Thursday, November 14, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.26: Impermanence, Suffering, Not Self (A Different Take on Grief)

⏑−⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
adhīram-anyāḥ pati-śoka-mūrchitā vilocana-prasravaṇair-mukhaiḥ striyaḥ |
siṣiñcire proṣita-candanān stanān dharā-dharāḥ prasravaṇair-ivopalān || 8.26

Other women, losing control, dizzied by sorrow for their lord,

[They, as individuals who were different, not in a fixed manner,
but as masters caused through sorrow to grow,]

Wetted with streaming faces, whose wellsprings were eyes,

Bare breasts bereft of sandal paste –

Like mountains with their wellsprings wetting rocks.

The two levels of meaning, ostensible and hidden, are less readily apparent in the 1st pāda of today's verse than they were in yesterday's verse. This, I think, is Aśvaghoṣa's usual way; he alerts the reader and draws us in with a relatively easy double-entendre, and then requires us verse by verse to do gradually more spadework. A case in point might be the series of verses in BC Canto 4 which, like the present series, ostensibly describes the behaviour of a group of women. That series of verses also describes women, in the singular (anyā) or in the plural (anyāḥ), who are other, different, odd, individual.

Thus at the beginning of today's verse adhīram (MW: imprudent, deficient in calm self-command, excitable, capricious) is ostensibly pejorative, and a non-pejorative hidden meaning is not readily forthcoming. But one clue is offered by the dictionary's “not fixed, movable.” At the same time, the translations of EBC (having lost all self-control), EHJ (losing self-control), and PO (losing all self-control) can also be read as suggesting the falling away of restraints in the sitting practice of a non-buddha who, as nature takes over, is coming unglued, or spontaneously dropping off body and mind.

The compound pati-śoka-mūrchitāḥ presents even more of a challenge. Ostensibly pati-śoka means “sorrow / grief / anguish for [the loss of] their lord / master.” But another way of reading pati-śoka is “a master's sorrow / grief / anguish.” With the former, ostensible reading the definition of murchita that fits is “fainted, stupefied.” With the latter, hidden reading the definition that fits is “augmented, increased, grown.”

The above is as far as I got yesterday in preparing a comment on today's verse. Then when I woke up this morning in the wee small hours, earlier than I would have liked, feeling tense, with a head full of negative thoughts, I festered for a while, not bringing my attention back to today's verse for many minutes – at least not consciously. But when I finally did get round to asking the question, the answer seemed to come back loud and clear, as if straight from the horse's mouth: a-nitya, duḥkha, an-atman.

Today's verse, then, the message as I received it seemed to be, is pointing to that reality which is impermanent (a-nitya) , full of suffering (duḥkha), and not of the self (an-atman); and, equally, is reminding the afflicted reader that observing reality to be impermanent, full of suffering, and not of the self, is a most excellent (if not very advanced) method of causing the tree of afflictions to shake. Hence:
For, on those grounds, on the grounds of impermanence and emptiness, on the grounds of absence of self, and of suffering, / He, by the most excellent among mundane paths, caused the tree of afflictions to shake. // SN17.17 //
Read in this light (which I am sure is not the only light in which to read it), the three main elements of today's verse are (1) adhīram in the 1st pāda, expressing impermanence; (2) śoka in the 1st pāda, expressing suffering; and (3) the objective description in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th pādas of water falling from the eyes.

Ostensibly, then, the women described in today's verse are exhibiting grief very differently to the women described in yesterday's verse. On the surface, the women yesterday expressed their grief by a state of lifeless passivity, whereas the women today are extremely demonstrative.

But below the surface, Aśvaghoṣa as I hear him is not describing two groups who are different from each other. Rather he is describing true human individuals, who are different from ordinary people and different from our ordinary human conceptions and expectations of how a true human being ought to be.

Thus we, in our deluded state, might suppose that the women described in today's verse are noisily weeping and wailing, sobbing and snuffling, and might on that basis feel sorry for them – as if they needed our sympathy. Alternatively, the reference to breasts like rocks might stimulate in some of us an erotic charge – those breasts, a bloke can easily imagine, being firm as rocks, and smooth as river-rocks polished by a waterfall.

If so, more fool us, when we realize that our soppy pity or erotic fantasies have been misdirected towards shaven-headed old Zen drills who have been sitting all the time in total stillness and ease – albeit with wet breasts – like tigers in front of their mountain stronghold.

In conclusion, then, I read today's verse as most probably auto-biographical. The present Canto, antaḥpura-vilapaḥ, “Lamenting Within the Battlements,” is ostensibly devoted to poetic descriptions of various manifestations of grief observed behind the walls of a royal palace. But, having been alerted by the turning word anya (other, different, individual) to dig below the surface of today's verse and yesterday's verse, we could not fail to uncover something else. That something else, in my book, is a different way of lamenting. In describing it, Aśvaghoṣa does not mention any thoughts, does not mention any feelings, does not mention any noisy sobbing and snuffling, and does not mention any untoward movements. Rather, he simply describes, in a very objective way, watering eyes.

adhīram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. imprudent ; not fixed , movable ; confused ; deficient in calm self-command ; excitable ; capricious
dhīra: mfn. steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave ; dhīram: ind. steadily , firmly &c
anyāḥ (nom. pl. f.): other women who were different / individual
pati-śoka-mūrchitāh (nom. pl. f.):
pati: m. a master , owner , possessor , lord , ruler , sovereign ; a husband
śoka: m. flame , glow , heat ; m. sorrow , affliction , anguish , pain , trouble , grief
mūrchita: mfn. fainted , stupefied , insensible , calcined , solidified (said of quicksilver) ; intensified , augmented, increased , grown , swollen (ifc. = filled or pervaded or mixed with)
murch: to become solid , thicken , congeal , assume shape or substance or consistency , expand , increase , grow , become or be vehement or intense or strong ; to fill , pervade , penetrate , spread over

vilocana-prasravaṇaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): with streaming eyes
vilocana: mfn. distorting the eyes ; n. the eye , sight
prasravaṇa: n. streaming or gushing forth , trickling , oozing , effusion , discharge
mukhaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. faces, mouths
striyaḥ (nom. pl.): f. women

siṣiñcire = 3rd pers. pl. perf. (middle voice): sic: to pour out , discharge , emit , shed , infuse or pour into or on (loc.) ; to scatter in small drops , sprinkle , besprinkle or moisten with (instr.) ; to dip , soak , steep
proṣita-candanān (acc. pl. m.): sandal being banished
proṣita: mfn. one who has set out on a journey , absent from home , abroad ; effaced ; set (as the sun) ; deceased, dead
pra- √ vas: to go or sojourn abroad , leave home , depart ; to disappear vanish , cease ; (= Caus.) to banish to (loc.)
candana: mn. sandal (Sirium myrtifolium , either the tree , wood , or the unctuous preparation of the wood held in high estimation as perfumes ; hence ifc. a term for anything which is the most excellent of its kind )
stanān (acc. pl.): m. the female breast (either human or animal) , teat , dug , udder

dharā-dharaḥ [Old Nepalese mansucript/EBC/EHJ] (nom. sg. m.): m. " earth-bearer " , N. of viṣṇu or kṛṣṇa
dharā-dharāḥ (nom. pl.): f. mountain
prasravaṇaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. streaming or gushing forth , trickling , oozing , effusion , discharge ; n. a well or spring ; a cascade
iva: like, as if
upalān (acc. pl.): m. a rock , stone ; f. (úpalā) the upper and smaller mill-stone (which rests on the dṛṣad)

[No corresponding Chinese for four verses, 8.26 to 8.30] 

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