Tuesday, June 3, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.13: Vaulting Personal Ambitions vs a Bodhisattva's Desire for Release (And a Buddha's Self-Possession of Small Desire)

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
devena vṣṭe 'pi hiraṇya-varṣe dvīpān-samagrāṁś-caturo 'pi jitvā |
śakrasya cārdhāsanam-apy-avāpya māndhātur-āsīd-viṣayeṣv-atptiḥ || 11.13

Even as heaven rained down upon him golden rain

After he had conquered all four continents

And obtained half of Mighty Indra's throne,

There was for Māndhātṛ in outer realms only dissatisfaction.

In today's verse as I read it the bodhisattva has still got in his sights miscellaneous desires, and not only sensual pleasures.

The task of us who sit, I venture to submit, is to be clear about desires and about desire. Our task is not, as scholars often seem to think, not being themselves on the inside of this practice, simply to negate sensuality. 

The complicating factor in today's verse is that in the 4th pāda viṣaya is used in the plural (viṣayeṣu), and when viṣaya is used in the plural it sometimes means, as defined by the MW dictionary, “sensual enjoyments, sensuality.”

The three professors translated the 4th pāda as follows:
Māndhātṛ was still unsatisfied with worldly objects (EBC);
Māndhātṛ's longing for the objects of sense remained unappeased (EHJ); 
Mandhatri's craving for sense objects remained unappeased (PO).

These translations, which are less literal than mine is, all seem to follow from the understanding that the bodhisattva is condemning pursuit of pleasurable objects, so that kāmāḥ means pleasures, and viṣayāḥ means sensual objects. But I think the bodhisattva's condemnation of desires in this canto is wider than that, more subtle than that, and more profound than that.

The first meaning of viṣaya given in the dictionary is sphere (of influence or activity). Hence viṣaya means sphere of influence of the senses, and hence the objects of the senses, and hence in the plural it sometimes means sensuality itself. But before those meanings to do with the senses and sensuality, viṣaya is given in the dictionary as meaning dominion, kingdom, territory, i.e. a sphere of political and economic influence.

And so what the bodhisattva has got in his sights in today's verse, as I read it, is not sexual desire, not longing for the objects of sense (as per EHJ), and not craving for sense objects (as per PO). The bodhisattva as I hear him is rather giving the example from history of a man whose personal ambition in the outer realms (viṣaya) of religion, economics, and politics, did not lead him in the end to experience satisfaction.

Māndhātṛ appears in several places in Saundarananda and Buddhacarita (SN11.43; BC1.10; BC10.31; and BC11.13), as noted here.

In three of these four verses (SN11.43; BC10.31; and BC11.13), Māndhātṛ is cited as an example of conspicuous success in the outside world, and in two of the four verses  (SN11.43; BC11.13) he exemplifies the impermanent and unsatisfactory nature of such conspicuous success.

The true contrast implied by today's verse, then, as I read it, is not between (a) longing and craving for sense objects and (b) the absence of any such longing and craving. The true contrast is between (a) pursuit of multiple big desires – personal ambitions – which are able to be consummated out there in external realms, and (b) the desire which the bodhisattva is pursuing for liberation.

This desire leads the bodhisattva to realize, in his own practice and experience of the backward step of turning one's light around, what liberation really means. And on that basis, he teaches four noble truths and a noble eightfold path, as recorded by Aśvaghoṣa in SN Canto 3, and SN Canto 16.

Several years after translating those cantos, I feel as if they have been acting on me like a very deep-acting remedy. As if I swallowed a pill which, though very powerful, makes its influence felt not in weeks or months but rather in years. So for example only now I am struck by how mutually reinforcing the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path are, as Aśvaghoṣa records them. The noble eightfold path is the fourth of the four noble truths – so that the four noble truths culminate in the noble eightfold path. And right insight into the four noble truths is the starting point of the eightfold path – so that the noble eightfold path points back to the four noble truths.

