Sunday, February 16, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.31: Abandoning Kith & Kin

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Mālā)
avaimi bhāvaṁ tanaye pitṝṇāṁ viśeṣato yo mayi bhūmi-pasya |
jānann-api vyādhi-jarā-vipadbhyo bhītas-tv-agatyā sva-janaṁ tyajāmi || 9.31

“I understand the feelings of fathers towards a son,

Particularly the king's towards me,

And yet, even so knowing, afraid as I am of sickness, aging and death,

There is nothing for it but that I abandon my kith and kin.

What does the bodhisattva mean by sva-janaṁ tyajāmi, “I leave behind my family” or “I abandon my own people / my kith and kin”?

In the first instance the meaning is demonstrated in the early chapters of Saundara-nanda by the steps taken by the Buddha to put physical distance between Nanda, who he leads aways to a vihāra, and Nanda's wife Sundarī who is left behind in Kapilavastu.

In the second instance, to abandon “my own kith and kin,” as the Buddha explains to Nanda in detail in SN Canto 15, is to abandon an idea. Hence the title of that canto, vitarka-prahāṇaḥ, “Abandoning an Idea.”

saṃsāre kṛṣyamāṇānāṃ sattvānāṃ svena karmaṇā /
ko janaḥ sva-janaḥ ko vā mohāt sakto jane janaḥ // SN15.31 //
Among beings dragged by our own doing through the cycle of saṁsāra / Who are our own people (sva-janaḥ), and who are other people? It is through ignorance that people attach to people. // SN15.31 //

tasmāj-jñāti-vitarkeṇa mano nāveṣṭum-arhasi /
vyavasthā nāsti saṃsāre sva-janasya janasya ca // SN15.41 /
With thoughts about close relatives, therefore, you should not enshroud the mind. / There is no abiding difference, in the flux of saṁsāra, between one's own people (sva-janasya) and people in general. // SN15.41 //

If I let this comment run on the well-worn tracks of identifying a verse's ostensible and subversive hidden meanings, the comment would be that ostensibly sva-janaṁ tyajāmi means “I leave behind my family,” i.e. “I put physical distance between me and my family,” whereas below the surface the real or transcendent meaning of sva-janaṁ tyajāmi is “I abandon the whole idea of 'my own people' and 'other people'.”

For the moment, however, I am staying with the intuition that Aśvaghoṣa here is no longer opposing or contrasting two levels of meaning, but is rather allowing the bodhisattva sincerely to tell it like it is.

The irony, then, if there is any irony, is as discussed yesterday in the description of the bodhisattva's response as praśritam, or “full of secret meaning.”

Which is to say that the secret meaning of sva-janaṁ tyajāmi might be “I abandon the whole idea of 'my own people'.” And, equally, the secret might be physically to leave one's family behind, in order to go away and sit somewhere separately, in solitude....

Distanced from desires and tainted things (kāmair-viviktaṃ malinaiś-ca dharmaiḥ), containing ideas and containing thoughts, / Born of separateness (viveka-jam) and possessed of joy and ease, is the first stage of meditation, which he then entered. // SN17.42 //

Finally, still speaking of separateness, a parallel that springs to mind in the arena of what in Alexander work is called “directing” or “giving directions,” is directions which are opposed to each other, and directions which mutually reinforce one another.

Head forward, for example, is opposed to head up – in the sense that if one puts one's head deliberately forward, the head goes down; and if one makes a big effort a la bad Japanese Zen to pull the head up towards the ceiling, the head is inevitably pulled back.

Back to lengthen, again, is opposed to back to widen. The two directions, as Marjory Barlow explains in this article, are mutually self-checking.

But between “head forward and up” and “back to lengthen and widen” there is no contradiction. Rather, “let the neck be free” and “head forward and up” and “back to lengthen and widen” and “knees forward and away” are ultimately one and the same direction – if we are not truly allowing one, we are not truly allowing the other. When we are sitting on one round black cushion, they are all one non-doing response to the force of 1g. 

Similarly, as I read today's verse, the two meanings I have discussed of sva-janaṁ tyajāmi are pointing in the same direction. There is no hidden meaning ironically subverting or undermining the surface meaning. Rather the deeper meaning is supporting the surface meaning. Thus the Buddha causes Nanda in the first instance to separate himself from his loved one in Kapilavastu and go to the vihāra; thereafter he causes Nanda to realize a deeper meaning of separation in the arena of sitting-meditation. But the separation of leaving one's family behind, and the separation of the pelvis opening up in sitting-meditation and letting everything grow upwards and outwards from there, are ultimately not two kinds of separation. Separation, at whatever level it manifests itself, is separation  the kind of event in expanding space that is described by the 2nd law of thermodynamics. 

avaimi = 1st pers. sg. ava-√i: to perceive , conceive , understand , learn , know
bhāvam (acc. sg.): m. being ; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling , sentiment , opinion , disposition , intention ; love , affection , attachment ; the seat of the feelings or affections , heart , soul , mind
tanaya-prasaktam [EBC] (acc. sg. m.): devoted to a son
prasakta: mfn. attached , cleaving or adhering or devoted to , fixed or intent upon , engaged in , occupied with (loc. or comp.); being in love , enamoured
tanaye [EHJ] (loc. sg.): m. a son ; n. posterity , family , race , offspring , child
pitṝṇām [EHJ] (gen. pl.): m. of fathers

viśeṣatas: ind. especially , particularly , above all
yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): [that] which
mayi (loc. sg.): towards me
bhūmi-pasya (gen. sg.): m. " earth-protector ", a king , prince.

jānan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. jñā: to know
api: though
vyādhi-jarā-vipadbhyaḥ (abl. pl.): sickness, aging and death
vipad: f. going wrongly , misfortune , adversity , calamity , failure , ruin , death

bhītaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. frightened , alarmed , terrified , timid , afraid of or imperilled by (abl. or comp.)
tu: but
agatyā: ind. unavoidably, indispensably
a-gati: mfn. not going , halting , without resource , helpless; f. want of resort
sva-janam (acc. sg.): m. a man of one's own people , kinsman; one's own people , own kindred
tyajāmi = 1st pers. sg. tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit ; to give up , surrender , resign , part from , renounce

我亦知父王 慈念心過厚
畏生老病死 故違罔極恩 

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