itīha devyāḥ paridevitāśrayaṁ niśamya bāṣpa-grathitākṣaraṁ vacaḥ |
adho-mukhaḥ sāśru-kalaḥ ktāñjaliḥ śanair-idaṁ chandaka uttaraṁ jagau || 8.42
When thus he had heard, here in this world,
the lament-laden words of the queen,
Whose every syllable had been punctuated with a tear,
Chandaka, face turned down,
tongue-tied by his own tearfulness,
and hands held like a beggar's,
Softly voiced the following response:
Here in this world (iha) is the place where weeping abandoned wife meets tearful bearer of bad news and she, in her lament-laded words, demonstratively expresses the truth and the reality of suffering.
Here also is the place where pearl necklaces dance upon the upturned sandal-scented breasts of beautiful women.
And here in this epic poetry Aśvaghoṣa never seems to tire of describing breasts and tears, tears and breasts, manifestations of the most negative of emotions and stimulators or reminders of the most positive of emotions.
In Shobogenzo chap. 79, Ango, The Summer Retreat, Dogen goes into excruciating detail about the performance of preparations for a 90-day sitting retreat. He quotes the injunction in Zen-en-shingi that practitioners should arrive half a month in advance of the retreat -- “It is important that the service of tea, and personal salutations, should not be rushed.” There then follow more than ten pages in translation in which Dogen proves how seriously he takes this injunction not to be in a hurry, but to attend patiently to niceties, before he finally writes: “Having thus inaugurated the summer retreat, we make effort in pursuit of the truth” – i.e. we finally begin the main task at hand, which is just to sit.
Today's verse, with its repeated talk of tears, puts me in mind of how I felt slogging through the translation of Ango, with all its boring descriptions of three prostrations here and nine prostrations there, and writing cards of congratulation, and serving tea.
Tears and tits and tea are all very well, up to a point, but so much talk on these topics seems designed to cause us to ask: what else is there?
For a bloke who sits, what else might there be, below the surface, to dig for?
In today's verse, I must admit, I haven't been able to find anything. There are no words with negative prefixes obliquely hinting at the buddha-nature as a bit of nothing. There is no talk of golden seats which might be intended to symbolize enlightened sitting. There is only repeated talk of tears, and of words laden with laments.
lament: (intrans.) to mourn aloud ; (trans.) to express sorrow, mourning, or regret for, often demonstratively.
lament: (noun) an expression of sorrow; especially : a song or poem that expresses sorrow for someone who has died or something that is gone ; a crying out in grief.
In the introduction to his translation of Buddha-carita, EH Johnston stated his view (contrary to what had been the prevailing view) that Aśvaghoṣa wrote Buddha-carita before he wrote Saundara-nanda.
Reflecting as above on today's verse caused my own conviction to strengthen that EHJ was most probably correct about this.
EHJ wrote that “the handling of the Saundarananda is altogether more mature and assured than that of the Buddhacarita, whose effect is often marred by repetitions of the same words or phrases, or even of a whole pāda, in a way that the kavis of the classical age sedulously avoided, and the poet's technique reaches its high-water mark in passages such as SN4.1-11, or SN10.8-13, while the latter's [SN's] metrical system is more elaborate and includes faultless manipulation of such difficult schemes as Upasthita-pracupita and Udgatā.”
Though I am not able to judge the finer points of poetic technique to which EHJ refers, I do see a certain evolution or development in Aśvaghoṣa's handling of his content. Also, it does seem to make logical sense that Aśvaghoṣa would have wanted to tell the Buddha's story first, before taking a second bite of the cherry with his epic tale of Handsome Nanda.
As I have already documented, the present Canto shifts back and forth between lamenting subjects – Chandaka, Kanthaka, the people of the city, the common folk, the women, the King, the Queen, and Yaśodharā – in a way that is not so easy to follow. That is why, for my own benefit, I felt the urge to map out the various subjects of the present Canto:
1-2 horseman Chandaka
3-4 horse Kanthaka
5 horseman & horse together
6 city of Kapilavastu (almost emptiness itself)
7 horseman & horse together
8 people of the city
9 common folks
10 horseman Chandaka
11-13 common folks
15 King Śuddhodhana
16 horseman Chandaka,
17 horse Kanthaka,
18 birds and horses
19 common folks
24 Queen Gautamī
25-30 women (including anyāḥ, different ones)
42-49 horseman Chandaka
51-58 Queen Gautamī
72-81 King Śuddhodhana
82-85 counsellor and family priest
86-87 King Śuddhodhana
This varied treatment in the present Canto of antaḥ-pura-vilāpaḥ, “Lamenting Within the Battlements,” can be contrasted with SN Canto 6, bhāryā-vilāpaḥ, “A Wife's Lament,” and SN Canto 7, nanda-vilāpaḥ, “Nanda's Lament.”
