Tuesday, November 19, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.31: Hell Hath No Fury... (But the Earth Totally Doth)

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
tatas-tu roṣa-pravirakta-locanā viṣāda-sambandha-kaṣāya-gadgadam |
uvāca niśvāsa-calat-payodharā vigāḍha-śokāśru-dharā yaśodharā || 8.31

But then, with eyes reddened by fury,

Stammering with the emotion that belongs to despondent love,

Up spoke a bearer of glory, 
whose milk-bearers heaved as she sighed –

Bearing tears of grief running deep as the Earth, 
Yaśodharā said:

Enlightenment, if I (most probably early in the morning or after an afternoon nap) have ever glimpsed it, is a moment of total ownership of everything, and today's verse as I read it, below the surface, relates to that.

Aśvaghoṣa, I have argued before in these comments, eschews Buddhist jargon like buddha-tā, “the buddha-nature,” but uses compounds like a-bala in yesterday's verse, or like a-buṣana and nir-antara (BC8.29), or like nair-guṇyam (BC6.24), to suggest the buddha-nature as a state of being without.

That the buddha-nature is a state of being without is a truth that impressed itself deeply on my mind when my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima was helping me to translate (or, the way he saw it, when I was helping him to translate) Shobogenzo chap. 22, Bussho, The Buddha-Nature.

It is a long and difficult chapter which I haven't studied for a long time, but I remember the gist of it is that the buddha-nature is a state of being without. And I also remember the question and answer with which the chapter concludes:

When we express it in the further ascendant state, 
just what is the Buddha-nature?
Have you fully understood?
Three heads and eight arms!

So if detailed study of the buddha-nature has led us to form a view on what the buddha-nature is, Dogen's parting shot, it seems to me, is designed to subvert that view.

You say that enlightenment is a beggar boy breaking his begging bowl? Then I say, on the contrary (tu), that enlightenment is a moment of totally owning everything – the ground under my feet, and the whole of the earth; the sun in the sky, and the trees in the sun; a middle-aged bloke's lingering lust for upturned tits; anger; grief; the whole lot.

So one way of reading the tu (but) in the 1st pāda of today's verse is as contrasting the emotional Yaśodhara with the best of women described, below the surface of yesterday's verse, as balancing in the loop – as if the best of women had the buddha-nature but Yaśodhara did not.

But another way of reading the tu is as contrasting, on the one hand, abstract consideration of what FM Alexander called “the great principle of antagonistic action,” as suggested by breasts and hands of generic women poking or goading each other, and on the other hand, an account of one real woman – in a state akin to having three heads and eight arms (like the grumpy-faced guys depicted below) – expressing her very real grief.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, the saying goes. But the earth, when we totally own it, doth have such fury. And the earth in Sanskrit is called “The Bearer” – dharā – a word which appears no less than three times in the second half of today's verse.

Ostensibly this play on dharā is a flourish that befits a kāvya poem. But we should understand that when Aśvaghoṣa called Saundarananda the work of a mahā-kavi (a crafter of epic poetry; MW: a great or classical poet), this was ironic self-deprecation. Without such self-deprecation, Aśvaghoṣa might have signed off as “King of the Universe” or “Owner of the Whole Earth,” and it is only in that light that the play on the dharā of Yaśodharā is to be understood.

Perhaps it is because I have not fully cracked the buried meaning of today's verse that it does not seem to lend itself to alternative line by line translations in square brackets. But I do notice that, Sanskrit being Sanskrit, the same words Aśvaghoṣa used to describe a grieving woman's bloodshot eyeball (locana), her emotion (kaṣāya), her breast (payo-dhara), and her bearing (dhara) of her grief, Aśvaghoṣa could also have been using to describe his own instrument of seeing (locana), his robe (kaṣāya), a cloud (payo-dhara), and the Earth (dharā).

Ostensibly a verse which describes an emotional woman's grief, then, might below the surface be read as Aśvaghoṣa's expression of his own enlightenment, the four elements of that expression being
  • locana, a Zen practitioner's instrument of seeing (but do not call it a view);
  • kaṣāya, a yellow-red garment, a forest robe;
  • payo-dhara, a cloud, a conspicuous manifestation of mental non-attachment and physical freedom of movement;
  • dharā, the Earth as bearer of everything.

