Thursday, November 28, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.40: A Doer of Low-Down Donkey Work Loudly Neighs

⏑−⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
anārya-karmā bhśam-adya heṣate narendra-dhiṣṇyaṁ pratipūrayann-iva |
yadā tu nirvāhayati sma me priyaṁ tadā hi mūkas-turagādhamo 'bhavat || 8.40

Now the doer of un-āryan deeds is neighing loudly,

As if filling with sound the seat of a first among men;

But when he carried away my love,

Then the low-down donkey was dumb.

Yesterday George Soros published an op-ed piece in The Guardian which contained the following sentence:

Let's be honest: there is a Roma problem in Europe, and it is getting worse. 

When I read the sentence I knew I wanted to connect it to today's verse – even though, at time of reading the Soros article, I had actually forgotten what today's verse was about.

But indeed there is a profound connection, and the connection relates to the taste Soros has cultivated through his life for dealing with harsh reality – not noble reality, not Āryan reality, not upper-middle class intellectual reality, not reality as we would like it to be.

Ostensibly in today's verse  anārya-karmā is an insult that Yaśodharā is hurling at the horse Kanthaka in her rage – “That doer of ignoble deeds!” But if we follow the dictionary definition of an-ārya-karmin, “doing work becoming only a non-āryan,” that opens the way to a reading which does make very well the connection I wish to make.  “Doing work becoming only a non-āryan,” describes George Soros very well, considering that (a) his Hungarian Jewish family escaped the Nazi holocaust in WWII, and (b) Soros is not above, but actively seeks out, the most apparently intractable and messy of problems. 

Read in this ironic sense, anārya-karmā might also fit very well with Aśvaghoṣa's purposes which, as I read them, are both ironic and auto-biographical.

Anārya-karmā might be auto-biographical in many ways. Who knows what history Aśvaghoṣa had of doing low-down and dirty donkey work? Was Aśvaghoṣa the kind of horse-whisperer, for example, like Monty Roberts, who knew well from his own experience what a hard-working donkey goes through when he ought to be given carrots but instead gets the stick?

One thing we do know is that Aśvaghoṣa was not above investigating in detail the physical manifestations of human grief, in terms of arm movements, changes in skin colour, sounds of breathing, and so on. Far from being content to discuss suffering in the abstract, and much less enlightenment in the abstract, in a high-faluting or snobbish manner, Aśvaghoṣa in cantos like the present canto, as I hear him, is anārya-karmā, doing work becoming only a non-āryan.

Again, bhṛśam-adya heṣate, “today he neighs loudly” is an apt description of one whose name aśva (horse) + ghoṣa (indistinct sound, roar)  could literally mean “The Horse-Whinnier/Whisperer” or could mean “The Neighing of a Horse” or could mean “The Horse's Roar.”

In the 2nd pāda, narendra-dhiṣṇyam (lit. “the abode of a prince [indra] among men”) could also be taken, from what little we know of Aśvaghoṣa's history, as an auto-biographical element. There is some evidence that Aśvaghoṣa was asked by the Northern Indian King Kaniṣka to preside over his imperial court, in which case Aśvaghoṣa himself, in a very real sense, as the principal teacher of the king, would have been a first among men. In that case, narendra-dhiṣṇyam might describe a Dharma-Hall built at Kaniṣka's court for the purpose of listening to the preaching of Aśvaghoṣa. Or Kaniṣka's royal palace itself, with Aśvaghoṣa teaching there, might have become a Dharma-Hall filled by the Horse's Roar.

Finally in the 4th pāda, mūkaḥ (dumb, speechless, mute) might be an apt description of a horse whose neighing was rooted in the silence of a Zazen Hall. So the Zen patriarch Aśvaghoṣa – in spite of all his poetic verbal outpourings – might have had good reason to describe himself originally as mūkaḥ, dumb. 

But why turagādhamaḥ, lit. “the lowest of horses”?

Adhama, “lowest,” is a superlative form from adhara, which means “tending downwards.” As a suffix at the end of a compound, -adhama is ostensibly very pejorative; hence EBC: “this vilest of horses”; EHJ: “the wretched horse”; PO: “this vile horse.”

But it may be that Aśvaghoṣa is using this most pejorative of terms to express his own unshakeable self-confidence. How so?

They say that it is the most low-down of voices which – paradoxically – are richest in the kind of high-frequency overtones that best fill up a place with good acoustics, like a magnificent royal palace, or like an old wooden temple.

Again, to quote a famous saying in Chinese Zen:

Flowers in space open on the ground.

But why refer to Chinese Zen when we have already got it here, direct from the source, straight from the horse's mouth...
A dirt-washer (pāṃsu-dhāvakaḥ) in pursuit of gold washes away first the coarse grains of dirt, / Then the finer granules, so that the material is cleansed; and by the cleansing he retains the rudiments of gold. // SN15.66 //

So if anybody asks me what I would like to be when I grow up, the answer I have been looking for these past 50 years might be here in Aśvaghoṣa's words pāṃsu-dhāvakaḥ and mūkas-turagādhamaḥa dumb, low-down, dirt-washing donkey.

anārya-karmā (nom. sg. m.): the doer of non-āryan work
anārya: mfn. not honourable or respectable , vulgar , inferior; destitute of āryans ; m. not an āryan
karman: n. act , action ; (frequently ifc. , the first member of the compound being either the person who performs the action [e.g. vaṇik-k°, trade] or the person or thing for or towards whom the action is performed [e.g. rāja-k° , business of a king] or a specification of the action [e.g. prīti-k° , kind action]); work , labour , activity
an-ārya-karmin: m. doing work unbecoming an ārya or becoming only a non-ārya.
bhṛśam: ind. strongly , violently , vehemently , excessively , greatly , very
adya: ind. today, now
heṣate = 3rd pers. sg. heṣ: to neigh

narendra-dhiṣṇyam (acc. sg.): the abode of the man-lord; the palace
narendra: m. 'man-lord' ; king
indra: ifc. best , excellent , the first , the chief (of any class of objects )
dhiṣṇya: mfn. mindful , attentive , benevolent , liberal ; n. site , place , abode , region , house ; n. the seat of a god i.e. a quarter of the sky ; n. power , strength
pratipūrayan = nom. sg. m. causative pres. part. prati- √ pṝ : to fill (said of a noise)
iva: like, as if

yadā: ind. when
tu: but
nirvāhayati = 3rd pers. sg. causative nir- √ vah: , to lead out of , save from (abl.) ; to carry off , remove ; to attain one's object , be successful , overcome obstacles
sma: ind. (joined with a pres. tense or pres. participle to give them a past sense)
me (gen. sg.): my
priyam (acc. sg.): m. a lover , husband

tadā: ind. then, at that time
hi: for
mūkaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. " tied or bound " (scil. tongue-tied) , dumb , speechless , mute , silent ; wretched , poor ; m. the offspring of a mule and mare
turagādhamaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the lowest of horses
turaga: m. " going quickly " , a horse ; the mind , thought
adhama: mfn. (from adhara) lowest , vilest , worst , very low or vile or bad (often ifc. , as in narādhama , the vilest or worst of men)
adhara: mfn. (connected with adhas) , lower , inferior , tending downwards
adhas: ind. below , down ; in the lower region
abhavat = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect bhū: to be

汝是弊惡蟲 造諸不正業
今日大嗚呼 聲滿於王宮
先劫我所念 爾時何以唖

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