Saturday, April 5, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.79: The Bodhisattva's Selflessness (and Pride)

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
ahaṁ viśeyaṁ jvalitaṁ hutāśanaṁ na cāktārthaḥ praviśeyam-ālayam |
iti pratijñāṁ sa cakāra garvito yatheṣṭam-utthāya ca nirmamo yayau || 9.79

I would go into the oblation-eating fire when it is blazing,

But I would not, with my task unaccomplished, go back home.”

Thus did he declare, with pride

But with no sense of me and mine, as he stood up and,
as per his declared intent, went on his way.

The turning word in today's verse, as I read it, is garvitaḥ (proudly, with pride) in the 3rd pāda. My first thought, since I had got it into my head that Aśvaghoṣa was going all out in the present Canto to praise the bodhisattva for his firm resolve, was to soften any sense of the bodhisattva being at fault by translating garvitaḥ as “boldly.” But the original word is garvitaḥ, which, according to the MW dictionary, means haughty, conceited, proud. If garvitaḥ somehow obtrudes into our rosy view of the bodhisattva's greatness, that, on reflection, may have been Aśvaghoṣa's intention – to cause us to engage the old grey matter.

In SN Canto 17 Aśvaghoṣa described how Nanda, as a bodhisattva, a buddha-to-be, passed through four dhyānas, four Zens, four stages of sitting-mediation. The first dhyāna  is a joy born of separation, the second is a deeper joy born of integration, the third transcends joy, and the fourth is a state of utter lucidity, mindful and indifferent. But in realizing this fourth dhyāna, Nanda was still only a bodhisattva; it remained for him to cut the five upper fetters:

dhyānaṃ sa niśritya tataś-caturtham-arhattva-lābhāya matiṃ cakāra /
Consequently, relying on the fourth stage of meditation, 
he made up his mind to win the worthy state,
saṃdhāya mitraṃ balavantam-āryaṃ rājeva deśān-ajitān jigīṣuḥ //17.56//
Like a king joining forces with a strong and noble ally
and then aspiring to conquer unconquered lands.

ciccheda kārtsnyena tataḥ sa pañca prajñāsinā bhāvanayeritena /
Then he cut the five upper fetters: 
with the sword of intuitive wisdom which is raised aloft by cultivation of the mind,
ūrdhvaṁ-gamāny-uttama-bandhanāni saṃyojanāny-uttama-bandhanāni //17.57//
He completely severed the five aspirational fetters, 
which are bound up with superiority, and tied to the first person.

(Notice that the bodhisattva's first word in the sentence with which in today's verse he concludes his speech is the big aham, “I,” the first person singular.)

bodhy-aṅga-nāgair-api saptabhiḥ sa saptaiva cittānuśayān mamarda /
Again, with the seven elephants of the limbs of awakening 
he crushed the seven dormant tendencies of the mind,
dvipān-ivopasthita-vipraṇāśān kālo grahaiḥ saptabhir-eva sapta // 17.58 //
Like Time, when their destruction is due, 
crushing the seven continents by means of the seven planets.

agni-drumājyāmbuṣu yā hi vṛttiḥ kavandha-vāyv-agni-divākarāṇām /
The action which on fire, trees, ghee and water 
is exerted by rainclouds, wind, a flame and the sun,
doṣeṣu tāṃ vṛttim-iyāya nando nirvāpaṇotpāṭana-dāha-śoṣaiḥ // 17.59 //
Nanda exerted that action on the faults, 
quenching, uprooting, burning, and drying them up.

iti tri-vegaṃ tri-jhaṣaṃ tri-vicam-ekāmbhasaṃ pañca-rayaṃ dvi-kūlam /
Thus he overcame three surges, three sharks, three swells, 
the unity of water, five currents, two shores,
dvi-grāham-aṣṭāṅgavatā plavena duḥkhārṇavaṃ dus-taram-uttatāra // 17.60 //
And two crocodiles: in his eight-piece raft, 
he crossed the flood of suffering which is so hard to cross.

arhattvam-āsādya sa sat-kriyārho nirutsuko niṣpraṇayo nirāśaḥ /
Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served. 
Without ambition, without partiality, without expectation;
vibhīr-viśug-vītamado virāgaḥ sa eva dhṛtyānya ivābabhāse // 17.61 //
Without fear, without sorrow, without pride, and without passion;
while being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different.