This comment feels like another totally unsatisfactory comment on a totally unsatisfactory translation. Still, owning the comment, owning the translation, and owning the dissatisfaction, I dare to hope that all this verbage, in combination with the vocabulary section that follows below, will help somebody extract some of Aśvaghoṣa's gold from all the verb-rooted dust.

This hope is in line with the imperative with which Aśvaghoṣa signed himself off at the end of his epic tale of Beautiful Happiness (or Handsome Nanda):

Seeing, in general, that the world is moved primarily by fondness for objects and is repelled by liberation, I for whom liberation is paramount have told it here like it is, using a kāvya poem as a pretext. / Being aware of the deceit, take from (this verb-rooted dust) what pertains to peace and not to idle pleasure. Then elemental dust, assuredly, shall yield up serviceable gold. // SN18.64 //
 The 18th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled "Knowing / Affirmation."
This is the work of a beggar, the respected teacher Aśvaghoṣa of Saketa, son of the noble Suvarṇākṣī, crafter of epic poetry and talker of the great talk.

tataḥ: ind. then
tu: but
roṣa-pravirakta-locanā (nom. sg. f.): her eyes much reddened by fury
roṣa: m. anger , rage , wrath , passion , fury
pravirakta: very changed in colour, very red
pra-: (as pref. to adj. =) excessively , very , much
virakta: mfn. discoloured , changed in colour ; impassioned , feeling excessive passion
vi- √ rañj: to be changed in colour , be discoloured , lose one's natural colour
locana: n. " organ of sight " , the eye

viṣāda-sambandha-kaṣāya-gadgadam (acc. sg. n.): stammering with the emotion associated with despondency ; [with indistinct utterances about the kaṣāya, the robe which is closely connected with sitting down]
viṣāda: m. drooping state , languor , lassitude ; dejection , depression , despondency (esp. as the result of unrequited love)
vi- √ṣad: to be exhausted or dejected , despond , despair ; to sink down
√sad: to sit down ; to sink down , sink into despondency or distress
sambandha: mfn. binding or joining together , close connection or union or association , conjunction , inherence , connection with or relation to (instr. with or without saha , or comp.) ; mfn. able , capable ; mfn. fit , right , proper
sambandhi [EHJ]: mfn. (mc. and in comp. for °bandhin) joined or connected with
sambandhin: mfn. connected with , belonging or relating to (gen. or comp.) , adjunct , inherent ; connected with = possessed of (comp.)
kaṣāya: mn. an astringent flavour or taste ; a yellowish red colour ; dirt, filth ; stain or impurity or sin cleaving to the soul ; mn. defect , decay , degeneracy ; attachment to worldly objects ; m. redness ; m. emotion , passion ; n. a dull or yellowish red garment or robe
gadgada: mfn. stammering , stuttering (said of persons and of utterances) ; n. stammering , indistinct or convulsive utterance (as sobbing &c )

uvāca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vac: to speak
niśvāsa-calat-payodharā (nom. sg. f.): her breasts trembling with her sighs
niśvāsa: m. a sigh = niśvasita: n. breath , expiration or inspiration
ni- √ śvas: to draw in the breath , inspire ; to hiss , snort &c
calat = pres. part. cal: to be moved , stir , tremble , shake , quiver , be agitated , palpitate
payo-dhara: m. " containing water or milk " , a cloud ; a woman's breast or an udder

vigāḍha-śokāśru-dharā (nom. sg. f.): bearing tears of deep sorrow
vigāḍha: mfn. plunged into , entered ; flowing copiously ; deep, excessive
śokāśru: tears of sorrow
dhara: mfn. bearing, having
dharā: f. " bearer , supporter " , the earth
yaśodharā (nom. sg.): f. “Bearer of Glory/Honour/Fame”; Yaśodharā

時耶輸陀羅 深責車匿言

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