Tuesday, September 9, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.36: On Being In the Dark

tāmisram-iti cākrodha krodham-evādhikurvate |
viṣādaṁ cāndha-tāmisram-aviṣāda pracakṣate || 12.36

With the word “darkness,” O one without anger!

They refer to anger.

And depression, O irrepressible one!

They call “blind darkness.”

It is interesting to reflect that of the 31 complete cantos that we have of Aśvaghoṣa's poetry (18 cantos in Saundarananda and 13 more-or-less complete cantos in Buddhacarita), the longest canto is the present one. Its title arāḍa-darśana ostensibly means “Meeting with Arāḍa,” but in the same way that Nāgārjuna's phrase tattva-darśanāt (MMK26.10) can be read as “because of reality making itself known,” arāḍa-darśana can be read as “Arāḍa Making Himself Known.”

The fact that Aśvaghoṣa made this canto particularly long must  it occurred to me as I sat between noon and 1 pm in the ineffable peace and quiet of Frederique the builder's lunchtime  mean something.

Nature looks pretty good at the moment, as I sit in the shade looking out on the fruits of my labour lit up by a hot September sun. The vegetable patch I dug a couple of months ago is now full of winter radishes with big leaves; and I have been landscaping the area between my meditation hut and the outdoor sitting platform at the end of the garden, which is closest to the sound of the stream. Just to look at it lifts the spirits. But not in any kind of religious way at all. 

To what extent Aśvaghoṣa is responsible for a growing hostility I seem to feel towards religion, I do not know. But the fact that Aśvaghoṣa made this canto particularly long must mean something.

When I started this translation project 6 years ago, I didn't see myself as religious. I fancied myself as a Zen non-Buddhist. But it seems to me now that I was more religious then than I thought I was, and more religious than Aśvaghoṣa is. Because, the way I read him now, Aśvaghoṣa is not religious at all. 

Religions based on Judaism tend to revere the teaching of their founding prophet as revelations from God. Christianity went even further than Judaism by worshipping Jesus as the son of God. And Islaam, when it comes to the Word of God as revealed by prophets, sees itself as having had the last word. 

On BBC Radio 4 first thing on Sunday morning I heard John McCarthy, in a programme called Something Understood, telling the story of how Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, by an angel of the Lord. Except that McCarthy didn't sound like he was telling a story. He sounded like he was reporting something that had actually happened. 

What the [Dickens], I couldn't help thinking, is this [pack of lies]  doing on BBC Radio 4 at this stage of the 21st century?

In religious Buddhism, or in Buddhism as a religion, also, the Buddha is worshipped as if religious faith were the primary thing. 

But Aśvaghoṣa, as I have got to know him over these past six years, does not lead us down that religious route. We are not encouraged to have blind faith, or to worship the Buddha as an object of faith. On the contrary, Aśvaghoṣa seems to be taking pains, in this longest of cantos, to allow the historical individual Arāḍa, who taught the Buddha when he was a bodhisattva, to make himself known -- or not, as the case may be. 

So here we do not have the Word, which is absolute. We have words which are ambiguous and full of ironic hidden meaning. We do not have a prophet to be worshipped. We have a human being named Gautama whose discoveries were a response to the teaching – a teaching which Gautama ultimately judged to be flawed  of a teacher named Arāḍa. 

In today's verse, Arāḍa speaks of them referring (adhikurvate) and them calling (pracakṣate), using the 3rd person plural, but he does not make it clear who they are. Sāṁkhya philosophers? Brahmin believers? Any other offers? 

A still more serious problem, from where I sit, is that it is not clear whether the flaw that the bodhisattva saw in Arāḍa's teaching has manifested itself yet or not. 

So exactly what to make of Arāḍa's descriptions of darkness, I am not sure. Are his distinctions valid or not? Have cracks appeared yet in Arāḍa's teaching or not? 

Arāḍa's teaching seems to bear heavy imprints of Sāṁkhya philosophy and of the Brahmanical religious tradition. In that case, how come that Aśvaghoṣa wrote of him relating the purport of his own teaching (svasya śaṣtrasya niścayam; 12.15)? 

Is it possible that Aśvaghoṣa intended arāḍa-darśana to be an ironic title in the sense that, despite the length of the canto, we ultimately remain in the dark about Arāḍa? 

We only know for sure that the bodhisattva listened to Arāḍa's teaching, and then left Arāḍa, being dissatisfied with that teaching. We also know that after his awakening the Buddha thought of Arāḍa as the person most likely to be amenable to the Buddha-dharma, having but a little dust on his eye. 

These are not tenets of religious faith. These are historical facts as recorded in Aśvaghaṣa's writings and, before Aśvaghaṣa, in the Pali Suttas. 

tāmisram (acc. sg.): m. the dark half of the month; m. (in sāṁkhya phil.) indignation , anger (one of the 5 forms of a-vidyā)
tamisra: n. darkness , dark night (also pl.) ; n. a dark hell , hell (in general) ; n. anger
tamisrā: f. a dark night
iti: “...,” thus
ca: and
akrodha (voc. sg.): O one without anger!

krodham (acc. sg.): m. anger
eva: (emphatic)
adhikurvate = 3rd pers. pl. adhi- √ kṛ : to place at the head , appoint ; to aim at , regard ; to refer or allude to ;

viṣādam (acc. sg.): m. drooping state , languor , lassitude ; dejection , depression , despondency (esp. as the result of unrequited love)
vi-√sad: to be exhausted or dejected , despond , despair ; to sink down , be immersed in (loc.)
ca: amd
andha-tāmisram (acc. sg. m.): m. complete darkness of the soul ; n. the second or eighteenth of the twenty-one hells ; n. doctrine of annihilation after death ; n. darkness

aviṣāda (voc. sg.): O one free of the drooping state!
aviṣāda: m. non-depression , cheerfulness , courage
pracakṣate = 3rd pers. pl. pra-√cakṣ: to tell , relate , declare ; to name, call

此愚癡凡夫 計著於五欲
[Relation with Sanskrit tenuous]

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