Saturday, February 15, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.30: Meditating a Moment, Then Responding

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
sa bodhisattvaḥ paripūrṇa-sattvaḥ śrutvā vacas-tasya purohitasya |
dhyātvā muhūrtaṁ guṇavad-guṇa-jñaḥ pratyuttaraṁ praśritam-ity-uvāca || 9.30

He the bodhisattva, the buddha-to-be,
the one whose essence of being was awakening,
he who in his essential being was perfect,

Having listened to the words of that veteran,

Meditated a moment and, as a knower of excellence,

Humbly spoke this excellent response:
[Spoke this excellent response, full of secret meaning:]

The above translation of the 1st pāda of today's verse probably over-eggs the pudding. Never mind. Just the one word bodhisattva is a word that one could profitably spend a whole day, or a week, or a lifetime, or at least a few moments here and now, meditating on.

Bodhi is from the root budh, to wake up, and can be taken as standing for sambodhi, full awakening, or perfect enlightenment – in the sense that the Buddha uses the term in SN Canto 18:
For just as a fool, having made it to a jewel mine, might leave the jewels and carry off inferior crystals, / So would one reject the highest happiness of full awakening (sambodhi-sukham... uttamam) and struggle to gain sensual gratification. // SN18.46 //
Sat-tva is originally sat (being) + tva (-ness [neuter abstract noun suffix]), so “being-ness.” Sattva is given in the dictionary both as “being” (which sounds more concrete) and “true essence, nature” (which sounds more abstract). So the best translation might be one that does not lean too heavily towards one side or the other – not easy.

I suppose I am attempting on this blog to lay the foundations for future generations of Aśvaghoṣa investigations – or at least to make more concrete the foundations already laid down by the likes of EH Johnston. The concreteness comes not directly from the Sanskrit of India, but rather from India indirectly, via the Zen of China and Japan, wherein abstract thinking is generally subject to dialectic opposition by such concrete means as a stone lantern in the garden, or a loud shout, or the showing of one finger. So I shall just carry on verse by verse giving it all the concrete I've got, like a mining operation that produces a ton of slag for every gram of raw gold. I hope somebody may come along after I am gone and make something more serviceable out of all this raw material.

The title of the present Canto, kumārānveṣaṇaḥ can be translated in a number of ways, beginning with “The Seeking of a Prince” or “The Investigation of a Prince” or “The Investigation of a Child.”

The 1st pāda of today's verse can be read as expressing one meaning of “a Prince,” i.e. a king-to-be of dharma. And the next 21 verses through to BC9.51 can be read as a record of what one true prince – whose essential nature, or true essence, or very being – was awakening, investigated.

So paripūrṇa-sattvaḥ, “he who in his essential being was perfect,” is a description of the bodhisattva-prince, and at the same time, it might be the description of every bodhisattva-child – before his or her original nature has been blotted out by the faults that stem from thirsting.

The Alexander teacher Marjory Barlow used to say, “You are all perfect, apart from what you are doing.”

In the 4th pāda of today's verse Aśvaghoṣa describes such a bodhisattva's excellent response, or the manner of its expression, as praśritam. Praśritam, like the Canto title, can be translated in a number of ways – either as an adverb, as I have translated it (“humbly”), or as an adjective (e.g. gentle, courteous, meek) modifying pratyuttaram (response / reply).

EBC translates guṇavad-guṇa-jñaḥ as one compound (“knowing all the virtues of the virtuous”) and translates pratyuttaraṁ praśritam as “his gentle reply.”

EHJ translates guṇavad.... pratyuttaraṁ praśritam as “an excellent and courteous reply.”

PO follows EHJ, translating “this excellent and meek reply.”

So the three professors each took praśritam as an adjective modifying pratyuttaram, and they translated praśritam as “gentle,” “courteous,” and “meek.”

In the above translation I have decided to translate praśritam as an adverb meaning “humbly.” But before so deciding, I meditated for more than a moment on the final definition of praśritam given in the MW dictionary which is hidden, obscure (as a meaning).

Was this a pointer to awaken us to meaning hidden or obscured or buried below the surface of the bodhisattva's coming 21-verse monologue?

From a brief perusal of the coming 21 verses, it looks to me as if the coming monologue is characterized – most unusually in light of all recent experience – by NOT being full of irony. The coming 21 verses, on the contrary, seem to me to be the words of a sincere straight shooter. So it could be that in using the word praśritam, or “full of secret meaning,” Aśvaghoṣa was playing with yet another kind of irony – the secret in the coming monologue being that there is no secret. Alternatively “full of secret meaning” could be a kind of double bluff, since the meaning of the next 21 verses does not appear to be hidden... but that does not mean that the meaning is superficial or easy for us to understand. 

