Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Canto 10: Śreṇya / Drawing Near

At the heart of the Buddha's teaching as the Japanese Zen Master Dogen transmitted it is the practice and experience of sitting in lotus and springing up with one's whole body and mind. This act of complete springing up was known in China, ironically, as 身心脱落 (Jap: SHINJIN-DATSURAKU), body and mind dropping off. In the Sanskrit of India I think this springing up / dropping off is one of the meanings of the famous phrase pratītya-samutpāda.

Pratītya-samutpāda is generally translated along the lines of “dependent origination” or “interdependent origination” or “conditional origination,” and is understood as having to do with the twelve causal links that the Buddha set out shortly after his awakening.

At the same time pratītya seems originally to come from the verb prati-√i, which means 1. to go towards, and 2. to come back to. So as the absolutive form of prati-√i, pratītya means “having gone towards” or “having come back.” Pratītya-samutpāda might then be more literally translated as “a complete springing up, grounded in drawing near,” or “a complete springing up, grounded in turning back.”

The Buddha is described in very early Pali texts as applying his mind to pratītya-samutpāda in forward and reverse order (anulomapaṭilomaṁ). This could mean following the links forward from the arising of ignorance through to arising of attachment, becoming and the rest; and reversely, observing how the cessation of ignorance leads to the cessation of attachment, becoming, and the rest. Or it could mean observing how A leads to B (in forward order) and how B is grounded in A (in reverse order). Either way, the sense is of going in one direction and then its opposite, forward and backward. 

On this basis, as a description of the ultimate teaching of body and mind dropping off, a translation of pratītya-samutpāda that makes sense to me is “a complete springing up, grounded in going forward and coming back.”

In SN Canto 3, we have the following:

iti duḥkham-etad-iyam-asya samudaya-latā pravartikā /
"This is suffering; this is the tangled mass of causes producing it;
śāntir-iyam-ayam-upāya iti pravibhāgaśaḥ param-idaṁ catuṣṭayam // 3.12 //
This is cessation; and here is a means." 
Thus, one by one, this supreme set of four,

abhidhāya ca tri-parivartam-atulam-anivartyam-uttamaṁ /
The seer set out, with its three divisions 
of the unequalled, the incontrovertible, the ultimate;
dvādaśa-niyata-vikalpam ṛśir-vinināya kauṇḍina-sagotram-āditaḥ // 3.13 //
And with its twelve connecting statements
after which he instructed, as the first follower, him of the Kauṇḍinya clan.

But so far in Aśvaghoṣa's writing, we have not encountered specific mention, by name, of pratītya-samutpāda.

If that designation were to be found anywhere, it would be found in the portion of BC Canto 14 which we have in Tibetan and Chinese translation, but of which the original Sanskrit is lost. In any event, it is evident from EHJ's translation from the Tibetan and Chinese (mainly the Tibetan) that Aśvaghoṣa's description of the Buddha's awakening centres on the Buddha's investigation of how one link in the twelvefold chain is grounded in, or caused by, a previous link, right the way back to ignorance. But sadly we do not have Aśvaghoṣa's own description of this process in Sanskrit (though we do have Nāgārjuna's detailed examination). 

What we do have of Aśvaghoṣa's is the title of BC Canto 6, which is chandaka-nivartanaḥ, and the title of BC Canto 10, which is śreṇyābhigamanaḥ.

BC Canto 6, chandaka-nivartanaḥ, is about the horseman Chandaka, and is about turning back. Ostensibly it is about the turning back of the horseman Chandaka, i.e. about the prince sending Chandaka back to Kapilavastu. But below the surface Aśvaghoṣa may have been less interested in biographical details than he was interested in the philosophical and practical meaning of turning back.

BC Canto 10, śreṇyābhigamanaḥ, is about the king Śreṇya, also known as King Bimbisāra, and is about drawing near. Ostensibly it is about Bimbisāra drawing near to the bodhisattva, i.e. about Bimbisāra approaching the bodhisattva with his proposal to join forces. But below the surface, again, Aśvaghoṣa may have been less interested in biographical details than he was interested in the philosophical and practical meaning of drawing near. Thus, after Bimbisāra stops talking about the triple set of dharma, wealth and pleasure from around BC10.31, if we follow the hidden meaning of the last ten verses of his speech, Bimbisāra does indeed seem to be expressing the true meaning of drawing near.

So the fundamental elements of pratītya-samutpāda, as a description of body and mind dropping off, are all there in Aśvaghoṣa's writing, when we dig for them. There is turning back, or coming back. There is drawing near, or going towards. And above all there is springing up.

