Wednesday, January 8, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 8.81: A King Throws Away His Rightful Inheritance

⏑⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Puṣpitāgrā
iti tanaya-viyoga-jāta-duḥkham kṣiti-sadśaṁ saha-jaṁ vihāya dhairyam |
daśaratha iva rāma-śoka-vaśyo bahu vilalāpa n-po vi-saṁjña-kalpaḥ || 8.81

Thus, suffering the pain born of a son's loss,

A protector of men threw away the constancy,
akin to the earth, which was his natural birth-right;

And like Daśaratha in the grip of grief for Rāma

– Like he was unconscious – he lamented profusely.

Question: What is the difference between a dharma-king expressing the noble truth of suffering, and a drama queen or drama king loudly lamenting the loss of a loved one?

Answer: A major difference might be that the former uttering of lamentations is conscious, whereas the latter is done unconsciously.

Today's verse, on the surface, is highlighting the similarity between King Śuddhodana and Daśaratha in their manner of their expression of grief for the loss of sons who have retired to the forest. On the surface both of these kings are lamenting like drama queens, unconsciously.

But below the surface today's verse as I read it is highlighting a difference between two kinds of king, the first kind of king being the kind discussed in BC8.79, namely, a non-hereditary king, i.e. a king of dharma, who in his lamenting is vi-saṁjña-kalpaḥ, “as if unconscious.”

The point is that the similarity between Daśaratha and a king of dharma is in their expression of sorrow, but the important difference might be that whereas Daśaratha in his lamenting was in the unconscious grip of grief, a dharma-king in his expression of sorrow is as if he were unconscious. The operative word is -kalpaḥ, “as if” or “like.” A protector of men being like he was unconscious might be akin to Madonna being like a virgin. 

So the implicit point might be that a protector of men who is as if un-conscious, is NOT unconscious, but is a protector of men who is conscious, i.e., a king of dharma, an awakened buddha.

When we read the 1st pāda in this light, and notice that the dictionary gives as meanings of viyoga not only “separation” but also “disjunction” and “loss” and “giving up,” the suffering born of tanaya-viyoga might not necessarily be suffering born of separation from a son; it might be suffering born out of a son's separation, or disjunction, or loss, or giving up. It might be, for example, pain in the legs that have been crossed for an hour, during a Zen practitioner's practice of losing himself, aka, dropping off body and mind. So whereas tanaya-viyoga ostensibly means “losing a son,” the real meaning might be “a son's losing.”

When we read the 2nd pāda in this light, throwing away constancy or fortitude might be a good example of a true son losing something, or giving up something – the point being that, if the kind of firmness or constancy that a dharma-king has is the kind of firmness or constancy, akin to the earth, that he was born with, then why would he need to make a big effort to try to achieve or to hang onto “firmness” or “constancy”? 

The 2nd pāda of today's verse, then, as I read it, expresses something transcendent, or something antithetical to ordinary Buddhist conceptions like “being mindful of constancy.” 

Mindfulness seems to be very much in vogue in the UK at the moment, and on one level, I suppose, the interest in mindfulness is to be welcomed. I have referenced on this blog before the Long Discourse Giving Advice to Rāhula, in which the Buddha instructs Rāhula, having established mindfulness to the fore, to develop the meditation which is to be as even, or as constant, as the earth. Aśvaghoṣa must have been steeped in this kind of teaching. But the 2nd pāda of today's verse, as I read it, below the surface, is suggesting transcendence of even this, celebrating the throwing away of any kind of aspiration to be as even as the earth, in the spirit of not thinking in terms of good and bad, and not caring about right and wrong.... in which not thinking and not caring, ironically, we might already be as even or as constant as the earth.

In the 3rd pāda of today's verse Daśaratha is mentioned by the name Daśaratha, whereas in BC8.79 he is referred to more obliquely, with the words ajasya rājñaḥ. And one reason for this might be that da-śa-ra-tha, has four short syllables, and therefore fits the Puṣpitāgrā metre in which today's verse is written; whereas four short syllables would not fit the Vaṁśastha metre in which are written all verses of the present Canto previous to today's verse. What fits the Vaṁśastha metre is the short-long-short-long-long pattern of ajasya rājñaḥ. So this is the ostensible reason for calling Daśaratha in today's verse daśaratha, “Daśaratha,” but in BC8.79 calling him ajasya rājñaḥ “King Aja.”

