Tuesday, March 11, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.54: Dharma as Rival of Wealth & Pleasure (Brahmanist Dharma vs True Dharma)

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
nūnaṁ ca buddhis-tava nāti-sūkṣmā dharmārthakāmeṣv-avicakṣaṇā vā |
hetor-adṣṭasya phalasya yas-tvaṁ pratyakṣam-arthaṁ paribhūya yāsi || 9.54 

Assuredly, again, your judgement is not very acute,

Or else is dull, with regard to dharma, wealth and desires,

In that, for the sake of an unseen result,

You pass over conspicuous wealth.

Dharma, wealth, and pleasure – or dharma, wealth and desires – are three of the four aims of human existence (puruṣārtha) discussed in Book 12 of the Mahābhārata. EBC in a footnote to this verse calls them “The three well-known ‘secular’ ends of human action.”  The fourth aim, or 'non-secular' end, is liberation or release (mokṣa).

Aśvaghoṣa mentions the same triad of dharma, wealth and pleasure/desires in the opening canto of Saundarananda:

alaṁ dharmārtha-kāmānāṁ nikhilānām-avāptaye /
Sufficient for full enjoyment of dharma, wealth, and pleasure;
nidhayo naika-vidhayo bhūrayas-te gatārayaḥ // SN1.40 //
Abundant; and of many kinds: these were treasures beyond the reach of enemies.

In that verse, too, the implicit suggestion (suggested by the omission of mokṣa) is that there is more to life than full enjoyment of pleasure/desires and wealth; and also more to life than full enjoyment of dharma – as dharma was conventionally understood.

In today's verse, then, I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention, as in yesterday's verse, was to focus our attention on the difference between
  • the ancient conceptions of dharma (religious duty), artha (wealth, as a worthy aim), and kāma (pleasure/desires, as a worthy aim); and
  • the bodhisattva's attitude towards dharma (real timeless truth), artha (wealth, as a stumbling block), and kāma (pleasure/desires, as a stumbling block).

So the irony here is that the bodhisattva, as we investigated yesterday, is not the one who was dull with regard to a conception of dharma as personal religious duty – a limited conception which allows dharma to be called your dharma or my dharma. It might rather be the counsellor – allegedly “the bearer of the instrument of thought” – who is living the unexamined life.

Equally, the bodhisattva's perspicacity with regard to kāma (love/pleasure/desires, as a stumbling block) is about to be demonstrated in detail in BC Canto 11, whose title is kāma-vigarhaṇaḥ, lit. “blaming love/pleasure/desires.”

Further reflections stimulated by today's verse, having slept on the above comment and sat, are firstly a reflection on the tragedy of ignorance.

The counsellor is not lying out of evil motives, like some damnable sender of spam emails. On the contrary, in BC9.72 Aśvaghoṣa describes the counsellor's words as priyaṁ hitaṁ caiva, fond and well-meaning. Rather, the counsellor is accusing the bodhisattva of being dull just out of the counsellor's own dullness.

Last year my wife went to Japan for three weeks and left me to look after her dog, which she was in the habit of giving plenty of exercise. Thinking then that my job was to carry on giving the dog plenty of exercise, I took it most days on a long cycle ride, which turned out to be too far and too fast for the dogs hips to endure. I felt my actions were doing the dog good, but in fact I was traumatizing the poor thing. After spending several painful weeks being nursed by my wife (while I was in France), the dog had to be put to sleep. A terribly sad episode, which lingers in my mind as a kind of metaphor for the tragic consequences of well-meaning ignorance, in this case my own. 

The second reflection, born of the first, is that fortunately for us the bodhisattva was totally immune to the ignorant words of the counsellor, so that the counsellor's ignorance did not have tragic consquences. The bodhisattva was clear in his mind that the dharma he was seeking was a cut above the dharma of dharmārthakāma, “dharma, wealth and pleasure.”

That begs the question of why the Buddha continued to use the word dharma, encrusted though the word already was with the religious barnacles of Brahmanism?

The answer might lie with the original meaning of dharma, or dharman, as “that which is established or firm.” Dharma derives from the root √dhṛ, which means to hold, bear, carry, or maintain. So the Buddha must have felt that there was no better word – barnacle encrusted though it was – to express the timeless truth that as a bodhisattva he had sought, and the timeless truth that as the Buddha he taught.

If we, in our ignorance, continued to confuse the truth, the law, the practice, or the reality which is truly established and firm, with a personal religious duty that can be called "mine" or "yours," that would be too bad. The Buddha, however, gave us not only the dharma as a word but also the dharma as a means of not being caught by words. 

Gautama taught, as Nāgārjuna concluded, a true dharma, in the direction of abandoning all views.

sarva-dṛṣṭi-prahāṇāya yaḥ saddharmam-adeśayat |
anukampām upādāya taṁ namasyāmi gautamam || MMK27.30

In the direction of abandoning all views,

He taught the true dharma,

Using compassion.

I pay homage to him, Gautama.

nūnam ind. now , at present , just , immediately , at once; now then, therefore ; (esp. in later lang.) certainly , assuredly , indeed
ca: and
buddhiḥ (nom. sg.): f. the power of forming and retaining conceptions and general notions , intelligence , reason , intellect , mind , discernment , judgement
tava (gen. sg.): your
na: not
ati-sūkṣmā (nom. sg. f.): extremely acute
ati: is often prefixed to nouns and adjectives , and rarely to verbs , in the sense excessive , extraordinary, Intens.
sūkṣma: mfn. minute , small , fine , thin ; acute , subtle , keen ; nice , exact , precise

dharmārtha-kāmeṣu (loc. pl. m.): dharma, wealth, and pleasure ; dharma, wealth, and desires
dharmārtha-kāma-mokṣa: m. pl. religious merit , wealth , pleasure and final emancipation (the 4 objects of existence)
a-vicakṣaṇā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. not discerning , not clever , ignorant
vicakṣaṇa: mfn. conspicuous , visible , bright , radiant , splendid ; clear-sighted (lit. and fig.) , sagacious , clever , wise , experienced or versed in , familiar with
vā: or

hetoḥ (gen. sg.): " for a cause or reason " , " by reason of " , " on account of "
a-dṛṣṭasya (gen. sg. n.): mfn. unseen , unforeseen , invisible , not experienced , unobserved , unknown , unsanctioned
phalasya (gen. sg.): n. fruit, result
yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): [relative pronoun] which
tvam (nom. sg. m.): you

praty-akṣam (acc. sg.): mfn. present before the eyes , visible , perceptible ; clear , distinct , manifest , direct , immediate , actual , real
artham (acc. sg.): mn. thing, object ; substance , wealth , property , opulence , money
paribhūya = abs. pari- √ bhū: to be round anything , surround , enclose , contain ; to go or fly round , accompany , attend to , take care of , guide , govern ; to be superior , excel , surpass , subdue , conquer ; to pass round or over , not heed , slight , despise , insult ; to surpass , exceed
yāsi = 2nd pes. sg. yā: to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey; to go away , withdraw , retire
[EHJ notes that yāsi perhaps should be taken here as simply an auxiliary to the gerundive paribhūya]

雖樂出無慧 不思深細理
不見因求果 徒捨現法歡

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