Saturday, December 14, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.56: Rising Above Disrespect and Having No Guru?

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
vimāna-pṣṭhe śayanāsanocitaṁ mahārha-vastrāguru-candanārcitam |
kathaṁ nu śītoṣṇajalāgameṣu tac-charīram-ojasvi vane bhaviṣyati || 8.56

How will his body,
a body used to lying down and sitting up in the palace heights
[or sitting in a state risen above disrespect],

A body honoured with the most valuable of garments
and with the finest a-guru fragrance,

How will his body subsist when cold and heat and rain come in?

That body so possessed of vitality: how, in the forest, will it be?

Ostensibly today's verse is Gautamī lamenting the absence of her son, but below the surface Aśvaghoṣa  might be celebrating the possibility of there being present in a human body the reality of buddha-carita, awakened action.

The irony hinges as usual upon Sanskrit words like vimāna and a-guru which mean one thing on the surface but which below the surface tell a different story. At some point I may make a list of some of Aśvaghoṣa's favourite words with double meanings, and both vimāna (disrespect; palace) and a-guru (not heavy; fragrant aloes) feature on that list – I remember having discussed both terms before in these comments.

In the 1st pāda, then, vimāna-pṛṣṭhe ostensibly means “up in the top of the palace;” hence EBC: on the roof of a palace”; EHJ: “on the palace roof”; PO: “on the palace roof-top.” Ostensibly the 1st pāda has nothing at all to interest the mind of a bloke who sits. But if the suggestion is that buddha-carita as awakened action, at the first phase, can be thought of as a state that transcends all concern with respect and disrespect, then that might be something worth reflecting on …

Being revered gave him no thrill, and neither did disrespect cause him any grief. / His direction was decided, come sword or sandalwood, and whether the going was tough or easy he was not diminished. // SN3.19 //

I don't know any statistics but think that a lot of murders and assaults are triggered when a man who has low self-esteem perceives that he has been disrespected in some way or other. So, ironically, in order to rise above disrespect it might be necessary for us to cultivate unshakeable self-esteem. Speaking for myself, I am still working in that direction. Along the way I continue to notice that my habitual emotional reactions are not so different from a street thug who perceives that somebody has “dissed” him. As the late Ray Evans, my old Alexander head of training used often to say detachedly, on noticing some tell-tale sign of deep-rooted vestibular dysfunction, "That's interesting." 

The 2nd pāda is one long compound, three of whose five elements can mean a kind of incense. Thus 
  • mahārha as an adjective means “very costly” (as an ermine robe) or “greatly valuable” (as a kaṣāya), but as a noun mahārha means white sandalwood; 
  • a-guru as an adjective means “not heavy” but as a noun means aloes; and 
  • candana at the end of a compound means “the best of” but as a noun originally means sandalwood. 

One way of translating the 2nd pāda, then, retaining all three references to fragrant woods, would be “served clothes scented with white sandalwood, and honoured by aloes and sandalwood.” 

The three professors each retained two of three references, taking mahārha-vastra to mean costly garments, and a-guru-candana to mean aloes and sandalwood; hence 
  • EBC: honoured with costly garments, aloes, and sandal-wood”; 
  • EHJ: “adorned with priceless clothes, aloes and sandalwood”; 
  • PO: “bedecked in priceless clothes, aloe, and sandal paste.”
Again, then, the 2nd pāda, with three or two references to fragrant woods, ostensibly offers little to interest a bloke who sits. But how about if we read mahārha neither as “white sandalwood” nor as “costly/priceless” (as in priceless clothes of gold brocade) but rather as “greatly valuable” (as in a greatly valuable robe of discarded cloth); and read -candana as “the best of”? 

The word upon which the 2nd pāda turns then becomes a-guru, which before it means “aloes” means “not heavy” or “light.” But since a-guru is a compound beginning with a negative prefix, we should be alert to possible hidden meanings pointing us towards the buddha-nature as a bit of nothing. 

So might Aśvaghoṣa have been intending to suggest, for example, awakened action as nothing heavy (a-guru = not heavy, light) ? Or might he have been out to subvert the whole religious conception of a guru, as defined by the MW dictionary, as “a spiritual parent or preceptor”  (a-guru = not having a guru)?  Such a subversive under-current in the  2nd pāda, if Aśvaghoṣa did indeed intend it, would fit nicely within the four-phased framework that I discussed yesterday. Going still further, might Aśvaghoṣa have been intending also to point to an even higher level of a-guru, which is having as one's guru the state of being without  (a-guru = the guru of being without) ? If so, what might that a-guru smell like? I don't know, but I venture to suggest that it would not smell of Buddhism.

How will his body subsist when cold and heat and rain come in? Gautamī's question is rhetorical. She fears his body will not be able to adapt to the cold, heat and rain. But we can also take the question as an open question. In which case, is there a right answer? If there is a right answer, is the right answer that he will adapt so that his body will not get too cold, too hot or too wet? Or is the right answer the when cold and heat and rain come in, his body will get cold and hot and wet? Or is it rather that, there being no such thing as a right position but only such a thing as a right direction, Aśvaghoṣa's intention to cause us to reflect on how miraculous and rare it is to have temporarily in our possession a waterproof human body which, within reasonable limits, is capable of keeping itself cool in summer and warming itself up in winter?

The body so possessed of vitality: how, in the forest, will it be? Again, on the surface, all that is happening is that Gautamī is asking a rhetorical question. But below the surface Aśvaghoṣa's intention may be to pose a question to which the appropriate response is not an answer in words.

vimāna-pṛṣṭhe (loc. sg.): at the heights of a palace
vimāna: m. disrespect , dishonour ; m. n. a car or chariot of the gods , any mythical self-moving aerial car ; m. the palace of an emperor or supreme monarch (esp. one with 7 stories)
pṛṣṭha: n. the back (as the prominent part of an animal) , the hinder part or rear of anything ; the upper side , surface , top , height
śayanāsanocitam (nom. sg. n.): used to lying down and sitting
śayana: n. the act of lying down or sleeping , rest , repose , sleep ; n. a bed , couch , sleeping-place
āsana: n. sitting , sitting down ; seat , place , stool
ucita: mfn. delightful , pleasurable , agreeable ; acceptable , fit or right to be taken ; used to
uc: to take pleasure in , delight in , be fond of ;to be accustomed ; to be suitable , suit , fit.

mahārha-vastrāguru-candanārcitam (nom. sg. n.): served offerings of very precious [the white sandal-wood of] garments and the best [the sandalwood of] aloe incense
mahārha: mfn. very worthy or deserving , very valuable or precious , splendid ; n. white sandal-wood
vastra: n. cloth , clothes , garment , raiment , dress , cover
a-guru: mfn. not heavy , light ; mn. the fragrant Aloe wood and tree , Aquilaria Agallocha.
guru: mfn. heavy , weighty; m. any venerable or respectable person (father , mother , or any relative older than one's self) ; m. a spiritual parent or preceptor (from whom a youth receives the initiatory mantra or prayer , who instructs him in the śāstras and conducts the necessary ceremonies up to that of investiture which is performed by the ācārya
candana: mn. sandal (Sirium myrtifolium , either the tree , wood , or the unctuous preparation of the wood held in high estimation as perfumes ; hence ifc. a term for anything which is the most excellent of its kind
arcita: mfn. honoured , worshipped , respected , saluted ; offered with reverence

katham: how?
nu: indeed , certainly , surely
kathaṁ nu: sometimes = kimu , or kutas (e.g. katkaṁ nu , how much more! na kathaṁ nu , how much less!)
śītoṣṇajalāgameṣu (loc. pl. m.): in the arrivals of coldness, heat, and waters
śīta: n. cold , coldness , cold weather
uṣṇa: mn. heat , warmth , the hot season (June , July)
jala: n. (also pl.) water , any fluid
āgama: m. arrival , coming , approach ; reading, studying ; acquisition of knowledge , science ; anything handed down and fixed by tradition

tat (nom. sg. n.): that
śarīram (nom. sg.): n. the body
ojasvi (nom. sg. n.): mfn. vigorous , powerful , strong , energetic
ojas: n. bodily strength , vigour , energy , ability , power ; vitality (the principle of vital warmth and action throughout the body) ; light , splendour , lustre
vane (loc. sg.): n. the forest
bhaviṣyati = 3rd pers. sg. future bhū: to be ; exist , be found , live , stay ; to be occupied with or engaged in , devote one's self to (with loc.)

生長於深宮 温衣細軟服
沐浴以香湯 末香以塗身
今則置風露 寒暑安可堪

華族大丈夫 標挺勝多聞

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