Saturday, February 8, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.23: Attaching to That

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
ity-abravīd-bhūmipatir-bhavantaṁ vākyena bāṣpa-grathitākṣareṇa |
śrutvā bhavān-arhati tat-priyārthaṁ snehena tat-sneham-anuprayātum || 9.23

Thus did a possessor of the earth speak to you,

With words punctuated by tears;

Having listened well, for the sake of his love,
[Having listened well, on account of valuing that,]

You should return his affection with affection.
[You should follow with attachment his attachment to that.]

Ostensibly today's verse is all about lovey-dovey and gooey stuff like endearment (priya) and love / affection (sneha). Indeed the Sanskrit sneha, which appears twice in the 4th pāda where I have translated it as “attachment,” before it means “tenderness, love, attachment, fondness,” originally means “oil, grease, fat, any oleaginous substance.” Ostensibly the veteran priest is appealing to the son of King Śuddhodana to reciprocate King Śuddhodana's love.

Hence EBC:
Thus did the king say to thee in a speech whose words were stopped by tears, — surely having heard it, for the sake of what is so dear to him, thou wilt with all affection follow his affection.

So spoke the king to you with a speech whose utterance was strangled by tears. You should listen, and to do him pleasure, you should follow after his love with love.

So did the king address you with these words, pronounced haltingly while choking with tears; Hearing that, you should do him this favour: return his love for you with your own love.

I discussed the ambiguity of priya in the comment to BC8.75, in which verse priya appears no less than six times. That verse also is ostensibly about the primacy of love but below the surface might be pointing to attachment to dharma as a matter much weightier than love and hate.

Because of the different ways priya can be used, in the 3rd pāda of today's verse tat-priyārtham, even on the surface, could mean several things. Hence EBC's “for the sake of what is so dear to him”; EHJ's “to do him pleasure” and PO's “you should do him this favour.” In all these translations the tat of tat-priyārtham is understood to refer to him, King Śuddhodana.

Below the surface, however, I think that tat means not “him” but “that” – in other words I think tat refers to the dhama of a king of dharma who, in expressing that dharma, says “I want to go into the forest.” I want to lose myself, in other words, in nature's direction, that direction being – as every tree well knows – primarily up.

Thus did a possessor of the earth named Śākyamuni speak to us, and thus is a possessor of the earth named Aśvaghoṣa speaking to us.

Understood like that, the 2nd pāda, which on the surface is a description of King Śuddhodana behaving like a drama queen, is truly a description of how the aforementioned kings of dharma used the noble truth of suffering as a recurring starting point, like a full stop.

In thinking recently about what it might mean for me to kick Māra's ass, I checked forward to BC Canto 13, whose title is māra-vijayāḥ, or “Kicking Māra's Ass,” and found (in BC13.2) that Aśvaghoṣa described Māra as the one colloquially known as kāma-deva, i.e. God of Love.

So in the background to today's verse, as I have chewed it over, mainly while lying in bed, in my present dilapidated state, in which a horrible headache keeps coming and going, there might be an important distinction. And the distinction might be between
(a) the kind of love which allows Māra to kick our ass, and
(b) the kind of attachment which gives us the kind of ballast we need, if we are ever going to be able to kick Māra's ass.

The reason I have been continuing this blog every day for the last five years, and the reason I drag my poorly body up to this office to post now this translation and comment, is not for the love of anybody, but all for attachment to that.

We tend to think, under the influence of Hollywood rom-coms, popular music, and cheap and shiny Zen, that Love is good and attachment is bad. But the usual conception might be arse over tit. The true conception, demonstrated abundantly in the affairs of human beings everywhere, might be that love invariably causes Māra to kick our ass, whereas seeing a persons' attachment to that is what causes Māra to tremble.

Māra, it should finally be noted, has never been described in any sūtra or traditional commentary as a reader of blogs. Māra has never been observed to tremble in fear of some sparkling new translation of an ancient dharma record. It is rather when attachment to that has been demonstrated atop a round black cushion that Māra has been described as beginning to tremble. 

iti: thus
abravīt = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect brū: to speak , say , tell ; to speak about any person or thing (acc. with or without prati )
bhūmi-patiḥ: m. " earth-lord " , a king , prince
pati: a master , owner , possessor , lord , ruler , sovereign
bhavantam (acc. sg. m.): you (lit. " the gentleman or lady present ")

vākyena (inst. sg.): n. speech , saying , assertion , statement , command , words
bāṣpa-grathitākṣareṇa (inst. sg. n.): words punctuated by tears
bāṣpa: m. tears
grathita: mfn. strung , tied , bound , connected , tied together or in order , wound , arranged , classed ; set with , strewn with ; artificially composed or put together (the plot of a play) ; closely connected with each other , difficult to be distinguished from each other
akṣara: n. syllable, vowel, sound, word ; n. an indelible mark incised on metal or stone

śrutvā = abs. śru: to hear , listen or attend to anything ; to hear (from a teacher) , study , learn ; to be attentive , be obedient , obey
bhavān (nom. sg. m.): you (lit. " the gentleman or lady present ")
arhati = 3nd pers. sg. arh: to ought to
tat-priyārtham: ind. on account of holding that dear ; on account of what he holds dear ; “for the sake of what is so dear to him” (EBC); “to do him pleasure” (EHJ)

snehena (inst. sg.): m. oil , grease , fat , any oleaginous substance ; m. blandness , tenderness , love , attachment to , fondness or affection for (loc. gen. , or comp.)
tat-sneham (acc. sg. m.): attachment to that ; his attachment ; “his affection” (EBC); “his love” (EHJ)
anuprayātum = infinitive anu-pra- √ yā : to follow after; start after, accompany

垂涙約勅我 令宣如是言
既有此勅旨 汝應奉教還

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