Saturday, July 26, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.65: What Kind of Reward Is Got from Animal Sacrifice?

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
paraṁ hi hantuṁ vi-vaśaṁ phalepsayā na yukta-rūpaṁ karuṇātmanaḥ sataḥ |
kratoḥ phalaṁ yady-api śāśvataṁ bhavet tathāpi ktvā kim-u-yat-kṣayātmakam || 11.65

For, to kill the helpless other 
in the desire to gain a reward

Would be ill becoming 
of a good man who was compassionate at heart,

Even if the result of the sacrifice 
were an everlasting reward -- 

How much less is acting like that becoming 
when the essence of it is destructiveness?

In today's verse as I read it Aśvaghoṣa is using ambiguity, under-statement and ostensible relativism, as a rhetorical device to stimulate our outrage in regard to what is an absolutely barbaric principle.

That principle, today's verse, reminds us, involves, for example, slitting the throat of a living creature for a putative spiritual benefit. Thus, if yesterday's verse was a kind of meditation on the meaning of sacrifice in general terms, or more abstract philosophical terms, today's verse can be read as belonging to the concrete phase. The 1st pāda leaves us in no doubt that what is being discussed is the killing of another living being in the desire to reap some imagined reward. What is being discussed is, for example, the horse sacrifice (aśva-medha) which MW gives as an example to illustrate the meaning of kratu.

In a footnote to his translation of today's verse, EHJ notes: The sense is obvious enough and for once clearly expressed by C [the Chinese translation], but the construction of the second line is difficult.

In the end, EHJ translated the 4th pāda, “how much less should one act thus, when the fruit is transitory?”, but added in his footnote: The above translation is dubious as not giving tathāpi its proper sense of 'nevertheless', as in the next verse.

Also finding the construction of the 4th pāda  difficult, I have followed EHJ's reading of tathāpi kṛtvā ("acting thus," "acting like that"), for want of a better option, but I do not necessarily agree with EHJ that the Chinese translation, even on this occasion, succeeded in nailing the real meaning.

The Chinese translation renders śāśvataṁ as 有常 (having constancy, eternal) and kṣayātmakam as the opposite, i.e.,  無常 (being without constancy, fleeting, transitory, ephemeral). And EHJ agrees that this opposition was originally intended; he translates śāśvatam as “permanent” and kṣayātmakam as “transitory.” PO follows EHJ with “everlasting” and “ephemeral.”

But when one reflects on what the bodhisattva is actually talking about in today's verse, and when one allows oneself to be touched by the simplicity of 1st pāda, in which every simple word seems to count, how can any kind of good result be affirmed from animal sacrifice – even a transitory one?

hantum: to kill
param vi-vaśam: another living creature who is helpless, defenceless
phalepsayā: because of the desire to gain a result/reward

Are EHJ and PO saying, along with the Chinese translator, that the bodhisattva considers animal sacrifice sometimes to be productive of a good result, albeit a transitory one?

EBC's translation of kṣayātmakam as “subject to decay” may be more literally accurate, and more suggestive of a meaning other than impermanence. Kṣayātmakam, in other words, might have connotations not only of perishability but also of destructiveness and moral decadence.

So the real contrast might not be between (a) everlasting reward and (b) transitory reward. The real contrast might be between (a) what is constructive and true for all time, and (b) what is destructive and absolutely false for all time.

If the second line as we have it is as Aśvaghoṣa constructed it, then the reason the construction is difficult may have been that Aśvaghoṣa wished us to consider the problem like this. I think he wished us to ask ourselves: what kind of result is got from animal sacrifice? A good result, a reward, whether that reward be everlasting or transitory? Or no kind of good result at all, ever, since animal sacrifice is based on an utterly non-constructive principle?

If we understand Aśvaghoṣa's intention like this, kṣayātmakam  becomes difficult indeed to translate. Recourse to square brackets might be one solution, but I have attempted somehow to find a translation that seeks to preserve in English (a) the ostensible sense of mindfulness of impermanence, and (b) the underlying agenda which might be to stimulate outrage about mindless and pointless destruction of life. 

param (acc. sg.): m. the other
hi: for
hantum = infinitive han: to kill, slay
vi-vaśam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. helpless
phalepsayā = inst. sg. phalepsā: f. desire to gain a result, desire of future reward

na: not
yukta-rūpam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. suitably formed , fit , proper (with loc. or gen.)
karuṇātmanaḥ (gen. sg. m.): mfn. miserable , mournful ; compassionate
sataḥ (gen. sg.): m. a good man

kratoḥ (gen. sg.): m. plan ; a sacrificial rite or ceremony , sacrifice (as the aśva-medha sacrifice) , offering , worship
aśva-medha: m. the horse-sacrifice (a celebrated ceremony , the antiquity of which reaches back to the Vedic period ; the hymns RV. i , 162 and 163 [= VS. xxii seqq.] , referring to it , are however of comparatively late origin ; in later times its efficacy was so exaggerated , that a hundred such sacrifices entitled the sacrificer to displace indra from the dominion of svarga ; kings who engaged in it spent enormous sums in gifts to the Brahmans ; it is said that the horse was sometimes not immolated , but kept bound during the ceremony)
phalam (nom. sg.): n. fruit, result
yadi: ind. if
api: even
śāśvatam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. eternal, everlasting
bhavet = 3rd pers. sg. opt. bhū: to be, become

tathāpi: even so, nevertheless
tathā: ind. so, like that
api: even
kṛtvā = abs. kṛ: to do, make
kim-u: how much more? how much less?
yat (acc. sg. n.): [that] which
kṣayātmakam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. being subject to decay; perishable 
kṣaya: loss , waste , wane , diminution , destruction , decay , wasting or wearing away

害生果有常 猶尚不應殺
況復求無常 而害生祠祀

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