Monday, December 9, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.51: The Grief of Gasping Gautamī

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
viṣāda-pāriplava-locanā tataḥ pranaṣṭa-potā kurarīva duḥkhitā |
vihāya dhairyaṁ virurāva gautamī tatāma caivāśru-mukhī jagāda ca || 8.51

Then, her eyes swimming in despondency,

The grief-stricken Gautamī, like an osprey who had lost her chicks,

Gave up all semblance of composure and squealed.

Tearful-faced, she gasped for the breath in which she said:

Today's verse, for a start, is rooted in neuro-physiological psychology. Which is to say that, like the study of the grief of Nanda's abandoned wife Sundarī in SN Canto 6, today's verse describes grief as a psychological phenomenon (viz. suffering associated with loss, and abandonment of self-control) and equally as a physiological phenomenon (tears, osprey-like squealing, gasping for breath).

On the surface, we might say, grief is a psychological phenomenon, but when we dig deeper, we begin to understand that all psychological phenomena are rooted in physiological processes and all have physical manifestations, hence:
Then the king's queen, Gautamī, tearful as a doting water buffalo that had lost her calf, / Abducted her arms and fell, fronds shuddering, like a golden banana plant. // BC8.24//
Conversely, as the antithesis to this materialistic proposition, a contrarian non-Buddhist might go against the prevailing scientific wisdom and assert that all physiological phenomena are rooted in psychological phenomena – form being emptiness, and emptiness being form.

When we really go deeper, however, all of the above philosophizing might be so much splashing around on the surface.

What is really going on below the surface, in the words of Gautamī and Yaśodharā in the present canto, as in the words of Sundarī in SN Canto 6, is a stating of the case against a bodhisattva necessarily having to abandon his wife and family.

Below the surface, in other words, Aśvaghoṣa is letting the women state a case which the buddha-to-be is going to refute in the next and subsequent cantos.

Perhaps the refutation of the emotional arguments of abandoned wives and mothers is made even more strongly in Saundara-nanda than it is in Buddha-carita – the difference being that in Saundara-nanda neither the Buddha nor Nanda refutes Sundarī's arguments in words; but, the reader might be left to conclude, the Buddha's actions speak louder than words.

Going further, for a bloke who -- whether alone by the forest or in a family -- mainly likes to sit, but who also likes to chew on words about sitting, are there any words to chew on in today's verse?

For example, could vihāya dhairyaṁ virurāva, “she abandoned firmness and roared aloud,” be intended to suggest, below the surface, dropping off body and mind, i.e. forgetting oneself, and letting the lion's roar be heard?

Possibly, but if we want to relate today's verse to sitting-meditation (and I do), a better way to understand today's verse might be as one of those verses which remind us what sitting-meditation is NOT.

The main point, in that case, is that whether or not sitting-meditation includes swimming eyes and a tearful face, whether it involves getting a grip on oneself or loosening one's grip on oneself, it does NOT include gasping for breath, and it does NOT involve squealing like an osprey or saying any words.

These comments of mine are always open to the criticism of being too wordy. But in mitigation, I would ask for it to be taken into account before sentencing, that every morning before attending to this blog I always sit for an hour investigating what it is not to say anything – and in that not saying anything, not to gasp for breath.

viṣāda-pāriplava-locanā (nom. sg. f.): her eyes swimming in despondency
viṣāda: m. drooping state , languor , lassitude ; dejection , depression , despondency (esp. as the result of unrequited love) ; disappointment, despair
vi- √ṣad: to sink (sit) down
pāriplava: mfn. swimming ; moving to and fro , agitated , unsteady , tremulous
locana: n. " organ of sight " , the eye
tataḥ: ind. then, from that

pranaṣṭa-potā (nom. sg. f.): who has lost her young
pranaṣṭa: mfn. lost , disappeared , vanished , ceased , gone , perished , destroyed , annihilated
pota: m. a young animal or plant (mostly ifc. e.g. mṛga-p° " a young deer " , cūta-p° " a young mango tree ")
kurarī: f. a female osprey (fr. √3. ku)
√3. ku = kū: to sound , make any noise , cry out , moan , cry (as a bird)
iva: like
duḥkhitā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. pained , distressed ; afflicted, unhappy

vihāya = abs. vi- √ hā: to leave behind, abandon ; to be deprived of , lose
dhairyam (acc. sg.): n. firmness , constancy , calmness , patience , gravity , fortitude , courage
dhīra: mfn. steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave
virurāva = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vi- √ ru: to roar aloud , cry , buzz , hum , yell , sing , lament ,
gautamī (nom. sg.): f. a female descendant of gotama ; name of Prince Sarvartha-siddha's step-mother

tatāma = 3rd pers. sg. perf. tam: to gasp for breath (as one suffocating) , choke , be suffocated , faint away , be exhausted , perish , be distressed or disturbed or perplexed
ca: and
eva (emphatic)
aśru-mukhī (nom. sg. f.): mfn. tearful-faced
jagāda = 3rd pers. sg. perf. to speak articulately , speak , say , relate ,
ca: and (ca-ca may express immediate connection between two acts or their simultaneous occurrence)

No corresponding Chinese – did a verse of Chinese go missing, or was a verse omitted, as the original section of text was either accidentally mislaid or wrongly re-arranged? 

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