Monday, February 3, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.19: Shoulders as Battlefield

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
maulī-dharair-aṁsa-viṣakta-hāraiḥ keyūra-viṣṭabdha-bhujair-narendraiḥ  |
lakṣmy-aṅka-madhye parivartamānaiḥ prāpto gha-sthair-api mokṣa-dharmaḥ || 9.19

By kings bearing crowns,

By kings with strings of pearls hanging over their shoulders,
and their arms fortified by bands,

By kings lying cradled in Lakṣmi's lap –

Even by those who did remain in family life –
the dharma of liberation has been attained.


Realized by kings who possess the earth,

By kings for whom battle is directed towards their own shoulders,
and whose arms are fortified by bands,

By kings acting in the middle, between the dual flanks of fortune –

And realized also by those who stay at home – 
is the dharma of liberation.

In the final pāda of yesterday's verse King Śuddhodana seemed to express a view (“withdrawing to the forest and wearing a beggar's uniform are marks of cowardice”) which is opposed to a formalist or traditionalist view. Below the surface, however, I argued that the King's words might be intended to point, as the buddha-dharma, in the direction of abandonment of all views.

Today's verse is analogous, since the 4th pāda again seems on the surface to express a controversial or provocative view.
The 4th pāda taken on its own is a striking affirmation:
prāpto gṛha-sthair-api mokṣa-dharmaḥ
The dharma of liberation is attained even by those who remain at home.”

Liberation has been attained even by householders (EBC)
The dharma of liberation has been attained by kings, even though they remained at home (EHJ)
Kings, even while remaining householders... have won the dharma of release (PO)

This, on the face of it, is another view opposed to a formalist or traditionalist view.

Buddhist scholars would say that The dharma of liberation is attained even by householders expresses the Mahāyāna view which is opposed to the Hinayāna view. But from where I sit, on a similar round cushion, I hope, to the one on which Aśvaghoṣa sat, the pseudo-scientific views of Buddhist scholars, and all the views which they like to pigeon-hole as belonging to this and that vehicle, sect and school, are all just so many views to be abandoned.

Below the surface of every verse, we have seen time and time again, Aśvaghoṣa uses the ambiguity of Sanskrit words to undermine the kind of intellectual certainty that view-mongers are liable to demonstrate, pointing us back instead to that fundamental instrument for view-shedding which is sitting-meditation itself.

Such verbal ambiguity in today's verse centres on these words: 
  • mauli/maulī (= crown; earth ; tuft of hair left after shaving head);
  • hāra (= e.g. string of pearls; loss ; war, battle);
  • lakṣmī (= good fortune; Lakṣmī, goddess of fortune and beauty; royal majesty);
  • aṅka (= lap ; side, flank);
  • madhye (= in the middle, standing between two).

All this ambiguity makes possible multiple readings which not only subvert the ostensible reading of today's verse but also, with the engagement of some grey matter, point directly to that practical instrument of subversion of views which is the practice of sitting in full lotus.

Read like this, as per the second translation attempted above, today's verse seems to demonstrate a strong dose of ironic humour.

Both translations can be read as kind of apologies for not committing to the life of a wandering mendicant, but in the first translation King Śuddhodana's argument looks intentionally weak and susceptible to counter-argument. Have kings really been able to attain the dharma of liberation while maintaining their pampered existence, weighed down by jewellery in royal palaces? One somehow doubts it.

In the second translation, the conclusion is the same, but it rings truer as the teaching of a king of dharma – the dharma of liberation is there to be realized. That is the main point. The dharma of liberation is there to be realized, even by those who have stayed at home like wimps, instead of wandering the earth like kings who possess the earth, like kings of dharma who fight the good fight in the middle way.

What we are building towards in this translation of the extant first half of Buddha-carita is Canto 13 in which Aśvaghoṣa will describe the bodhisattva's fight with and defeat of Māra.

Saundara-nanda also is full of martial metaphors, so that at the end of Canto 16 the Buddha encourages Nanda to sit like a king fighting enemies:
So, in order to make the noble truths your own, first clear a path according to this plan of action, / Like a king going on campaign to subdue his foes, wishing to conquer unconquered dominions. // SN16.85 //
The fight the Buddha encourages Nanda to fight, of course, is not a fight against external enemies. The movement you need, as Paul McCartney intuited without necessarily understanding why, is on your shoulder. But a fight it nonetheless remains, requiring warrior virtues – beginning with what the Buddha called vīrya, or directed energy.
After seeing off with arrows the endeavour of rival kings, a king enjoys royal dominion. So direct your energy in pursuit of peace, for in directed energy, undoubtedly, lies all growth." // SN16.98 //
Aśvaghoṣa subseqently describes Nanda's progress in similarly martial terms:
Consequently, relying on the fourth stage of meditation, he made up his mind to win the worthy state, / Like a king joining forces with a strong and noble ally and then aspiring to conquer unconquered lands.// SN17.56 // Then he cut the five upper fetters: with the sword of intuitive wisdom which is raised aloft by cultivation of the mind, / He completely severed the five aspirational fetters, which are bound up with superiority, and tied to the first person. // 17.57 // Again, with the seven elephants of the limbs of awakening he crushed the seven dormant tendencies of the mind, / Like Time, when their destruction is due, crushing the seven continents by means of the seven planets. // 17.58 // The action which on fire, trees, ghee and water is exerted by rainclouds, wind, a flame and the sun, /Nanda exerted that action on the faults, quenching, uprooting, burning, and drying them up. // 17.59 // Thus he overcame three surges, three sharks, three swells, the unity of water, five currents, two shores, / And two crocodiles: in his eight-piece raft, he crossed the flood of suffering which is so hard to cross. // 17.60 // Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served. Without ambition, without partiality, without expectation; / Without fear, sorrow, pride, or passion; while being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different. // SN17.61 //.... And so like a young initiate who mastered the Vedas, like a trader who turned a quick profit, / Or like a royal warrior who conquered a hostile army, a success, Nanda approached the Guru. // SN18.1 //
And finally the Buddha praises Nanda for having successfully fought the good fight:
Today, conqueror of yourself, you have truly gone forth, since you have thereby gained sovereignty over yourself. / For in a person who has conquered himself, going forth has worked; whereas in an impulsive person whose senses remain unconquered, it has not. // SB18.23 //... Having conquered Māra, who is so hard to stop in battle, today, at the forefront of the fight, you are a hero among men. / For even a hero is not recognized as a hero who is beaten by the foe-like faults. // SN18.28 //

All this talk of fighting is mainly for my own benefit, who am still fighting a cold, not to mention other oppressive forces, like a tendency to think unhelpfully about the past. To see things in terms of fighting a good fight might be for us all, in our weakness, a way of garnering at least a bit more strength.

maulī-dharaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): diadem-bearing ; earth-possessing
maulī: f. the earth
mauli: mf. a diadem , crown , crest ; mf. a tuft or lock of hair left on the crown of the head after tonsure , a top-knot
dhṛ: to hold , bear (also bring forth) , carry , maintain , preserve , keep , possess , have , use , employ
aṁsa-viṣakta-hāraiḥ (inst. pl. m.): strings of pearls hung over their shoulders; battle turned towards their shoulders
aṁsa: m. the shoulder
viṣakta: mfn. hung to or on or upon; turned or directed towards (loc. or comp.); spread or extended over (loc.); (ifc.) dependent on ;
hāra: mfn. bearing , carrying , carrying away , stealing (e.g. kṣīra-h° , " stealing milk "); levying , raising (e.g. kara-h° , " raising taxes ") ; ravishing , charming , delightful ; m. taking away , removal ; waste, loss ; war, battle ; a garland of pearls , necklace (accord. to some , one of 108 or 64 strings) ;

keyūra-viṣṭabdha-bhujaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): with arms supported by armlets
keyūra: n. a bracelet worn on the upper arm
viṣṭabdha: mfn. firmly set or bound ; rigid , stiff ; checked , stopped , restrained , arrested , obstructed , paralysed ; propped, supported ; filled, stuffed
vi-√stambh: to fix asunder , hold or keep apart , prop , fix , fasten , support ; to strengthen, encourage ; to make stiff or rigid
bhuja: m. the arm
narendraiḥ   (inst. pl. m.): indras among men, the first among men
narendra: m. " man-lord " , king , prince ;
indra: ifc. best , excellent , the first , the chief (of any class of objects)

lakṣmy-aṅka-madhye (loc. sg.): in the middle of the lap of luxury ; in Lakṣmī's lap ; between the dual flanks of good fortune
lakṣmī: f. a good sign , good fortune , prosperity , success , happiness (also pl.); wealth , riches; beauty , loveliness , grace , charm , splendour , lustre ; N. of the goddess of fortune and beauty (frequently in the later mythology identified with śrī ; the Good Genius or Fortune of a king personified (and often regarded as a rival of his queen) , royal power , dominion , majesty
aṅka: m. a hook ; the curve in the human , especially the female , figure above the hip (where infants sitting , astride are carried by mothers hence often = " breast " or " lap ") ; the side or flank
madhya: mfn. middle ; standing between two , impartial , neutral
madhye: ind. in the middle , in the midst , within , between , among , in the presence of (with gen. or ifc.)
parivartamānaiḥ = inst. pl. m. pres. part. pari- √ vṛt: to turn round , revolve , move in a circle or to and fro , roll or wheel or wander about , circumambulate ; to be reborn in (loc.) ; to abide , stay , remain ; to act, proceed

prāptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. attained to , reached , arrived at , met with , found , incurred , got , acquired , gained
gṛha-sthaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. a householder , Brahman in the 2nd period of his religious life (performing the duties of the master of a house and father of a family after having finished his studies and after investiture with the sacred thread
api: even, also
mokṣa-dharmaḥ (nom. sg.): m. law or rule of emancipation MBh. ; N. of a section of the 12th book of the mahābhārata (from adhyāya 174 to the end)

願得一抱汝 以水雨其頂
冠汝以天冠 置於傘蓋下
矚目一觀汝 然後我出家

[Conflated with BC9.22] 

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