Monday, January 6, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 8.79: Let's Hear It for Non-Hereditary Sovereignty

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
ajasya rājñas-tanayāya dhīmate narādhipāyendra-sakhāya me sphā |
gate vanaṁ yas-tanaye divaṁ gato na mogha-bāṣpaḥ kpaṇaṁ jijīva ha || 8.79

That wise son of King Aja,

Ruler of men and friend of Indra: I envy him,

Who, when his son Rāma went to the forest, went himself to heaven,

He did not live a miserable life of shedding tears in vain.


I envy a wise son of a non-hereditary king,

A son who was sovereign among men, and a friend of Indra –

A son who, when a son retired to the forest, was in heaven,

A son who did not live a pitiable life of shedding tears in vain.

The three professors concur that the son of King Aja is 'Ten Chariots' Daśaratha (descendant of Ikṣvāku, sovereign of Ayodhyā), whose own son was Rāma. The latter's chariot famously came back from the forest empty, as described in BC8.8, causing the tears of grieving connections to fall vainly on the road.

Because this verse is ostensibly about Rāma, the hero of the Rāmayana, it is a particularly important verse in Patrick Olivelle's book. PO cites today's verse, along with BC8.8, in support of his argument that Aśvaghoṣa “sought to present Buddhism as an integral part of Brahmanism.”  One of the ways Aśvaghoṣa is supposed to have fulfilled this agenda was via "the implicit undercurrent of the entire text that compares Buddha to significant Brahmanical figures of the past." 

Hence in a note to BC8.8 PO writes:
After Rama went into exile in the forest, his chariot returned to the capital empty: Rāmāyaṇa II.51. As I have pointed out in the Introduction, it appears that Aśvaghoṣa's narrative of the departure of the Buddha, the return of Chanda, and the lamentations in the city and the palace, is modeled after that of Rama in the Rāmāyaṇa, although cast within a Buddhist theological and moral background.
What the fuck does PO mean by a “a Buddhist theological background”?

The learned professor writes, as if in reality there were any such thing, of “a Buddhist theological and moral background.” 

The reason may be that the prof. has never heard, from the mouth of a true son, the truth that mountains are nothing but mountains.

I would like totally to negate and falsify PO's argument, because I fucking hate religion. Not only for that reason, however, but because it is what I endeavour to do in commenting on every verse, I have looked for another meaning below the surface of today's verse. I must admit that I have had to look harder than usual. But anyway, here goes:

Ostensibly, yes, today's verse is about Daśaratha and his son Rāma. But Aśvaghoṣa does not mention either Daśaratha or Rāma by name, and this leaves the door open – or at least slightly ajar – to other readings.

Thus, in the 1st pāda, a-ja is ostensibly a proper name, so that ajasya rājñas-tanayāya dhīmate means “towards the wise son of King Aja,” but an alternative reading is that a-ja means “not-born” or “non-hereditary” so that ajasya rājñas-tanayāya dhīmate... me spṛhā means “I envy the son of a non-hereditary king” – as every Zen patriarch since the time of the Buddha has been the son of a non-hereditary dharma-king.

What King Śuddhodana is expressing in today's verse, then, if we follow this alternative reading, is the principle that earned sovereignty is a cut above hereditary sovereignty. And that is a principle to which I, for one, subscribe. 

So although this case for a hidden meaning may be tenuous, there are two things to be said in its defence: Firstly, every verse that Aśvaghoṣa wrote seems to have a hidden meaning, and so why should today's verse be different? Secondly, the particular hidden meaning that I am reading into today's verse has the merit of being ironic: it subverts or negates the ostensible meaning, which is built on a Brahmanical “theological and moral” framework wherein sovereignty is the karmic fruit of deeds done in past lives.

