Friday, August 1, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.71: Playing with Fire

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
himāri-ketūdbhava-saṁbhavāntare yathā dvijo yāti vimokṣayaṁs-tanum |
himāri-śatru-kṣaya-śatru-ghātane tathāntare yāhi vimocayan manaḥ || 11.71

Just as, inside the union
of cold's enemy and the birth-place of a flame,

Twice-born [fire] gets going, 
releasing its physical self,

So, inside the act of slaying the enemy
of the evaporation of the enemy of cold's enemy,

You are to get going, allowing to release, 
in the direction of coming undone, your mind." 

This is a riddle, EHJ notes, of the type called parihārikā by Daṇḍin whose simpler example at Kavyadaria, aii. 120 was evidently influenced by it.

The first half of the riddle, as I read it, is straightforward enough, and brings to mind the Chinese Zen saying, quoted in the opening chapter of Shobogenzo, that A child of fire comes looking for fire.

The enemy of cold (himāri) means fire. And the birthplace of a flame (ketūdbhava) is just fire. So the union (saṁbhava) of the two aspects of fire is just the place where fire itself gets going. Twice-born (dvi-ja) more commonly means a brahmin (born again at his investiture) or a bird (laid as an egg, then hatched); but EHJ points out that Agni (Fire, god of fire) is several times in the Vedas described as dvi-janman, having a double birth.

"Releasing its physical self" or "releasing its physical energy" (vimokṣayaṁs tanum), then, strikes me as an expression of spontaneous dispersal of energy, as described by the 2nd law of thermodynamics. So what is being described in the simile of the fire, in other words, is the spontaneous release of energy that takes place when, activation energy barriers having been broken down, a fire gets going.

Turning to the 2nd half of today's verse, my own first thoughts on it were like this: 

If the enemy of cold (himāri) is fire, then the enemy of the enemy of cold (himāri-śatru) is naturally water, whose evaporation is therefore described as himāri-śatru-kṣaya, “the evaporation of the enemy of cold's enemy.” This evaporation naturally takes place in the heat of the sun. The enemy of evaporation (himāri-śatru-kṣaya-śatru), then, is the darkness that blots out the sun. And the act of slaying that darkness might be what Nāgārjuna called jñānasyāsyaiva, “just this act of knowing”....

saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ |
avidvān kārakas tasmān na vidvāṁs tattva-darśanāt ||MMK26.10||

The doings which are the root of saṁsāra

Thus does the ignorant one do.

The ignorant one therefore is the doer;

The wise one is not,
because of reality making itself known.

avidyāyāṁ niruddhāyāṁ saṁskārāṇām asaṁbhavaḥ |
avidyāyā nirodhas tu jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt ||MMK26.11

In the ceasing of ignorance,

There is the non-coming-into-being of doings.

The cessation of ignorance, however,

Is because of the bringing-into-being of just this act of knowing.

It is inside this very act that King Bimbisāra, or any of us, must get going, in order to release our mind in the direction of coming undone. 

I have thus read today's verse as an expression, from the inside of sitting, of the inside of sitting. I think Aśvaghoṣa designed today's verse like this so that it could only truly be understood like this, from the inside of sitting.

At the risk of complicating things needlessly, there follows a lengthy examination of how else the riddle has been handled through the ages. Unless you are just beginning a 12-hour plane journey, or for some other reason have an inordinate amount of time to kill, I would not necessarily recommend wading through all of what follows.

The Chinese translation of today's verse, which is more than usually long and detailed, is worth considering insofar as the Chinese translation (along with Samuel Beal's translation of it into English) formed the basis of EBCs and EHJ's reading of the Sanskrit verse.

Most significantly, in the 1st pāda the Chinese translator took ketu not as flame but as sign [of fire] = smoke. In the 2nd pāda he took dvija not as fire but as  bird. And in the 3rd pāda he took kṣaya not as destruction/evaporation but as home

Here is the Chinese line by line with Beal's translation: 

Water and snow and fire are opposed to one another,
but the fire by its influence causes vapour,
The vapour causes the floating clouds,
the floating clouds drop down rain;
there are birds in space,
who drink the rain, with rainless bodies(?).
Slaughter and peaceful homes are enemies! 
those who would have peace hate slaughter
and if those who slaughter are so hateful
then put an end, O king, to those who practise it!
And bid these find release,
as those who drink and yet are parched with thirst.

