brahma-caryam-idaṁ caryaṁ yathā yāvac-ca yatra ca |
dharmasyāsya ca paryantaṁ bhavān vyākhyātum-arhati || 12.44
“How is this brahma-practice to be practised?
And to what lengths? And where?
Again, what is the end-point of this dharma?
Will you please explain in detail.”
The bodhisattva's words in today's verse mirror Aśvaghoṣa's narration in yesterday's verse. In yesterday's verse Aśvaghoṣa told us that the bodhisattva-prince asked about the means and the end. In today's verse the bodhisattva-prince asks in his own words about the means and the end.
Are we being invited to play spot the difference?
If so, what may be particularly worthy of comment is the different words used to express the end.
In yesterday's verse Aśvaghoṣa used the word padam, which means a step, a footstep. Aśvaghoṣa wrote that the prince asked about padaṁ naiṣṭhikam, the step which forms the end. A step can mean something static – a position or station. But before it means a step in the sense of a set position, or something to stand on, padam means a step in the sense of a pace or a stride. Padam, according to the MW dictionary, primarily suggests not something static, and still less something fixed, but rather something that is going on, something in movement. That is why I invariably translate padam as “step,” even when “state” would seem more natural English. Thus whereas in yesterday's verse EBC and PO translated padaṁ naiṣṭhikam “the final state” (EHJ: “the sphere of final beatitude”), I went with the unwieldy but less final “step which represents the end.”
In today's verse the bodhisattva expresses his conception of an end using the word paryantam (EBC/PO: "limit"; EHJ: "where [this dharma] ends"). The prefix pari- means around and anta means end, limit, conclusion. So paryanatam seems to carry much more of a connotation of a limit that is fixed, a boundary or an an end-point.
Thinking of the aim of life in this way, as something fixed, might be a bodhisattva's worst evil.
“You all fix,” said FM Alexander to the student-teachers he was training. “It is your worst evil!”
FM's admonition was related with the famous Alexander maxim, quoted countless times on this blog over the years, that there is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a thing as a right direction.
So my own tentative conclusion, for the present, on reflection, is that what Aśvaghoṣa called padaṁ naiṣṭhikam might be nothing more, and nothing less, than a step in the right direction.
brahma-caryam (nom. sg.): n. brahma-practice, the spiritual life, devout abstinence
idam (nom. sg. n.): this
caryam (nom. sg. n.): to be practised or performed
yathā: ind. in which manner, how
yāvat: ind. how great, how far, how long
yatra: in what place, where
dharmasya (gen. sg.): m. dharma
asya (gen. sg. m.): this
paryantam (acc. sg.): m. circuit , circumference , edge , limit , border ; side , flank , extremity , end
bhavān (nom. sg. m.): the gentleman present, you
vyākhyātum = infinitive vy-ā- √ khyā: to explain in detail , tell in full , discuss ; to relate , communicate
arhati = 3rd pers. sg. arh: to ought