Sunday, June 1, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.11: Bad Luck and Trouble

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
jagaty-an-artho na samo 'sti kāmair-mohāc-ca teṣv-eva janaḥ prasaktaḥ |
tattvaṁ viditvaivam-an-artha-bhīruḥ prājñaḥ svayaṁ ko 'bhilaṣed-an-artham || 11.11

There is nothing in the world as troublesome as desires,

And yet it is to them that people, out of ignorance, are attached.

Knowing the truth to be so, what trouble-wary man of wisdom

Would wilfully covet trouble?

The word an-artha appears three times in today's verse, so it behoves us to understand what Aśvaghoṣa intended by it.

It was translated by EBC as calamity (once) and evil (twice), by EHJ as calamity (three times), and by PO as evil (three times).

Here are some Sanskrit compounds beginning with an-artha, taken from the MW dictonary.

an-artha-kara: mfn. doing what is useless or worthless; unprofitable; producing evil or misfortune
an-artha-kāma: mfn. wishing evil to (gen.), Bcar.
an-artha-tva: n. uselessness
an-artha-darśin: mfn. minding useless or worthless things
an-artha-nāśin: m. " Evil-destroyer," Śiva.
an-artha-buddhi: mfn. having a worthless intellect
an-artha-bhāva: mfn. having a bad nature , malicious
an-artha-bhīru: mfn. afraid of evil
an-artha-lupta: mfn. freed from all that is worthless
an-arthaka: mfn. useless , vain , worthless ; meaningless, nonsensical.

As a rule, translators probably ought to stick together, sympathizing with each other in the knowledge that translation is a losing game. But in translating the 1st pāda as “There is no evil equal to pleasures,” PO runs the risk, despite his translation being perfectly literal, not so much of losing something as of adding something on, in the direction of Puritanism. Likewise but less so (since he doesn't mention “evil”) is EBC with “There is no calamity in the world like pleasures.” EHJ, whose translation is ever prone to be encrusted with Christian barnacles, goes on this occasion with “There is no calamity in the world equal to the passions.”

It is difficult or impossible for a translator not to influence the sense of the original out of his or her own bias. My own bias comes primarily from what I have been taught about desire by a Zen teacher and by an Alexander teacher who was the niece of the man said to have "rediscovered the secret of Zen for our time." 

The former, Gudo Nishijima, emphasized, as an antithesis to the thesis that enlightenment is the elimination of desire, that life is desire and that in general, as blokes who practise Zazen, we should have what we desire. In general, if there was anything that my old Zen teacher wanted, and he especially liked books, he went right out and bought it.

The latter, Marjory Barlow, demonstrated to me with unrivalled clarity, and in clinical detail, just how troublesome desires can be. Marjory demonstrated this, as I describe here, in the context of implanting in my mind, while I was lying on her teaching table, the desire to gain the end of moving a leg. This was a stimulus to the whole gamut of wrongness in me, going all the way back to ignorance. And the way to counter all this wrongness was a twofold method, or means-whereby. First I learned totally to give up my desire to move the leg – and in that giving up, to give up a whole load of associated desires, like the desire to be right, the desire to please my teacher, the desire to get on with it because time was ticking by, et cetera, et cetera. Secondly, I learned to think in such a way that when I decided to go ahead and consummate the desire to move my leg, this desire to go ahead and gain the end would continue to be outgunned by desire for release (mumukṣayā; BC11.7). This desire for release was expressed in the words along the lines of “I wish to allow my neck to release, to allow the head to forward and up, to allow the back to lengthen and widen, while allowing the legs out away from the back.”

I could refer to other teachers too, like Master Kodo Sawaki, who I never met but who was so famously frank about his own desire, even into his old age, to find a wife. And on the Alexander side Nelly Ben-Or demonstrated with unrivalled clarity, in the context of chair work, the tangible power of what Marjory called thinking. Thinking. Wishing. But wishing that won't take No for an answer. Desiring. Desiring release. 

So the point as I see it, in conclusion, is not that desires or pleasures are inherently evil or calamitous. But an end-gaining desire – a desire to gain an end regardless of whether the means are good or bad – is implicated with ignorance. It is implicated with what Alexander called out worst evil, which is fixing. So a bodhisattva's job is to see to it that such end-gaining desires are outgunned by a stronger desire, which is the desire for release.

That may be one way to understand the enigmatic word bhāvana – as expressing the nurturing or developing of the desire for release.

Yes, my translation and commentary probably are just a manifestation of my own Zen/Alexander bias. But it wasn't me, it was the bodhisattva himself, who expressed, in the instrumental case, his own desire for release – mumukṣayā.

jagati (loc. sg.): the world
an-arthaḥ (nom. sg.): m. reverse, misfortune ; disappointing occurrence , evil
na: not
samaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. same, equal, like (instr.)
asti: there is
kāmaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. desires, pleasures

mohāt (abl. sg.): ignorance, delusion
ca: and
teṣu (loc. pl. m.): to them
eva: (emphatic)
janaḥ (nom. sg.): m. people
prasaktaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. attached , cleaving or adhering or devoted to , fixed or intent upon , engaged in , occupied with (loc. or comp.)

tattvam (acc. sg.): n. that-ness, the truth, reality
viditvā = abs. vid: to know, understand
evam: ind. thus, in this way
an-artha-bhīruḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. afraid of evil

prājñaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a wise man
svayam: ind. by himself, voluntarily, of his own accord
kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who?
abhilaṣet = 3rd pers. sg. optative abhi- √ laṣ: to desire or wish for (acc.) , covet , crave
an-artham (acc. sg.): m. reverse, misfortune ; disappointing occurrence , evil

世間諸非義 莫過五欲境
衆生愚貪故 樂著而不覺
智者畏五欲 不墮於非義

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