Monday, September 15, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.42: Brahma as Practice = Buddha, Going On Up?

ity-arthaṁ brāhmaṇā loke parama-brahma-vādinaḥ |
brahma-caryaṁ carantīha brāhmaṇān vāsayanti ca || 12.42

For this purpose brahmins here on earth,

Giving voice to the highest brahma,

Practise here and now brahma-practice,

And cause brahmins to dwell in it.”

On first perusing this verse several weeks ago, I took it as evidence that Arāḍa was, in the final analysis, a religious believer in parama-brahman (EBC: “the supreme Brahman”; EHJ: “the supreme Absolute”).

But on reflection that might not have been very perspicacious of me.

Certainly Aśvaghoṣa is inviting us, if we are superficial enough, to jump to the conclusion that Arāḍa must, in the final analysis, belong to “the Brahmanical tradition.” 

But if we look for hidden, deeper meaning in today's verse that presages the Buddha's teaching, today's verse can be read as an ironic expression of a teaching that totally transcends not only Brahmanism but also Buddhism.

Read in this way, today's verse and yesterday's verse can be read as belonging to the 4th phase, so that this first speech of Arāḍa ends with three verses at the fourth phase, pointing to the ultimate, transcendent truth. 

Shakespeare might have been writing at the fourth phase when he wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. 

In support of this ironic reading of today's verse, we can cite examples of how the Buddha himself, as recorded in Aśvaghoṣa's own writing, and as recorded in the Pali Suttas and Sanskrit Sūtras, used words like brahman and brāhmaṇa, which are derived from the root √bṛh (to be thick, to grow great or strong, to increase).

In Aśvaghoṣa's writing we can find the following such uses (since I am citing so many examples, I shan't bother too much about formatting):

Brahma as the Absolute / a sacred sound or word

yatra sma mīyate brahma kaiś-cit kaiś-cin-na mīyate /
There some prayed to Brahma; none suffered the frustration of losing his way;
kāle nimīyate somo na cākāle pramīyate // SN1.15 //
The soma, at the right moment, was measured out;
and nobody, at a random moment, came to nothing.

Adhyaiṣṭa yaḥ paraṁ brahma na vyaiṣṭa satatam dhṛteḥ /
He minded the supreme sacred word; in fortitude, he never failed;
dānāny-adita pātrebhyaḥ pāpaṁ nākta kiṁ-cana // SN2.12 //
He gave fitting gifts to deserving recipients; and no evil did he do at all.

aśrāntaḥ samaye yajvā yajña-bhūmim-amīmapat /
A man of tireless sacrifice when the time was right,
he caused sacrificial ground to be measured out;
pālanāc-ca dvijān brahma nirudvignān-amīmapat // SN2.35 //
And he enabled twice-born men,
who under his protection were unburdened by anxiety,
to know the weight of the sacred word

A knower of brahma among brahma-knowers, ushered in him who was blazing with brahma-begotten brilliance, and with the glowing heat of ascetic exertion – / The king's guru, with the gravity and hospitality due to a guru, ushered Asita into the king's royal seat. //BC1.50//

brahma as a personal god

tathāṅgirā rāga-parīta-cetāḥ sarasvatīṃ brahma-sutaḥ siṣeve /
So too did brahma-begotten Aṅgiras,
when his mind was seized by passion, have sex with Sarasvatī;
sārasvato yatra suto 'sya jajñe naṣṭasya vedasya punaḥ-pravaktā // SN7.31 //
To her was born his son Sarasvata, who gave voice again to missing Vedas.

maitrayā sapta-vārṣikyā brahma-lokam-ito gataḥ /
Through seven years of loving kindness,
Sunetra went from here to Brahma's world,
sunetraḥ punar-āvṛtto garbha-vāsam-upeyivān // SN11.57 //
But he span around again and came back to live in a womb.

brahmins as a class of men

tad-vanaṁ muninā tena taiś-ca kṣatriya-puṁgavaiḥ /
That forest, through the sage, and through those warrior heroes,
śāntāṁ guptāṁ ca yugapad brahma-kṣatra-śriyaṁ dadhe // SN1.27 //
Radiated tranquillity and security -- the majesty of the brahmin and of the kṣatriya, in one yoke.