Running through the whole of Aśvaghoṣa's writing are references to that primary direction in sitting practice and in life, which is up. Thus in her Metaphorical Study of Aśvaghoṣa's Saundarananda, Linda Covill titles the sixth of her seven chapters “Nanda Uplifted,” where she writes: Since the verticality metaphor is used to illustrate Nanda's low spiritual condition, it is logical that the pressure applied by the Buddha to Nanda should be envisioned as an upward force.

And thus for example Aśvaghoṣa says in BC10.4:
yaḥ kaś-cid-āste sma sa cotpapāta
And anybody who was sitting, sprang up.

How does anybody who is sitting spring up?

That, for me, for the past 30 years or so, has been question number one.

The answer, I am venturing to think, is right there in the word pratītya of pratītya-samutpāda. The answer might reside in the middle way between going forwards, towards some goal, and coming back, to the backward step of turning one's light and letting it shine.

Aśvaghoṣa, however, has so far not used the word pratītya. It may be that in general Aśvaghoṣa eschews the use of doctrinal buzzwords like pratītya-samutpāda, preferring to rely on metaphors that have more meaning in terms of everyday human experience.

Nevertheless, I think that below the surface Aśvaghoṣa addressed one fundamental meaning of the pratītya in pratītya-samutpāda in the title of BC Canto 6, Chandaka / Turning Back; and he addressed the other fundamental meaning of pratītya in the title of the present Canto, Śreṇya / Drawing Near.

The king's beloved boy, whose chest was broad and full,

After he had got rid of those two,
the heads of havya and mantra, oblations and machinations,

Crossed the billowing Ganges

And went to Rāja-gṛha, “Kingsbury,” with its splendid residences.

Well guarded, and beautified, by mountains;

Preserved, and purified, by healing hot springs;

In the hook of five hills, stood the city he entered –

Like 'Self-Existing' Brahmā, unperturbed,
entering the heights of heaven.

Perceiving the depth and strength of that man,

And the shining form which outshone men,

The people there at that time were filled with wonder –

As if perceiving the depth and strength and shining form of the one, unmoving in his vow of practice, whose emblem is the bull.

On seeing him, whoever was going the other way stood still;

Whoever was there in the road standing still, followed along;

Whoever was going hurriedly, went steadily;

And anybody who was sitting, sprang up.

Some people honoured him with joined hands;

Some properly paid homage, using their head;

Some sang his praises with devoted words.

Nobody, in this way, went without showing religious reverence.

Fancy dressers when they saw him felt ashamed.

Random chatterers on the road fell silent.

As when in the physical presence of dharma,

Nobody had an irregular thought.

Though on the royal road they were engaged in different work,

Adoring women and men beheld him,

The god-like sun of a man-god,

But satisfaction was not realized by their admiring gaze.

Eyebrows, forehead, mouth, or organs of seeing;

Body or hands; feet or manner of going –

Whatever aspect of him any of them looked at,

To that very target her or his eye was bound.

On seeing him, moreover,
with the circle of hair between his eyebrows
and with his widely extending eyes,

With his shining body and beautiful webbed hands,

On seeing in a beggar's garb him who was fit to rule the earth,

The Royal Grace of Rājagṛha was ruffled.

And so Śreṇya, master of the Magadha domain,

From an outer palace turret, saw the great throng,

And inquired into the motive behind it.

Then a man conveyed that [motive] to him –

Ultimate knowing, or else earthly power,

Inspired sages said he would realize:

It is he, the son of the Śākya ruler,

Who, having gone forth, is being admired by the people.”

Then, having learned the motive,
having been motivated in his own mind,

The king told that same man:

Let me know in what direction he is going!”

The man said “So be it!” and followed him.

Looking, with eyes that did not dance, a yoke's length ahead;

Not speaking; moving slowly and with restraint,

He the best of beggars, however, went begging –

Placing within limits his limbs and the inconstant mind.

Having accepted whatever food was offered,

He went to a solitary mountain spring,

And there, according to principle, that food he did eat,

And the hill of the Pāṇḍavas he did ascend.

On that hill covered with lodhra groves,

Its thickets filled with the crying of peacocks,

Wearing the ochre robe, that human sun shone forth

Like the morning sun up above the eastern mountain.

That servant of the king, having seen him there,

Reported back to King Śreṇya.

And the king, having listened, out of great respect,

Set off in that direction, with only a modest retinue.

The hill of the Pāṇḍavas, that most exalted of rocks,

He of rock-like stature and heroic power on a par with the Pāṇḍavas,

A human lion,
wearing the royal headdress and going with a lion's gait,

Like a lion with bouncing mane – that hill he did ascend.

