−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Indravajrā)
yaś-ca pradīptāc-charaṇāt-kathaṁ-cin-niṣkramya bhūyaḥ praviśet-tad-eva |
gārhasthyam-utsjya sa dṣṭa-doṣo mohena bhūyo 'bhilaṣed-grahītum || 9.47
Again, he who, after escaping,
by the skin of his teeth, from a burning house,
Would go back again into that inferno –
He, after leaving family life,
having seen the faults attendant on it,
Would desire in his ignorance to embrace it again.
If family life were inherently something for human beings to avoid, that would not bode well for the future of the human race. So perhaps we should understand that what the bodhisattva is expressing is not his aversion to family life per se, but is rather his aversion to the faults attendant on family life – or, to use the phrase that the Buddha himself uses in SN5.39, gṛheṣu doṣān, “the faults in family lives” or “the dangers in houses.”
The metaphor of the burning house, it can be argued, is not designed to teach us to hate houses. Houses do not burn us, except when they are on fire.
Still, I must admit, it sounds like the bodhisattva in today's verse is comparing family life not so much to a house as to a burning house.
EHJ translated sa dṛṣṭa-doṣaḥ in the 3rd pāda as “because he sees its dangers”:
And the man who, after escaping with difficulty from a burning house, would enter that very house again, only he, after giving up the state of a householder, because he sees its dangers, would desire out of delusion to assume it again. [EHJ]
Translating dṛṣṭa-doṣaḥ like this as “seeing its dangers” perhaps fits better with the metaphor of the burning house, but as a rule there is something to be said for translating doṣa wherever it appears as “faults,” because the teaching of eliminating the faults is so much to the fore in the Buddha's teaching as Aśvaghoṣa records it.
What faults should we think, on the basis of Aśvaghoṣa's writing, are attendant on family life? What faults reside in houses?
The first thing that springs to mind, to state the obvious, is the strong emotional attachment, and especially the sexual greed, which Nanda evidently felt towards his wife Sundarī, as described in SN Canto 4.
Less obvious is the effort of King Śuddhodana described in BC Cantos 3 & 5 to keep his son Sarvārtha-siddha in a state of blissful ignorance, by keeping from him the facts of aging, sickness and death. Equally, one could argue, the King sets courtesans to work in the effort to cause his son to be deluded through his senses. And finally, when less direct strategies do not work, the King turns to tactics of intimidation and direct restraint by guards – tactics which, at least for a lesser mortal than Prince Sarvārtha-siddha, would tend to be implicated with fear.
But in conclusion, having prepared the above comment yesterday and then slept on it and sat, my mind goes back especially to Aśvaghoṣa's description in SN Canto 4 of Nanda and his beautiful wife Sundarī making love. Like the depictions of beautiful dancing women on the walls of ancient Indian cave-monasteries, Aśvaghoṣa's portrayal of sex between husband Nanda and wife Sundarī is of something playful and beautiful. Should we think that when Nanda and Sundarī stimulated each other sexually, they were stimulating in each other the fault of sexual greed? I am not sure. I am no surer on that point than I am about what the hell is going on now in Crimea, Moscow, Washington, et cetera. But what, on reflection, is clear, is that Nanda was so absorbed in the sexual relationship which was at the centre of his family life with Sundarī, that he was not aware that the Buddha had come to his house and was standing downstairs. Perhaps this inattentiveness was the major fault attendant on Nanda's living of his family life, and the Buddha's silent actions caused Nanda to see it as such. Hence:
When he heard that the great Seer had entered his house and departed again without receiving a welcome, / Nanda in his brightly-coloured gems and garments and garlands, flinched, like a tree in Indra's paradise shaken by a gust of wind. // SN4.31 //
Later on, in the following canto, the Buddha seems explicitly to pinpoint as a fault this condition of being inattentive or heedless (pramattaḥ):
One who in a house burning on all sides, instead of getting out of there, would lie down in his folly to sleep, / Only he might be heedless (sa bhavet pramattaḥ), in a world burning in the fire of Time, with its flames of sickness and aging. // SN5.41 //
The best antidote to this fault of inattentiveness might be sitting as the King of Samādhis. For when the King of Samādhis is in the forest, sitting Buddha is in the forest, being properly attended to. And when the King of Samādhis is in the house, I venture to submit, sitting Buddha is in the house, being properly attended to.
yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
pradīptāt (abl. sg. n.): mfn. inflamed, burning
śaraṇāt (abl. sg.): n. shelter , place of shelter or refuge or rest , hut , house , habitation , abode
kathaṁ-cit: ind. some how or other , by some means or other , in any way , with some difficulty , scarcely , in a moderate degree , a little
niṣkramya = abs. niṣ- √ kram : to go out , come forth , go or come from (abl. , rarely gen.) , depart ; to leave (worldly life)
bhūyaḥ: ind. again
praviśet = 3rd pers. sg. opt. pra- √ viś: to go into, enter
tat (acc. sg. n.): that
eva: (emphatic), very
gārhasthyam (acc. sg.): n. the order or estate of a householder , of the father or mother of a family ; n. household , domestic affairs
utsṛjya = abs. ut- √ sṛj: to let loose; to quit , leave , abandon , avoid , eschew
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
dṛṣṭa-doṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. found out faulty or sinful or guilty
mohena (inst. sg.): in his delusion / ignorance
bhūyaḥ: ind. again
abhilaṣet = 3rd pers. sg. opt. abhi- √ laṣ: to desire or wish for (acc.) , covet , crave.
grahītum = inf. grah: to take possession of ; to choose ; to assume (a shape) ; to take on one's self , undertake