Monday, February 10, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.25: Investigation of Princes

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
bhīṣmeṇa gaṅgodara-saṁbhavena rāmeṇa rāmeṇa ca bhārgaveṇa |
śrutvā ktaṁ karma pituḥ priyārthaṁ pitus-tvam-apy-arhasi kartum-iṣṭam || 9.25

The action of Bhīṣma 'The Terrible,'
who was born from Gaṅgā's womb,

The action of Rāma, and the action of Rāma the son of Bhṛgu,

They did for the sake of what their fathers valued –

Having studied that action, you also should do a father's desire.

EHJ notes: “The deeds referred to are too well known to need specification.”

Maybe so; but I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention is that those well-known deeds of princes require our further investigation.

The title of the present canto, kumārānveṣaṇaḥ, could be translated perfectly literally as “Investigation of Princes” – the kumāra of kumārānveṣaṇaḥ could equally be singular or plural.

When today's verse is read in that light, and in light of recent verses, the deeds of princes referred to in today's verse might indeed be worthy of further investigation: they might contain practical hints to guide sons and daughters of a king of dharma, in how to act, and in how not to act. 

Bhīṣma, to refresh the memory, appeared in SN Canto 7, as the son of King Śan-tanu and his first wife Gaṇga:
And King 'Good Body' Śan-tanu, when separated from goddess Gaṅgā, shook like a śāla tree whose roots the Ganges was washing away: / The son of Pratipa and light of his family, he of the body beautiful, became uncontrollable. // 7.41 //... Again, when Kālī's husband Śan-tanu had gone to heaven, Jana-mejaya, 'Causer of Trembling among Men,' in his desire to marry Kālī, / Came up against Bhīṣma 'The Terrible,' and accepted death from him, rather than relinquish his love for her. // SN7.44 //
The story goes that when Śan-tanu fell in love with the fisherman's daughter Kālī (or Satyavatī), she made Śan-tanu promise that her son, and not Bhīṣma (Śan-tanu's first son by Gaṅgā), would succeed to the throne. In view of his father's love for Kālī, Bhīṣma did his father the favour of going quietly instead of staking his rightful claim to the kingdom. So the action of Bhīṁṣa referred to in today's verse, insofar as it is cited as a good example (in contrast with Bhīṣma's cruel slaying of Jana-mejaya) might have been his exemplary readiness to give up his claim to his father's throne – a nice example of the kind of modesty of ambition, or small desire, that causes Māra to quake in his boots?

Rāma, according to PO's footnote, also voluntarily went into exile in the forest so his father could redeem his pledge and make his younger son the heir to the throne – another nice example of the kind of modesty of ambition, or small desire, that causes Māra to quake in his boots?

Ironically, then, these first two examples, though ostensibly cited in support of King Śuddhodana's wish that the prince should come back to Kapilavastu and claim the throne, when we investigate them, are actually examples of rightful heirs who had the mental latitude to give up their claim to their father's throne.

"Rāma the son of Bhṛgu," refers in contrast to a prince who showed rather less flexibility of mind, namely, Paraśu-rāma, "Rāma with the Axe." He is referred to by the striver in SN Canto 9 as the nemesis of King Kārtavīrya (aka Arjuna, son of Kṛta-vīrya):
Where is the power of Kṛta-vīrya's son, the thousand-armed Arjuna, who fancied himself to be so strong? / In battle, Bhārgava, 'The Scion of the Bhṛgus,' severed his arms like a thunderbolt lopping off the lofty horns of a mountain.// SN9.17 //
The story is told in the Wikipedia entry on Paraśu-rāma of how Rāma with his axe pleased his father by killing Kārtavīrya and retrieving a magic calf that Kārtavīrya had stolen. Subsequently the sons of Kārtavīrya exacted revenge on the father of Paraśu-rāma and he in turn vowed to avenge his father's death by killing the entire race of kṣatriyas – which he then proceeded to do, not only once but no less than 21 times (once for each time his bereaved mother had beat her breast).

