Friday, December 6, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.48: Letting Action In the Moment Be Grasped (Again)

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
yataś-ca vāso vana-vāsa-saṁmataṁ nisṣṭam-asmai samaye divaukasā |
divi praviddhaṁ mukuṭaṁ ca tadd-htaṁ tato 'pi daivo vidhir-eṣa ghyatām || 8.48

And since, in that most opportune of moments,
the robe approved for living the forest life

Was bestowed on him by a sky dweller,

And that headdress which he launched into the sky 
was borne away –

Hence, again, let this be grasped as action in the lap of the gods.

The ostensible point of Chandaka's words in today's verse, referring to events related from BC6.57 onwards, is again to excuse himself in the face of Yaśodharā's rage and to pin the blame instead on the gods, or on fate. Hence:

“we may learn from hence too that this was the ordering of fate” (EBC)
“this therefore too must be understood to have been of divine ordering” (EHJ)
“because of this too we must conclude, this was a divine disposition” (PO)

In commenting on BC8.42, I mentioned that I agreed with EHJ's supposition that Aśvaghoṣa probably first penned his 28-chaptered epic tale of Awakened Action (Buddha-carita) and then endeavoured to convey the same message even more concisely in the 18-chaptered epic tale of Beautiful Happiness (Saundara-nanda) – though I lack the literary expertise to follow the reasoning by which EHJ arrived at his conclusion.

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.”

So today's verse and the two preceding verses, with their repetitions of the same 4th pāda, may be a prime example of what EHJ was talking about.

What EHJ failed to notice, however, is that below the surface Aśvaghoṣa is repeatedly inviting us, no so much to learn or understand or conclude something as to grasp, as a bit of nothing, action in the moment of the present.

Gṛhyatām is a passive imperative, and grah is given in the dictionary as: to grasp, lay hold of; to arrest, stop; to catch, take captive, take prisoner, capture, imprison, capture; to take possession of, gain over, captivate. So gṛhyatām is most literally translated “let it be grasped.”

If my reading is permissible, that the object to be grasped is action here and now (vidhir eṣa) in a moment of the present (samaye), a defender of the kind of ostensible meaning suggested by the translations of the three professors might ask, rhetorically: how can action in a moment of the present be grasped?

Is it possible, after all, to grasp, or grab hold of, or pin down, action in a moment of the present?

No, in short, it is not.

So in the imperative vidhir-eṣa gṛhyatām, “let action here and now be grasped,” the kind of irony may be operating that is best appreciated by the gods themselves. 

In the final analysis, is action itself something that I simply do? Or is action nothing I can do directly -- is action, in the final analysis, in the lap of the gods? 

My Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima taught that action is real, thinking is not real. He spoke of an absolute gulf separating thinking and the reality of action. 

George Soros, on the contrary, who is better known as a money-man than as a philosopher, does see a relation between thinking and reality, and he describes the relation between thinking and reality as "reflexive." 

Aśvaghoṣa's poetry, as I read it, emphasizes another aspect of the relation between thinking and action/reality, which is irony, or the tendency that reality has to subvert, deflate and disappoint our thoughts, ideas and expectations. This aspect has some correspondence with the other pillar of Soros' system, besides reflexivity, which is namely "fallibility."

FM Alexander, like George Soros, saw a role for thinking which is contrary to what my teacher taught. And what FM Alexander saw as the relation between thinking and the reality of action -- what he meant by "thinking in activity" -- I am still in the process of investigating. 

In the last three verses I have translated daivo vidhiḥ in three different ways: 
  • action in the presence of the gods
  • action in the zone of the gods
  • action in the lap of the gods

Other possible translations are: 
  • action done with the gods
  • action with the gods on one's side
  • action sanctioned by the gods
  • action under the remit of the gods
  • action in the orbit of the gods.
  • action blessed by the gods. 
If action, in the final analysis, is not something I can simply do, and not something I can grasp, distill, bottle and sell for £10 a shot, is there some way I can learn to think, or some way I can learn to behave, so as, indirectly, to get the gods of action back on my side? 

yataḥ: ind. (correlative of tatas) wherefrom, whence, since ;
ca: and
vāsaḥ: n. cloth , clothes , dress , a garment
vana-vāsa-saṁmatam (nom. sg. n.): approved for one who lives in the forest
vana: n. the forest
vāsa: m. (fr. √4. vas) a garment , dress , clothes ; m. (fr. √5. vas) staying , remaining (esp. " overnight ") , abiding , dwelling , residence , living in (loc. or comp.); ifc. = having one's abode in , dwelling or living in
sammata: mfn. thinking together , being of the same opinion , agreed , consented or assented to , concurred in , approved by (gen. or comp.); (ifc.) agreeing with ; thought highly of , esteemed , renowned , celebrated , highly honoured by (gen.) ; allowed , authorized
sam- √ man: to think together , agree , assent to , approve

nisṛṣṭam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. hurled , thrown , cast ; sent forth , dismissed , set free ; allowed , authorized ; kindled; intrusted , committed , transferred , granted , bestowed
asmai (dat. sg.): to him
samaye: ind. at the appointed time, at the right moment, in good time for
samaya: m. coming together; appointed or proper time , right moment for doing anything, opportunity , occasion , time , season
divaukasā (inst. sg.): m. " sky-dweller " , a deity

divi (loc. sg.): f. the sky , heaven
praviddham (nom. sg. n.): mfn. hurled , cast , thrown
pra- √vyadh: to hurl , cast , throw away or down ; to hurl missiles, shoot
mukuṭam (nom. sg.): n. a tiara , diadem , crown ; a crest , point , head
ca: and
tad (nom. sg. n.): that
hṛtam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. carried off

tataḥ: ind. from that, hence, consequently
api: also
daivaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. belonging to or coming from the gods , divine , celestial ; depending on fate , fatal
vidhih (nom. sg.): m. a rule , formula , injunction , ordinance , statute , precept , law , direction ; method , manner or way of acting , mode of life , conduct , behaviour ; any act or action , performance , accomplishment , contrivance , work , business
eṣa (nom. sg. m.): this, this here
gṛhyatām = 3rd pers. sg. passive imperative grah: to grasp, lay hold of; to arrest, stop; to catch, take captive, take prisoner, capture, imprison; to take possession of, gain over, captivate.

斯皆天神力 [as per previous verse]

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