The meaning of everything that Aśvaghoṣa wrote, in the final analsysis, might be totally amenable to understanding on the basis of concrete practice, but totally hidden from the grasping intellect.

That might be the light in which we should understand dhyātvā muhūrtam... uvāca, “he meditated / reflected a moment, and then spoke.” The phrase brings to mind the practical adage about engaging the brain before opening the mouth.

The Chinese translation of the 3rd pāda, incidentally, features the compound 端坐 (“upright sitting”) which I discussed yesterday in connection with Dogen's central instruction for sitting-meditation.

In the Chinese translation the 3rd pāda is
“Sitting upright he let his thinking be true”
“He caused his thinking to be true by sitting upright.”

The Chinese translation of the whole verse is:
菩薩聞父王 切教苦備至
端坐正思惟 隨宜遜順答

Samuel Beal:
Bodhisattva, hearing of his father the king, experienced the greatest distress of mind, and sitting still, gave himself to reflection; and then, in due course, replied respectfully: 

Charles Willemen:
When the Bodhisattva heard the urgent instructions of the king, his father, and heard that he was utterly full of sorrow, he sat up, making right consideration, and courteously answered, as was fitting:

On this occasion, in the 3rd pāda at least, I think the Chinese translator did a good job of capturing the essence of the original. Even though there is no word in the Sanskrit original that corresponds to the Chinese 端坐, “upright sitting,” in the Chinese translator's mind the verb √dhyai (which is the root of the dhyāna in sitting-dhyāna) must have been synonymous with sitting. This was also true for Dogen's teacher in China, who famously asserted

“Zen practice means sitting-zen.”

Hence Dogen's central instruction:

"Letting the body be true, sit upright!"

A final reflection on today's verse is that just as he whose essence was awakening listened to the voice of experience of the veteran placed before him, I intend to open my ears and listen to the secret meaning – whether it be buried below the surface or hidden on the surface – in the excellent response which, in the coming 21 verses, Aśvaghoṣa is about to record. 

Just because we are already familiar with the gist of what the bodhisattva is about to say, that doesn't mean we have ever yet really listened to the message, or have ever yet really got the message. In that sense, it may be that the bodhisattva's excellent response – even if there is nothing ironic about it – remains praśritam in the sense of hidden or obscure in its meaning, at least to those of us who have so far failed (in the area of concrete practice) truly to get the message.

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
bodhisattvaḥ (nom. sg.): m. 'whose essence is awakening'; the bodhisattva, the buddha-to-be
bodhi: mf. (with Buddhists or jainas) perfect knowledge or wisdom (by which a man becomes a buddha or jina) , the illuminated or enlightened intellect (of a Buddha or jina) ; m. " wakener " , a cock
sambodhi: f. (with Buddhists) perfect knowledge or enlightenment
paripūrṇa-sattvaḥ (nom. sg. m.): being complete in his essence , whose being was whole
paripūrṇa: mfn. quite full ; completely filled ; accomplished , perfect , whole , complete
sattva: n. being ; true essence , nature , disposition of mind , character ;

śrutvā = abs. śru: to listen, hear
vacas (acc. sg.): n. speech, words
tasya (gen. sg. m.): of him
purohitasya (gen. sg.): m. the one placed before, the veteran priest

dhyātvā = abs. dhyai: to think of , imagine , contemplate , meditate on , call to mind , recollect; (alone) to be thoughtful or meditative
muhūrtam (acc. sg.): m. n. a moment , instant , any short space of time
guṇavat (acc. sg. n.): mfn. " furnished with a thread or string " and " endowed with good qualities " ; endowed with good qualities or virtues or merits or excellences , excellent , perfect
guṇa: m. good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
guṇa-jñaḥ (nom. sg. m.): = guṇa-grahaṇa: n. acknowledging or appreciating merit or good qualities

pratyuttaram (acc. sg.): n. a reply to an answer , rejoinder , answer
uttara: mfn. later , following , subsequent , latter , concluding ; n. answer , reply ; n. (in law) a defence , rejoinder , a defensive measure
praśritam: ind. humbly , deferentially ;
praśritam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. bending forward deferentially , humble , modest , courteous , well-behaved; hidden , obscure (as a meaning)
pra- √ śri: to lean against
praśraya: m. leaning or resting on , resting-place ; inclining forward i.e. respectful demeanour , modesty , humbleness , affection , respect , civility
pra-śrayottara: mfn. (words) full of modesty or humbleness
pra-śrayita: mfn. behaving respectfully , courteous , modest
iti: thus
uvāca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vac: to say, speak

菩薩聞父王 切教苦備至
端坐正思惟 隨宜遜順答

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