Tuesday, August 12, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.8: Something Out of the Ordinary

idaṁ me matam-āścaryaṁ nave vayasi yad-bhavān |
abhuktvaiva śriyaṁ prāptaḥ sthito viṣaya-gocare || 12.8

This I deem a wonder:

That you in the flush of youth

Have come here 
– without ever taking the reins of royal power –

Living in the thick of sense-objects.

we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
and wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.

It is funny how the lyrics of an old hymn like this linger deep in the memory, and seem to retain a certain power to inspire and uplift, long after thee has ceased to exist as an object of any kind of religious belief.

Maybe the words of the hymn continue to hold meaning in an irreligious heart and mind because the dharma whose praises the heart wishes to sing is that very law by which all things wither and perish – as described, totally irreligiously, by the 2nd law of thermodynamics. The 2nd law might truly be the Almighty One.

The connection of these musings with my reading of today's verse, lest I seem to be digressing too far, is that in the old days lovers of Aśvaghoṣa must have memorized not only individual verses, as I generally do, just for a day at a time, and not only whole cantos. People must have memorized the whole epic poem of 28 cantos so that they could -- in the days before TV and radio provided endless hours of entertainment -- recite the whole thing. I mean they would have been able to bring the whole thing out of deep storage, from that part of the brain where hymns sang long ago are remembered. 

The present Canto is a long one, with 121 verses. So memorizing these first eight verses, less than one fifteenth of one canto, is nothing to write home about. But when I did commit these opening verses to memory and practise reciting them from memory, I realized how much of an aid to the memory it must have been all those years ago to see the underlying logical progression, especially when that progression falls neatly into four phases.

Thus, in the present series of four verses (i.e. the first four verses of Arāḍa's opening speech), I read 
  1. BC12.5 as having to do with a thesis, namely the aim of breaking free;
  2. BC12.6 as representing an anti-thesis, which opposes the hippy ideal with the traditional virtues of steadfastness and wisdom;
  3. BC12.7 as describing what is not a wonder, what in other words is as ordinary as digging up a stone in a vegetable patch;
  4. and today's verse expressing what is a wonder, i.e., something transcendent.

Talking of transcendence, for an ordinary young bloke such as I was at the bodhisattva's age of 29, to transcend family life in the sense of living as a celibate monk was not difficult. It was out-and-out impossible.

But even for one who fails to walk the royal road of a bhikṣu who has cut the fetters of emotional attachment, I venture to submit, transcendence can still be nailed, by the simple act of sitting in lotus. That is the message of Dogen's Fukan-zazengi.

That is mainly what fuelled me for the 13 years I lived in Japan – the sense that here was something truly extra-ordinary, and here was a teacher whose mission, which I could be part of, was to make this extra-ordinary something accessible to “all people in the world!”

Alexander work has caused me often to reflect that my sense in those days was very faulty. What is truly extraordinary, I have come to think, is what happens in those rare moments when one allows sitting in lotus to be not the doing of anything.

Any way up, when we read today's verse as expressive of transcendence, we are caused to reconsider what kind of transcendence the 4th pāda might be suggesting.

On the face of it, the 2nd and 4th pādas of today's verse, both being in the locative case, naturally go together. Hence 
  • EBC: that thou... in life's fresh prime, set in the open field of the world's enjoyments
  • EHJ: that you, who are in the flush of youth and are placed in the pasture-ground of sensory pleasures; 
  • PO: that you, while still a young man, living in the thick of sensual pleasures.

But to translate like that might be to obscure a progression through four phases within the four pādas of the verse, whereby
the 1st pāda is what I deem to be a wonder;
the 2nd pāda is objective fact – a matter of 29 years and however many months;
the 3rd pāda describes a bodhisattva's action;
and the 4th pāda suggests something transcendent.

Ostensibly, then the 4th pāda goes with the 2nd pāda. But as an expression of the fourth phase, the 4th pāda goes beyond the 2nd pāda, and at the same time includes all the first three pādas.

As such the 4th pāda is difficult to translate. 

It could be read as referring back to life in the palace, when the young prince, like a frisky young bull set in grassy cow-filled pastures, was living in a domain of sensory enticements. In that case the 4th pāda and the 2nd pāda are naturally translated together – something like “that you, in the flush of youth, while dwelling in the domain of sensory enticements,...”

But the 4th pāda can also be read as suggestive of the kind of transcendence that a Chinese Zen Master expressed when a monk wanted to ask him about something truly extra-ordinary.

What is the mind of an Old Buddha?” the monk inquired.

And the Old Buddha, continuing to dwell nowhere but in the very thick of sense-objects, replied:   Fences, walls, tiles and pebbles.

idam (nom. sg. n.): this
me (gen. sg.): for/to me
matam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. thought, considered
āścaryam n. a wonder , miracle , marvel , prodigy; surprise

nave (loc. sg. n.): mfn. new, fresh, young
vayasi (loc. sg.): n. vigorous age , youth , prime of life , any period of life , age
yad: ind. (relative pronoun) that
bhavān (nom. sg. m.): the gentleman present, you

abhuktvā: ind. without having enjoyed
bhuktvā = abs. bhuj: to enjoy , use , possess , (esp.)
eva: (emphatic)
śriyam (acc. sg.): f. royal power
prāptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. arrived

sthitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. standing , staying , situated ; standing firm ; resting or abiding or remaining in (loc.)
viṣaya-gocare (loc. sg. m.): in the open field of the world's enjoyments (EBC); in the pasture-ground of sensory pleasures (EHJ); in the thick of sensual pleasures (PO).
viṣaya: m. realm, object, object of sense ; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
gocara: m. pasture ground for cattle ; range , field for action , abode , dwelling-place , district (esp. ifc. " abiding in , relating to " ; " offering range or field or scope for action , within the range of , accessible , attainable , within the power ") ; the range of the organs of sense , object of sense , anything perceptible by the senses , esp. the range of the eye (e.g. locana-gocaraṁ- √yā , to come within range of the eye , become visible)

未若汝盛年 不受聖王位

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