On the basis of this Chinese translation, EBC translated today's verse as follows, and added the following footnote:
As in the midst of a sudden catastrophe arising from the flame of (fire), the enemy of cold, a bird, to deliver its body, betakes itself to the enemy of fire (water), — so do thou, when occasion calls, betake thyself, to deliver thy mind, to those who will destroy the enemies of thy home.

This is a very hard verse, but the obscure Chinese translation helps to explain it. I read in himāri-śatrum, i.e. water, as the enemy of the enemy of cold (fire). The bird flies to water to stop the effects of fire; as the king is to destroy his enemies by means of their enemies, cf. Manu VII, 158. Here, however, it seems to mean also that he is to destroy his passions by their opposites; the home (kṣaya) is the summum bonum, nirvāṇa. — I read samplava for sambhava, as the two words are confused in BC12.24 and BC12.28.

EBC's text therefore has saṁplavāntare (in the midst of a sudden catastrophe) for saṁbhavāntare in the 1st pāda. And, following the Chinese, EBC takes dvija in the 2nd pāda to mean bird, and kṣaya in the 3rd pāda to mean home, dwelling-place, i.e. nirvāṇa. In the 1st pāda, however, EBC takes ketu, as I take it, to mean flame. 

EHJ's translation of today's verse is as follows:
Just as when rain is produced from the clouds which originate from the smoke, the sign of fire, which is the enemy of cold, then the twice-born fire is freed from its external appearance, so do you liberate your mind on the occasion of the slaughter of the enemies of the destruction of tamas, which is the opponent of the sun, the foe of cold.

Thus, following the Chinese, in the 1st pāda EHJ takes himāri-ketu, to mean smoke, the sign of fire. But EHJ takes dvija in the 2nd pāda, as I take it, to mean twice-born fire, and kṣaya in the 3rd pāda, also as I take it, to mean destruction. 

In the footnote to his translation, EHJ  acknowledges that his translation of the 1st pāda followed the Chinese translation, for which he offers his own rendition into English, as follows:

Fire is the enemy of hima,
from fire the banner of smoke arises. 
The smoke-banner brings about the floating cloud;
the floating cloud brings forth great rain.'

EHJ notes further that tanu is the word regularly used in the Vedas for the visible form of Agni. The idea is that, when a fire is extinguished, it has not perished for good and all, but has merely lost its visible form, and it is thus the standard analogy for Nirvāṇa (e.g. SN16.28-29).

The verses in Saundarananda to which EHJ is referring -- verses often quoted in these comments -- are as follows:
A lamp that has gone out reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky, / Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point: Because its oil is spent it reaches nothing but extinction.// SN16.28 // In the same way, a man of action who has come to quiet reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky, / Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point: From the ending of his afflictions he attains nothing but extinction. // SN16.29 //

PO's translation, as usual, follows EHJ:
As fire, the twice-born, when it encounters rain pouring from a cloud that springs from smoke, sign of enemy of the cold, proceeds releasing its form, /So proceed, releasing your mind, by killing the foes of the destruction of darkness, the foe of the sun, the enemy of cold.

PO notes:
The enemy of cold is both fire and the sun. Fire is called “twice-born” in the Vedas, probably because of his birth in heaven as the sun and on earth as fire. Water comes from clouds that are formed by smoke produced by fire; and when water encounters its cause, fire, it makes the fire leave its visible form and return to its latent form. Likewise the king should kill the darkness that is the enemy of the sun, which, like fire, is also the enemy of the cold. Then, like the fire, the mind goes back into a latent state.

Thus, if the three professors, and the Chinese translator before them, are to be believed, the first half of today's verse is saying something quite subtle and complicated in a complicated way, taking ketu to mean sign [of fire], i.e. smoke, which forms a cloud, which produces rain, which puts out fire. 

One problem with this train of thought, of course, is that clouds are formed from water vapour, and not from smoke from fires. But even aside from that objection, I think the essence of a good riddle, like a cryptic crossword clue, is that complicated thinking is resolved into a simple, elegant solution. And so in the first half of today's verse, as I read it, Aśvaghoṣa's joke is on the Chinese translator and the three professors. The enemy of cold (himāri) is fire, and birth-place of a flame (ketodbhava) is fire. So the first half of today's verse, as I read it, simply uses fire as a metaphor for fire being fire, in which condition fire gets going, manifesting spontaneous release. 

As regards the second half of the verse, the gist of EHJ's reading is the same as the gist of my reading, insofar as both readings point to combating darkness/ignorance as the primary task to which the bodhisattva's words are pointing. EHJ and I get to this conclusion by different routes, however.

