Sunday, January 26, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.11: Being Allowed to Sit (in a Flag) and Shine

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Upendravajrā)
ktābhyanujñāv-abhitas-tatas-tau niṣīdatuḥ śākya-kula-dhvajasya |
virejatus-tasya ca saṁnikarṣe punar-vasū yoga-gatāv-ivendoḥ || 9.11

Having thus on these grounds been allowed,

The two, in the presence of the flag of the Śākya family, sat;

And in his vicinity they shone –

Like the twin stars of Punar-vasu in conjunction with the moon.

If my aim on this blog is to connect every verse that Aśvaghoṣa wrote with kāñcanam āsanam, “golden sitting,” then today's verse, for one, does not present too much of a challenge.

In the first pāda kṛtābhyanujñau describes the two as having gained assent or as having been allowed. The compound inevitably puts me in mind of the word “allow” as used in the teaching of FM Alexander, where allowing is opposed to conceptions like doing, or end-gaining.

In the 2nd pāda, niṣīdatuḥ means “the two sat.” The root is √sad, to sit. And sitting, I should like to argue here, in accordance with what my Zen teacher taught me in Japan, is basically what saves us.

Yesterday, following from the conclusion of my comment, I asked a true paṇḍit (to whom I am very grateful) about the etymology of the word mantra, and it turns out that much more has been written on that subject than I ever dreamed.

When Monier Williams wrote that mantra means “instrument of thought,” the idea in the background (which apparently prevailed in the 19th and earlier 20th century but which has been questioned since) was that the -tra in mantra is a suffix with which words expressing the notion of an instrument are built (from verbal bases). Other examples would be śastra 'weapon' from śas 'to cut'; netra 'eye' from 'to lead'.

However when Pāṇini teaches such a primary suffix -tra (a kṛt suffix) in the sense of an instrument (karaṇa), he does not mention √man as one of the roots to which it can be added (see Aṣṭādhyāyī 3.2.181-183). So it is not certain that Pāṇini regarded mantra as being formed with this suffix.

A sixteenth century grammarian and poet Nārāyaṇa (in his Prakriyāsarvasva) held that mantra was formed with another kind of suffix (an uṇādi suffix). According to him the suffix can convey different meanings; in the case of the word mantra he attributes to it the meaning not of the instrument but of the object: a mantra is something that is thought about or meditated upon (dhyāyate). 
Yet another explanation, apparently favoured by religious commentators, especially in tantric traditions, is that the element -tra is related to another verbal root, trā (sometimes given as trai), which has the meaning 'rescue, save'.
So surveying these three options, from where I sit, there is a more religious option (1. a mantra saves us); a more objective option (2. a mantra is an object); and a more practical option (3. a mantra is an instrument).
Of these three, I naturally prefer no. 3. And, at least in regard to Aśvaghoṣa's usage, I particularly reject no. 1, on the grounds that what saves us in the Buddha's teaching is not a mantra, but what saves us is primarily the act of sitting.
In saying this I am not departing by a hair's breadth from what my Zen teacher taught me. Where I have disagreed with my teacher, however – as I have documented, in perhaps too much gory detail already, on this blog – is in the instrumentality of thinking, as oppposed to blind unconscious doing.

Still in the 2nd pāda, śākya-kula-dhvaja, “the banner of the house of Śākya” or “the flag of the Śākya family” (EBC/EHJ: the banner of the Śākya race) ostensibly means the Prince himself, Śākyamuni, the Sage of the Śākyas. But I think Aśvaghoṣa might have intended it to mean, below the surface, a traditionally-sewn kaṣāya.

The 3rd pāda of today's verse causes us to reflect again, as also yesterday's verse caused us to reflect, on what it means to shine.

When we are young and full to overflowing with doing energy, it is maybe easier to conceive of the backward step of turning our light and letting it shine as a step that we take or do. I certainly liked to conceive it like that during my twenties and early thirties. And in Fukan-zazengi-shinpitsu-bon, the first edition of Fukan-zazengi written when he was in his mid-twenties, Dogen uses the more direct imperative EKO-HENSHO NO TAIHO O MOCHI-IYO, “Take the backward step of turning the light and letting it shine,” whereas his later, revised edition, Fukan-zazengi-rufu-bon has the somewhat less direct SUBEKARAKU EKO-HENSHO NO TAIHO O GAKUSUBESHI, “Learn the backward step of turning the light and letting it shine.”

Having reflected on it for an hour just now, I don't know what it means to shine and I certainly do not know how to shine. A person with a grey, ashen face has lost his or her shine. A person with a glowing red face – like somebody in the first flush of love – has a certain shine; a person with a glowing golden face – like a Zen master in his element – also has a particular kind of shine. That much is obvious. But I don't know how to shine. I don't even know how to sit, or how – even with a good mantra – to think. But I have picked up some understanding along the way about how NOT to sit and about how NOT to think. So, though I may be deluding myself, I don't regard my efforts thus far, to learn the backward step, as having been totally in vain.

