Sunday, February 9, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.24: Pain Is Like Water

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
śokāmbhasi tvat-prabhave hy-agādhe duḥkhārṇave majjati śākya-rājaḥ |
tasmāt-tam-uttāraya nātha-hīnaṁ nir-āśrayaṁ magnam-ivārṇave nauḥ || 9.24

For in the deep sea whose water is sorrow 
and which has its origin in you –

In the foaming sea of suffering, 
the Śākya king submerses himself;

On that basis you should allow him,
who has no protector, to cross to his destination,

As a boat allows one to cross who,
with nothing to hold onto, is submersed in a flood.

In the old Nepalese manuscript the last word of today's verse is gauḥ (nom. sg.; an ox). In EBC's text this is amended (most probably by a Sanskrit editor prior to EBC) to gām (acc. sg.; an ox).

Hence EBC's translation is:
The king of the Śākyas is drowned in a deep sea of sorrow, full of waves of trouble, springing from thee; do thou therefore deliver him helpless and protectorless like an ox drowning in the sea.

Interestingly, one of the definitions the MW dictionary gives for nātha is a rope passed through the nose of a draft ox, so that if the last word of today's verse did indeed mean ox, then I might suspect that nātha-hīnam in the 3rd pāda was intended as an ironic description of the state of buddha – in which there is no rope passing through our nose by which others might lead us, because we are OK making our own decisions, thank you very much.

EHJ, however, amended to the more plausible nauḥ (nom. sg.; a boat); and this amendment is supported by the Chinese translation which has 爲船師 (as a ship's captain).

Whichever reading one takes, śākya-rājaḥ once again ostensibly means King Śuddhodana but below the surface might be intended to suggest that Śākya who became the king of dharma, as well as all his descendants who were also kings of dharma.

In the latter case duḥkhārṇava, “the foaming sea of suffering,” is not only a stock phrase in epic poetry – it is, the 1st pāda of today's verse emphasizes, the sea of suffering whose water is your sorrow, here and now, and whose source is nowhere but in you.

Understood like this, the 2nd pāda is suggesting how a king of dharma deals with pain, suffering, sorrow. And that relation is expressed by the verb majjati, from the root √majj, which, with the locative, means to sink into, to dive into, to plunge or throw one's self into, to be submerged in, or to be drowning in. Ostensibly, then, majjati seems to mean “[the king] is drowning [in the foaming sea of suffering],” as per the translations of EBC and EHJ, or “is sinking,” as per PO. But in asking us, as always, to dig below the surface, Aśvaghoṣa is encouraging us to think for ourselves how a king of dharma deals with pain, using the rather tired metaphor, the old cliché, of duḥkhārṇava, “the foaming sea of suffering.”

For example, does a king of dharma totally transcend pain and suffering? Does he place himself in a seven-story celestial chariot high above the sea of suffering? Or does he rather submerse himself in it – up to his knees, up to his waist, or up to his neck? Or does he plunge into it headlong and free-dive into its deepest depths?

And what about the water itself? My wife and brother who give Alexander lessons in the water talk of “letting the water support you.” Is there a parallel with pain? When a king of dharma gives himself to, rather than fighting against, pain and suffering, does the pain and suffering itself cause him to drown, or does he seem to derive support from pain itself?

In the 3rd pāda, then, tasmāt can be understood as meaning “therefore” or as meaning “on those grounds,” i.e. “on the basis of the truth that when you let go and give yourself to it, it will support you.” And nātha-hinam, “without a protector,” which ostensibly expresses an unfortunate state of vulnerability or weakness, might be intended below the surface to describe a king of dharma who is in no need of a protector, being quite capable of kicking Māra's ass all by himself or herself. 

The destination of such a king of dharma is to cross all living beings over to the far shore. Therefore the only way to allow such a king of dharma to get to his destination is to cause self and others all to cross together to the far shore.

So if anybody wants, for the sake of a Ph.D. thesis, to trace the origins of Mahāyāna Buddhism back to Aśvaghoṣa, using today's verse as a reference point, then please be my guest. But don't think that in so doing you might be allowing a king of dharma to cross to his destination. Because in the teaching of a true king of dharma, there is no such thing as Mahāyāna Buddhism.

The irony in the 4th pāda, as I read it, is that we are liable to think that if our ultimate aim is the kicking of Māra's ass, then some kind of prop or support, like a big stick, might come in handy. But the truth might be that Māra laughs and claps at sticks and stones and weapons of mass destruction. Whereas what makes Māra tremble might be a bloke of small desire sitting naturally empty-handed.

Understood as above, today's verse can thus be read as antithetical to yesterday's verse. Yesterday's verse, below the surface, is singing the praises of tat-sneham, attaching to that. Today's verse suggests, ironically, that a king of dharma stays afloat precisely because of not holding on to anything.

śokāmbhasi (loc. sg.): n. the water of sorrow
tvat-prabhave (loc. sg. n.): springing from you
prabhava: m. production , source , origin , cause of existence (as father or mother , also " the Creator ") , birthplace (often ifc. , with f(ā). , springing or rising or derived from , belonging to)
hi: for
agādhe (loc. sg. n.): mfn. not shallow , deep , unfathomable

duḥkhārṇave (loc. sg.): the foaming sea of suffering
majjati = 3rd pers. sg. majj: to sink (into) , (acc. or loc.) , go down , go to hell , perish , become ruined ; to sink (in water) , dive , plunge or throw one's self into (loc.) , bathe , be submerged or drowned
śākya-rājaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the Śākya king

tasmāt: ind. from that, therefore
tam (acc. sg. m.): him
uttāraya = 2nd pers. sg. causative imperative tṝ: to pass across or over , cross over (a river) , sail across ; to float , swim ; to get through , attain an end or aim , live through (a definite period) , study to the end; (causative) to carry or lead over or across ; to rescue , save , liberate from (abl.)
nātha-hīnam (acc. sg. m.): not having a protector / possessor
nātha: n. refuge , help ; m. a protector , patron , possessor , owner , lord ; m. a rope passed through the nose of a draft ox
hīna: mfn. bereft or deprived of , free from , devoid or destitute of , without (comp.)

nir-āśrayam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. shelterless ; supportless , having or offering no prop or stay , destitute , alone
magnam (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. √majj) sunk , plunged , immersed in (loc. or comp.)
iva: like
arṇave (loc. sg.): m. a wave , flood; m. the foaming sea
gauḥ (nom. sg.): m. an ox
gām [EBC] (acc. sg. m./f./): m. an ox, f. a cow
nauḥ (nom. sg.): f. a ship, boat, vessel

父王因汝故 沒溺憂悲海
無救無所依 無由自開釋
汝當爲船師 渡著安隱處 

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