Wednesday, June 18, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.28: Reaching for the Uppermost Fruit As an Adventure

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
girau vane cāpsu ca sāgare ca yān-bhraṁśam-archanty-abhilaṅghamānāḥ |
teṣu druma-prāgra-phalopameṣu kāmeṣu kasyātmavato ratiḥ syāt || 11.28

On a mountain; in the forest; in still waters; and in the ocean –

Leaping the extra inch as they reach for them,
people veer in the direction of falling off.

When desires are like the fruit at the top of the tree,

Who in possession of himself would delight in those desires?

From today's verse, as also from yesterday's verse, I get a sense of being encouraged to be adventurous, to go for it, to take a risk, to gamble, not to play it safe for fear of encountering adversity in a hazardous abode, or for fear of falling off a high branch.

For such adventure to have a successful outcome, however, the suggestion once again is that a practitioner has to be in possession of him or her self.

In a footnote in which he gives his reason for amending
yad bhraṁśam archanty abhilaṅghamānāḥ
yān bhraṁśam archanti vilaṅghamānāḥ,
EHJ concludes that
A free rendering meets the case better here, as one cannot climb up to a thing on the sea.

I have followed EHJ's first amendment, from yad to yān, but I think I would translate the line much the same either way, accepting EHJ's case for a free rendering. A free rendering might be necessary accurately to convey the spirit of the metaphor which Aśvaghoṣa has in mind.

EHJ's own free rendering is:
"On the mountains, in the forest, on the rivers, on the sea, men precipitate themselves after them and thereby come to ruin." 

The ostensible point of the metaphor, evidently, is that reaching too high for what one desires is dangerous and should be avoided. But the hidden meaning may be that a person who is desirous of the highest freedom sometimes needs to transcend what he or she feels is possible, in order to experience the dropping off of body and mind.

For that reason I have stuck with the old Nepalese manuscript's abhilaṅghamānāḥ, which includes the meaning of to go beyond or to transcend. EHJ amended to vilaṅghamānāḥ on the basis that abhi-√laṅgh is only found in the causative. I would venture to suggest that we might have one instance, at least, where abhi-√laṅgh is not found in the causative, and that is namely today's verse, BC11.28.

Still in the 2nd pāda, bhraṁśam archanti can be seen as mirroring vināśam archanti in BC11.24. Both bhraṁśam (falling down, ruin) and vināśam (utter loss, decay) ostensibly suggest a downfall, an undesirable outcome in a downward direction, ruination. Hence EHJ "they come to ruin." But archanti, ironically, originally means “they tend upwards.” The first definition of √ṛ given in the dictionary is to go, move, rise, tend upwards...  much as a tree tends upwards when it is growing.

Going back to the 1st pāda, and reading it in the above light, the four elements can be read as forming a dialectic progression whereby
  • (1) a mountaintop is a prime location, a grand and ideal place for reaping the fourth fruit in the noble dharma, a massive invitation to climb boldly up; 
  • (2) a forest is a natural hideaway to which to reteat; 
  • (3) still waters, whether in a mountain tarn or in a forest lake – or even in a tea-cup in a caravan, being used like a spirit-level – are in practice always balanced; and
  • (4) the ocean is something as unfathomable and inclusive as reality itself.

This being so, EHJ's literal objection that one cannot climb up to a thing on the sea, might serve to underline that what Aśvaghoṣa has in mind is metaphorical fruit of practice, up towards which a practitioner rises in a metaphorical sea of practice. In other words, the highest fruit might be the worthy state of an arhat, i.e. the reality of a buddha's enlightenment. The sea might be the ocean of practice. And a tree might be a developmental process, growth of which cannot be hurried.

When, with this in mind, we look for a concrete historical example of a man in possession of himself delighting in another's attainment of treasure which is desirable but difficult to reach, like fruit at the top of a tree, the following two verses spring to mind from SN Canto 18, where the Buddha tells Nanda:

diṣṭyāsi śāntiṃ paramām-upeto nistīrṇa-kāntāra ivāpta-sāraḥ /
How great it is that you have reached the deepest tranquillity,
like a man making it through a wasteland and gaining possession of treasure.
sarvo hi saṃsāra-gato bhayārto yathaiva kāntāra-gatas-tathaiva // 18.32
For everybody in the flux of saṁsāra is afflicted by fear,
just like a man in a wasteland.

āraṇyakaṃ bhaikṣa-caraṃ vinītaṃ drakṣyāmi nandaṃ nibhṛtaṃ kadeti /
'When shall I see Nanda settled, given over to the living of a forest beggar's life?',
āsīt purastāt-tvayi me didṛkṣā tathāsi diṣṭyā mama darśanīyaḥ // 18.33
So thinking, I had harboured from the start the desire to see you thus.
What a wonderful sight you are for me to behold!

girau (loc. sg.): m. a mountain
vane (loc. sg.): n. a forest
ca: and
apsu (loc. pl.): f. water
ca: and
sāgare (loc. sg.): m. the ocean
ca: and

yad: [relative pronoun] which, that ; yad also = " so that " , " in order that " , " wherefore " , " whence " , " as " , " in as much as " , " since " , " because " [the correlative being tad , " therefore "] , " when " , " if "
yān [EHJ] (acc. pl. m.): [those desires] which
bhraṁśam (acc. sg.): m. falling or slipping down or off ; decline , decay, ruin
archanti = 3rd pers. pl. ṛ: to go , move , rise , tend upwards; to go towards , meet with , fall upon or into , reach , obtain ; to fall to one's share , occur , befall (with acc.)
abhilaṅghamānāḥ = nom. pl. m. pres. part. abhi- √ laṅgh: Caus. to jump across or over ; to transgress , violate ; to injure
abhi: ind. (a prefix to verbs and nouns , expressing) to , towards , into , over , upon.
√ laṅgh: to leap over , go beyond ; to ascend , mount upon ; to overstep , transgress , violate , neglect
vilaṅghamānāḥ = nom. pl. m. pres. part. vi- √ laṅgh: to leap , jump , rise up to (acc.)

teṣu (loc. pl. m.): those
druma-prāgra-phalopameṣu (loc. pl. m.): like fruit at the top of the tree
druma: m. a tree
prāgra: (pra-agra) n. the highest point , summit
phala: n. fruit
upama: (ifc.) equal , similar , resembling , like

kāmeṣu (loc. pl.): m. pleasures, desires
kasya (gen. sg.): who?
ātmavataḥ (gen. sg. m.): being self-possessed
ratiḥ (nom. sg.): f. pleasure , enjoyment , delight in , fondness
syāt = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be

入山林河海 多敗而少安
如樹高條果 貪取多墮死
貪欲境如是 雖見難可取

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