For near to us, inhabited by brahmin seers, king-seers, and god-seers, rises a holy Himālayan mountain / Through whose closeness are augmented those very investments of painful effort of people whose capital is painful effort.//BC 7.39//

So again did Druma, the Śālva king whose name means Tree, in the company of his son, enter the city from the forest. / And, having become a brahmarṣi, a brahman seer, Antideva the Sāṁkṛti received the royal insignia from the sage Vasiṣṭha. // BC9.70//

brahma-carya as devout practice of abstinence / the spiritual life

kāma-caryāsu kuśalo bhikṣu-caryāsu viklavaḥ /
Adept in the practices of love, confused about the practices of a beggar,
paramācārya-viṣṭabdho brahma-caryaṃ cacāra saḥ // SN11.4 //
Set firm by the best of practice guides,
Nanda did the devout practice of abstinence.

duṣkaraṃ sādhv-anāryeṇa māninā caiva mārdavam /
For an ignoble man good is hard to do;
for an arrogant man it is hard to be meek;
atisargaś-ca lubdhena brahmacaryaṃ ca rāgiṇā // SN11.13 //
For a greedy man giving is hard,
and hard for a man of passion is the practice of devout abstinence.

titāḍayiṣayā dṛpto yathā meṣo 'pasarpsati /
Just as, in its desire to charge, a wild ram draws back,
tadvad-abrahmacaryāya brahmacaryam-idaṃ tava // SN11.25 //
So, for the sake of non-abstinence, is this devout abstinence of yours!

hṛdi kāmāgninā dīpte kāyena vahato vratam /
Blazing with a fire of desire in your heart,
you carry out observances with your body:
kim-idaṃ brahmacaryaṃ te manasābrahmacāriṇaḥ // SN11.30 //
What is this devout abstinence of yours,
who does not practise abstinence with his mind?

taj-janma-vyādhi-mṛtyu-vyasana-parigataṃ matvā jagad-idaṃ
Therefore, see this world to be shot through
with the calamities of birth, sickness, and death;
saṃsāre bhrāmyamāṇaṃ divi nṛṣu narake tiryak-pitṛṣu ca /
See it -- whether in heaven, among men, in hell, or among animals or the departed -- to be reeling through saṁsāra.
yat-trāṇaṃ nirbhayaṃ yac-chivam-amarajaraṃ niḥśokam-amṛtaṃ
Seeing the world to be thus, for the sake of that fearless refuge, for that sorrowless nectar of immortality, which is benign, and beyond death and decay,
tadd-hetor-brahmacaryaṃ cara jahi-hi calaṃ svargaṃ prati rucim // SN11.62 //
Devoutly practise abstinence, and abandon your fancy for a precarious heaven.

tasmāc-cāritra-sampanno brahmacaryam-idaṃ cara /
Steeped in good conduct, therefore, lead this life of devout abstinence,
aṇumātreṣv-avadyeṣu bhaya-darśī dṛḍha-vrataḥ // SN13.20 //
And in what is even minutely blameworthy see danger, being firm in your purpose.

Of the above quotes from Saundarananda and Buddhacarita, only the last one is in the form of a direct quotation of the Buddha's own words. 

In Sanskrit sūtras, however, we can find the following examples  (drawn from
 of the Buddha talking of brahma. 

