Wednesday, January 1, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 8.74: A Bit of Autobiography?

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
tato muhūrtaṁ suta-śoka-mohito janena tulyābhijanena dhāritaḥ |
nirīkṣya dṣṭyā jala-pūrṇayā hayaṁ mahī-tala-stho vilalāpa pārthivaḥ || 8.74

And so, momentarily stupefied in filial grief,

Buttressed by people of like ancestry,

A lord of the earth, with a view that was full to overflowing,
eyeballed a horse,

Whereupon, standing on the surface of the earth, 
the earth-lord lamented:

The content of today's verse as I read it, below the surface, is at least partly autobiographical.

Thus in the 1st pāda muhūrtam mohita, “momentarily stupefied” can be read as an ironic expression of enlightenment as a condition of forgetfulness – that condition being not a once-and-for-all realization but rather an experience to be repeatedly refreshed

That being so, the ostensible meaning of muhūrtam is “for a moment” (EBC/EHJ), as per definition 1 of momentary in Webster's dictionary; but the real meaning of muhūrtam, below the surface, might be 2. operative or recurring at every moment.

1 :  continuing only a moment :  fleeting
2 :  operative or recurring at every moment

In the 1st pāda, again, suta-śoka ostensibly means “grief for his son,” but it could equally mean “the grief of a son.”

What might be the grief of an enlightened son?

Could it be the sorrow of having already fallen down seven times when facing the prospect of getting up for the eighth time?

I heard on the radio a few days ago a quote to the effect that a successful politician is one who is able to go from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm. In the background, I think Aśvaghoṣa's words might be rooted in that kind of ironic recognition.

A safer bet still might be to understand  suta-śoka as the kind of grief that Dogen inherited as the son of his master in China (Jap: Tendo Nyojo), and which he frequently expressed in Shobogenzo prefaced by the exclamation KANASHIMU-BESHI, “It is lamentable.” For example, it is lamentable that Zen monks seem mainly interested in their own fame and profit. It is lamentable that people like to discuss the existence of this and that sect of so-called Zen Buddhism. It is lamentable that Zen practitioners of like ancestry revile each other with foul and abusive language, or do each other down by even crueller and more insidious means because of their personal political or emotional agenda. And so on and so forth.

If we are prone to think that enlightenment might be a once-and-for-all realization, Aśvaghoṣa in the 1st pāda is falsifying that view by pointing with muhūrtam to a momentary state. Similarly in the 2nd pāda, if we are prone to think that an enlightened person is capable of doing everything all by himself, Aśvaghoṣa as I read him is negating that view, or that foolish expectation.

Ostensibly, of course, Aśvaghoṣa is describing the king being held up physically, in EBC's words, “by his attendants all of the same race.”

Then the king, distracted by his grief for his son, being held up for a moment by his attendants all of the same race, gazed on the horse with his eyes filled with tears, and then falling on the ground wailed aloud: (EBC)

EHJ translates “held up by persons of birth equal to his own,” and adds a footnote: It would have been improper for any one of lower birth to raise the king up.

Shuffling at least one small step in the right direction, PO goes with “held up by men of equal rank.”

With regard to the efforts of EBC and EHJ, I am guessing, Aśvaghoṣa might have expressed his own sorrow, and Dogen might have echoed him with a KANASHIMUBEHI.

The greatest obstacle to doing a true translation might be an agenda that, without realizing it, one imposes on the translation.

Apropos of which I was discussing yesterday with my son, as I drove him to the train station, how sometimes one unexpectedly gets a good result when one has successfully freed oneself from an agenda – for example, by truly inhibiting one's desire to gain an end, in the way that one consciously practices in Alexander work.

“Yes, Dad,” my son said, with the kind of practical insight that he must have inherited from his mother, “But it's difficult not to have an agenda when you've got one.”

The 3rd pāda as I read it is an ironic expression of sitting-zen practice, in which the principle is that in the integration of mind (eyeball) and body (horse), all views are abandoned. 

