Tuesday, January 7, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 8.80: Mindfulness of Thirsty Breathing

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
pracakṣva me bhadra tad-āśramājiraṁ htas-tvayā yatra sa me jalāñjaliḥ |
ime parīpsanti hi te pipāsavo mamāsavaḥ preta-gatiṁ yiyāsavaḥ || 8.80

Describe for me, O friend of benign nature, the hermit's arena,

That place where he, my cupped hands for the fluid of forefathers,
has been taken by you.

For these lifebreaths of mine are thirsty, wishing to gain their end,

Wishing to go the way of the departed.”

For the 3rd pāda, the old Nepalese manuscript has ime parīpsanti hi ta pipāsavo, which EHJ amended to ime parīpsanti hi taṁ pipāsavo, and translated “For these [my vital airs].... long for him in the desire to drink the draught.” PO followed EHJ, translating “For these lifebreaths of mine thirstily long for him...”

EBC's text, which I have followed, has ime parīpsanti hi te pipāsavo, so that no object of thirsting is originally specified. 

Ostensibly is King Śuddhodana asking the horse to let him know the place in the forest where he left the prince, so that the king might go there and die?

This seems to be the gist of EHJ's translation:

Point out to me, good steed, that hermitage-place to which you carried off him who is to give me the funeral water. For these my vital airs are about to travel the way of the departed and long for him in the desire to drink the draught.

PO translates me jalāñjaliḥ “my water giver” and notes that the expression jalāñjaliḥ (handful of water) is a reference to the son who will offer libations to the father when he is dead.

PO points out further that the same allusion is contained in BC1.64:
Will the prince, O One Full of Fortune, be blessed with long life? Heaven forfend that he was born for my sorrow! / Am I in my cupped hands somehow to have gained water (labdhā kathaṁ-cit salilāñjalir-me), only for Death to come and drink it?  //BC1.64//

The MW dictionary gives jalāñjali as “the hollowed palms filled with water offered to ancestors.”

So much for the ostensible meaning. The hidden meaning of today's verse, or at least a hidden meaning of today's verse, as I read it, is as follows:

In the 1st pāda āśramājiram, the hermit's arena, means the place the real battle is fought. That place, in Marjory Barlow's words is “the only place, and the only moment in time, where change could begin”:-
This place, or this moment in time, was the instant that a stimulus to activity reached his consciousness. In the ordinary way, when a stimulus comes, we react to it in the only manner possible. The response is made without thought -- without any knowledge on our part of what we are putting into motion. The reaction is the immediate response of the whole self, according to habitual patterns of movement which we have developed from our earliest years. We have no choice in this, we can behave in no other way. We are bound in slavery to these unrecognised patterns just as surely as if we were automatons. When Alexander reached understanding of this part of the problem he had found the key to all change. He understood at last in what way he must work.

When I read these words of Marjory Barlow's I read them not as most people reading this blog will read them, but rather as one who was fortunate to be taken, in Marjory's hands, and by her directed presence, to a place where I could better understand what she meant. Thus, in the 2nd pāda hṛtas-tvayā, can be read as “taken by you,” in the sense of “enchanted by you” or “enchanted with you”; i.e., “enchanted by, or in, your presence.” (The verb hṛ is one to be added to the list of ambiguous words that Aśvaghoṣa, in his pervasive use of irony, favours.) 

Moreover, though sa hṛtas-tvayā seems to ask to be translated in the past tense “he was taken by you,” it could just as literally be translated in the present tense – “he is taken by you” or “he is enchanted in your presence.” In the latter case, “in your presence” suggests in the presence of benign nature, in the presence of the right thing that does itself.

Still in the 2nd pāda, in that case, jalāñjaliḥ, cupped hands of fluid, might be read as suggesting a person who fulfills his original nature just by sitting in lotus, as a receptacle for the lifeblood of the Zen patriarchs.

In the same ironic vein, the 3rd and 4th pādas can be read as an expression of the truth by a man whose nostrils are very full of life – and laughing loudly, as described in the poetry of Dogen's teacher called (in Japanese) Tendo Nyojo. Such a man might ironically describe his own life-breaths as parīpsanti, which literally means wishing to get something or wanting to gain an end; as pipāsavaḥ, thirsty; and as preta-gatim yiyāsavaḥ, set on the way of the preta, which means "the departed," and at the same time means, in the cycle of saṁsāra, the ghosts who suffer from insatiable hunger and unquenchable thirst. 

So these three phrases have negative connotations for a conscientious Buddhist who understands the principle of non-end-gaining, the principle of polishing a tile in preference to wanting to make a mirror. 

 In order to get Aśvaghoṣa's true gist, then, it might be necessary not to be a conscientious Buddhist. Totally to have abandoned effort as a conscientious Buddhist may be truly to have gone the way of the departed, in the way that Aśvaghoṣa, below the surface, intended – in the words of the Heart Sutra, gate, gate, pāragate, pārasaṃgate...

In summary, then, today's verse is another one that reminds me that trying to be right, as a conscientious Buddhist, is sheer folly. Because what the practice of endeavouring to sit upright in the full lotus posture teaches us, eventually, if we are able to allow it, is that there is no such thing as a right posture, but there is a right direction.

It is on this basis that I wish to align myself with others who fucking love science and who fucking hate religion. If mindfulness of breathing is taught as a Buddhist religious practice, a means of trying to be right, then I say fuck that for a game of cards. Aśvaghoṣa in today's verse, as I read it, though less bluntly, and with plentiful irony, is saying much the same thing – the life-breaths of an enlightened being are not constrained by Buddhist conceptions, not even good ones like negation of thirsting.

Real abandonment of pernicious conceptions, however, is not accomplished simply by swearing them away, or by endlessly parroting the truth that "there is no such thing as a right position, but there is a right direction." Effort is necessary, in a hermit's arena, or other suitable field of battle, not to go in a habitual wrong direction but actually to go instead in the right direction. 

What I want to emphasize in conclusion, however, following on from what I wrote yesterday, is that I see the necessary effort more and more as necessarily taking place outside of the whole area of religious belief. Wishing to go in the right direction on the basis of religious faith might be like setting off on a journey by chaining oneself to the starting post. 

pracakṣva = imperative pra- √ cakṣ: to tell , relate , declare ; to name , call
me (gen. sg.): for me
bhadra (voc. sg.): mfn. blessed , auspicious , fortunate , prosperous , happy; good, gracious, friendly; voc. m. and f. sg. and pl. bhadra , °dre , °drāḥ , often in familiar address = my good sir or lady , my dear or my dears , good people )
tat (acc. sg. n.): that
āśramājiram (acc. sg. n.): the ashram-arena
āśrama: m. a hermitage , the abode of ascetics , the cell of a hermit or of retired saints or sages ;
ajira: n. place to run or fight in , area , court ; n. the body ; n. any object of sense , air , wind , a frog ; n. (with ājeḥ) a field of battle (cf. samarājira, battlefield)

hṛtaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. taken , taken away , seized ; ravished , charmed , fascinated
hṛ: to take , bear , carry in or on (with instr.) , carry , convey , fetch , bring ; to take away , carry off , seize , deprive of , steal , rob ; to master , overpower , subdue , conquer ; to enrapture , charm , fascinate
tvayā (inst. sg.): by/with you
yatra: ind. wherein
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
me (gen. sg.): my
jalāñjaliḥ (nom. sg.): m. the hollowed palms filled with water offered to ancestors
jala: n. (also pl.) water , any fluid
añjali: m. ( √ añj) , the open hands placed side by side and slightly hollowed (as if by a beggar to receive food ; hence when raised to the forehead , a mark of supplication)

ime (nom. pl. m.) these
parīpsanti = nom. pl. m. desid. pres. part. pary- √ āp: , to reach , obtain , attain , gain ; to make an end of , be content; (desid.) to wish to obtain or reach , desire ; to wish to preserve , guard ; to wish to get at , lie in wait or ambush
hi: for
tam (acc. sg. m.): it, that [water] ; him
te [EBC]: (nom. pl. m.): these (often for emphasis connected with another pron. as with aham , tvam , eṣa , ayam &c [e.g. so 'ham sa tvam , " I (or thou) that very person "
pipāsavaḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. thirsty , athirst

mama (gen. sg.): my
asavaḥ (nom. pl.): m. m. ( √1. as, to be) , Ved. breath , life ; life of the spiritual world or departed spirits ; (in later language only ásavas) the vital breaths or airs of the body , animal life
preta-gatim (acc. sg.): f. the way of the departed (with √ gam , " to die ")
preta: mfn. departed , deceased , dead , a dead person ; m. the spirit of a dead person (esp. before obsequial rites are performed) , a ghost , an evil being
yiyāsavaḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. (fr. Desid. yā) wishing to go or move or ride or drive or fly &c ; intending to set off or depart , desirous of marching or taking the field
yā: to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey (often with instr. or acc. of the way , esp. with gatim,mārgam,adhvānam,panthānam,padavīm,yātrām)

吾今不能死 長夜住憂苦
合宮念吾子 虚渇如餓鬼
如人渇探水 欲飮而奪之
守渇而命終 必生餓鬼趣
今我至虚渇 得子水復失
及我未命終 速語我子處
勿令我渇死 墮於餓鬼中

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