EHJ understood himāri-śatru-kṣaya-śatru-ghātane to express “the slaughter of the enemies of the destruction of tamas [darkness/ignorance].”

In the 2nd half, EHJ thus took
himāri to mean “the foe of cold,” i.e. the sun;
himāri-śatru to mean the “opponent of the sun,” i.e. tamas [darkness/ignorance]”;
himāri-śatru-kṣaya to mean “the destruction of tamas [darkness/ignorance]”;
himāri-śatru-kṣaya-śatru to mean “the enemies of the destruction of tamas”; and
himāri-śatru-kṣaya-śatru-ghātana to mean “the slaughter of the enemies of the destruction of tamas.”

On reflection, I wondered for a while yesterday whether EHJ's reading of the 3rd pāda might be better than mine. I am still not sure. I could just as easily have based my translation of the 3rd pāda on the route identified by EHJ rather than on the one I first identified, as outlined above. I am not here, after all, to disagree with the three professors just for the sake of it. But in practice, when I sat this morning, I felt it more to the point to take himāri-śatru-kṣaya-śatru as one big compound expressing the darkness/ignorance which sitting is here to slay. To direct one's energy towards the slaughter of the enemies of the destruction of darkness, would seem to be a less effective rallying call. 

When it comes to PO's assertion that the mind goes back into a latent state, howeverI do disagree with that. 

My disagreement is partly based on a doubt about a textual amendment that EHJ saw fit to make, and which PO followed. The original Sanskrit manuscripts in the 4th pāda have vimocayan. Based on Cappeller's conjecture, EHJ amended this to vimokṣayan, so that the first and second halves would be parallel in form.

The counter-argument to this amendment is that by the seemingly inconsequential change from vi-√mokṣ in the 2nd pāda to the causative of vi-√muc in the 4th pāda, Aśvaghoṣa may have been intending to signal a difference that he wished us to consider. And the difference might be this: when activation energy barriers are broken down and fire brings about the spontaneous release of the energy hitherto stored up, for example, in wood, that is a purely physical process, not requiring any help from a conscious agent. But when we get inside the act of knowing, or inside the act of slaying ignorance, though the sense of spontaneous release may be analogous to a fire, the act of knowing is a function of the one who knows, or the one who consciously allows – a function, in Nāgārjuna's words, of vidvān, the wise one.

This act of slaying, as an act of knowing, I therefore submit, might be a very different thing from “the mind going back into a latent state.”

Moreover, in context, it might not have been reasonable for the bodhisattva to recommend King Bimbisāra to go already for spontaneous release, like a fire that has got going. It might have been more reasonable for the bodhisattva to encourage the King to allow his mind gradually to go in that direction -- possibly over the course of several lifetimes. That is the reason for my roundabout translation, unwieldy though it is, of the 4th pāda. 

A more fundamental objection to PO's assertion is this:  “inside the act of slaying” means inside of sitting practice. Whatever anybody says from the outside, they cannot be speaking on the basis of having hit a home run, or even on the basis of being in the general ball-park. 

Lest it sounds like I am singling PO out for harsh treatment, let us revisit EBC's statement that “this is a very hard verse,” and ask: which of Aśvaghoṣa's verses did EBC think was not hard? 

The truth might be that for a Buddhist scholar sitting in an academic's chair outside of sitting practice itself, there are no hard or easy verses: there are only verses that are totally impossible to understand.

This is the problem that Dogen highlighted at the beginning of Fukan-zazengi. Thinking that we might understand the words of Zen ancestors like Aśvaghoṣa, if we were not ourselves sincerely devoted to sitting-Zen, might be the height of folly.

Even EH Johnston, though regarded as a giant in the field of Aśvaghoṣa studies, may more truly be regarded, in this respect, from the standpoing of what really matters, as not even a dwarf. Still, I cannot deny that I appreciate being able to stand on his shoulders. The same is true, to some extent, of the other professors too. 

In the end we are all doing our best, and no verse that Aśvaghoṣa wrote is easy to understand, even for a bloke who spends all day sitting and pondering on it. To get to the bottom of even a single verse is always hard. And today's verse is certainly no exception. 

In the end, did Aśvaghoṣa write today's verse as a riddle with one solution? Or did he write it as a riddle with more than one right answer? Again, did he write it as a riddle with no right answers, but only wrong ones? 