Another, and more interesting reason, is that in BC8.79 it suited Aśvaghoṣa's ironic purpose to use the ambiguous phrase ajasya rājñas-tanayāya, which ostensibly means “towards the son of King Aja” but which might mean, below the surface, “towards the son of a non-hereditary king.” If the meaning that was thus hidden below the surface had not been hidden below the surface, one wonders if that subversive meaning might have invited a sharp imperial sword to come down upon Aśvaghoṣa's neck.

In today's verse, as I read it, it serves Aśvaghoṣa's use of irony that Daśaratha unambiguously means Daśaratha. The ambiguity in today's verse centres not on who Daśaratha is but rather on who the other king is. 

In today's verse, we know who the grief-gripped Daśaratha is; but who is the protector of men to whom Daśaratha is being compared, or contrasted?

What kind of king, today's verse, below the surface, causes us to ask, might be similar to an unconscious king?

If the 2nd pāda of today's verse brings to my mind, as I sit in the quietness of an early winter morning, the teaching of Gudo Nishijima, who was a genius at going beyond right and wrong and getting on with it, just doing it, cracking eggs and making an omelette, then the 4th pāda of today's verse brings to my mind, as I sit in the quietness of an early winter morning, the teaching of Marjory Barlow, who was a genius in the area of consciousness. 

“We become conscious,” Marjory said, “by inhibiting unconscious behaviour.” 

And after seventy years of practice, she was very good at demonstrating what she meant. I shall finish with one of her favourite Alexander quotes, quoted on this blog many times before, which just about sums it all up:
 "When an investigation comes to be made it will be found that every single thing we do in the work is exactly what is done in Nature, where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously." 

iti: thus
tanaya-viyoga-jāta-duḥkham (acc. sg. n.): in sorrow born out of separation from his son
tanaya-viyoga-jāta-duḥkhaḥ [EHJ] (nom. sg. m.): with suffering born out of separation from his son; EHJ: “grieved over the separation from his son”
tanaya: mfn. propagating a family , belonging to one's own family (often said of toká) ; m. son ; n. posterity , family , race , offspring , child (" grandchild " , opposed to toká , " child ")
viyoga: m. disjunction , separation (esp. of lovers) , loss or absence or want of (instr. with or with out saha abl. , or comp.) ; giving up , getting rid of , abstention from (comp.)
jāta: mfn. born; happened , become , present , apparent , manifest;
duḥkha: n. uneasiness , pain , sorrow , trouble , difficulty

kṣiti-sadṛśam (acc. sg. n.): akin to the earth
kṣiti: f. the earth , soil of the earth
sadṛśa: mfn. like , resembling , similar to (gen. instr. , loc. , or comp.)
saha-jam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. 'born together'; congenital , innate , hereditary , original , natural
vihāya = abs. vi- √ hā: to leave behind, relinquish ; to give up , cast off , renounce , resign ; to get rid of or free from (acc.)
dhairyam (acc. sg.): n. firmness , constancy , calmness , patience , gravity , fortitude , courage

daśarathaḥ (nom. sg.): m. 'Having Ten Chariots'; N. of rāma's father (descendant of ikṣvāku , sovereign of ayodhyā)
iva: like
rāma-śoka-vaśyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): subdued by grief for Rāma; humbled by black sorrow
rāma: mfn, dark , dark-coloured , black ; m. N. of various mythical personages
vaśya: mfn. subdued , tamed , humbled ; being under control , obedient to another's will , dutiful , docile , tame , humble , at the disposal of (gen. or comp.)

bahu: ind. much , very , abundantly , greatly , in a high degree , frequently , often ,
vilalāpa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vi- √ lap: to utter moaning sounds , wail , lament , bewail ; to speak variously , talk , chatter
nṛ-paḥ: m. protector/ruler of men, king
vi-saṁjña-kalpaḥ (nom. sg. m.): as if unconsciously
vi-saṁjña: mfn. unconscious ; bereft of sense , lifeless
kalpa: m. (ifc.) having the manner or form of anything , similar to , resembling , like but with a degree of inferiority , almost

我素志力強 難動如大地
失子心躁亂 如昔十車王

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