Wednesday, January 29, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.14: Timing Is Everything

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Māyā)
jānāmi dharmaṁ prati niścayaṁ te paraimi te bhāvinam-etam-artham |
ahaṁ tv-akāle vana-samśrayāt-te śokāgnināgni-pratimena dahye || 9.14

'I know your resolve with regard to dharma.
[I know your fixity of purpose in regard to dharma.]

I realize that this will be your goal.
[I realize this purpose here and now, existing in you.]
[I realize that this goal of yours is becoming.]

But at your going to the forest at the wrong time,

I am consumed with a fire of sorrow that burns like a fire.

As a general rule whenever King Śuddhodana is ostensibly saying one thing, we are invited to investigate how a king of dharma might, below the surface, be saying something entirely different.

Thus the ostensible gist of what King Śuddhodana is saying in today's verse is: “I know how set your mind already is on dharma, and I understand that pursuit of dharma will be your goal in future; but it grieves me greatly to think that you have gone to the forest at too young an age.”

As a translation of jānāmi dharmaṁ prati niścayam, this ostensible gist is conveyed by “I know your resolve with regard to dharma.” But if that were the only meaning of the 1st pāda, then King Śuddhodana might be a liar – because how could King Śuddhodana know the resolve with regard to Dharma of a bodhisattva who had established the will to the truth? If any king could truly say “I know your resolve with regard to dharma,” it might not be King Śuddhodana but might be a king of dharma.

Digging deeper, however, still purer gold might be contained in the principle that the only thing we ever truly know in this world is when we are wrong. And for me, that knowing is centred on knowing that stiffening the neck by pulling in the chin, as I practised those directions in Japan, is a mug's game. On that basis, I think the real meaning of jānāmi dharmaṁ prati niścayam, below the surface, might be “I know your fixity of purpose in regard to dharma” – in which ironic context “fixity of purpose” is not a virtue but is an impediment.

Niścaya can be read as concealing this kind of ironic meaning also in BC5.31:
When his curious senses reach out to objects, when in the face of wearying observances he lacks fixity of purpose (vrata-khedeṣv-asamartha-niścayasya), / When, above all, he is not accustomed to separateness, the mind of one who is young veers away from the wasteland.// BC5.31 //
Elsewhere in BC Canto 5, the sense of “fixity of purpose” is conveyed by vyavasāya (BC5.33; 5.39; 5.47; 5.69).

BC5.47 in particular might be worth copying and pasting here, as this verse also seems to convey the ironic message that it takes one to know one.
At that juncture, the a-kaniṣṭha gods, the doyens of asceticism 'of whom none is youngest,' being acquainted with his fixity of purpose (vyavasāyam-asya buddhvā), / Visited, upon all the young women at once, deep sleep, and upon their bodies and limbs, irregular poses.//BC5.47//

The same kind of double-barreled analysis can be applied to the 2nd pāda of today's verse, so that paraimi te bhāvinam-etam-artham ostensibly means “I realize that this will be your goal,” but below the surface can be read:

(as an affirmative expression of a real will to the truth in the other)
“I realize this purpose here and now, existing already in you”;

(as an ironic negation of the other)
“I realize that this goal of yours is becoming” (i.e. I see that you are end-gaining).

There may be other possible readings too, for example
(as an affirmative expression of one's own realization),
“I realize, as what actually exists, this goal of yours.”

In the second half of today's verse, then, we are called upon to find a hidden meaning such that the words which are ostensibly addressed by Śuddhodana to his son and heir might be read as words addressed by a king of dharma (like Gautama Buddha) to a student (like Nanda). That imperative brings to mind the Buddha's use of the word akāle when addressing Nanda in SN Canto 16:
One set on abandoning the afflictions, then, should attend to timing and method; / For even practice itself, done at the wrong time (akāle) and relying on wrong means, makes for disappointment and not for the desired end. // SN16.49 // If a cow is milked before her calf is born, milking at the wrong time (akāla-dohī) will yield no milk. / Or even at the right time no milk will be got if, through ignorance, a cow is milked by the horn. // SN16.50 //

Read in this light today's verse, like yesterday's verse, has to do with the momentary nature of time. Which is to say that in the past everything is fixed and in the future nothing can be realized, but in a moment of the present there is a chance, if not of being right, then at least of hitting the target. In rugby, for example, wrong timing of a pass is the difference between a try in the corner and a knock-on; in football, wrong timing of a volley is the difference between the ball bulging the back of the net and ending up in Row Z; and, at the level of sitting-meditation, holding of the breath, be it every so subtle and ever so slight, might be a matter of bad timing, whereas well-coordinated breathing, even if maintained only for the duration of one out-breath, might be a matter of good timing.

jānāmi = 1st pers. sg. jñā: to know
dharmam (acc. sg.): dharma
prati: ind. towards
niścayaṁ m. inquiry , ascertainment , fixed opinion , conviction , certainty , positiveness ; resolution , resolve ; fixed intention , design , purpose , aim
te (gen. sg.): your

paraimi = 1st pers. sg. parā- √i: to go or run away , go along , go towards (acc.) ; to reach , attain , partake of (acc.)
te (gen. sg.): your
bhāvinam = acc. sg. m. bhāvin: mfn. becoming , being , existing , wont to be (often ifc.); about to be , future , imminent , predestined , inevitable (often used as fut. tense of √ bhū)
etam (acc. sg. m.): this , this here , here (especially as pointing to what is nearest to the speaker
artham (acc. sg.): m. aim, purpose ; cause , motive , reason ; use, utility ; thing , object ; matter, affair, concern

aham (nom. sg. m.): I
tu: but
akāle (loc. sg.): m. a wrong or bad time
vana-samśrayāt (abl. sg.): because of going to the forest
samśraya: going or resorting or betaking one's self to any person or place (loc. or comp.) , going for refuge or protection , having recourse to
te (gen. sg.): your

śokāgninā (inst. sg. m.): by a fire of sorrow
śoka: m. flame , glow , heat ; m. sorrow , affliction , anguish , pain , trouble , grief
agni: m. fire
agni-pratimena (inst. sg. m.): fire-like
pratimā: f. f. an image , likeness , symbol ; ifc. like , similar , resembling , equal to ; having the measure of , as long or wide &c as
dahye = 1st pers. sg. passive dah: to be burnt , burn , be in flames ; to be consumed by fire or destroyed ; to be consumed by internal heat or grief , suffer pain , be distressed or vexed

勅我有所命 唯願留心聽
知汝樂法情 決定無所疑
非時入林藪 悲戀嬈我心

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