And so ends another verbal marathon. It is never my intention to write such long-winded comments, but I cannot seem to help myself.  I wonder if any sad person out there, despite my health warning, has stuck with this comment to the end. And if so, was it really worth it?

himāri-ketūdbhava-saṁbhavāntare (loc. sg.): in the inside of the union of cold's foe and the birth-place of a flame
himāri: m. " enemy of cold " , fire
hima: m. cold
ari: m. an enemy
ketu: m. bright appearance , clearness , brightness ; lamp , flame , torch ; form , shape ; sign , mark , ensign , flag , banner
udbhava: m. existence , generation , origin , production , birth ; springing from , growing ; becoming visible ; birth-place
sambhava: m. being or coming together , meeting , union , intercourse ; finding room in , being contained in (ifc.= " contained in "); birth , production , origin , source , the being produced from (abl. ; ifc. = " arisen or produced from , made of , grown in ") ; being , existence
antara: mfn. being in the interior , interior ; n. interior ; n. hole, opening; n. the interior part of a thing , the contents ; n. soul , heart , supreme soul ; n. interval, intermediate space or time; n. occasion, opportunity

yathā: ind. just as
dvijaḥ (nom. sg.): m. 'twice-born'; EBC: a bird ; EHJ: the twice-born fire
yāti = 3rd pers. sg. yā: to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey (often with instr. or acc. of the way); to go away , withdraw , retire ; to flee, escape
vimokṣayan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. vi- √ mokṣ: to set free , let loose , liberate
tanum (acc. sg.): f. the body , person , self ; m. form or manifestation ; tanuṁ- √tyaj or hā , " to give up one's life ";  EHJ: its external appearance

himāri-śatru-kṣaya-śatru-ghātane (loc. sg.): the killing of the enemy of the destruction of the enemy of the enemy of cold
himāri: m. " enemy of cold " , fire
śatru: m. " overthrower " , an enemy , foe , rival
kṣaya: m. an abode , dwelling-place , seat , house ; loss , waste , wane , diminution , destruction , decay , wasting or wearing away (often ifc.)
śatru: m. " overthrower " , an enemy , foe , rival
ghātana: n. slaying , killing , slaughter , immolating

tathā: ind. so, likewise
antare (loc. sg.): n. interior
yāhi = 2nd pers. sg. imperative yā: to go etc.
vimocayan = nom. sg. m. causative pres. part. vi- √ muc: to unloose , unharness ; to release , set free , liberate ; to leave , abandon , quit , desert , give up , relinquish; to lose (consciousness); [causative] to loosen , detach; to unyoke ; to set free
vimokṣayan [EHJ] = nom. sg. m. pres. part. vi- √ mokṣ: to set free , let loose , liberate
manaḥ (acc. sg.): n. mind

水雪火爲怨 縁火煙幢起
煙幢成浮雲 浮雲興大雨
有鳥於空中 飮雨不雨身
殺重怨爲宅 居宅怨重殺
有殺重怨者 汝今應伏彼

令其得解脱 如飮不雨身


Malcolm M said...

Hi Mike,

I confess I failed to stick with your comment to the end - and that (sadly?) is easier to admit than if I had read, considered and understood the whole long, challenging thing. I've read about a third - enough to grip me and to establish an intention to finish the project.

I've no idea if that intention will be realised, or if the effort will be worth it. But, recognising the effort you put into writing it, I feel the least I can do is give it go. For my sake.


Dorella Belle said...

"Fires start when a flammable and/or a combustible material, in combination with a sufficient quantity of an oxidizer such as oxygen gas or another oxygen-rich compound (though non-oxygen oxidizers exist), is exposed to a SOURCE OF HEAT or ambient temperature above the flash point for the fuel/oxidizer mix, and is able to sustain a rate of rapid oxidation that produces a chain reaction."
Just what I'm seeing here (without understanding)

If the clouds pour rain the fire cannot keep going, you need a source of heat to disperse the clouds in order to have the fire.
(the enemy of cold is a source of heat). You need combustible and heat (and an oxidizer...)

I do not know what combustible I'm burning out, I've only that experience of fire that needs "focus of attention" to keep going...

Mike Cross said...

Hi DB,

Sometimes "focusing attention" is like blowing air on a fire to help it get going, in which case sometimes it is interesting to stop blowing and see what happens -- on a good day the fire may keep going all by itself.

So "focusing attention" has its place, but so sometimes does un-concentrating, in the quest for spontaneity.

Thanks for carrying on reading!