There again, several years ago when I translated SN Canto 3, I thought light of Aśvaghoṣa's reference to “the statement of twelvefold linkage” (dvādaśa-niyata-vikalpam; SN3.13), seeing it only as a teaching of causality at the second phase. I failed to see how deeply implicated are the twelve links – as part of the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda (Springing Up, by going back) – in the truth of cessation, and in the truth of a path to be practised in the direction of cessation.

In spite of such manifest stupidity, however, something caused me long ago to intuit the importance of the teaching of small desire, or wanting little, which is contained in the final chapter of Shobogenzo. Something in that chapter, especially all the memorable metaphors, inspired me to want to get to the bottom of what was behind it all, partly by finding and studying, if I could, the original source in Sanskrit. 

And so now I begin to see what I didn't clearly see in the following verses when I first translated them, which is the proper connection between the noble eightfold path and the truth of alpecchatā, the state of wanting little, or small desire:

triskandham-etaṃ pravigāhya mārgaṃ praspaṣṭam-aṣṭāṅgam-ahāryam-āryam /
Giving oneself to this path with its three divisions and eight branches
-- this straightforward, irremovable, noble path --
duḥkhasya hetūn prajahāti doṣān prāpnoti cātyanta-śivaṃ padaṃ tat // 16.37 
One abandons the faults, which are the causes of suffering,
and comes to that step which is total well-being.

asyopacāre dhṛtir-ārjavaṃ ca hrīr-apramādaḥ praviviktatā ca /
Attendant on it are constancy and straightness; 
modesty, attentiveness, and reclusiveness;
alpecchatā tuṣṭir-asaṃgatā ca loka-pravṛttāv-aratiḥ kṣamā ca // 16.38 //
Wanting little, contentment, and freedom from forming attachments;
no fondness for worldly activity, and forbearance.

Thus, desire (in the form of desire for release, or desire for liberation – mumukṣā) was instrumental in the bodhisattva's process; and desire (in the form of self-possession of small desire  alpecchatā ) was described by the Buddha as a virtue attendant on the ultimate step. 

The final reflection that today's verse thus stimulated in me, when I sat this morning having slept on it, was the example of Ānanda as a paragon of a bodhisattva's desire for liberation, to the exclusion of personal ambitions and miscellaneous other desires.

This emerges very clearly from the Mahāparinibbānasuttaṁ (DN 16), which records Ānanda, after his decades of serving the Buddha as the Buddha's personal attendant, fretting that the Buddha is going to die while he, Ānanda, is still “a trainee with much to do” (sekho sakaraṇīyo).

devena (inst. sg.): m. heaven
vṛṣṭe (loc. sg.): mfn. rained ; fallen or dropped as rain
api: even, though
hiraṇya-varṣe (loc. sg.): a golden shower, golden rain

dvīpān (acc. pl. m.): mn. an island , peninsula , sandbank ; a division of the terrestrial world (either 7 [jambu , plakṣa or go-medaka , śālmalī , kuśa , krauñca , śāka and puṣkara MBh. vi , 604 &c Hariv. Pur. &c ] or 4 [bhadrā*śva , ketu-māla , jambu-dvīpa and uttarāḥ kuravaḥ)
samagrān (acc. pl. m.): mfn. all , entire , whole , complete , each , every
caturaḥ: four
api: even, though
jitvā = abs. ji: to conquer

śakrasya (gen. sg.): m. 'The Mighty' ; Indra
ca: and
ārdhāsanam (acc. sg. n.): a half of the seat
api: even
avāpya = abs. avāp: to obtain

māndhātur (gen.. sg.) m. N. of a king
āsīt = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect as: to be
viṣayeṣu (loc. pl.): m. sphere (of influence or activity) , dominion , kingdom , territory; objects, sensual objects, ends to be gained, sensory realms
atṛptiḥ (nom. sg.):  f. unsatisfied condition , insatiability

曼陀轉輪王 普天雨黄金
王領四天下 復希忉利天

帝釋分半座 欲圖致命終 

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