Monday, December 30, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.72: Why A Protector of Men Trembled

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
samāpta-jāpyaḥ kta-homa-maṅgalo n-pas-tu devāyatanād-viniryayau |
⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦ ⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−
janasya tenārta-raveṇa cāhataś-cacāla vajra-dhvanineva vāraṇaḥ || 8.72

The protector of men, however,
having finished with muttering of prayers,
being through with oblations and benedictions,

Had got out from the temple, the abode of gods;

And yet, struck by that sound of people suffering,

He trembled like an elephant struck by the sound of a thunderbolt.

What is the action of a buddha? How is the awakened action, the buddha-carita, of the title of this work?

It turns out in practice to be the wrong kind of question. Even if we knew the answer, how could that help?

If I have learned anything in 30 years of wrongly asking the question, I have picked up one or two clues about what or how it is NOT. For example, it is not religious behaviour based on belief in something spiritual. And it is not what people think it is; it is not what I or others tend to expect it to be.

In general, when Aśvaghoṣa writes generically of “the women,” the striyaḥ, or the vanitāḥ of yesterday's verse, I think the women represent a collection or gathering of monks, or Zen practitioners. The king, in contrast, or as he is called in today's verse nṛ-paḥ, “protector of men,” stands for the king of dharma, Guatama Buddha, or a king of dharma, an individual buddha.

So in today's verse Aśvaghoṣa is ostensibly telling, poetically but quite innocently, the narrative of how King Śuddhodana, realizing that he had lost his son to the wandering life, lamented and felt sorry for himself. But as we have learned by now in verse after verse after verse, Aśvaghoṣa's poetry is never as innocent as all that. Below the surface, something is always afoot.

So what is afoot below the surface of today's verse, as I read it, is that Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting that, whereas people are prone to think that a buddha is a religious believer whose place is in a temple, in this example a protector of men has finished already with religious stuff and has got out of the area of the gods. And yet the sound of people suffering stimulates in him compassion for those people (as opposed to the surface meaning in which the king feels sorry for himself).

I have heard it said that the essence of all religion is compassion. Maybe that is a view shared by some of the women described in yesterday's verse as venting their sorrow. Today's verse as I read it suggests that the compassion of a true protector of men, however, is of a different order. He is through with religion... and yet is mightily moved by compassion.

On the surface, then, in summary, today's verse describes a protector of men trembling because the lamenting of women represents a personal disaster for him, the frustration of his royal agenda. But below the surface Aśvaghoṣa is describing something very different indeed – a protector of men, though he is through with religion, yet still being moved by compassion.

samāpta-jāpyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): having concluded his muttering of prayers
samāpta: mfn. completed, concluded, ended
jāpya: n. a prayer to be muttered , muttering of prayers
kṛta-homa-maṅgalaḥ (nom. sg. m.): having completed the auspicious oblations
homa: m. the act of making an oblation to the devas or gods by casting clarified butter into the fire (» deva-yajña and IW. 245) , oblation with fire , burnt-offering , any oblation or sacrifice
maṅgala: n. (fr. √ maṅg, to move?) happiness , felicity , welfare , bliss ; anything auspicious or tending to a lucky issue (e.g. a good omen , a prayer , benediction , auspicious ornament or amulet , a festival or any solemn ceremony on important occasions &c ; a good old custom

nṛ-paḥ (nom. sg. m.): protector of men, king
tu: but
devāyatanāt (abl. sg.): n. " the dwelling of a god " , a temple
deva: a god
āyatana: n. resting-place , support , seat , place , home , house , abode
viniryayau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vi-nir- √ yā : to go forth, to go out

janasya (gen. sg.): m. people
tena (inst. sg.): that
ārta-raveṇa: the distressed tumult
ārta: mfn. fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained , disturbed ; oppressed , suffering , sick , unhappy
rava: m. ( √ru) a roar , yell , cry , howl (of animals , wild beasts &c ); clamour, outcry, any noise or sound
ca: and
āhatah (nom. sg. m.): mfn. struck , beaten , hit , hurt

cacāla = 3rd pers. sg. perf. cal: to be moved , stir , tremble , shake , quiver , be agitated , palpitate
vajra-dhvaninā (inst. sg.): by the sound of a thunderbolt
vajra: mn. " the hard or mighty one " , a thunderbolt (esp. that of indra)
dhvani: m. sound , echo , noise , voice , tone , tune , thunder ; the sound of a drum
vāraṇaḥ (nom. sg. ): m. an elephant (from its power of resistance)

父王失太子 晝夜心悲戀
齋戒求天神 願令子速還
發願祈請已 出於天祠門
聞諸啼哭聲 驚怖心迷亂
如天大雷震 群象亂奔馳 

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