Tuesday, May 13, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 10.34: Maturity in the Middle

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Sālā)
śaknoti jīrṇaḥ khalu dharmam-āptuṁ kāmopabhogeṣv-agatir-jarāyāḥ |
ataś-ca yūnaḥ kathayanti kāmān-madhyasya vittaṁ sthavirasya dharmam || 10.34

An old man, assuredly, is able to realize dharma.

In old age the means are lacking for enjoyment of sensual pleasures.

And so pleasures, they say, belong to the young;

Acquisition of substance to one in the middle; 
dharma to a mature elder.

Apologies for the late posting. Cycled through the night to catch the morning ferry, but did not allow enough time and missed it. 

In today's verse, as I read it, something true is being expressed, and something untrue is being expressed. Thus, not for the first time, I think Aśvaghoṣa is calling on us to exercise our critical faculties.

The 1st pāda seems to express an assertion which is correct, or reasonable. If we take the opposite assertion that an old man is not able to realize dharma, then that assertion is readily falsified by examples like Joshu Jushin in China and the Buddha himself in India. But being correct, like stating that 2 + 2 = 4, is not always to express much in the way of truth.

The 2nd pāda is antithetical to the 1st pāda inasfar as it expresses a view, or an idea. Like all views, and like all ideas, it is untrue, not real. My wife's father who died earlier this year, for example, enjoyed a glass of beer, or several glasses, well into his eighties. Or if we read the 2nd pāda as expressing a view related specifically to sexual pleasure, that view also might not be true.

The 3rd pāda is both true and untrue.

The truth of it, at the superficial level, is the truth that babies like pleasurable activities like sucking their mother's breasts and playing with toys, and babies should, as far as possible, enjoy such pleasurable activities. Even when they starting going to school, playtime is of primary importance for young children, in my view. In the United Kingdom we have an education secretary at present named Michael Gove who as far as I can see, is very far from being enlightened in this or in any other area.

At a deeper level, the truth of the 3rd pāda might be that, in the arena of practice, attachment to pleasures is immature behaviour.

And the untruth of the 3rd pāda might lie in ataś-ca (“and so”), which suggest a false line of reasoning from the first to the second half of today's verse. Specifically, the truth expressed in the 3rd pāda, whether at the superficial or the deeper level, does not follow from the wrong view expressed in the 2nd pāda.

The 4th pāda contains the main irony; the 4th pāda, like many of Aśvaghoṣa's 4th pādas, is the punchline.

On the surface the 4th pāda means,
as per EBC: wealth [belongs] to the middle-aged, and religion to the old.
EHJ: [they attribute] wealth to middle age, dharma to the old.
PO: [they assign] wealth for the middle-aged, and dharma for the old.
But there are a couple of clues to ironic hidden meaning.

The first clue is the lack of a ca (and), so that even though EBC and PO took “and” as understood, the two elements in the 4th pāda can be read as two words for the same thing (e.g. a buddha, an enlightened human being) rather than for two separate things (e.g. an apple and a pear). 

The second clue is use of the term sthavira, which corresponds to thera in theravāda, the Vehicle of the Elders.

The ironic hidden meaning, then, as I read it, is that the middle and the elder are not two groups. The point that Bimbisāra is making, unbeknowns to himself, is that in practice and experience of the Buddha's teaching, to be in the middle is to be mature, and to be mature is to be in the middle.

Why does Aśvaghoṣa like to hide such expressions of the truth in the words of people who, on the face of it, are clueless?

I think it has to do with the point that the Dalai Lama was making in the film I mentioned yesterday. Insofar as our enemy is ignorance, religious prayer is as effective as a weapon against it as a feather duster would have been up against Mike Tyson in his day. Insofar as our enemy is ignorance, whatever causes a person to exercise his or her critical faculties in earnest is a valuable training tool. 

Fortunately I didn't have a heart attack or a traffic accident last night, though I easily might have done, and I was able to have a long recuperative sleep on the afternoon ferry. But it was a nice irony that having praised the exercise of critical faculties in preparing this comment on Monday, I promptly failed to do just that, in the planning and execution of my cycle ride through Monday night and into Tuesday morning. 

śaknoti = 3rd pers. sg. śak: to be able to
jīrṇaḥ (nom. sg.): m. an old man
khalu: ind. indeed, assuredly
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. dharma
āptum = infinitive āp: to reach , overtake , meet with , fall upon ; to obtain

kāmopabhogeṣu (loc. pl.): enjoyments of desire/pleasure
upabhoga: m. enjoyment , eating , consuming ; enjoying (a woman or a lover)
agatiḥ (nom. sg.): f. want of resort or resource , unsuccessfulness; mfn. not going , halting , without resource , helpless
gati: f. going; path, way ; possibility , expedient , means ; a means of success ; refuge, resource
jarāyāḥ (gen. sg.): f. old age

ataḥ: ind. from this, hence
ca: and
yūnaḥ = gen. sg. yuvan: m. a youth, young man
kathayanti = 3rd pers. pl. kath: to tell, narrate
kāmān (acc. pl.): m. pleasures, desires

madhyasya (gen. sg.): n. the middle
vittam (acc. sg.): n. anything found ; (in later language also pl.) acquisition , wealth , property , goods , substance , money , power
vid: to find , discover , meet or fall in with , obtain , get , acquire , partake of , possess
sthavirasya (gen. sg.): m. an old man ; m. (with Buddhists) an " Elder " (N. of the oldest and most venerable bhikṣus)
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. dharma

少壯受五欲 中年習用財
年耆諸根熟 是乃順法時

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