Monday, June 23, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.32: Towards Earthly Transcendence

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
sundopasundāv-asurau yad-artham-anyonya-vaira-prastau vinaṣṭau |
sauhārda-viśleṣa-kareṣu teṣu kāmeṣu kasyātmavato ratiḥ syāt || 11.32

For their sake, 
the asura duo Sunda and Upasunda destroyed each other,

Macho hostility having prevailed.

When desires cause the break-up of friendships,

Who in possession of himself would delight in those desires?

According to EHJ's note to the previous verse, there are four royal vices which are born of desire (kāma-ja); namely 1. dicing, 2. wine, 3. hunting, and 4. women. Sunda and Upasunda's downfall, then, is an illustration of the dangers of lusting for women.

The woman who was the particular object of the lust of Sunda and Upasunda, as related in the Wikipedia entry on her, was Tilottamā
Tilottamā is an Apsara (celestial nymph) described in Hindu mythology. "Tila" is the Sanskrit word for sesame seed or a bit and "uttama" means better or higher. Tilottamā therefore means the being whose smallest particle is the finest or one who is composed of the finest and highest qualities.
The tale states Sunda and Upasunda were sons of the asura (demon) Nikumbha. They are described as inseparable siblings who shared everything: the kingdom, the bed, food, house, seat. Once, the brothers practiced severe austerities on the Vindhyamountains, compelling the creator-god Brahma to grant them a boon. They asked for great power and immortality, but the latter was denied, instead Brahma gave them the boon that nothing but they themselves can hurt each other. Soon, the demons attacked heaven and drove the gods out. Conquering the whole universe, the demons started harassing sages and creating havoc in the universe.The gods and seers sought refuge with Brahma. Brahma then ordered the divine architect Vishvakarma to create a beautiful woman. Vishvakarma collected all that was beautiful from the three worlds (heaven, earth, underworld) and all the gems of the world and created an alluring woman - with unrivaled beauty - from them. As she was created bit by bit from the gems, Brahma named her Tilottama and directed her to seduce the demon brothers to the extent that she would become an issue of contention between them.
As Sunda and Upasunda were enjoying dalliance with women and engrossed in drinking liquor along a river bank in the Vindhya mountains, Tilottama appeared there plucking flowers. Bewitched by her voluptuous figure and drunk with power and liquor, Sunda and Upasunda took hold of Tilottama's right and left hands respectively. As both of the brothers argued that Tilottama should be his own wife, they grabbed their clubs and attacked each other, ultimately killing each other.

The reference in today's verse, then, at a superficial level of understanding, serves as a reminder of how dangerous to a heterosexual man is a woman who is exceptionally beautiful, as if she had been designed by a divine architect to capture men's hearts and lure us to our death. 

But, especially in light of the two brothers' being drunk when they met their downfall, the deeper meaning of today's verse might be to point again to the dangers of not being in possession of oneself.

When desires cause the break-up of friendships, then, who in possession of himself would delight in those desires?

If we go back to the legend in the Mahā-bhārata, “All-Accomplishing” Viśva-karma, was evidently one person who, from his transcendent perch as the architect of the gods, might have been able to take delight in men's desires, like a child playing with a train set. But was Viśva-karma a man truly in possession of himself?

In seeking an ironic sub-text to today's verse, it would suit my purposes better if there were any example of a man truly in possession of himself, that is, a buddha, playing a role like Viśva-karma, manipulating earthly events so that a man's desire caused the complete dissolution of bonds of affection. 

If there were any such story in the Sanskrit literature, I would like to translate it at once. Such a translation might help me to make the point that Aśvaghoṣa was not, as Buddhist scholars seem to consider him, some kind of religious missionary out to convert everybody to Buddhism; he was rather a master of irony out to subvert every -ism.

Develop developing like the earth (paṭhavīsamaṁ bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi), the Buddha told his son Rāhula.

Now that we sit on it, the earth does not care about a human desire – and neither is the earth distressed or ashamed or disgusted by it (na ca tena paṭhavī aṭṭīyati vā harāyati vā jigucchati vā).

For a human being in the grip of obsessive desire for a celestial nymph, as Nanda was in SN Canto 10, a sexual desire can be an incredibly big deal. But from the overarching viewpoint of an architect of the gods, the obsessive desire of a human being might be akin to the movement of one ant among ten million ants. From the viewpoint of a man fully in possession of himself, having developed developing in every direction, how much less of a big deal might Nanda's desire for the celestial nymphs have been, in the greater scheme of things?

In other words, if Viśva-karma up in heaven was able to take delight in blind human desire, like a spectator up in the gods watching an ancient Greek tragedy unfold, how much better might Gautama Buddha have been able to appreciate, and even to delight in, the reality of those blind human desires?

If in our ignorance we misunderstood the present series of verses, we might think that desires are what we are here to get rid of. Whereas the truth might be that what we are here to get rid of is primarily the kind of ignorance which causes us, unlike the earth, to be distressed and ashamed and disgusted by, or in short afraid of, desires. 

That, at least, for those of us not yet in full possession of ourselves, might be the direction in which to work. 

sundopasundāv-asurau (nom. dual): the Asuras Sunda and Upasunda
sunda: name of a daitya (son of ni-sunda and brother of upa-sunda ; the two brothers killed each other while quarrelling for a beautiful apsaras named tilottamā)
upasunda: m. " the younger brother of sunda " , N. of a daitya
asura: m. an asura [these asuras are often regarded as the children of diti by kaśyapa » daitya ; as such they are demons of the first order in perpetual hostility with the gods , and must not be confounded with the rākṣasas or imps who animate dead bodies and disturb sacrifices]
yad-artham: ind. for which purpose

anyonya-vaira-prasṛtau (nom. dual): mutual enmity having prevailed
anyonya: mfn. mutual
vaira: mfn. (fr. vīra) hostile , inimical , revengeful ; n. enmity , hostility , animosity , grudge , quarrel or feud ; n. heroism, prowess
vīra: m. a man , (esp.) a brave or eminent man , hero , chief
prasṛta: mfn. come forth; intent upon , devoted to (comp.)
pra- √ sṛ: to move forwards , advance (" for " or " against " acc.) , proceed (lit. and fig.) , spring up , come forth , issue from (abl.) , appear , rise , spread , extend; to break out (as fire , a disease &c ) ; to commence , begin ; to prevail , hold good , take place
vinaṣṭau (nom. dual): mfn. utterly lost or ruined , destroyed , perished , disappeared

sauhārda-viśleṣa-kareṣu (loc. pl. m.): causers of dissolution of friendship
sauhārda: n. (fr. su-hṛd) good-heartedness , affection , friendship
viśleṣa: m. loosening , separation , dissolution , disjunction , falling asunder;
-kara: mfn. making, causing
teṣu (loc. pl. m.): those

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

束身投水火 或投於高巖
而求於天樂 徒苦不獲利 
孫陶鉢孫陶 阿修輪兄弟

同生相愛念 爲欲相殘殺

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