Friday, November 29, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.41: How My Suffering Could and Would and Should Have Been

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
yadi hy-aheṣiṣyata bodhayan-janaṁ khuraiḥ kṣitau vāpy-akariṣyata dhvanim |
hanu-svanaṁ vājanayiṣyad-uttamaṁ na cābhaviṣyan-mama duḥkham-īdśam || 8.41

For if he had whinnied, waking people up,

Or else had made a noise with his hoofs on the ground,

– Or had he made the loudest sound he could with his jaws
[had he sounded the ultimate warning of death and disease] –

I would not have experienced suffering like this.”

Thus Yaśodharā concludes one eleven-verse monologue (she begins another eleven-verse monologue from BC8.60), and thus she also concludes her present four-verse treatment of the horse Kanthaka. Thus coming at the end of these series of verses, today's verse can be expected to express something conclusive and significant. So where might its hidden meaning lie?

The first clue must be bodhayan-janam in the 1st pāda, which means “waking people up” or “causing people to be attentive.” If we see an autobiographical undercurrent continuing into today's verse, the suggestion might be that the fundamental aim of the whinnying of Aśvaghoṣa (The Horse-Whinnier) is to cause us to wake up, or at least to pay attention.

In that case, is the 2nd pāda antithetical to the 1st pāda in contrasting intentional whinnying with noisily unconscious clattering about?

I am not sure about that. I feel more confident that the irony in today's verse centres on the ambiguity of hanu at the beginning of the 3rd pāda.

The Monier-Williams dictionary gives hanu as “a jaw” and gives hanu-svanam, referenced to today's verse, as “sound made with the jaws.” Hence the ostensible meaning of the 3rd pāda is:

or had made the loudest sound he could with his jaws (EBC)
or if he had made the loudest sound he could with his jaws (EHJ)
or had he made a loud sound with his jaws (PO)

But before hanu is given as “a jaw,” hanu is given as "'anything which destroys or injures life,' a weapon; death; disease.”

I think Aśvaghoṣa, playing on this ambiguity, is suggesting what the main thrust of his donkey work was –  through his poetry, to sound a warning about death and disease, and, more broadly, about all that is destructive or injurious to life.

This is in line with what Aśvaghoṣa himself has already told us about his desire to cause us to swallow that bitter pill which is the truth of suffering:

This work is pregnant with the purpose of release: it is for cessation, not for titillation;
It is wrought out of the figurative expression of kāvya poetry in order to capture an audience whose minds are on other things -- /
For what I have written here not pertaining to liberation, I have written in accordance with the conventions of kāvya poetry.
This is through asking myself how the bitter pill might be made pleasant to swallow, like bitter medicine mixed with something sweet. // SN18.63 //

The 4th pāda, then, can be read as suggesting, below the surface, Dogen's famous principle that SHOJI NO NAKA NI HOTOKE AREBA, SHOJI NASHI (“When in life-and-death there is buddha, there is no life-and-death”) – the point being that pain and suffering are still pain and suffering, but when a person has a means to deal with them, or has a bigger picture to put them in, they are not experienced as before.

To relate it to what my Zen teacher taught many years ago during Zen retreats that involved a lot of sitting cross-legged, he taught:
“It is not the pain in your legs that is the problem. 
It is worrying about the pain that is the problem."  
"Enjoy the pain in your legs!”

Again, to relate it to what I was discussing yesterday, the attitude of my Zen teacher towards pain was very similar to, or totally the same as, George Soros's appetite for “harsh reality.” It was not asceticism and not masochism, more a certain strength of mind to confront what we ordinarily find it more comfortable to avoid.

All this hidden meaning, however, seems to be lost on Yaśodharā herself. Rather, Yaśodharā on the surface, as I hear her, is voicing the kind of thoughts that those of us are prone to have when reality is too harsh for us to confront and, far from exhibiting strength of mind, we exhibit weakness of mind. This weakness of mind tends to express itself with thoughts prefaced by “could have,” “would have,” and “should have.” Hence the four examples in today's verse of verbs (aheṣiṣyata, akariṣyata, ajanayiṣyat, abhaviṣyat) in the hitherto rarely encountered conditional voice.

"I would not have experienced suffering like this," says Yaśodharā. Or, more literally, "my suffering would not be like this," or "such suffering would not be in me." I picture Gudo Nishijima and George Soros there, saying (a) such suffering is harsh reality, into which coulda, woulda, shoulda never come; and (b) enjoy the pain in your heart! 

In conclusion, then, I think that in today's verse Yaśodharā, albeit unbeknowns to herself, is indeed saying something significant. 

yadi: if
hi: for
aheṣiṣyata = 3rd pers. sg. conditional heṣ: to neigh, whinny
bodhayan = nom. sg. m. caus. pres. part. budh: to wake up , arouse , restore to life or consciousness ; to cause to observe or attend , admonish , advise
janam (acc. sg.): m. people

khuraiḥ (inst. pl.): m. a hoof , horse's hoof
kṣitau (loc. sg.): f. an abode , dwelling , habitation , house ; the earth, soil of the earth
vā: or
api: even
akariṣyata = 3rd pers. sg. conditional kṛ: to make, do
dhvanim (acc. sg.): m. sound , echo , noise

hanu-svana (acc. sg.): m. sound made with the jaws Bcar.
hanu: f. " anything which destroys or injures life " , a weapon ; death; disease ; various kinds of drugs ; a wanton woman, prostitute; f. (not fr. √ han) a jaw ; n. " cheek " , a partic. part of a spearhead
svana: m. sound, noise (in the older language applied to the roar of wind , thunder , water &c ; in later language to the song of birds , speech , and sound of any kind )
vā: or
ajanayiṣyat = 3rd pers. sg. conditional jan: to generate , beget , produce , create , cause ; to produce (a song of praise , &c )
uttamam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. uppermost , highest , chief ; the highest (tone) ; ind. most , in the highest degree ; at last , lastly

na: not
ca: and
abhaviṣyat = 3rd pers. sg. conditional bhū: to be
mama (gen. sg.): of/in me
duḥkham (nom. sg.): n. suffering, pain, sorrow
īdṛśam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. endowed with such qualities , such

若爾時有聲 擧宮悉應覺
爾時若覺者 不生今苦惱

No comments: