Monday, April 7, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.81: Neither Sticking Nor Twisting

−−−,⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑−⏑−−¦¦−−−,⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑−⏑−−   Praharṣiṇī
tat-snehād-atha npateś-ca bhaktitas-tau sāpekṣaṁ pratiyayatuś-ca tasthatuś-ca |
dur-dharṣaṁ ravim-iva dīptam-ātma-bhāsā taṁ draṣṭuṁ na hi pathi śekatur-na moktum || 9.81

Out of affection for him, and out of devotion to the king,

The two went worriedly on their way, and then the two stood still;

For, as he blazed with his own light, like the blinding sun,

They were able neither to behold him on the road nor to let him go.

In this penultimate verse of the Canto, the metre switches again, this time to the praharṣiṇī (lit. “gladdening”) metre. The first 71 verses were in the 11-syllable upajāti metre; the next nine verses were in the 12-syllable vaṁśastha metre; and these last two verses are in the 13-syllable praharṣiṇī metre.

So what? So the point is that this work, though my own plodding translation may cause you never to have guessed, is originally a poem.

Last week I heard on the radio an Oxford professor of English named John Carey relate how the poet WH Auden told him over an Oxford college dinner, that sometimes Auden would first hear a poem as rhythm, and then look for the words.

So the point is that Aśvaghoṣa was not only a Zen patriarch for whom the most important thing was mokṣa (i.e., liberation, or neuro-muscular release, or freedom from the slavery of unconscious habit); Aśvaghoṣa was also a poet. Some have postulated that it might have been difficult for Aśvaghoṣa to wear these two hats, of monk and of poet, at the same time. But I don't agree with those postulations. On the contrary, I think the fact that Aśvaghoṣa had such a facility for writing in verse made him uniquely suitable to lay down an authentic record of the Buddha's teaching that would stand the test of time. What thus sets Aśvaghoṣa's writing apart, in my book, even from the still more ancient Pali suttas, is that Aśvaghoṣa's writing is  (1) owned by Aśvaghoṣa's appending to it of his own name, and (2) at least partly safeguarded from corruption by the strictures of Sanskrit kāvya poetry.

Aside from its poetic merits, today's verse as I read it describes dithering which is in contrast with the bodhisattva's resolute decisiveness. Whereas the bodhisattva declares that no way is he going home unenlightened, and acts in accordance with that declared intent, getting up and moving off, the two royal emissaries do not know whether to stick or twist. The description of them thus brings to mind a similar memorable description of Nanda, when he is caught in two minds, at the end of SN Canto 4:

taṁ gauravaṁ buddha-gataṁ cakarṣa bhāryānurāgaḥ punar-ācakarṣa /
Reverence for the Buddha drew him on; love for his wife drew him back:
so 'niścayān-nāpi yayau na tasthau turaṁs-taraṅgeṣv-iva rāja-haṁsaḥ // 4.42 //
Irresolute, he neither stayed nor went, 
like a king-goose pushing forwards against the waves.

tat-snehāt (abl. sg.): because of affection for him
atha: and
nṛpateḥ (gen. sg.): m. the lord of men, king
ca: and
bhaktitaḥ: through devotion
bhakti: f. attachment , devotion , fondness for , devotion to (with loc. , gen. )
tau (nom. dual): the two of them

sāpekṣam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. having regard or respect to (loc. or acc. with prati)
apekṣā: f. looking round or about , consideration of , reference , regard to ; looking for , expectation , hope , need , requirement
pratiyayatur = 3rd pers. dual perf. prati- √ yā: to come or go to ; to go or come back ,
ca: and
tasthatuḥ = 3rd pers. dual perf. sthā: to stand , stand firmly ; to stay, remain
ca: and

dur-dharṣam (acc. sg. m.) mfn. difficult to be assaulted or laid hold of , inviolable , inaccessible , unconquerable , dangerous , dreadful , awful ; haughty, distant
√ dhṛṣ: to dare to attack , treat with indignity (acc.)
ravim (acc. sg.): m. the sun
iva like
dīptam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. blazing , flaming , hot , shining , bright , brilliant , splendid
ātma-bhāsā (inst. sg.): f. with his own light, with the light of himself

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
draṣṭum = infinitive dṛś: to see , behold , look at , regard
na: not
hi: for
pathi (loc. sg.): m. a way , path , road , course
śekatur = 3rd pers. dual perf. śak: to be able to
na: not
moktum = infinitive muc: to let go

深敬嘆太子 不敢強逼留
敬奉王命故 不敢速疾還
徘徊於中路 行邁顧遲遲

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