Sunday, May 18, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 10.39: Śreṇya Points the Way Up → To the Uppermost

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Premā)
ath' o cikīrṣā tava dharma eva yajasva yajñaṁ kula-dharma eṣaḥ |
yajñair-adhiṣṭhāya hi nāka-pṣṭhaṁ yayau marutvān-api nāka-pṣṭham || 10.39

Now if your desire is to practise nothing but dharma,

Then offer up the act of offering, as is the dharma of your noble line;

For, having gone, by means of acts of offering,
up to the upper reaches of heaven,

Even 'Marut-attended' Indra, by means of acts of offering,
reached those uppermost reaches.

Contained in the 2nd pāda of today's verse, as I read it, following the hidden meaning of good king Bimbisāra's words, is the principle of just sitting.

Ostensibly ath' o expresses a change of tack, and kula-dharma refers to the religious practice of the Śākya clan (which consisted of offering sacrifices). Hence each of the three professors began today's verse with “Or if...” and each translated kula as family (EBC: offer sacrifices – this is thy family's immemorial custom; EHJ: offer sacrifices; that is the dharma of your family; PO: make sacrificial offerings; which is your family dharma).

But below the surface the King's words might be words that a king of dharma should say to a bodhisattva in that noble lineage (kula) which had arrived at Aśvaghoṣa in 12 transmissions from the Buddha Śākyamuni.

The repetition of nāka-pṛṣṭham at the end of the 3rd and 4th pādas attracted annotated comments from EHJ and PO.

EHJ wrote:
The second line is a puzzle. If C's reading of nāga-pṛṣṭham [神龍背 = the divine dragon's back] in c is correct, adhiṣṭhāya means 'mounting' as in BC12.9, and yajñaiḥ must be construed with d. But this reading may well be due to the translator's misunderstanding, and A [the old Nepalese manuscript] and T [the Tibetan translation] both read nāka-pṛṣṭham, which ought presumably to have a meaning different from the one it bears in d.

PO wrote:
The last half of the verse is problematic with the repetition of nāka-pṛṣṭham. If both mean the same thing, then it is tautological. The Chinese translation appears to read the first one as nāga-pṛṣṭham (the back of the serpent)...

My guess is that it might have been Aśvaghoṣa's intention to pose the reader's mind with a puzzle or a problem, because he wished us to engage our grey matter and think – in connection with an action whose object is action itself  about the relation between means and end, or direction and goal.

This is the puzzle or the problem that would later be addressed in Chinese Zen with the metaphor of polishing a tile to make a mirror.

If I paraphrase the second half of today's verse on that basis, so as to highlight what might be the underlying teaching point, I think the King is saying that even the mightiest god by the means of action goes in the direction of his highest goal (that direction being upward); and even the mightiest god by the means of action gains that highest goal.

So the right direction (upward) and the ultimate goal (the uppermost), even for gods and all the more so for human beings, are functions of each other. And the same practical means is relied on, even by the king of gods, (a) in order to go in that direction, and (b) in order to reach that goal.

The puzzle of the second half of today's verse, then, seems to raise questions along the following lines:

Right direction is the means, and just to sit is the end?
Just to sit is a means, and to go in the right direction is the end?
Right direction is the means, and the right direction is the end?
Just to sit is the means, and just to sit is the end?

Zen Master Dogen exhorted that there should be thousands and tens of thousands of questions like these, to be investigated by sitting in the full lotus posture. 

ath' o = atha: ind. an auspicious and inceptive particle (not easily expressed in English) , now ; then ; but ; else
cikīrṣā (nom. sg.): f. intention or desire to make or do or perform
tava (gen. sg.): your
dharmaḥ (nom. sg.): m. dharma
eva: (emphatic)

yajasva = 2nd pers. sg. imperative yaj: to consecrate , hallow , offer
yajñam (acc. sg.): m. worship ; act of worship or devotion , offering , oblation , sacrifice
kula-dharmah (nom. sg.): m. practice or observance peculiar to a tribe or family , peculiar duty of caste or race
eṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): this

yajñaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. offerings
adhiṣṭhāya = abs. adhi-√sthā: to stand upon , depend upon to inhabit abide to stand over ; to overcome ; to ascend , mount ; to attain, arrive at
adhi: ind. , as a prefix to verbs and nouns , expresses above , over and above , besides
hi: for
nāka-pṛṣṭham (acc. sg.): n. " sky-ceiling " , the uppermost heaven
nāga-pṛṣṭham (acc. sg. n.): the dragon's back
nāka: m. vault of heaven (with or scil. divás) , firmament , sky
nāga: m. a snake; a nāga or serpent-demon
pṛṣṭha: n. the back; the upper side , surface , top , height

yayau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. yā: to go ; to go towards or against , go or come to , enter , approach , arrive at , reach ;
marutvā (nom. sg.): m. Marutvat, “attended by the maruts,”. N. of indra
api: even, also
nāka-pṛṣṭham (acc. sg.): n. " sky-ceiling " , the uppermost heaven

具崇王者法 大會奉天神
當乘神龍背 受樂上昇天

1 comment:

Rich said...

I'm with Dogen on investigating thousands of questions to understand how to live and what to do. Your link to the 2nd law of thermodynamics and energy activation barriers was a real eye opener. Have been recently studying energy from a yin yang perspective. Thx.