When, in The Discourse that Set the Dharma-Wheel Rolling (Dharma-cakra-pravartana-sūtram), the newly awakened Buddha tells the group of five ascetics not to address him casually as “friend” because he is an awakened Buddha, without pollutants, he encourages them with the following words:

yathā mayā samyag-avavaditāḥ samyag-anuśiṣṭā,
having been properly instructed by me, properly trained,
yūyam-apyāśravāṇāṁ cetovimuktiṁ prajñāvimuktiṁ ca,
you will be free from the pollutants, freed in mind, freed through wisdom,
dṛṣṭa eva dharmaṁ sākṣāt -kṛtvopasaṁpadya pravedayiṣyatha:
and in this very life, having seen directly, having attained, you will be able to say:
‘Kṣīṇā no jātir-uṣitaṁ ca brahmacaryam,
‘Destroyed is (re)birth for us, accomplished is the spiritual life,
kṛtaṁ karaṇīyam,
done is what ought to be done,
nāparam-ityato 'nyad-bhavaṁ - prajānāma’. iti
there is no more of this mundane state - this we know’.

In a verse section of the same sūtra:

Vācāya Brahmaruta kinnaragarjitāya,

Having a voice resounding like Brahmā, like the song of a Kinnara,
Aṁśaiḥ sahasranayutebhi samudgatāya,

Having ten-million rays radiating (from his body),
Bahukalpakoṭi sada satyasubhāvitāya,
Having cultivated truth continually for many millions of aeons,
Kauṇḍinyam-ālapati Śākyamuniḥ Svayaṁbhūḥ: 

The Self-made Sage of the Śākyans addressed Kauṇḍinya:

In this Pali Sutta, the Buddha seems to use the word brāhmaṇam as roughly equivalent to “a gentleman”:

“Yaṁ brāhmaṇaṁ vedaguṁ ābhijaññā, Mettagū ti Bhagavā,
You should know the brahmin who has true understanding, Mettagū, said the Gracious One,
akiñcanaṁ kāmabhave asattaṁ, 
who has nothing, and is not clinging to sense existence,
addhā hi so ogham-imaṁ atāri,
for he has surely crossed over the flood,
tiṇṇo ca pāraṁ akhilo akaṅkho.
without hindrance or doubt, he has crossed beyond.

Vidvā ca so vedagū naro idha,
That man here who is wise, and has true understanding,
bhavābhave saṅgam-imaṁ visajja, 
who has released the shackle of repeated existence,
so vītataṇho anīgho nirāso -
he is craving-free, not troubled, not yearning -
atāri so jātijaran-ti brūmī” ti
he has crossed over birth and old age, I say.”

Similarly in the Pali safeguards recited on a daily basis in countries like Śri Lanka:

Ye brāhmaṇā vedagū sabbadhamme
I revere those brahmins who have true understanding
te me namo - te ca maṁ pālayantu!
of all things - may they keep watch over me!

As far as brahma meaning the God Brahma, on the evidence of the Pali Sutta called the
Bodhirājakumārasuttaṁ (MN 85; The Discourse to Prince Bodhi), the Buddha did not rule out even that usage, or that possibility:

Tassa mayhaṁ, Rājakumāra, etad-ahosi:
Then, Prince, this occurred to me:
‘Adhigato kho mayāyaṁ Dhammo gambhīro duddaso duranubodho...
This Dhamma I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to understand...

appossukkatāya cittaṁ namati, no Dhammadesanāya.
and my mind inclined to inaction, not to teaching the Dhamma.
Atha kho, Rājakumāra, Brahmuno Sahampatissa,
Then, Prince, to Brahmā Sahampati,
mama cetasā cetoparivitakkam-aññāya etad-ahosi:
knowing with his mind the reflection in my mind, this (thought) occurred:
‘Nassati vata bho loko, vinassati vata bho loko,
‘The world is surely going to destruction, the world is surely going to complete destruction,
yatra hi nāma Tathāgatassa Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa
wherever the Realised One, the Worthy One, the Perfect Sambuddha’s
appossukkatāya cittaṁ namati no Dhammadesanāyā.’ ti
mind inclines to inaction, not to teaching the Dhamma.’

