Sunday, December 8, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.50: The Miracle of Starting Out

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
iti prayāṇaṁ bahudhaivam-adbhutaṁ niśamya tās-tasya mahātmanaḥ striyaḥ |
pranaṣṭa-śokā iva vismayaṁ yayur-mano-jvaraṁ pravrajanāt-tu lebhire || 8.50

When thus the women heard of the starting out,

Which was in so many ways miraculous, of that mighty man,

They felt such amazement that the flame of sorrow seemed to go out.

And yet they conceived, following on from the going forth, 
fever of the mind.

Somewhere along the line a section of Chinese verses was either accidentally misplaced, or deliberately re-arranged by a Chinese editor who exceeded his remit, so that the coming description of Gautamī's grieving, contained in eight verses from BC8.51 to BC8.58, was moved forward in the Chinese text to follow the first mention of Gautamī (which in the Sanskrit is in BC8.24). 

The Chinese verses in question are verses 597 through to 607 in Samuel Beal's translation into English. In Charles Willemen's translation, the section of misplaced verses corresponds to verses 24 through 31 of Chapter VIII.

These eleven verses in Beal's translation and eight verses in Willemen's translation correspond to Sanskrit verses BC8.50 through to BC8.59. Since the verses describe the grieving of the prince's step-mother Gautamī, the natural place to replace the section of Chinese, assuming that the proper order had been lost, would have been after the initial description of Gautamī  (i.e. after verse 596 in Beal's translation, and verse 23 in Willemen's translation, corresponding to BC8.24 in the original Sanskrit).

This explains the anomaly observable in the University of Oslo's  THESAURUS LITERATURAE BUDDHICAE  (TLB), whereby there is a large block of Chinese text next to BC8.24, and then a large section from BC8.50 through to BC8.59 for which no Chinese translation is provided.

The Chinese words that correspond to today's verse are 又聞子出家 長歎増悲感.
Having been wrongly transposed, their subject seems to be the singular Gautamī, rather than the plural women (tāḥ striyaḥ) of the original. Hence Beal translated:
And again, hearing that her son had become a recluse, deeply sighing and with increased sadness she thought,...
And Willemen translated:
When she further heard that her son had gone forth, she sighed deeply and
her sadness increased.

Dry though such sand-counting is, it does provide a salutary example of how, in a game of Chinese whispers, “Send reinforcements we are going to advance” is liable to turn into “Send three and fourpence, we are going to a dance.”  That being so, if any sacred ancient text claims to be the immutable word of God, as dictated and guarded over by angels, I for one would treat that claim with the utmost scepticism.

The second textual issue is that in the 1st pāda of today's verse the old Nepalese manuscript has bahudhevam, which in EBC's text appears as bahudhaivam (bahudhā, in many ways + evam, thus, so). EHJ amended to bahu-devam (“with its accompaniment of many gods”). I much prefer EBC's version.

Accepting EBC's version of the 1st pāda, I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention was not to follow Chandaka in discussing gods, but on the contrary was to consider the miraculousness and multifariousness of a real decision to go into movement, followed as sure as day follows night by a movement. 

I could rabbit on further about thinking and action, but I have rabbited enough already. And an ounce of investigation is worth ten tonnes of my rabbiting on. 

Turning to the second half of today's verse, I have thought to comment on several occasions before, though I am not sure if I have mentioned it, that Aśvaghoṣa's wording often seems to fit a hidden meaning more perfectly than it fits the ostensible meaning. The second half of today's verse strikes me as a good example of that.

Thus the ostensible meaning of the 2nd half of today's verse is as per the three professors' translations, each of which has something awkward about it, either in the wording (so that EBC feels obliged to add “again” and “at the thought of”) or in the ostensibly self-contradictory logic (their grief was if gone, but they continued to grieve).

those women, as though losing their grief, were filled with wonder, but they again took up their distress at the thought of his becoming an ascetic. (EBC)
they were lost in amazement as if their grief had gone, but they became the prey of mental fever because of his taking up the mendicant's life. (EHJ)
they were amazed, their grief, as if destroyed, but their hearts burned because he had gone forth. (PO)

Aśvaghoṣa's wording makes much better sense when we remember that very often in Aśvaghoṣa's poetry tāḥ striyaḥ, “the women” or “the ladies,” stands ironically for a pack of big ugly blokes who have come together in a vihāra to sit in stoic silence. 

If we thus follow the hidden meaning, pravrajanāt in the 4th pāda does not refer, as per the three professors' translation to his going forth; it refers to the ladies' own going forth.

In that case, the kind of amazement (vismayam) referred to, which seems to cause the flame of scorching grief to go out, might be the kind of amazement that the Buddha causes Nanda to experience in SN Canto 10.
Nanda beheld Indra's forest all around him, his eyes wide open with amazement (vismaya-phulla-dṛṣṭiḥ) / And the apsarases surrounded him, bristling with joyous excitement, while eyeing each other haughtily. // SN10.34 //
And the kind of fever of the mind (mano-jvaram) referred to might be the kind of zealous end-gaining for which Ānanda criticizes monk Nanda in SN Canto 11:
Blazing with a fire of desire in your heart, you carry out observances with your body: / What is this devout abstinence of yours, who does not practise abstinence with his mind? // SN11.30 //

iti: thus
prayāṇam (acc. sg.): n. setting out , starting , advancing , motion onwards , progress , journey , march , invasion ; departure
bahudhā: ind. in many ways or parts or forms or directions , variously , manifoldly , much , repeatedly
evam: ind. thus
bahu-devam [EHJ] (acc. sg. n.): 'many-godded'; attended by many gods
adbhutam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. extraordinary ; supernatural , wonderful , marvellous

niśamya = abs. ni- √ śam: to observe , perceive , hear , learn
tāḥ (nom. pl. f.): those
tasya (gen. sg. m.): of him
mahātmanaḥ (gen. sg. m.): mfn. " high-souled " , magnanimous , having a great or noble nature , high-minded , noble ; highly gifted , exceedingly wise ; eminent , mighty , powerful , distinguished
striyaḥ (nom. pl.): women

pranaṣṭa-śokāḥ (nom. pl. f.): devoid of sorrow
pranaṣṭa: mfn. lost , disappeared , vanished , ceased , gone , perished , destroyed , annihilated
śoka: m. flame , glow , heat; m. sorrow , affliction , anguish , pain , trouble , grief
iva: like, as if, almost
vismayam (acc. sg.): m. wonder , surprise , amazement , bewilderment , perplexity; pride , arrogance; doubt , uncertainty
yayur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. yā: to go to, become

mano-jvaram (acc. sg.): m. heart-ache, Bcar.
jvara: m. fever (differing according to the different doṣas or humors of the body supposed to be affected by it ; " leader and king of all diseases " Sus3r. ) ; fever of the soul , mental pain , affliction , grief
pravrajanāt (abl. sg.): n. going abroad
pra- √ vraj: to go forth , proceed , depart ; to leave home and wander forth as an ascetic mendicant
tu: but
lebhire: to take , seize , catch ; catch sight of , meet with , find ; to gain possession of , obtain , receive , conceive , get , receive

又聞子出家 長歎増悲感

No comments: