Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Canto Nine: The Seeking of a Prince

The present Canto, like many we have read before, is full of hidden meaning, and not only in the parts narrated by Aśvaghoṣa himself. Even the veteran priest and the counsellor seem unable – even if it is unknowingly, below the surface – to stop themselves from speaking the Buddha's truth. This is more true of the veteran priest than it is of the counsellor, since a large part of the latter's speech is devoted to wrong and contradictory views of so-called experts on the subject of making effort. But even amid the counsellor's irritating acceptance of second-hand Brahmanical wisdom, he delivers to the bodhisattva an exhortation that might have come straight from the horse's mouth: if you are devoted to release, honour the standard, in the proper manner, as prescribed (mokṣe yadi bhaktir-asti nyāyena sevasva vidhiṁ yathoktamBC9.67).

On one level, then, a narrative is continuing in this Canto which allows us to hear what Gautama says as a still-immature bodhisattva; whereas, tragically, since the narrative is cut short half way through BC Canto 14, we will not be allowed to hear what Gautama says as the enlightened Buddha.

When we dig below the surface, however, there is no shortage of Buddha-wisdom to be mined from every verse, whether where the narrative begins, with the birth of something beautiful, or where the narrative continues, with the seeking of a bodhisattva and the bodhisattva's seeking, or where the narrative ends, with the Buddha's entry into pari-nirvāna. The limiting factor is not a scarcity of text. The limiting factor is a rationale, like the first one cited by the counsellor, for not making effort. Or else the limiting factor is a rationale, like the second one cited by the counsellor, for making the wrong kind of effort.

The bodhisattva in the present Canto, in contrast, emerges as a paragon of an unshakeable resolve to make the right kind of effort.

When we seek out the prince, and dig for the sattva in bodhisattva, although he is still a young one (kumāra) who has not yet realized the truth (a-dṛṣṭa-tattvaḥ; BC9.75, 9.78), what shines out above all is his firm resolve to make effort in the right direction.

While working through this Canto I was struck anew by the truth of FM Alexander's aphorism that there is no such thing as a right position but there is such a thing as a right directionAs I mentioned in the comments, this was partly due to being stuck for several days ill in bed, waiting to get going again in the right direction myself, and reflecting what a gift it is to be able to help children and young people get going in the right direction – through a process of re-education which is centred primarily on their vestibular systems.

Nāgārjuna, who was the student of Aśvaghoṣa's student, famously described the essence of what the Buddha taught as a Springing Up Together (sam-ut-pāda). This integrated action of Springing Up, it seems to me  – especially on the basis of Alexander work    is the result of a process of being directed in the right direction. And I think this is why Nāgārjuna described the Springing Up Together as pratītya. This pratītya seems to be an absolutive form of prati-√i, in which verb prati means “towards” or “in a direction,” and √i means to go. The original meaning of pratītya, then, is something like “having gone in a direction.” And so as a compound pratītya-samutpāda originally means something like “Springing Up Together, having gone in a direction” or “Springing Up Together, having gone in that direction.”

Then the two, knowing informant and veteran priest,

Smitten by a protector of men, prodded with a goad of tears,

Making every effort, like two good horses spurred into action,

Went with good-hearted swiftness to that forest.

The two arrived, tired and weary,
at that abode of tiring exertion.

Having arrived at a favourable moment,
with what was appropriate for the journey,

The two abandoned royal pomp and,
in a modest manner,

Arrived at the hearth of a son of Bhṛgu –
they arrived at the very place of fire of a son of fire.

They honoured that inspired sage, following the standard,

And were saluted by him accordingly.

As two who had sat,
they spoke to one who abode in the act of sitting –

Cutting out chat, they told the son of Bhṛgu their private business.

“Though we belong to a king in the line of Ikṣvāku

Who is pure in his bodily energy and pure in his wide renown,

Know, good sir, that the men before you are not sure of ourselves

In apprehending what truth is taught
and in comprehending the art of thought.

A son, like 'Victorious' Jayanta, of that Indra-like king,

Wishing to transcend the terror of aging and dying,

Has, it is said, come here.

May you, venerable one, see us two as having arrived because of him.”

The sage told them:
“Indeed! The young prince, he of long arms, did arrive,

But not as an unwitting youth.

On the contrary,
seeing that this dharma practised here
involves repeatedly coming back,

He set out towards Arāḍa, seeking freedom.”

Thus, on those grounds, the two of them grasped the truth,

And said goodbye at once to that inspired sage,

Whereon, as if tired and yet tireless, through their royal devotion,

They staunchly went in that direction in which the other had gone.

As thus on those grounds they were going, they saw him,

Who had totally neglected purification,
shining with handsome form,

On the road, royally seated at the foot of a tree –

Like the sun when it has entered a canopy of cloud.

Thus on those grounds the veteran, 
abandoning a vehicle, went in his direction,

Joined by the keeper of the compass of thought –

As, when Rāma was in the forest,

The sage Aurvaśeya, 'Dawn's Descendant,'
along with the minister Vāmadeva,
went to Rāma, wishing to see him.

The two fittingly honoured him,

As in heaven 'Shining' Śukra and Āṅgirasa
caused great Indra to shine;

And he in return fittingly honoured those two,

As in heaven great Indra caused Śukra and Āṅgirasa to shine.

Having thus on these grounds been allowed,

The two, in the presence of the flag of the Śākya family, sat;

And in his vicinity they shone –

Like the twin stars of Punar-vasu in conjunction with the moon.

The veteran priest addressed that son of a king

Who abode at the foot of the tree, shining,

As in heaven 'Lord of Prayer' Bṛhas-pati

Addressed 'Victorious' Jayanta, son of Mighty Indra,
sitting under the celestial coral tree:

“Learn of the moment when a king,
losing consciousness, is on the ground,

The arrow of your sorrow having penetrated his core –

To these words which the king, O child!, his eyes raining tears,

Said to you, listen well:

'I know your resolve with regard to dharma.
[I know your fixity of purpose in regard to dharma.]

I realize that this will be your goal.
[I realize this purpose here and now, existing in you.]
[I realize that this goal of yours is becoming.]

But at your going to the forest at the wrong time,

I am consumed with a fire of sorrow that burns like a fire.

So come back, you who holds dharma dear,
because of what is dear to me.

For no reason but dharma itself, abandon this idea of yours.

For this swollen stream of sorrow eats away at me

As the flow of a river eats away its bank.

For the action which on clouds, water, brushwood and mountains,

Is exerted by wind, sun, fire and the mighty thunderbolt:

Sorrow exerts that action on us –

Tearing us apart, causing us to become dry, 
burning us out and demolishing us.

So enjoy for the present sovereignty over the earth.

You will return to the forest at the right moment,
as per the śāstras, or temporal sciences.

Never show disregard for your less fortunate kin.

For dharma is compassion directed towards all beings.

Neither is this dharma realized only in the woods:

Its realization is assured in the city too,
for those who make the effort.

Intention and energy are what count in this arena.

For the forest and the uniform are a mark of fearfulness.

By kings bearing crowns,

By kings with strings of pearls hanging over their shoulders,
and their arms fortified by bands,

By kings lying cradled in Lakṣmi's lap –

Even by those who did remain in family life –
the dharma of liberation has been attained.


Realized by kings who possess the earth,

By kings for whom battle is directed towards their own shoulders,
and whose arms are fortified by bands,

By kings acting in the middle, between the dual flanks of fortune –

And realized also by those who stay at home – 
is the dharma of liberation.

'Oblation-Offering' Bali and 'Thunderbolt-Armed' Vajra-bāhu,
who were the younger brothers of 'The Immutable' Dhruva;

'Born of Brightness' Vaibhrāja,
'Born of the Midsummer Month' Āṣāḍha,
and 'Close to the Gods' Antideva;

Likewise the Videha King Janaka, 'The Producer';

'[Ripening] Tree' [Pāka]-druma
and 'Army Vanquishing' King Senajit –

These men who remained at home as kings, you should know,

Were steeped in the dharma-practice
that leads to the highest happiness;

Therefore, enjoy both together

Sovereignty over what is acquired and the glory of a protector of men.

For I desire – having contained you in a close embrace,

You who is besprinkled, wet with nothing but water,

Seeing you in possession of the ā-tapa-tra
(the big umbrella, the instrument of protection from the heat of tapas) –

I desire, in that very state of happiness, to enter the forest.'

Thus did a possessor of the earth speak to you,

With words punctuated by tears;

Having listened well, for the sake of his love,
[Having listened well, on account of valuing that,]

You should return his affection with affection.
[You should follow with attachment his attachment to that.]

For in the deep sea whose water is sorrow 
and which has its origin in you –

In the foaming sea of suffering, 
the Śākya king submerses himself;

On that basis you should allow him,
who has no protector, to cross to his destination,

As a boat allows one to cross who,
with nothing to hold onto, is submersed in a flood.

The action of Bhīṣma 'The Terrible,'
who was born from Gaṅgā's womb,

The action of Rāma, and the action of Rāma the son of Bhṛgu,

They did for the sake of what their fathers valued –

Having studied that action, you also should do a father's desire.

Have regard for the queen who fostered you –

For her who has yet to go south,
into the region inhabited by Agastya,

For her who, like a loving mother-cow that lost her calf,

Is constantly and piteously wailing in distress.

[Rescue also your wife]
who is like a goose separated from the gander;

Who is like a cow elephant deserted in the forest by the bull;

Your unhappy young wife,
who is widowed though her husband lives –

You should rescue her, by your presence.

Your only son, a young boy not deserving of hurt,

Who is bearing in secret the burning heat of anguish –

Release him, Rāhula,
from his grief for his own flesh and blood
[from the sorrow of family ties];

Release him like the full moon from Rāhu's eclipsing grasp.

Burning with a fire of grief whose fuel is your absence,

Burning with a fire whose fumes are sighs,
and whose flames are hell,

While it seeks the water of your presence,

Is not only the royalty within the battlements but the whole city.”

He the bodhisattva, the buddha-to-be,
the one whose essence of being was awakening,
he who in his essential being was perfect,

Having listened to the words of that veteran,

Meditated a moment and, as a knower of excellence,

Humbly spoke this excellent response:
[Spoke this excellent response, full of secret meaning:]

“I understand the feelings of fathers towards a son,

Particularly the king's towards me,

And yet, even so knowing, afraid as I am of sickness, aging and death,

There is nothing for it but that I abandon my kith and kin.

For who would not wish to see his nearest and dearest

If, in the end, there were no separation from loved ones?

But since separation, however long delayed, happens,

On those grounds the guru, however sticky with affection, I abandon.

If, however, the gentleman present
viewed me as the cause of the king's sorrow,

That view would not be near and dear to me

When, in comings together which are like a dream,

He suffers, amid inevitable separation. 

Thus, moreover, should you let your mind go towards certainty,

After observing the world, in its manifold diversity, manifesting itself.

Neither the son nor a relative is the cause of suffering!

This pain has its cause in ignorance.

Since separation, as for travellers meeting on a road,

Is, in time, inevitable for living beings,

What wise man would wallow in sorrow

When rid of people with whom he was purported to be related?

Here the quitter comes, having left relations elsewhere. 

Eluding them here as well, off he goes again.

Even after going there, again he goes, to yet another place.

What attachment can there be towards such a serial deserter?

And since from the womb onwards,

Death in every situation is poised to strike,

How could his majesty who holds his son dear,
being there present,

Say that my giving myself to the forest was ill-timed?

In devotion to worldly objects,
wrong time exists.

In business, equally,
a right time is indicated.

Away from mankind and unto itself,
time is dragging all moments of time.

In a happier state of higher good,
all time is deserving of adoration.

That the king wishes to cede his kingdom to me –

That indeed is noble, and worthy of a father;

But it would be no more fitting for me to accept,

Than for a sick man, out of greed, to accept food that is bad for him.

How can kingship, as the dwelling place of delusion,

Be fit to be entered by a man of wisdom?

For there reside perturbation, intemperance, and exhaustion;

And transgression against dharma
through harsh treatment of others.

For, like a golden palace on fire,

Like the finest food laced with poison,

And like a lotus pond full of crocodiles,

Kingship is attractive but it harbours calamities.

No comfort, then, is kingship, nor inabdicable dharma –

So that ancient kings who felt disgust, 

As the drag of getting old brought forth inevitable suffering, 

Ceded their kingdoms and retired nowhere else but to the forest.

For foraging herbs, out in the wilds,

While clasping the highest contentment to one's breast
like a hidden jewel,

Is much better than living with the faults

That tend easily to go, like unseen black snakes, with royal glory.

For it is praiseworthy for kings to leave their kingdoms behind them

And, in their desire for dharma,
to betake themselves back to the forest.

But it is not fitting for a vow-breaker

To shun the forest and betake himself back to the family.

For what man of character born into a good family,

Having betaken himself, in his desire for dharma, to the forest,

Would cast off the red-brown robe and, dead to shame,

Make for the city
– even if the city were that of Indra himself,
“Breaker Down of City Walls”?

For he who, out of greed, out of ignorance, or else in fear,

Would take back the food he has vomited,

He, out of greed, out of ignorance, or else in fear,

Would take back the desires he has renounced.

Again, he who, after escaping,
by the skin of his teeth, from a burning house,

Would go back again into that inferno –

He, after leaving family life,
having seen the faults attendant on it,

Would desire in his ignorance to embrace it again.

9.47 (b)
There is no combining fire and water.

Nor can falsity and truthfulness co-exist.

There is no compatibility between what is noble and what is wicked.

Nor are pacification and punishment reconcilable.

Again, as for the tradition that rulers of men realized liberation

While maintaining their status in the royal family – that is not so.

How can the dharma of liberation,
in which peace is paramount,

Be reconciled with the dharma of a king,
in which the rod is paramount?

When he delights in peace and quiet, his kingship is lax,

When his mind turns to kingship, the peace and quiet is spoilt.

For peacefulness and severity are incompatible –

As a unity of the cold and the hot is impossible, in water and fire.

Resolutely, therefore, those rulers of the wealth-giving earth

Abandoned their kingdoms and obtained peace;

Or else, firmly anchored, on the grounds of sovereign power, 
on the grounds of subdued senses,

They affixed the name 'liberation' to what was not the ultimate.

Or if any of those kings during his kingship
did properly realize peace, be that as it may!

I, for my part, have not come to the forest
with any lack of conviction.

For, having cut the snare called kith and kin,

I am free, and not about to enter it again.”

Words that reflected his facility for knowing the self,

Free of eager desire, reasonable, yet powerful,

The son of the king thus spoke.

Having listened, the counsellor also spoke his piece:

“This mantra-containing resolve of yours

Is not improper; but neither is it suited to the present time.

For, to deliver your father in his old age into sorrow

Might not be, for one who loves dharma as you do, your dharma.

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.

Some say, moreover, that there is rebirth;

Others assert with conviction that there is not.

While this matter remains thus open to doubt,

It is only natural to enjoy whatever royal rank has come our way.

If we do carry on hereafter in some form

We will enjoy ourselves in that life as befits our birth;

Or else,
if there is no carrying on in any form beyond this life,

Release is already a given for this world,
without any effort on our part.

Some say that the next world does exist

But do not affirm a means of exemption
[from life carrying on there];

For, just as heat belongs to fire and wetness belongs to water,

Nature, so they say, is there in the carrying on.

Naturally, others explain, out of innate being

Arise the good and the ugly, being and non-being.

And since this whole world is the natural product of innate being,

Again therefore effort is all in vain.

When the working of the senses is ingrained

And pleasantness and unpleasantness
reside in the objects of the senses,

And when all is conjoined with old age and infirmities,

What place there has effort?
Is it not all a function of innate being?

The oblation-eating fire is stilled by water,

And fiery flames cause water to dry up;

The disparate elements, when contained in a body,

Confer unity and so bear up the world.

When, with hands, feet, belly, back and head,

A being develops in the womb,

And when there is union of that being with its soul –

Those who know such things describe this
as arising naturally out of innate being.

Who produces the sharpness of a thorn

Or the birds' and the beasts' diversity of being?

All this is brought about naturally, out of innate being.

There is no such thing as free will.
Where are the grounds, then, for making an effort?

Others say, in a similar way,
that creation arises from Īśvara, the Almighty.

What meaning for a person, in that case, is there in effort,

When what causes the world's carrying on

Is the same immutable agency that causes cessation?

There are others who say that the individual soul is the cause

Of both coming into being and being no more;

But whereas coming into being happens, they say, without effort,

Only by strenuous effort, they assert, is release attained.

A man becomes free of his debt
to the ancestors through his offspring,

To the ancient sages through the vedas,
and to the gods through acts of sacrifice.

He is born with these three debts

And when from these three he is released,
there, so they say, in him, is release.

In this way, say experts in the matter,

By this order of proceeding, is release assured,
to one who makes effort.

For if their effort, however persevering, is disorderly,

Seekers of release obtain only exhaustion.

Therefore, O mild-mannered man of the soma,
if you are devoted to release,

Honour the standard, in the proper manner, as prescribed.

Thus will come about the realization of the release

And the ending of the anguish of the lord of men.

Again, as for your thinking it a fault

To re-enter the palace from the ascetic woods,

Have no worry in that regard, dear son –

People even in ancient times left the forests and went back home.

When he was petitioned by his subjects,
though he had been abiding in the ascetic forest,

King Ambarīṣa went to the city.

So too, when the Great Earth was being abused by ignoble people,

Did Rāma return from the ascetic forest and reign over her.

So again did Druma, the Śālva king whose name means Tree,

In the company of his son, enter the city from the forest.

And, having become a brahmarṣi, a brahman seer,

Antideva the Sāṁkṛti
received the royal insignia from the sage Vasiṣṭha.

Such lanterns as these of the splendour of dharma

Quit the forests and returned to their houses.

There is no fault in going home, therefore,

Away from the ascetic forest, when the reason is dharma itself!”

Then, after he had listened to the fond and well-meaning words

Of a counsellor who was the eye of a ruler of men,

Leaving nothing omitted and nothing garbled,
neither getting stuck nor getting carried away,

Standing firm in his resolve, the son of a king said:

“As to the doubt you raise,
about existence in this world and non-existence,

I shall arrive at conviction in this matter
not by way of another's words.

Seeing the truth by the heat of asceticism,
or else by the coolness of quietism,

I will grasp for myself what, in this matter, is to be ascertained.

For it would ill befit me to accept a worldview born of doubt,

Unintelligible and beset with internal contradictions.

For what wise person would proceed
on the grounds of another person's grounds –

Like a blind man in the darkness, whose guide is blind?

Even in my present state of not having realized the truth,

Yet still, though good and bad be in doubt,
my inclination is to the good.

For better the toil, though the toil was in vain,
of a soul given over to the good,

Than the gratification of one, though onto the truth,
whose attitude was reprehensible.

Notice, pray!,
that this tradition you describe is not exactly determined,

And know to be truly unerring that which is spoken by true people.

Again, know the state of a true person to be freedom from faults,

For one without faults will never speak an untruth.

And as for what you said to me about going home,

Citing as an example Rāma and the rest,

They are not the standard.
For, in no way, as a standard for decisions in dharma,

Do vow-breakers measure up.

That being so, even the sun may fall to the earth,

Even a Himālayan mountain may relinquish its firmness,

But never would I, not having realized the truth,
my senses oriented expectantly towards objects,

Go back home as a common man.

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.

Then the counsellor and the twice-born veteran,
both in tears,

Having perceived his unshakeable resolve,

Tagged along, in the grip of suffering, with despondent faces;

And then meekly, having no other course,
the two of them went back to the city in question.

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 order to monitor the progress, however,
of him whose progress was of the highest order,

Those two appointed honest men to spy for them in secret.

“How on earth are we to go and see the king,
who is so devoted to his beloved son?”, they fretted,

As somehow, with difficulty, the two of them progressed.

The 9th canto, titled The Seeking of a Prince, 
in an epic tale of awakened action.

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