The biggest difficulty raised by this hidden meaning, as I have excavated it, is how to understand the 3rd pāda. The solution that I tentatively propose is that when the student of a Zen patriarch leaves home and retires to the forest to make the teaching of the four noble truths into his own possession, as the King of Dharma recommends Nanda to do in SN Canto 16, then that Zen patriarch whose son has gone to the forest, is already in heaven (divaṁ gataḥ) in the sense of being very happy. This is how the Buddha describes himself for example in SN18.33, seeing Nanda given over to the living of a forest beggar's life.

And finally, then, the hidden meaning that emerges out of the 4th pāda is that a Zen patriarch's shedding of tears is not always to be negated, but the main point is that, so long as a true son is truly true, his tears will not be shed in vain, and his life  however pitiably it is lived will not be lived in vain. 

Hence a translation that took account of this hidden meaning might read something like this:

I envy a wise son of a non-hereditary king,

A son who was sovereign among men, and a friend of Indra –

A son who, when a son retired to the forest, was in heaven,

A son who did not live a pitiable life of shedding tears in vain.

The reason I thus offer a translation of today's verse that is totally different from the three professors' translations, and offer a reading of today's verse that is totally antithetical to Patrick Olivelle's "Buddhism evolved out of Brahmanism" thesis, is not because I am any kind of a genius in the area of literary criticism, or even knowledgeable in the area that Buddhist scholars study. The reason is simply that I see sitting as foremost, and understand that Aśvaghoṣa also saw sitting as foremost, and on that basis I always ask myself what Aśvaghoṣa, below the surface, was really getting at. 

At the end of my hour's sitting this morning, for example, I asked myself again, having already asked myself yesterday, what today's verse has to say to a bloke who sits. And the answer I got was that if we want to make all the Zen patriarchs back to the Buddha, and maybe even the Seven Buddhas, happy – as happy as if they were in heaven – then the very best way might be simply to be settled into the living of a forest beggar's life. That might mean, here and now, living a simple life, not being unduly interested in sex, or the price of gold, or one's career and reputation as an Alexander teacher and a guy who knows about reflexes, and so on and so forth. I am quite capable, I must admit, of retiring alone to the forest and continuing to be distracted by all these things and more. So I think we should understand the hidden meaning of gate vanam, "gone to the forest," as signifying not so much the physical act of locating oneself among many trees, but more being satisfied with the living of a simple life. 

ajasya (gen. sg.): m. Aja 'not born , existing from all eternity'; N. of indra , of rudra , of one of the maruts, of agni , of the sun , of brahmā , of viṣṇu , of śiva , of kāma
rājñaḥ (gen. sg.): m. king ; a man of the royal tribe or the military caste , a kṣatriya
tanayāya (dat. sg.): m. a son
dhīmate (dat. sg. m.): mfn. intelligent , wise , learned , sensible

narādhipāya (dat. sg.): m. " lord of men " , king , prince
adhi-pa: m. a ruler , commander , regent , king.
indra-sakhāya (dat. sg.): m. a friend of Indra
indra: m. the god of the atmosphere and sky
sakha: m. a friend , companion ; attended or accompanied by (comp.)
me (gen. sg.): of/in me
spṛhā (nom. sg.): f. eager desire , desire , covetousness , envy , longing for , pleasure or delight in (dat. , gen. loc. , or comp.)

gate (loc. sg. m.): mfn. gone, departed
vanam (acc. sg.): n. the forest
yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who
tanaye (loc. sg.): m. son
divam (acc. sg.): n. heaven, sky
gataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. gone, departed ; come to , approached , arrived at , being in , situated in , contained in

na: not
mogha-bāṣpaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. shedding vain tears
mogha: mfn. vain , fruitless , useless , unsuccessful , unprofitable (ibc. and am ind. in vain , uselessly , without cause)
kṛpaṇam: ind. miserably , pitiably
jijīva = 3rd pers. sg. perf. jīv: to live , be or remain alive
ha: ind. indeed , assuredly , verily , of course ; in later language very commonly used as a mere expletive , esp. at the end of a verse)

古昔阿闍王 愛子遊山林
感思而命終 即時得生天 

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