Saturday, April 19, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 10.10: The Human Transmission of a Cornerstone of Direction

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Rāmā)
śreṇyo 'tha bhartā magadhājirasya bāhyād-vimānād-vipulaṁ janaugham |
dadarśa papraccha ca tasya hetuṁ tatas-tam-asmai puruṣaḥ śaśaṁsa || 10.10

And so Śreṇya, master of the Magadha domain,

From an outer palace turret, saw the great throng,

And inquired into the motive behind it.

Then a man conveyed that [motive] to him.

Today's verse on the surface means:
And so Śreṇya, master of the Magadha domain, from an outer palace turret, saw the great throng, / And asked the reason for it. Then a man told him the reason. //

Read like this, today's verse is important for the narrative; but for a bloke who sits it does not offer any teaching point in its own right.

So, proceeding from the prejudice that every verse Aśvaghoṣa wrote offers something for a bloke who sits to dig for, let us do some digging, word by word.

On the surface, papraccha ca tasya hetum simply means “and asked the reason of it” [EBC] or “and enquired the reason thereof” [EHJ] or “and inquired about the reason for it” [PO]. But,
  • prach with an accusative can mean not only to ask or to enquire but also (as per PO) to inquire about, or inquire into. 
  • tasya is genitive rather than locative. “The reason for it” would (the dictionary indicates) more normally be tasmin hetum. This would not scan. But I suspect that considerations of metre were not the only reason Aśvaghoṣa went for the genitive tasya hetum. I think Aśvaghoṣa might have been inviting us to inquire into the general problem of human motivation. Therefore not so much "the reason for it" as "the motive of/in it" or "the motive behind it." 
  • hetu indeed, according to the dictionary, before it means cause or reason, means motive.
On the surface tatas-tam-asmai puruṣaḥ śaśaṁsa simply means “and thus did a man recount it to him” [EBC] or “Then an officer explained it to him” [EHJ] or “then, an official of his informed him” [PO]. But,
  • tataḥ sometimes carries a stronger meaning than “and so” or “and thus” or “then”; tataḥ sometimes means “on those grounds.” Here, taken with papraccha, it might mean “on the grounds of inquiry.” And in that case “on the grounds of inquiry” might mean not only intellectual asking; “on the grounds of inquiry” might mean on the grounds of independent investigation, for oneself, with one's whole body and mind.
  • puruṣaḥ can mean not only a man, not only a bloke, but a human being – a man or a woman as distinct, for example, from an animal or from a god.
  • śaṁs has a variety of meanings including not only to tell or to relate but also to praise or to commend.
  • tam could refer to the motive (that [motive]) or to King Śreṇya (to him).
  • asmai, equally, as the dative of ayam (this), could refer to this motive (in its direction) or to this king (in the direction of this [king]).
If tam refers to the motive and asmai refers to the king:
“On those grounds, a human being conveyed that [motive] to him.”
But if tam refers to the king and asmai to the motive:
“On those grounds, a human being commended him in the direction of this [motive].”

If we dig below the surface, then, today's verse can be read as inviting reflection on what human motivation is, and what in the way of motivation is communicated in the one-to-one transmission between teacher and student.

Read like this, today's verse doesn't so much provide unequivocal answers as it equivocally raises questions.

But one thing that I would venture to assert with some certainty, on this Easter weekend when BBC Radio 4 is full of utter horseshit about Jesus's resurrection, is that puruṣaḥ means nothing more or nothing less than a man, a bloke, a human being.

Though puruṣaḥ is a masculine form, and in context it suggests a man, so that to translate it as “a human being” would sound odd, I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention is to emphasize that this conveyer of motive was nothing more or nothing less than a human being.

In Judaism, in Christianity, and in Islaam, what is believed in was originally revealed to a human being by some superhuman agency called, for example, God. But in this tradition that we are studying with Aśvaghoṣa, no such spurious claim is made for divine revelation.

Rather, a human student is requried to make the inquiry for himself or for herself. That is the condition, today's verse as I read it suggests, for a human teacher to convey what can be conveyed.

The motive, again, has been transmitted from seven ancient buddhas who were all human beings, from Śākaymuni who was a human being, through Aśvaghoṣa who was a human being, through Nāgārjuna who was a human being, through Dogen who was a human being, et cetera.

The first of the four cornerstones of direction, according to Nāgārjuna, is hetu, motive, or the motivational. So if I ask myself what hetu in today's verse means, I think hetu is a name that Nāgārjuna gave to the first cornerstone of direction, which is related with being in or out of the grip of the Moro reflex, and equally is related with FM Alexander's direction “to let the neck be free.” It is related in traditional Zen terminology with trying to make a mirror or being content to polish a tile. The corresponding Alexander jargon is end-gaining vs means-whereby.

But what is vital in the end is not discussion of four cornerstones. The vital thing, ultimately, is direction itself – in which matter motive is primary. Various blokes have conveyed this to me, not only in theory but in practice, via their own conscious direction. Foremost among them was a bloke named Marjory Barlow.

In conclusion, today's verse on the surface does not have anything to do with sitting-meditation, but if we dig below the surface it leads us in the end to ask:

Which way is up?

śreṇyaḥ (nom. sg.): m. N. of a king (= śreṇika); = bimbi-sāra
atha: and then
bhartā (nom. sg.): m. a preserver , protector , maintainer , chief , lord , master
magadhājirasya (gen. sg.): the lord of the land of the Magadhas
magadha: m. the country of the magadhas , South Behar (pl. the people of that country)
ajira: n. place to run or fight in , area , court [EHJ note: the exact meaning of ajira here is uncertain)

bāhyāt (abl. sg. m.); mfn. being outside (a door , house , &c ) , situated without (abl. or comp.) , outer , exterior ; not belonging to the family or country , strange , foreign
vimānāt (abl. sg.): m. the palace of an emperor or supreme monarch (esp. one with 7 stories)
vipulam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. large , extensive , wide , great
janaugham (acc. sg.): m. a multitude of people , crowd

dadarśa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. dṛś: to see
papraccha = 3rd pers. sg. perf. prach: to ask , question , interrogate (acc.); to ask after, inquire about (acc.)
ca: and
tasya (gen. sg): of it
hetum (acc. sg.): m. " impulse " , motive , cause , cause of , reason for (loc. , rarely dat. or gen.)

tataḥ: ind. then
tam (acc. sg. m): that [cause]
asmai (dat. sg.): to him, for that
ayam: this , this here , referring to something near the speaker
puruṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a man, a person, a human being
śaśaṁsa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. śaṁs: to recite , repeat (esp. applied to the recitation of texts in the invocations addressed by the hotṛ to the adhvaryu , when śaṁs is written śoṁs and the formulas śoṁsāmas , śoṁsāvas , śoṁsāva are used) ; to praise , extol ; to praise , commend , approve ; to wish anything (acc.) to (dat.) ; to relate , say , tell , report

爾時瓶沙王 處於高觀上
見彼諸士女 惶惶異常儀
勅召一外人 備問何因縁

恭跪王樓下 具白所見聞 

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