The Buddha-Dharma, as Nāgārjuna famously asserted, is for the abandonment of all views (sarva-dṛṣṭi-prahāṇāya [dative singular]). If that was Nāgārjuna's thesis, I witnessed the antithesis too many more times than I care to remember, listening to my Zen teacher forcibly and enthusiastically express his own opinion on anything and everything.

The dṛṣṭi in the 3rd pāda of today's verse, however, ostensibly means not “view” but “sight” or “eye,” so that dṛṣṭyā jala-pūrṇayā ostensibly means “with his eyes filled with tears” (EBC) or “with tearful gaze” (EHJ) or “with tearful eyes” (PO).

Finally the 4th pāda, as I read it, is Aśvaghoṣa's expression of what it was for him to give voice to the truth, standing on the earth, having realized the whole earth just by the act of sitting.

A verse like today's verse, then, on the surface doesn't seem to be saying much – or even seems to be saying something distasteful, if it is translated as badly as EBC and EHJ translated it, back in the day when the British Empire was organized on the lines of race. But below the surface, though I may be guilty of reading too much into it based on my own agenda, I think today's verse is saying a lot.

tataḥ: ind. then
muhūrtam (acc. sg.): m. n. a moment , instant , any short space of time
suta-śoka-mohitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): stupefied by grief for his son ; rendered insensible by the grief of a son
mohita: mfn. stupefied , bewildered , infatuated , deluded (often in comp. e.g. kāma-m° , infatuated by love)

janena (inst. sg.): m. creature , living being , man , person , race ; mfn. generating
tulyābhijanena (inst. sg.) by
tulya: mfn. equal to , of the same kind or class or number or value , similar , comparable , like (with instr.)
abhijana: m. family , race; descendants ; ancestors ; noble descent ; native country ; fame
dhāritaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. borne (also in the womb) , held , supported &c

nirīkṣya = abs. nir- √ īkṣ : to look at or towards , behold , regard , observe (also the stars) , perceive
nis: ind. out , forth , away &c (rarely used as an independent word [e.g. AV. vi , 18 , 3 ; vii , 115 , 3 ; xvi , 2 , 1], but mostly as a prefix to verbs and their derivatives [cf. niḥ- √ kṣi &c below] , or to nouns not immediately connected with verbs , in which case it has the sense , " out of " , " away from " [cf. nirvana , niṣ-kauśāmbi &c ] or that of a privative or negative adverb = a3 , " without " , " destitute of " , " free from " , " un- " [cf. nir-artha , nir-mala &c ] , or that of a strengthening particle " thoroughly " , " entirely " , " very " [cf. nih-śūnya , niṣ-kevala , nir-muṇḍa] ; it is liable to be changed to niḥ , nir , niś , niṣ , and nī ; cf. above and below).
√ īkṣ : to see , look , view , behold , look at , gaze at ; to watch over (with acc. )
dṛṣṭyā (inst. sg.): f. seeing , viewing , beholding (also with the mental eye); sight , the faculty of seeing ; view, notion ; (with Buddhists) a wrong view; eye, look, glance
jala-pūrṇayā (inst. sg. f.): mfn. " full to overflowing " , with yoga m. irresistible impulse ; filled with tears, Bcar. viii, 74
jala: n. (also pl.) water , any fluid
pūrṇa: mfn. filled , full , filled with or full of (instr. or gen. or comp.)
hayam (acc. sg.): m. a horse

mahī-tala-sthaḥ (nom. sg. m.): standing on the surface of the earth
mahī-tala: n. the surface of the earth , ground , soil
stha: mfn. (only ifc.) standing , staying , abiding , being situated in , existing or being in or on or among
vilalāpa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vi- √ lap : to utter moaning sounds , wail , lament , bewail ; to speak variously , talk , chatter
pārthivaḥ (nom. sg.): m. an inhabitant of the earth; m. a lord of the earth , king , prince , warrior

諸臣徐扶起 以法勸令安
久而心小醒 而告白馬言

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