PO's footnote suggests that this exacting of vengeance was the action that Paraśu-rāma did pituḥ priyārtham (to please his father).  In that case, Paraśu-rāma's liking for genocide might be an example of wrong action that is done to please a father. If we want to see Paraśu-rāma's effort to please his father as in some way exemplary, then the good example might have been not so much the slaughter of the kṣatriyas as the Jack Reacher-like restoration of justice through retrieval of the stolen calf.

In any event, in conclusion the voice of experience is telling the bodhisattva to study past examples of the actions of princes, and on that basis to fulfill the desire of a king. The voice of experience is not necessarily recommending the bodhisattva to follow or imitate those examples; śru means to listen, to pay attention to, to study. So I think the message below the surface is that we should study those examples and, having studied them, should do the desire, or fulfill the wish, of a king of dharma.

So my reading of today's verse is that once again the veteran priest is ostensibly appealing to the emotion of love, but below the surface, on the contrary, the appeal might be to something truer than love – namely, (a) understanding of what really matters to a father or a forefather; and (b) appropriate action based on that understanding.

Constant daily practice of sitting-meditation certainly qualifies as such action. Whether or not a translation effort like this also qualifies I am not so sure. The one great matter in Dogen's book, without any doubt, was full lotus sitting. To see that the same was true in Aśvaghoṣa's book requires a bit more digging.

Having been ill in bed for most of the past two weeks, I have been iller for longer than at any time since I had glandular fever when I was 17. Though I have only missed a day of this blog, and have still managed to sit for an hour most mornings, I haven't been able to keep to my standard of sitting four times a day. From where I sit now, or mainly where I lie now, in bed at home in Aylesbury, I look back on the long hours I have spent in France, on and off over the past twelve years, sitting alone by the forest – selfishly in some people's estimation  and I don't regret a moment of that sitting. If and when I eventually emerge from this illness I shall send my knees forwards and away from my zafu, and my head forward and up, with renewed enthusiasm. Otherwise, looking back on the past thirty-odd years, I feel grateful that I have had a bloody good run. 

bhīṣmeṇa (inst. sg.): m. 'terrible , dreadful' ; N. of a son of śāṁtanu and gaṅgā (in the great war of the bharatas he took the side of the sons of dhṛtarāṣṭra against the sons of pāṇḍu , and was renowned for his continence , wisdom , bravery , and fidelity to his word)
gaṅgodara-saṁbhavena (inst. sg.): who sprang from Gaṅga's womb
gaṅgā: f. ( √ gam ) " swift-goer " , the river Ganges (personified and considered as the eldest daughter of himavat and menā R. i , 36 , 15 ; as the wife of śāntanu and mother of bhīṣma)
udara: n. the belly, womb
saṁbhavena (inst. sg.): m. birth , production , origin , source , the being produced from (abl. ; ifc. = " arisen or produced from , made of , grown in ")

rāmeṇa (inst. sg.): m. 'dark-coloured , black'; N. of various mythical personages
rāmeṇa (inst. sg.): m. Rāma
ca: and
bhārgaveṇa (inst. sg.): mfn. relating to or coming from bhṛgu ; patr. fr. bhṛgu
paraśu-rāma: m. " rama with the axe " , N. of one of the three rāmas (son of jamad-agni and sixth avatāra of viṣṇu , he was a typical Brahman and his history typifies the contests between the brahmans and kṣatriyas)

śrutvā = abs. śru: to listen ; to hear (from a teacher) , study , learn ; to be attentive , be obedient , obey
kṛtam (acc. sg. n.): done
karma (acc. sg.): n. act, action
pituḥ (gen. sg.): m. father
priyārtham: ind. for the sake of a beloved object , as a favour (EBC: what would please; EHJ/PO: to please)

pituḥ (gen. sg.): m. father
tvam (nom. sg.): you
api: also
arhasi = 2nd pers. sg. arh: to ought
kartum = infinitive kṛ: to do
iṣṭam (acc. sg.): n. wish , desire ; ind. voluntarily

毘林摩王子 二羅彌跋祇
聞父勅恭命 汝今亦應然


Rich said...

Hope you get well soon and have good medical care.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Rich. I hope I get well soon and don't need any medical care!