Saturday, August 9, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.5: Breaking Free & Knowing Freedom

viditaṁ me yathā saumya niṣkrānto bhavanād-asi |
chittvā sneha-mayaṁ pāśaṁ pāśaṁ dpta iva dvipaḥ || 12.5

“It is clear to me, O moony man of soma,

How you have come forth from a palace,

Cutting the snare of affection

Like a wild elephant breaking free of a fetter.

A phrase like viditaṁ me presents a challenge to the translator that is reflected in the divergence between the more English-sounding translations of EBC (“I know”) and PO (“I already know”) vs the more literal but stilted translation of EHJ (“It is known to me”).

I favour EHJ's translation not only because it is more literal but also because it places the emphasis more on what is known, rather than what I know.

A parallel can thus be drawn with the phrase tattva-darśanāt in the Nāgārjuna verse quoted again yesterday:

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.

The 4th pāda of Nāgārjuna's verse could just as literally be translated, “The wise one is not because of realizing reality.”

But “realizing reality” sounds like it requires that I do something; whereas “reality making itself known” sounds more like something that does itself, providing I am able to get out of the way and allow it – which might, ultimately, be the whole point.

Not to do, but to allow an un-doing.

Apropos of which, wondering how in fact a wild elephant does break free of a fetter, and wondering in particular what alternative to “to cut” might be available – since an elephant evidently would not generally tend to wield a cutting implement in its trunk – I came upon this web-page which, contrary to what I was expecting, uses the verb to undo.

A section titled Restraint begins as follows:
For this purpose fetters, chains, and ropes are employed. Fetters are of various patterns: those most commonly used consist of short lengths of chain. A fetter is carried for each foot, the fore-fetters are connected by a short chain like hand-cuffs, and those for the hind-legs are also joined in a similar manner. The fetters are fastened by means of a special link-hook. Some elephants can undo this fastening...

If a fetter is weak enough, then, a raging elephant will probably break it by brute force. But if a fetter is strong enough a wild elephant, in his effort to return to the wild, will evidently seek to undo the fetter by less direct means. 

So if we assume that domesticated humans are always clever, while wild elephants are necessarily dumb, that assumption might be another view to be abandoned.

In conclusion, and on further reflection, today's verse, like the whole of Buddhacarita, including the title itself, has a biographical element and a suggestive element.

Buddhacarita means in EBC's translation “The Life of Buddha” or in EHJ's translation Acts of the Buddha” or in PO's translation “Life of the Buddha.” Those titles reflect the biographical element. But the suggestive element is better conveyed by a translation in which buddha means “awakened” – so, for example, “Awakened Action.” Hence as a translation of buddha-carita-mahā-kāvya I generally go with “An epic tale of Awakened Action.”

In today's verse, the suggestive element has to do with (a) knowing (or reality becoming clear), and (b) freedom from emotional bonds, in the practice of non-doing.

If ignorance begets doing, today's verse thus causes me to reflect, on what kind of knowing does the practice of non-doing hinge?

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.

This act of knowing (jñānasyāsyaiva), today's verse causes me to reflect, does not bear any relation to the fixed or certain knowledge in which subject knows object, or in which A knows B for a fact, like I know 2 + 2 = 4, or like I know the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066.

In SN Canto 17 Aśvaghoṣa describes the fourth dhyāna as a state in which the act of knowing abides as its own object. But what Nāgārjuna seems to mean by jñānasyāsyaiva, is an act of knowing beyond even the fourth dhyāna. Beyond the fourth dhyāna is the act of knowing which we are ultimately required to bring into being – the very act of knowing by which the cessation of ignorance is brought about.

Any way up,  today's verse reminds us that “the Zazen life is the free life.” Sitting-Zen is ultimately something transcendent, something that allows us to be free. Something – or a bit of nothing – like a wild elephant being free to wander on the wild side.

viditam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. known, understood
me (gen. sg.): to/for me
yathā: ind. in such a manner, in what way, how
saumya (voc. sg.): O man of the soma!

niṣkrāntaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. gone out , departed , come forth
bhavanāt = abl. sg. bhavana: n. a place of abode , mansion , home , house , palace , dwelling ; n. coming into existence , birth , production
asi = 2nd pers. sg. as: to be

chittvā = abs. chid: to cut, sever; to cut off , amputate , cut through , hew , chop , split , pierce
sneha-mayam (acc. sg. m.): made of affection
pāśam (acc. sg.): m. a snare , trap , noose , tie , bond , cord , chain , fetter (lit. and fig.)

pāśam (acc. sg.): ,m. a snare , trap , noose , tie , bond , cord , chain , fetter (lit. and fig.)
dṛptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. mad , wild , proud , arrogant
dṛp: to be mad or foolish , to rave ; to be extravagant or wild , to be arrogant or proud , to be wildly delighted.
iva: like
dvipaḥ (nom. sg.): m. 'drinking twice'; an elephant

斷親愛纒鎖 猶如象脱覊

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