Sunday, February 2, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.18: On Form & Content, Fearfulness & Fighting Spirit

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Premā)
na caiṣa dharmo vana eva siddhaḥ pure 'pi siddhir-niyatā yatīnām |
buddhiś-ca yatnaś-ca nimittam-atra vanaṁ ca liṅgaṁ ca hi bhīru-cihnam || 9.18

Neither is this dharma realized only in the woods:

Its realization is assured in the city too,
for those who make the effort.

Intention and energy are what count in this arena.

For the forest and the uniform are a mark of fearfulness.

Assuming temporary sovereignty over the earth, as described in yesterday's verse, I let my spinal column become a mighty flagpole for carrying the kaṣāya into battle, and look forward, more or less detoxified as I emerge from a heavy cold, to a first trip of the year to the forest. Before I am a writer I am a fighter. If you want to pick a fight with me, sooner or later, I would like to think, it is you who is going down. Though congenitally fearful, I turn out to be good at fighting – surprising even myself. And terrible at forgiving – much worse even than my own worst estimates. If I weren't as good as I am at fighting, there would be no Nishijima-Cross translation of Shobogenzo. If I were better than I am at forgiving, there might already be a Nishijima-Cross translation of Nāgārjuna's Mūla-madhyama-kakārikā. Anyway, being at time of writing neither down nor out, I am still slowly working in the direction of such a translation, in my own grimly determined way.

So much for me. What about the 44 syllables of Aśvaghoṣa's Sanskrit which make up today's verse?

Two important syllables are liṅgam, which EBC translated as “the badge,” EHJ as “the badges of mendicancy,” and PO as “the emblem.”

EHJ adds in an explanatory footnote that liṅga is the shaven head, robe, etc.; cp. BC12.46; SN7.49.

PO expands on this in his own footnote, observing that even Brahmanical texts (MBh XII.308.47-8) repeatedly state that such things as shaven head, ochre dress, begging bowl and walking stick are not what brings about liberation. PO quotes the oft-repeated adage na liṅgam dharma-kāraṇam, “the emblem does not produce dharma.”

This Brahmanical adage, from where a buddha sits, might have some truth in it, but at the same time might not be the whole truth. In Saundara-nanda the Buddha causes Nanda to have his head shaved and wear the robe, but Nanda and not the Buddha is the one who worries about whether he is fit to bear the  liṅga, (which I translated in Saundara-nanda as "the insignia”): 
When a man has gone forth, but the red taint of desire has not gone forth from him; when he wears the earth-hued robe but has not transcended dirt; / When he carries the bowl but is not a vessel for the virtues; though he bears the insignia, he is neither a householder nor a beggar. // SN7.49 //
In today's verse I have translated liṅgam as “the uniform,” being mindful that today's verse touches on the “don't be impressed by the uniform” theme that Richard Feynman often referred to, in connection with his father, whose job was selling impressive uniforms to unimpressive human beings.

On the surface King Śuddhodana, in making the same point as Richard Feynman's dad, is placing content above form.

Below the surface, in today's verse as I read it, a king of dharma is most assuredly not placing content above form. Neither, of course, is he placing form above content.

On the surface, then, bhīru-cihnam at the end of the 4th pāda is derogatory – a coward's signs (EBC), the mark of the faint-hearted (EHJ). But below the surface bhīru-cihnam, “a mark of shyness” or “a mark of timidity” or "a mark of fearfulness," might be intended as being an ironic description of something associated with very strong fighting spirit, expressed not only in a fighter's mental intention (buddhi) but also in his physical energy (yatna).

On the surface, there is no particular logic to the hi (“for”) in the 4th pāda, which is presumably why EBC and PO omitted to translate it:

the forest and the badge are only a coward's signs (EBC)
forest and emblems are the marks of a coward (PO).

Refusing to overlook the hi, in his admirably pedantic way, EHJ translated:

for the forest and the badges of mendicancy are the mark of the faint-hearted.

I think the hi in the 4th pāda can be seen as a nimittam (a sign, something significant, what to look for, a target area, what counts) in the sense that if we were so brazen as to pay no attention to matters like shaving the head, that might not speak well of our fighting spirit. But if in a matter like shaving the head, or wearing the robe, or begging with a bowl, we submitted to the traditional rule, that kind of timidity might speak well of the intention and effort of people who are afraid of wasting time, while death stands over us like an enemy with sword upraised. 

The relation of reason indicated by hi, then, might be that because of retreating shyly to the forest and wearing the camouflage of a forest robe, a practitioner's intention and energy are significant.

Retiring shyly to the forest and meekly submitting to traditional forms might seem on the surface to be symptomatic of cowardice or faint-heartedness, a lack of fighting spirit. But the underlying logic of today's verse, as I read it, is intended totally to subvert that view.

So I assert that shaving the head and wearing the robe are not necessarily the marks of a coward or of faint-heartedness. Sometimes they might be, but they might also be a mark of fearfully submitting to the true and natural order of things, aka Mother Nature – out of which timid submission, ironically, a fighter can derive intention and energy to continue the fight.

Since the sun is out, even though a bit of a chilly breeze is blowing, I am going out now into the back garden to shave my head.

na: not
ca: and
eṣa (nom. sg. m.): this, this here
dharmaḥ (nom. sg.): m. dharma
vane (loc. sg.): n. forest
eva: (emphatic)
siddhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. accomplished , fulfilled , effected , gained , acquired ; perfected , become perfect , beatified , endowed with supernatural faculties

pure (loc. sg.): n. a fortress , castle , city , town
api: even, also
siddhiḥ (nom. sg.): f. accomplishment , performance , fulfilment , complete attainment (of any object) , success ; coming into force, validity ; establishment , substantiation , settlement , demonstration , proof , indisputable conclusion , result , issue
niyatā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. held back or in , fastened , tied to (loc.); connected with , dependent on (loc.) ; contained or joined in (loc.) ; constant , steady , quite concentrated upon or devoted to (loc.) ; fixed , established , settled , sure , regular , invariable , positive , definite
yatīnām (gen. pl.): m. an ascetic , devotee
yat: to endeavour to reach; to exert one's self , take pains , endeavour , make effort , persevere ,

buddhiḥ (nom. sg.): f. mind , intelligence, reason ; comprehension , apprehension , understanding ; presence of mind , ready wit ; thought about or meditation on (loc. or comp.) , intention , purpose , design
ca: and
yatnaḥ (nom. sg.): m. activity of will , volition , aspiring after ; performance , work ; (also pl.) effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care , endeavour
ca: and
nimittam (nom. sg.): n. butt, mark, target ; sign, omen ; cause , motive , ground , reason
atra: ind. in this matter , in this respect

vanam (nom. sg.): n. forest
ca: and
liṅgam (nom. sg.): n. a mark , spot , sign , token , badge , emblem
ca: and
hi: for
bhīru-cihnam (nom. sg. n.): a mark of fearfulness
bhīru: mfn. fearful , timid , cowardly , afraid of (abl. or comp.) ; f. a timid woman (esp. voc. " bhīru " , " O timid one! ")
cihna: n. a mark , spot , stamp , sign , characteristic , symptom ; a banner , insignia

法不必山林 在家亦脩閑
覺悟勤方便 是則名出家
剃髮服染衣 自放山藪間
此則懷畏怖 何足名學仙

No comments: