Saturday, April 12, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 10.3: Like a God, But Not a God

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Māyā)
gāmbhīryam-ojaś-ca niśāmya tasya vapuś-ca dīptaṁ puruṣān-atītya |
visismaye tatra janas-tadānīṁ sthāṇu-vratasyeva vṣa-dhvajasya || 10.3

Perceiving the depth and strength of that man,

And the shining form which outshone men,

The people there at that time were filled with wonder –

As if perceiving the depth and strength and shining form of the one, 
unmoving in his vow of practice, whose emblem is the bull.

EBC translated the 4th pāda “him who has a bull for his sign and is immovable in his vow,” and noted that this meant Śiva.

EHJ translated “as of him who has taken the pillar vow and has the bull for his sign,” and added no footnote. EHJ probably didn't want to insult his readers' scholarship by stating what he assumed we would already know, that the reference was to Śiva.

PO translated “like that of the bull-bannered one who had taken the pillar vow,” and added the following explanatory note (which I for one am not at all insulted by):

Shiva is the god who has the bull on the banner; he is known by the epithet Sthanu, which can mean a pillar or anything or anyone that is immobile. According to the myth as narrated in MBh CE X.17, Brahma asks Shiva to create living beings. But Shiva plunged into water and performed ascetic toil for a long time. His remaining still in this manner appears to have been the reason for his getting the epithet Sthanu. For a detailed discussion, see SHULMAN 1986 and KRAMRISCH 1981: 117-22.

So “the one, unmoving in his vow of practice, whose emblem is the bull” seems to refer to the god Śiva, just as 'Self-Existing' Svayam-bhū in yesterday's verse also referred to a god – maybe Brahman or maybe Śiva.

And the point is that Aśvaghoṣa is comparing a human being to a god – as Shakespeare did in Hamlet:
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!

I happen to know this passage because it was a favourite of FM Alexander's, and he quoted in his book The Use of the Self.

I couldn't help springing into my mind, in connection with today's verse, another verse that I happen to know because it was somebody's favourite. This verse was a favourite of my sister's and I heard it in my youth far too many times for my liking: 

Like a daisy, not a daisy,
For these leaves of mine,
Aren't a bit like any daisy,
They are cut so fine.

In conclusion, the point that I think Aśvaghoṣa is making in today's verse is that a god  unreal entity (abhāva asat) though he is   is not like a god; a god is a god. Whereas a human being who is like a god is not a god at all; he or she is a human being. The key word in today's verse, then, might be iva, like. By describing the bodhisattva as like a god, Aśvaghoṣa as I hear him is indirectly reminding us that the bodhisattva, even if he seemed to surpass other human beings, was in fact nothing more and nothing less than a human being.

Like a deity, not a deity,
For these legs of mine,
Aren't a bit like any deity,
Joined to my behind.

gāmbhīryam (acc. sg.): n. deepness , depth (of water , sound , &c ); n. depth or profundity of character , earnestness ; dignity ; calmness, composure
ojaḥ (acc. sg.): n. bodily strength , vigour , energy , ability , power ; vitality
ca: and
niśāmya = abs. ni- √ śam: to observe , perceive , hear , learn
tasya (gen. sg. m.): his

vapuḥ (acc. sg.): n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance
ca: and
dīptam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. blazing , flaming , hot , shining , bright , brilliant , splendid
puruṣān (acc. pl.): m. man
atītya = abs. ati-√i: to pass by, outdo

visismaye = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vi- √ smi: to wonder , be surprised or astonished at (instr. loc. , or abl.)
tatra: ind. there, in that place
janaḥ (nom. sg.): m. people
tadānīm: ind. at that time , then

sthāṇu-vratasya (gen. sg.): being immovable in his vow/practice
sthāṇu: mfn. standing firmly , stationary , firm , fixed , immovable , motionless ; m. a stump , stem , trunk , stake , post , pile , pillar (also as symbol of motionlessness)
vrata: n. sphere of action , function , mode or , manner of life (e.g. śuci-vr° , " pure manner of life " S3ak. ), conduct , manner , usage , custom ; a religious vow or practice , any pious observance , meritorious act of devotion or austerity , solemn vow , rule , holy practice (as fasting , continence &c
vow; any vow or firm purpose , resolve
iva: like
vṛṣa-dhvajasya (gen. sg.): having a bull for his emblem
vṛṣa: m. a man , male , husband ; the male of any animal ; a bull ;
dhvaja: m. a banner , flag , standard ; mark , emblem , ensign , characteristic , sign

國人見太子 容徳深且明
少年身光澤 無比丈夫形

悉起奇特想 如見自在幢 

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