Wednesday, June 4, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.14: Nahuṣa's Many Desires vs a Bodhisattva's Overriding Desire

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Vāṇī)
bhuktvāpi rājyaṁ divi devatānāṁ śatakratau vtra-bhayāt-pranaṣṭe |
darpān-mahārṣīn-api vāhayitvā kāmeṣv-atpto nahuṣaḥ papāta || 11.14

Even having enjoyed kingship over the gods in heaven

(After Indra, through fear of Vṛta, had fled),

And even, out of pride, having caused the Mahā-rishis to carry him,

Nahuṣa, unsatisfied among desires, fell down.

Like viṣayeṣu in yesterday's verse, kāmeṣu in today's verse is locative plural, and so kāmeṣv-atṛptaḥ literally describes Nahuṣa as “unsatisfied in desires” or “insatiable in his desires.”

EBC and EHJ, however, seem to have translated the 4th pāda of today's verse as if it read kāmair-atṛptaḥ or kāmayor-atṛptaḥ (with kāma in the instrumental or genitive plural). Thus:  

Nahuṣa fell, unsatisfied with pleasures (EBC)
Yet Nahuṣa fell, being still unsatisfied with the passions (EHJ)

In case I was missing something, I checked tṛpta in the dictionary, and sure enough the definition is:
tṛptamfn. satiated , satisfied with (geninstr. , or in comp.).

So the translations of EBC and EHJ are not strictly literal in the sense that they went with “satisfied with” even though the case of kāmeṣu is neither genitive nor instrumental, but locative.

Kāmeṣu literally means not “with desires” but “in desires” or “among desires.”

This flags up something I noticed during the process of translating Shobogenzo – that often the strictly literal translation is the one that carries the true meaning, and that when we stray from the literal translation it is often due to not having understood it.

PO seems to have veered even further away from a literal translation in the conviction that the bodhisattva in these verses was mainly discussing craving for sensual pleasures.

Yet Nahuṣa fell, while his craving for pleasures remained unappeased (PO).

PO notes that Nahuṣa was elected to replace Indra when he hid himself after killing Vritra [see BC8.13]; but he was not satisfied with this and craved for Indra's wife. As a result he was cursed to become a snake on earth, regaining his original form only after seeing the Pandavas.

That Nahuṣa craved for Indra's wife may have been part of PO's basis for translating kāmeṣv-atṛptaḥ as “while his craving for pleasures remained unappeased.”

But if we understand kāmeṣv-atṛptaḥ literally, as describing Nahuṣa as unsatisfied in his desires, i.e. unsatisfied in the circumstances of having many desires, then today's verse serves as another illustration of the principle that having multiple desires does not lead to satisfaction. 

Nahuṣa fulfilled his desire to take Indra's place in the political hierarchy. He fulfilled whatever arrogant desire was fulfilled by causing maharishis to bear him up on their shoulders on a pallanquin (referenced by EBC to Mahābh. V, 532). He desired Indra's wife, but did not win her. So why in the end did he fall dissatisfied? 

It might come back to how one sees the ultimate cause of dissatisfaction, or suffering. According to one school of thought, the original cause of suffering is desire, and especially sexual desire, and above all sexual desire that is associated with craving for pleasures (as opposed for example to sexual desire that is associated with the urge to reproduce, pleasures being only an unintended side effect).  Therefore, because desire causes suffering, the Buddha taught the cessation of desire. And in so doing, he was (a) in line with the religious thinking and practice that preceded him, in which ascetic self-denial was valued, and (b) in line with religous thinking and practice that followed him, when Christian teachers saw sexual desire as being implicated with original sin. 

But here in this Canto that whole desire-averse train of thought seems to me to be falsified by Aśvaghoṣa having described the bodhisattva as mumukṣayā, having the desire to be set free.

The first chapter in the book published in English as “The Monk and the Philosopher” is titled From Scientific Research to Spiritual Quest. Last night I happened to pick up the book from my shelf and browsed it before going to sleep. Shortly thereafter, in the dialogue between Matthieu Ricard and his father Jean-Francois Revel, I found the following lines which seem very pertinent to today's verse. Father and son are discussing the son's decision, having completed a doctoral thesis and worked as a research scientist at the presitigious Institut Pasteur, to go and mix his mind instead with a Tibetan teacher who was living in the 1960s and 1970s in exile in northern India.

J.F. – But didn't the two things seem compatible to you?
M. – There's no fundamental incompatibility between science and the spiritual life; it's simply that one had become much more important to me than the other. In practice, you can't stay sitting in between two chairs, or sew with a two-pointed needle. I didn't want to divide my time between two things any longer. I wanted to spend all of it doing what seemed the most essential.... So I didn't feel any need to dedicate the same efforts to science and share out my life between them. I felt like a bird in a cage and had only one idea – to be free.

Since I for my sins was drawn not to Nepal but to Japan, the challenge as it was presented to me, or at least as I understood it, was to manifest that freedom in how one physically sits – in what is misleadingly called one's sitting posture.

And focusing on this matter of physical sitting posture brought me to the teaching of FM Alexander. This teaching, ironically, turns out to be, in FM's words, the most mental thing there is. 

So when this morning, having prepared the above comment in the middle of a sleepless night, I sat and asked myself afresh, “If not desire, what does the Buddha's teaching teach us to stop?”, the words of Marjory Barlow come back to me, “The wrong inner patterns are the doing that has to be stopped.”

On reflection, then, it occurs to me that “wrong inner patterns” or “patterns” might not be a bad translation of the Sanskrit saṁskārāḥ, or “formations,” which are the second of the twelve links in the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, Springing Up by going back.

What, then, is behind those wrong inner patterns? Following the twelvefold links back, one arrives at avidyā, ignorance. In Alexandrian terms, we might say that behind the wrong inner patterns is faulty sensory appreciation, and at the same time end-gaining desires.

I don't know though. When I read Matthieu Ricard's words, he seems to be somebody who has got it all worked out already, whereas what I seem to be doing here is showing my workings, as one who hasn't solved the problem yet, as a trainee with much to do. 

My tentative conclusion, any way up, is that desire itself is never to be condemned, because to have desire is to be alive. So the bodhisattva's condemning of desires cannot be the condemning of desire itself. The bodhisattva might be condemning that multiplicity of desires that manifests a person's ignorance. But such desires are not only sexual desires, and are not necessarily associated with, in PO's words, craving for pleasures. 

bhuktvā = abs. bhuj: to enjoy, consume
api: even, though
rājyam (acc. sg.): n. kingship, kingdom
divi (loc. sg.): f. heaven
devatānām (gen. pl.): f. godhead , divinity (abstr. & concr.)

śatakratau = loc. sg. śata-kratu: m. 'having hundred-fold insight or power or a hundred counsels &c'; name of Indra (a hundred aśva-medhas elevating the sacrificer to the rank of indra)
kratu: m. plan ; power, ability ; a sacrificial rite or ceremony , sacrifice (as the aśva-medha sacrifice)
vṛtra-bhayāt (abl. sg.): through fear of Vṛtra
vṛtra: m. N. of the Vedic personification of an imaginary malignant influence or demon of darkness and drought (supposed to take possession of the clouds , causing them to obstruct the clearness of the sky and keep back the waters ; indra is represented as battling with this evil influence in the pent up clouds poetically pictured as mountains or castles which are shattered by his thunderbolt and made to open their receptacles)
pranaṣṭe (loc. sg. m.): mfn. lost , disappeared , vanished , ceased , gone , perished , destroyed , annihilated
pra- √naś: to be lost , disappear , vanish ; to flee , escape

darpāt (abl. sg.): m. pride , arrogance , haughtiness , insolence , conceit
mahārṣīn (acc. pl. m.): great seers
api: even
vāhayitvā = causative abs. vaḥ: to cause to bear or carry or convey or draw (with two acc.), drive (a chariot) , guide or ride (a horse) , propel (a boat) , go or travel by any vehicle ; to take in , deceive

kāmeṣu (loc. pl.): m. desires, pleasures
atṛptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. unsatisfied , insatiable , eager
nahuṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. name of an ancient king (son of āyu or āyus [cf. RV. i.31 , 11] and father of yayāti ; he took possession of indra's throne but was afterwards deposed and changed into a serpent)
papāta = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pat: to fall, fall down

農沙修苦行 王三十三天
縱欲心高慢 仙人挽歩車
縁斯放逸行 即墮蟒蛇中

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