In other words, Aśvaghoṣa was already clear in his mind by the time he came to write Buddha-carita that tears of lament (along with breasts of beautiful women) were a subject upon which he wished to dwell. In elucidating the first noble truth, the truth of suffering, via descriptions of events taking place here in this world (iha), Aśvaghoṣa chose not to focus on, say, the kind of pain we feel if we sprain an ankle, or if we sit cross-legged for longer than we are used to.Neither did he focus on say, the pain of being cold, or the suffering of hunger. He chose to focus on the emotional suffering that is manifested by tears of sorrow and by lament-laden words. And this focus on emotional suffering, I venture to opine, seems to be even more clearly developed in Saundara-nanda than it is in Buddha-carita.
Thus, in Buddha-carita we have one canto devoted to the lamenting of two or three groups and various individuals, along with a somewhat idealized picture of the buddha-to-be who never sheds a tear at all (anything else might have caused offence to those who were already well-versed in the legend of how the heroic Prince Siddhārtha became the enlightened Buddha). Whereas in Saundara-nanda we have two cantos devoted to a detailed investigation of not only the lamenting of the abandoned wife Sundarī but also the lamenting of the abandoning buddha-to-be Nanda.
What I have thus tried to do in the above comment is (a) to clarify why Aśvaghoṣa so often and repeatedly described his protagonists' tears, in a manner that is liable to try the patience of a Zen practitioner who is in a hurry; and (b) to put Aśvaghoṣa's focus on lamenting into the picture of (i) his wider scheme, and (ii) the evolution and probable chronology of his writing.
iha: ind. in this place , here ; in this world; in this book; in this case; now
devyāḥ (gen. sg.): f. the queen
paridevitāśrayam (acc. sg. n.) replete with lamentation
paridevita: n. wailing , lamentation
pari- √ div: to wail , lament , cry , bemoan
āśraya: mfn. ifc. depending on , resting on , endowed or furnished with
niśamya = abs. ni- √ śam: to observe, perceive, hear, learn
bāṣpa-grathitākṣaram (acc. sg. n.): syllables strung with tears
bāṣpa: m. tears
grath: to fasten , tie or string together , arrange , connect in a regular series ; to string words together , compose (a literary work)
grathita: mfn. strung , tied , bound , connected , tied together or in order , wound , arranged , classed ; set with , strewn with ; artificially composed or put together (the plot of a play) ; closely connected with each other , difficult to be distinguished from each other ; coagulated , thickened , hardened ;
akṣaram (acc. sg.); n. a syllable ; n. a sound ; mfn. imperishable ; unalterable ; m. a sword
vacaḥ (acc. sg.): n. speech, words
adho-mukhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having the face downwards ; headlong
sāśru-kalaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. inarticulate through tears
sāśru: mfn. accompanied by tears , tearful , shedding tears
bāṣpa-kala: mfn. inarticulate through tears (EBC: his voice low with tears ; EHJ: hardly intelligible through his tears; PO: choking with tears)
kala: mfn. indistinct , dumb; (ifc. , bāṣpa , or aśru preceding) indistinct or inarticulate (on account of tears) ; m. a low or soft and inarticulate tone (as humming , buzzing &c ) ; m. (in poetry) time equal to four mātras or instants
kala-kala: m. any confused noise (as a tinkling or rattling sound , the murmuring of a crowd &c )
kṛtāñjaliḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who joins the hollowed palms in reverence or to solicit a favour (holding the hollowed palms together as if to receive alms or an offering) , standing in a reverent or respectful posture
śanaiḥ: ind. quietly , softly , gently , gradually , alternately
idam (acc. sg.): n. this
chandakaḥ (nom. sg.): m. Chandaka
uttaram (acc. sg.): n. answer , reply ; n. (in law) a defence , rejoinder , a defensive measure ; n. contradiction
jagau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. gai: to sing , speak or recite in a singing manner ; relate in metrical language