl. f.; the women); or else it is missing a dot to make the compound bāṣpa-parīta-locanaṁ (acc. sg. m.; Chandaka / Chandaka-and-horse).
EBC's text has the latter reading, so that bāṣpa-parīta-locanaṁ (“his eyes filled with tears”) refers to Chandaka. EBC also took nir-āśrayaṁ (“standing helpless”) to refer to Chandaka alone. Hence: “But when they saw Chaṁdaka standing helpless, his eyes filled with tears, and the horse...” (EBC)
EHJ adopted the former reading, so that bāṣpa-parīta-locanāḥ refers to the women. Then EHJ took nir-āśrayaṁ (“without their master”) as referring to Chandaka and the horse. Hence: “The women's eyes flooded with tears, as they saw only Chandaka and the horse without their master...” (EHJ).
With regard to his translation of nir-āśrayaṁ as “without their master,” EHJ added in a footnote that this may be thought surprising; but the master is the āśraya of his servants and we get the same use of the word at BC13.71, certified by T and C [the Tibetan and Chinese translations].
The irony that EHJ missed in nir-āśrayam (destitute; having nothing/nobody to rely on”), as I read it, is that, like very many expressions in Aśvaghoṣa's writings beginning with a negative prefix, nir-āśrayam below the surface is a suggestion not so much of being without a master as a master's state of being without. Nir-āśrayam, in other words, might be intended to point to the same state as nair-guṇyam, “the being-without virtue,” an ironic expression of the Buddha-nature that we encountered in BC Canto 6 (see e.g. BC6.24).
Thus taking the ironic nir-āśrayam as a key to unlock the hidden meaning of today's verse, I read chandakam-aśvam-eva ca as an expression of oneness of human thinking and animal instinct – “Chandaka-and-horse,” like “mind-and-body” or (in the order that Dogen invariably preferred) “body-and-mind.”
Then viṣaṇṇa-vaktrāḥ (having downcast faces) can be read as suggesting the orientation of the faces of Zen monks who are confronting emptiness in sitting-meditation. It is an orientation of the face to which Aśvaghoṣa alludes in SN Canto 11, where Ānanda tells Nanda:
“You are practising dharma, so they say, for celestial nymphs as wages. / Is that so? Is it true? such a thing would be a joke! // SN11.19 // If this really is true, I will tell you a medicine for it; / Or if it is the impertinence of chatterers, then that dust I shall expose." // 11.20 // Then -- though it was tenderly done -- Nanda was stricken in his heart. / After reflecting, he drew in a long breath, and his face inclined slightly downward (kiṁ-cic-cāvāṅmukho 'bhavat). // 11.21 // And so, knowing the signs that betrayed the set of Nanda's mind, / Ānanda spoke words which were disagreeable but sweet in consequence: // 11.22 // "I know from the look on your face what your motive is in practising dharma. / And knowing that, there arises in me towards you laughter and at the same time pity. // 11.23 // Like somebody who, with a view to sitting on it, carried around on his shoulder a heavy rock; / That is how you, with a view to sensuality, are labouring to bear restraint. // SN11.24 //
Aśvaghoṣa makes the same allusion in SN Canto 12 to lowering of the face:
After bowing his head to the Guru, with eyes filled with tears, / He joined the palms of his hands and spoke as follows, his face somewhat lowered, because of shame (hriyā kiṃ-cid-avāṅmukhaḥ): //SN12.12 //
The point might be that eager expectancy tends to cause us to pull our heads back, but when we begin to see that the state to be pursued is nir-āśrayam, a state of destitution, having nothing to depend upon, being on your own, with no direction home, like a rolling stone, then at that moment pulling of the head back tends to cease so that the face naturally tends forward.
This is a very different thing from trying to arrange the head from the outside into what one believes to be the proper orientation.
The distinction might sound like small potatoes, but I say that it is not small potatoes. It is the difference between, on the one hand,
- the practice of a real dragon who found water,
- or of a tiger before its mountain stronghold;
and, on the other hand,
- the ineffectual trying of a fake elephant in a stronghold of Soto Zen,
- or some other sectarian fortress of trying to be right.
The simile in the 4th pāda, then, might be an evocative metaphor for how it has always been, ever since the Buddha's parinirvāṇa, for any group of Zen practitioners who have come together in a vihāra to sit. Even the most fiercely independent non-Buddhist among us is still a follower of the Buddha, but the Buddha we aspire to follow is no longer present as a person in the world.
Even when the Buddha was in the world, on the evidence of Saundara-nanda, the attitude the Buddha encouraged in followers of his teaching was effort not to annexe themselves to anybody but rather that each should make the teaching into his or her own possession, primarily by seeking out solitude. Hence:
So, in order to make the noble truths your own, first clear a path according to this plan of action, / Like a king going on campaign to subdue his foes, wishing to conquer unconquered dominions. // SN16.85 // These salubrious wilds that surround us are suited to practice and not thronged with people. / Furnishing the body with ample solitude, cut a path for abandoning the afflictions. // SN16.86 //
nirīkṣya = abs. nir- √ īkṣ: to look at or towards , behold , regard , observe (also the stars) , perceive
tāḥ (nom. pl. f.): they, the women
bāṣpa-parīta-locanam [EBC] (acc. sg. m.): his eyes filled with tears
bāṣpa-parīta-locanāḥ [EHJ] (nom. pl. f.): their eyes filled with tears
nir-āśrayam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. shelterless ; supportless , having or offering no prop or stay , destitute , alone
āśraya: m. that to which anything is annexed or with which anything is closely connected or on which anything depends or rests ; seat , resting-place ; dwelling , asylum , place of refuge , shelter ; attaching to , choosing , taking ; joining , union , attachment
chandakam (acc. sg.): m. Chandaka
aśvam (acc. sg.): m. the horse
viṣaṇṇa-vaktrāḥ (nom. pl. f.): with downcast faces
viṣaṇṇa: mfn. dejected , sad , desponding , sorrowful , downcast , out of spirits or temper ;
vi-√sad: to be exhausted or dejected , despond , despair ; to sink down , be immersed in
vaktra: n. " organ of speech " , the mouth , face
vivarṇa-vaktrāḥ [EBC] (nom. pl. f.): with colourless / caste-less faces
rurudur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. rud: to weep , cry , howl , roar , lament , wail
varāṅganāḥ (nom. pl.): f. a beautiful woman
vanāntare (loc. sg.): in the woods
antara: mfn. interior
gāvaḥ (nom. pl. f.): cows
rṣabhojjhitāḥ (nom. pl. f.): abandoned by a bull
rṣabha: m. bull
ujjhita: mfn. left , abandoned