So when, taking garvitaḥ as a starting point, we re-examine today's verse in light of these verses from SN Canto 17, I think we are being encouraged to appreciate and reflect on the sameness and difference between the state of a bodhisattva and the state of buddha.

In some ways there is no difference between a bodhisattva and a buddha, in the same way that there is no difference between ice and water. And in some ways a bodhisattva is totally different from a buddha, in the same way that ice – for example, if you want to dip your face into a block of it – is totally different from water.

It may be that Aśvaghoṣa intended to suggest the sameness with yatheṣṭam, “as per intended,” or, in context, “as per the intent [of his declaration (pratijñām)].” The sameness might be in the iron tendency, manifested by bodhisattvas and buddhas alike, to stick to a decision, and especially to stick to a decision NOT to do.

The difference I think might be concealed in the juxtaposition of garvitaḥ (with pride) and an ironic nirmamaḥ (without any sense of self, with no sense of me and mine). We encountered the latter expression at the beginning of BC Canto 8, with the same ironic double-meaning – at least as I read the verse at that time.

In low spirits, meanwhile 

– With his master gone thus,
with no sense of me and mine, to the forest –
(tathā vanaṁ bhartari nirmame gate)

He whose sphere was horses
made on the road an effort to suppress his sorrow.

And surely enough, while also being thus,
he failed to banish his tears.

Thus, whereas the enlightened Nanda in SN Canto 17 is described as being free of faults like pride and being nothing but himself, the bodhisattva in today's verse is described as being proud (garvitaḥ) and being without any sense of me and mine (nirmamaḥ).

So today's verse, as I read it, serves in practice as a reminder that a bodhisattva's firm resolve is something admirable, and something to be affirmed as it is; but at the same time a bodhisattva's pride might be a signal to self and others that a bodhisattva is still a bodhisattva – one who, when compared with a buddha, still has something faulty, or immature.

On the surface, then, nirmamaḥ (being selfless) sounds like something admirable and altruistic. But I think that below the surface, as in BC8.1, Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting, by describing a bodhisattva as nirmamaḥ (being without the sense of me and mine) that a bodhisattva is one who has yet to come into full possession, like a mighty tree, or like a buddha, of the whole earth under his own feet and the whole sky over his own head.

I might be wrong, but in reading today's verse like this, I get a renewed sense of Aśvaghoṣa being quite unlike a religious, bodhisattva-worshiping Buddhist. I get a sense of him being extremely practical. I get a renewed sense of Aśvaghoṣa being interested, above all, in practice in the direction of freedom from faults.

aham (nom. sg.): I
viśeyam = 1st pers. sg. optative viś: to enter
jvalitam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. blazing
hutāśanam (acc. sg.): m. " oblation-eater " , fire

na: not
ca: and
akṛtārthaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having one's object unaccomplished , unsuccessful
praviśeyam = 1st pers. sg. optative pra- √ viś: to enter
ālayam (acc. sg.): m. and n. a house , dwelling

iti: “...,” thus
pratijñām (acc. sg.): f. admission , acknowledgment , assent , agreement , promise , vow ; a statement , assertion , declaration , affirmation
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
cakāra = 3rd per. sg. perf. kṛ: to do, make
garvitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. haughty , conceited , proud of (in comp.)
garv: to be or become proud or haughty

yatheṣṭam: ind. according to wish or inclination
√iṣ: to endeavour to obtain , strive , seek for ; to desire , wish , long for , request ; to wish or be about to do anything , intend
utthāya = abs. ud- √sthā: to stand up , spring up , rise , raise one's self , set out ; to rise (from any occupation) , leave off ; to finish
ca: and
nir-mamaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. unselfish , disinterested , (esp.) free from all worldly connections
yayau = 3rd per. sg. perf. yā: to go, to go away

寧身投盛火 不以義不畢
還歸於本國 入於五欲火 
表斯要誓已 除起而長辭
太子辯鋒炎 猶如盛日光 

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