Sunday, December 29, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.71: Blue Lotuses Open in Fire

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
tatas-tathā śoka-vilāpa-viklavāṁ yaśodharāṁ prekṣya vasuṁ-dharā-gatām |
mahāravindair-iva vṣṭi-tāḍitair-mukhaiḥ sa-bāṣpair-vanitā vicukruśuḥ || 8.71

Then, seeing her thus undone by grief and lamentation,

Seeing Yaśodharā alighting on the ground,
– the Bearer of Glory on the treasure-bearing Earth –

The women,
with tearful faces like big lotuses battered by raindrops,

Vented their sorrow.

Picture this ancient Indian scene: a much loved man or woman, having met a premature demise, is being mourned by dozens of tearful-faced bereaved friends and relatives, in the company of a number of Zen practitioners who, with beautifully resonant voices, are reciting a canto of a beautiful Sanskrit epic verse written by Aśvaghoṣa.

What is being expressed there, in the midst of that most sorrowful of scenes, is the most beautiful teaching in the world in the words of a teacher regarded as one of the most gifted poets in the history of Sanskrit literature. Sublime beauty in the midst of abject grief.

In a verse like today's verse, as I read it, Aśvaghoṣa was pointing to the real existence in this world of such juxtapositions, so that – as Dogen would point out many centuries later – if we want to find blue lotus flowers, the place to look for them is in fire.

Zen patriarchs have said since ancient times that blue lotus flowers open in fire, in which case fire might mean the height of summer, when blue lotuses bloom in cool ponds. At the same time śoka, as in the opening pāda of today's verse, according to the MW dictionary, before it means sorrow or grief, means burning or heat. Śoka is from the verb √śuc, which means to shine, glow or burn, and thence to suffer violent heat or pain, to be sorrowful.

As a translation of śoka-vilāpa-viklavām in the 1st pāda, “undone by grief and lamentation” is EHJ's choice of words and in my book it is a very apt choice, since everything coming undone is what we human beings tend to fear, and at the same time for any of us who are truly devoted to sitting practice, it is what we ultimately want.

Another element of today's verse that relates, as I read it, to sitting-meditation is the final word of the verse vicukruśuḥ, lit. “they cried out.” Since √kruś can mean not only to cry out but also to weep or to lament, I felt justified in translating vicukruśuḥ as “they vented their sorrow” – wishing by that translation to convey some sense of finding release in breathing out.

At the beginning of sitting-zen, according to Dogen's instructions, we should kanki-issoku, which literally means something like “run out of steam for one breath” or “lack ki for one breath,” i.e. “make one complete exhalation” or “breathe out fully once.”

For people like me who are devoted not only to sitting but also to the teaching of FM Alexander, that is an opportunity to practise what Alexander called “the whispered ah!” And the whispered ah is an opportunity to come undone, venting as one breathes out anything that wishes to be vented.

'Dog-Whisperer' Cesar Milan describes how dogs can help to provide a kind of bridge between civilized human beings and wild nature. For those of us not in a position to keep a dog -- or to lead, as Cesar likes to lead, a pack of dogs -- I would suggest that we can also use our own breath as a kind of bridge back to wild nature.

Exercising the kind of breath control that would have been necessary to recite a verse like today's verse, is akin to walking a dog on a lead. But when we sit in full lotus, have a vent on one or two out-breaths if we feel like it, sway left and right, and then close our mouths and consciously quit trying, that is akin to going into an enormous field, closing the gate behind you, and saying to your four-legged friend, “Go on mate, go wild. Run wherever you like.”

tataḥ: ind. then
tathā: ind. thus, in such a manner
śoka-vilāpa-viklavām (acc. sg. f.): distressed in her lamentations of sorrow
śoka: mfn. ( √ śuc) burning , hot; flame , glow , heat ; m. sorrow , affliction , anguish , pain , trouble , grief
vilāpa: n. lamentation , wailing
vi- √ lap: to utter moaning sounds , wail , lament , bewail ; to speak variously , talk , chatter
viklava: mfn. overcome with fear or agitation , confused , perplexed , bewildered , alarmed , distressed
vi- √ klav: to become agitated or confused

yaśodharām (acc. sg.): Yaśodharā
prekṣya = abs. pra- √īkṣ: to look at , view , behold , observe
vasuṁ-dharā-gatām (acc. sg. f.): gone to the wealth-bearer; fallen on the ground
vasu: n. wealth , goods , riches , property; n. gold ; n. any valuable or precious object
vasuṁ-dharā: f. the earth ; the soil , the ground
gata: mfn. come to , approached , arrived at , being in , situated in , contained in; gone to any state or condition , fallen into (acc. or loc. or in comp. e.g. kṣayaṁ or kṣaye gata , gone to destruction ; āpad-g° , fallen into misfortune Mn. ix , 283)

mahāravindaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): great lotuses
aravinda: (fr. ara, wheel spoke/radius + vinda, getting) a lotus , Nelumbium Speciosum or Nymphaea Nelumbo
iva: like
vṛṣṭi-tāḍitaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): struck by the rain
vṛṣṭi: f. rain
tāḍita: mfn. struck , beaten , chastised

mukhaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. face
sa-bāṣpaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): tearful
vanitāḥ (nom. pl.): f. a loved wife , mistress , any woman
vicukruśuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. vi- √ kruś: to cry out , exclaim ; to raise or utter (a cry) ; to call to , invoke (acc.); to sound
√ kruś: to cry out , shriek , yell , bawl , call out , halloo ; to lament , weep ; to make a singing noise (as the ear)

惙惙氣殆盡 臥於塵土中
諸餘婇女衆 見生悲痛心
猶如盛蓮花 風雹摧令萎 

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