Then he saw, up above that hill, being in the nature of a peak,

The bodhisattva, the power of his senses quieted,

Coming back to sitting with legs fully crossed, and shining forth,

Like the moon rising out of a thicket of clouds.

To him who, with his wealth of handsome form and his calmness,

Was like a work of dharma built to specification,

The first among men, filled with wonder, respectfully drew near,

As to 'Self-Existing' Brahmā the mighty Indra drew near.

Having come, in a proper way,
into the presence of the best of knowers of a proper way,

The king asked after the balance of his bodily humours;

And he also, in a suitably equable manner, spoke

To a protector of men,
of mental well-being and freedom from disease.

Then, on a rock as grey as an elephant's ear,

On a clean slab of rock, the king sat down;

And, while sitting as a protector of men, being allowed by the other,

And wanting to know the reality of that other, he spoke as follows:

I have, in connection with your noble house,
a love of the highest order,

Transmitted from offspring to offspring, and tested well.

Hence the desire, O offspring, which is born in me to speak.

Therefore, to this expression of loving devotion, give your attention.

Mighty is your house, with a son of 'The Infinite' Aditi as its founder;

Young is your life; and shining is this your handsome form –

From where came this will of yours which, all of a sudden,

Is set not on kingship but on abject begging?

For your body is worthy of red sandal unguents,

Not of contact with reddy-brown cloth.

This hand is fitted for the protection of subjects,

And not for the eating of food given by others.

So if, my friend, out of love for your father,

You do not wish by forcible means to inherit your father's kingdom,

But you have no mind to hold out for a regular succession,

Then enjoy possession of half of my realm, right away!

For in this way there will be no inflicting of pain on your own kin,

And royal power will come peacefully
and in a timely and orderly manner.

Do me this kindness, therefore,

Because in association with the good is there growth of the good.

Or if, for the present, pride in your own noble house

Precludes you from placing your trust in ours,

Then piercing with arrows the massed ranks of armies,

Seek, with me as an ally, to conquer foreign foes.

So decide, in respect of these two options, between one and the other,

And pursue dharma, wealth, and pleasure in a principled manner –

For when men in this world, because of passion,
overdo [any one of] the triple set,

In both this world and the next they suffer ruination.

For when pleasure overwhelms wealth and dharma,

Or wealth overpowers dharma and pleasure,

Or dharma spells the death of pleasure and wealth –

We must abandon it, if we aspire to meaning in the round.

Therefore by devotion to the triple set

Let this splendid frame of yours bear fruit.

For the integral attainment of dharma, wealth and pleasure

Is for mankind, they say, the whole meaning of a human life.

So do not render fruitless

These muscular arms that were meant to draw a bow;

For, like Māndhātṛ, these two arms are capable of conquering

Even the three worlds here and now, let alone the earth.

I say this with sheer affection –

Not with eager desire for dominion and not with doubt.

For, seeing this beggar's clothing of yours,

I am moved to compassion and visited by tears.

Therefore, before the beauty that befits your noble line

Is overpowered by the onset of ageing,

Enjoy desires, O desirer of the beggar's stage,

And in due time, O devotee of dharma, dharma you will practice.

One who is old, assuredly, is able to realize dharma.

In old age the drive is absent
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.

For, in the world of the living, youthful indiscretions

Are the enemy of dharma and of wealth.

However well we guard against those immature acts,
to get a grip on them is hard,

For which reason desires duly prevail.

The old are contemplative,

Steady, intent on stability;

They become peaceful with little bother –

Through sheer helplessness, and humbleness.

And so,
having outgrown the fickle years whose main concern is objects,

Having got over heedless, impatient, short-sighted immaturity,

Having passed beyond pretense-filled adolescence,

They breathe again, as if having crossed a wasteland.

Just let pass, therefore, this irresolute phase,

This fickle and heedless phase of juvenility;

For the first flush is the target of Desire

And cannot be protected from the power of the senses.

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.

For, with arms hugged by golden bands,

With conspicuous crowns blazing with the light of gems,

Seers who were protectors of men have walked that same path,
by their sacrifices,

Which the maharishis, the great seers,
reached by their hard practice.”

Thus spoke the ruler of the Magadhas,

Who talked straight,
like “Force-destroying” Indra addressing “Immovable” Brahmā.

Having heard that speech, the son of the king was not moved,

Like Mount Kailāsa with its many conspicuous summits.

The 10th canto, titled Śreṇya / Drawing Near, 
in this epic tale of awakened action composed by Aśvaghoṣa. 

No comments: