Monday, May 26, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.5: Aśvaghoṣa Speaks of Buddhas' Commitment to Friends and to Dharma (Not to a Buddhist Samgha)

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Sālā)
evaṁ ca ye dravyam-avāpya loke mitreṣu dharme ca niyojayanti |
avāpta-sārāṇi dhanāni teṣāṁ bhraṣṭāni nānte janayanti tāpam || 11.5

And, having obtained riches in the world,

Those who in this way commit their riches to friends and to dharma,

Have made the most of their resources –

Whose dissipation, in the end, generates no grief.

When I was young and even more impressionable than I am now, I read in a book on Zazen that a good way of understanding a religion is by its objects of worship, and so Buddhism has three objects of worship – Buddha, Dharma, and Samgha.

Ten or so years later the person who wrote the book, by that time my teacher, would tell me that he had changed his mind; Buddhism was not a religion but a philosophy. Since at the time I was busting a gut to translate Shobogenzo for him, this distinction didn't strike me as such a big deal. But my teacher seemed at the time to think it was a big deal.

Later still, my teacher started calling some people “Venerable So and So” and others “Mr. So and So” according to a criterion that was not entirely objective – causing me acutely to reflect that, truly, whether Buddhism is a religion or not, I fucking love science.

Perhaps my own experiences have left me with a prejudice against Zen Buddhism in particular and against religion in general that is not entirely rational.

But from where I sit now the Buddha's teaching is no more a religion or a philosophy than the teaching of FM Alexander is a religion or a philosophy. Still less should the Buddha's teaching be called any kind of -ism.

The Buddha's teaching is a teaching, the Buddha's teaching. What the Buddha taught has been called, from the Buddha's time down to today, the Dharma, the Buddha-Dharma.

So naturally enough, in the writing of Aśvaghoṣa, who was writing only 12 generations after the Buddha, we find many occurences of  the Sanskrit word buddha and very many occurrences – almost countless occurrences – of the Sanskrit word dharma.

As I have commented before, however, nowhere does Aśvaghoṣa use the word saṁgha in the conventional sense of “a Buddhist community” or “a religious community.”

There must be a reason for this. It could not have been merely an oversight on Aśvaghoṣa's part.

I think the reason relates to the recognition or realization that my teacher had, in his own period of most robust prosperity, that the Buddha's teaching is not a religion. 

Which is to say that since the Buddha's teaching is not a religion, it might generally not be helpful to think in terms of there being a Buddhist religious community that deserves to be worshipped.

So in a verse like today's verse, as I read it, Aśvaghoṣa is rather discussing buddha, dharma, and samgha without mentioning either buddha or samgha by those names.

Aśvaghoṣa's style of expression thus causes – or at least stimulates and encourages – his reader's mind to move from the religious mode of believing in and worshipping “Buddha,” to the more investigative and reflective mode of seeing and understanding that buddhas are ye dravyam-avāpya loke, “those [manuṣyāḥ, human beings] who have obtained [real] riches in the world.”

And when buddhas evam... mitreṣu dharme ca niyojayanti, “commit [their riches] to friends and to dharma in this way,” evam (in this way) means as described in the previous verse – primarily by allowing others to be around them, while they are going well, as human beings, in times of robust prosperity.

Aśvaghoṣa does not call those who are thus allowed to be around a buddha “a Buddhist samgha”: he rather calls them the good-hearted (suhṛḍaḥ) and calls them friends (mitrāni).

What is happening below the surface of today's verse, then, as I read it, is that Aśvaghoṣa is using the bodhisattva's discussion of friendship as a pretext to make the very point that the Dalai Lama has been making in recent years – namely, that people are accustomed to thinking of the Buddha's teaching as a religion called “Buddhism,” but this assumption is not necessarily true. It might be totally false. 

Finally, the meaning of bhraṣṭāni (dissipated) in the 4th pāda, calls for further comment.

From a religious viewpoint, we can believe that the spiritual riches that buddhas obtain are for keeps. Enlightenment, they say, is immutable, imperishable, irremovable. Hence the metaphor of the deathless nectar. But from an irreligious standpoint, buddhas are human beings, human beings are energetic systems, and the true dharma (aka 2nd law) of thermodynamics describes the tendency that all energy in the material world has to dissipate.

Parinibbute Bhagavati ye tattha bhikkhū avītarāgā
When the Gracious One attained Final Emancipation those monks there who were not free from passion,
appekacce bāhā paggayha kandanti, chinnapātaṁ papatanti āvaṭṭanti vivaṭṭanti:
throwing up their arms, falling down (as though) cut down, rolling backwards and forwards as though with their feet cut off, were crying:
‘Atikhippaṁ Bhagavā parinibbuto,
‘Too quickly the Gracious One has attained Final Emancipation,
atikhippaṁ Sugato parinibbuto,
too quickly the Fortunate One has attained Final Emancipation,
atikhippaṁ Cakkhumā loke antarahito!’ ti
too quickly the Visionary in the world has disappeared!’
Ye pana te bhikkhū vītarāgā te satā sampajānā adhivāsenti:
But those monks who were free from passion, mindfully, with full awareness, endured, (thinking):
“Aniccā saṅkhārā taṁ kutettha labbhā?” ti
“Impermanent are (all) processes, how can it be otherwise?”

Atha kho āyasmā Anuruddho bhikkhū āmantesi:
Then venerable Anuruddha said this to the monks:
“Alaṁ āvuso mā socittha mā paridevittha,
“Enough, friends, do not grieve, do not lament,
na nu etaṁ āvuso Bhagavatā paṭikacceva akkhātaṁ:
were you not warned by the Gracious One when he declared:
‘Sabbeheva piyehi manāpehi nānābhāvo vinābhāvo aññathābhāvo.’
There is alteration in, separation from, and changeability in all that is dear and appealing.’
Taṁ kutettha āvuso labbhā yaṁ taṁ,
How can it be otherwise, friends, for that which is obtained,
jātaṁ bhūtaṁ saṅkhataṁ palokadhammaṁ?
born, become, in process, subject to dissolution?
‘Taṁ vata mā palujjī’ ti netaṁ ṭhānaṁ vijjati.
It is not possible (to say) this: ‘It should not dissolve’.

The point I take from this very ancient record, then, is that the ultimate dissipation of the energy of the Buddha's psychophysical existence did not in itself generate any grief. Some monks suffered intense grief, but that grief was generated out of their own ignorance.

evam: ind. thus
ca: and
ye (nom. pl. m.): [those] who
dravyam (acc. sg.): n. a substance , thing , object ; object of possession , wealth , goods , money ; gold
avāpya = abs. ava-√āp: to reach , attain , obtain , gain , get

loke (loc. sg.): m. the world
mitreṣu (loc. pl.): friends ; friendships
dharme (loc. sg.): m. dharma
ca: and
niyojayanti = 3rd pers. pl. causative ni- √ yuj: to harness (horses &c ) , put or tie to (loc.); commit or intrust anything (acc.) to (loc.); to confer or bestow upon (loc.); to use, employ

avāpta-sārāṇi (acc. pl. n.): obtained riches
avāpta: mfn. attained, obtained, got
sāra: mn. the core or pith or solid interior of anything ; the substance or essence or marrow or cream or heart or essential part of anything , best part
dhanāni (acc. pl.): n. any valued object , (esp.) wealth , riches , (movable) property , money , treasure , gift
teṣām (gen. pl.): of them

bhraṣṭāni (acc. pl. n.): mfn. fallen ; broken down , decayed , ruined , disappeared , lost , gone
bhraś: to fall , drop , fall down or out or in pieces ; to fall (fig.) , decline , decay , fail , disappear , vanish , be ruined or lost
na: not
ante (loc.): in the end
janayanti = 3rd pers. pl. jan: to generate , beget , produce , create , cause
tāpam (acc. sg.): m. pain (mental or physical) , sorrow , affliction

善友財通濟 是名牢固藏
守惜封己利 是必速亡失
國財非常寶 惠施爲福業
兼施善知識 雖散後無悔

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