With regard to the simile in the 4th pāda, according to a footnote by EHJ, the simile of the two stars of the asterism Punarvasu and the moon occurs in Rāmāyaṇa 6.51,22. 

PO adds in his own footnote: Here the Buddha is compared to the moon. The twin asterism (nakṣatra) Punar-Vasu is the seventh in the Indian list. They are the [alpha] and [beta] Geminorum.

The different wordings of the three professors' translations of the nominative dual compound punarvasū may be instructive.
EBC has “the two stars of the asterism Punarvasū in conjunction with the moon.”
EHJ: “they resembled the twin stars of Punarvasu in conjunction with the moon.”
PO: “like Punar and Vasu in conjunction with the moon.”

These translations (not to mention the grammar of PO's footnote) seems to show a certain uncertainty about whether Punar-vasu is one asterism or two stars.

How to treat 身心 in Chinese and Japanese Zen writing poses a parallel conundrum:
  • body and mind?
  • body-and-mind?
  • the body-mind?
  • the bodymind?

A parallel conundrum, again, might be contained in the Alexander mantra “head FORWARD and UP.”
  • Is it one direction? 
  • Is it two directions?

The answer, I am prepared to venture without too much hesitation, might be NO!

kṛtābhyanujñau (nom. dual): having gained assent; having been allowed
kṛta: mfn. done, accomplished, gained
abhyanujñā: f. assent , approval ; authorization , permission ; granting leave of absence , dismissing
abhy-anu- √ jñā: to assent to , approve , allow , permit , concede ; to authorize , direct ; to allow one to depart , dismiss
abhitaḥ: ind. near to , towards ; near , in the proximity or presence of (gen.)
tataḥ: ind. then, thence, from that

niṣīdatuḥ = 3rd pers. dual perf. ni-√sad: to sit or lie down or rest upon (loc.)
śākya-kula-dhvajasya (gen. sg. m.): the banner of the house of Śākya
śākya: mfn. derived or descended from the śakas ; m. N. of a tribe of landowners and kṣatriyas in kapila-vastu (from whom gautama , the founder of Buddhism , was descended) ; m. N. of gautama buddha himself ; m. of his father śuddhodana (son of saṁjaya)
kula: n. a race , family , community , tribe , caste , set , company ; a house , abode ; a noble or eminent family or race
dhvaja: m. banner, flag, standard

virejatuḥ = 3rd pers. dual perf.
tasya (gen. sg.): his
ca: and
saṁnikarṣe (loc. sg.): m. drawing near or together , approximation , close contact , nearness , neighbourhood , proximity , vicinity (saṁnikarṣe , " in the vicinity of , near ")

punar-vasū (nom. dual): m. " restoring goods " , N. of the 5th or 7th lunar mansion RV. , &c (mostly du.)
punar: ind. back , home ; with √ dā , to give back , restore
vasu: n. wealth , goods , riches , property; n. gold
yoga-gatau = nom. dual m. yoga-gata: being in union, contained in the harness
yoga: m. the act of yoking , joining , attaching , harnessing , putting to (of horses) ; any junction , union ; application or concentration of the thoughts , abstract contemplation , meditation , (esp.) self-concentration , abstract meditation and mental abstraction practised as a system (as taught by patañjali and called the yoga philosophy ; it is the second of the two sāṁkhya systems , its chief aim being to teach the means by which the human spirit may attain complete union with īśvara or the Supreme Spirit ; in the practice of self-concentration it is closely connected with Buddhism)
gata: mfn. gone ; come to , approached , arrived at , being in , situated in , contained in (acc. or loc. or in comp; gone to any state or condition ; m. (in astron.) conjunction , lucky conjuncture ; a constellation , asterism (these , with the moon , are called cāndra-yogāḥ and are 13 in number ; without the moon they are called kha-yogāḥ , or nābhasa-yogāḥ) ; the leading or principal star of a lunar asterism
yoga-gati: f. state of union , the being united together
iva: like
indoḥ = gen. sg. indu: m. ( probably fr. ind = √ und , " to drop " and cf. índra ), Ved. a drop (especially of soma) , soma ; a bright drop , a spark ; the moon
ind: perhaps = √und , " to drop? " (the meaning " to be powerful " seems to be given by native lexicographers merely for the etymology of the word indra q.v.)

王子亦隨敬 王師及大臣
如帝釋安慰 儵迦央耆羅
即命彼二人 坐於王子前
如富那婆藪 兩星侍月傍 

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