The conclusion I draw from today's verse is that it might contain a warning not to be too quick to form an emotional reaction to the stimulus of a word or deed, as I did a few weeks ago on seeing the words brahmāṇa and brahma repeated in the same verse.

Yesterday, reacting to the beheading of a British aid worker in Syria, David Cameron spoke of an organisation which is the embodiment of evil. And few would disagree with him that the beheading of a humanitarian worker, there only to help, was an evil act. But when a person commits an evil act in the name of an organisation that calls itself “Islaamic State” and a politician calls the organization the embodiment of evil, that might be to set foot on a slippery slope. Exactly thinking, the evil thing was the act. Even if the same person repeated the evil act, that person is not originally evil; the evil thing is the act.

Sometimes it is difficult not to react against a word like brahma. Sometimes it is difficult not to react against a word like Buddhism, which people use to mean “the Buddha's teaching.”

The Buddha's teaching is in the direction of abandoning all -isms, and yet people call this teaching Buddhism. 

ity-artham: ind. for this purpose
brāhmaṇāḥ (nom. pl.): m. one who has divine knowledge (sometimes applied to agni) , a Brahman , a man belonging to the 1st of the 3 twice-born classes and of the 4 original divisions of the Hindu body (generally a priest , but often in the present day a layman engaged in non-priestly occupations although the name is strictly only applicable to one who knows and repeats the veda) RV. &c
loke (loc. sg.): m. the world ; loke or iha loke , " here on earth "

parama-brahma-vādinaḥ (nom. pl. m.): speaking about the Supreme Brahma
parama-brahman: n. the Supreme Spirit
brahma: in comp. for brahman. - Observe that in the following derivatives the nom. n. (brahma) is used for the impersonal Spirit and the nom. m. (brahmā) for the personal god.
brahman: n. (lit. " growth " , " expansion " , " evolution " , " development " " swelling of the spirit or soul " , fr. √2. bṛh) pious effusion or utterance , outpouring of the heart in worshipping the gods , prayer ; the sacred word (as opp. to vāc , the word of man) , the veda , a sacred text , a text or mantra used as a spell ; the brāhmaṇa portion of the veda ; the sacred syllable Om ; religious or spiritual knowledge (opp. to religious observances and bodily mortification such as tapas &c ) ; holy life (esp. continence , chastity ; cf. brahma-carya) ; (exceptionally treated as m.) the brahma or one self-existent impersonal Spirit , the one universal Soul (or one divine essence and source from which all created things emanate or with which they are identified and to which they return) , the Self-existent , the Absolute , the Eternal (not generally an object of worship but rather of meditation and-knowledge ; also with jyéṣṭha , prathama-já , svayám-bhu , a-mūrta , para , paratara , parama , mahat , sanātana , śāśvata ; and = paramā*tman , ātman , adhyātma , pradhāna , kṣetra-jña , tattva);
n. the class of men who are the repositories and communicators of sacred knowledge , the Brahmanical caste as a body (rarely an individual Brahman)
vādin: mfn. saying , discoursing , speaking , talking , speaking or talking about (often ifc. or sometimes with acc. of object) , declaring , proclaiming , denoting , designating

brahma-caryam (acc. sg.): n. study of the veda , the state of an unmarried religious student , a state of continence and chastity; acc. with √ grah , car , vas , ā- √gam , upa- √i , to practise chastity
brahma-cārin: m. a young Brahman who is a student of the veda (under a preceptor) or who practises chastity , a young Brahman before marriage (in the first period of his life) AV. Mn. MBh. &c (cf. āśrama and IW. 192 &c RTL. 84 &c ; the N. brahma-cārin is also given to older unmarried Brahmans , esp. if versed in the veda , and by the tantras to any person whose chief virtue is continence)
caranti = 3rd pers. pl. car:
iha: ind. here

brāhmaṇān (acc. pl.): m. brahmins
vāsayanti = 3rd pers. pl. causative vas: to dwell
ca: and

世間婆羅門 皆悉依此義
修行於梵行 亦爲人廣説

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