Wednesday, October 8, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.65: Munching Aśvaghoṣa's Cheese

etat tat paramaṁ brahma nirliṅgaṁ dhruvam akṣaram |
yan mokṣa iti tattva-jñāḥ kathayanti manīṣiṇaḥ || 12.65

This is that supreme Brahma,

Beyond emblematic representation, constant, imperishable,

Which those who know the truth, learned brahmins,

Call 'Liberation.'

In the 2nd pāda of today's verse, nirliṅgam could more concisely be translated as “indefinable” or “indescribable,” but Aśvaghoṣa's writing contains frequent references to the robe and bowl in particular as the liṅgam (emblem/insignia) of Dharma. For example:

yo niḥsṛtaś ca na ca niḥsṛta-kāma-rāgaḥ 
kāṣāyam udvahati yo na ca niṣkaṣāyaḥ /
When a man has gone forth, but the red taint of desire has not gone forth from him;
when he wears the earth-hued robe but has not transcended dirt;
pātraṃ bibharti ca guṇair na ca pātra-bhūto 
liṅgaṃ vahann api sa naiva gṛhī na bhikṣuḥ // SN7.49
When he carries the bowl but is not a vessel for the virtues;
though he bears the insignia, he is neither a householder nor a beggar.

(See also in the same Canto SN7.1; SN7.17; SN7.47; SN7.50.)

When Arāḍa himself, at the start of his first speech speaks of bhaikṣākaṁ liṅgam 
 the beggar's emblem, or the beggar's insignia (BC12.46), he was presumably referring to the beggar's robe and begging bowl – which would becomes the emblem of the Buddha-dharma.

So I have translated nirliṅgam in today's verse not as “indefinable” but as “beyond emblematic representation,” in order to bring out the contrast between Brahma and Dharma.

Brahma, like the God of Judaism and Islaam, is not to be represented emblematically. But the Buddha-dharma has its emblems, chief among which is a robe of five stripes or seven stripes or nine stripes or more stripes.

A further contrast – though I have erred on the side of not labouring the point in the above translation – is that in the Brahmanical religion the truth is revealed to the priestly class of brahmins, and their job is to relate or report that truth to lesser mortals; hence kathayanti, they report. To bring out this sense, today's verse might better be translated:
This is that supreme Brahma, beyond emblematic representation, constant, imperishable, / Which is Liberation – report those who know the truth, learned brahmins.
This is that supreme Brahma, beyond emblematic representation, constant, imperishable, / Which is Liberation – learned brahmins who know the truth inform us.

This tendency of the priestly class to want to exercise a monopoly over revealed truth is the tendency against which Martin Luther railed at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. In many respects, I find myself sympathizing with non-conformist strands within the protestant tradition. Sometimes, I must confess, unconsciously stimulated by a verse like today's verse, I find myself secretly singing in my heart fragments of hymns I sang at school.... 

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes....
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth thee.

On reflection, however, I think this kind of religious sentiment is something that the Buddha's teaching requires us, with an effort of the whole body-mind, to shake off. 

That might be the real message that Aśvaghoṣa is conveying to us, using the ostensible meanings and sub-text of Arāda's present speech from BC12.46. 

Today's verse is the 20th verse since BC12.46 that I have been memorizing for the past three weeks. In the first 11 verses in this chunk, Arāḍa's outlining of the four dhyānas seems not to contradict in any way the corresponding account of the four dhyānas in the Maha-satipatthana-sutta and in SN Canto 17. Then there is a block of four verses which seem to me to point, below the surface, to the practice of non-doing. These four verses as I read them are very much in accordance with, for example, Nāgārjuna's account (in MMK chapter 26) of how the whole edifice of suffering is caused to come tumbling down, viz:

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 the act of reality making itself known.

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.

tasya tasya nirodhena tat-tan nābhipravartate |
duḥkha-skandhaḥ kevalo 'yam evaṁ samyaṅ nirudhyate ||MMK26.12

By the destruction of each,
Each is discontinued.
This whole edifice of suffering
Is thus well and truly demolished.

Then there are three verses  (nos. 16, 17, 18 in the chunk of 20 under discussion) which, on reflection, I see as pointing below the surface to the true meaning of emptiness, as practised and experienced by somebody who has lost him or herself in action – dropping off body and mind.

On the surface in these latter blocks of four and three verses (nos 12 - 18), Arāḍa sounds to us like he has already diverged from the Buddha's teaching as the Buddha will later teach it. Aśvaghoṣa is as if challenging us to jump to a false conclusion about what Arāḍa is saying.

Then, in yesterday's verse and today's verse, as I read them (nos. 19 and 20 in the chunk of 20 under discussion), what Arāḍa is saying is indeed incompatible with the Buddha's teaching. There is no redeeming sub-text. The case for the prosecution is proven beyond reasonable doubt. Liberation as Arāḍa understands it, in the final analysis, violates the principle of psychophysical unity. Arāḍa's mind and body is not yet liberated from the shackles of spiritual religion.

So this is a very nice illustration of Aśvaghoṣa's genius at work.

We are caused to reflect that a religion like the Brahmanical religion (or like one of the Semitic religions in the line of Abraham), and the Buddha's teaching bear much resemblance to each other – as a cake of chalk and a cake of cheese also resemble each other, until we bite into them.

etat (nom. sg. n.): this
tat (nom. sg. n.): that
paramam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. highest, best, supreme
brahma (nom. sg.): n. 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

nirliṅgam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. having no characteristic marks , indefinable (as ātman , brahman)
dhruvam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. fixed , firm , immovable , unchangeable , constant , lasting , permanent , eternal
akṣaram (nom. sg. n.): mfn. imperishable ; unalterable

yat (nom. sg. n.): which
mokṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. release, liberation
iti: “...,” thus
tattva-jñāḥ (nom. pl.): m. a Brahman; mfn. ifc. knowing the truth , knowing the true nature of , knowing thoroughly

kathayanti = 3rd pers. pl. kath: to tell , relate , narrate , report , inform , speak about , declare , explain , describe (with acc. of the thing or person spoken about)
manīṣiṇaḥ (nom. pl.): m. a learned Brahman , teacher , Pandit ; mfn. thoughtful , intelligent , wise , sage , prudent
manīṣā: f. thought , reflection , consideration , wisdom , intelligence , conception , idea

是上婆羅門 離形常不盡
慧者應當知 是爲眞解脱 

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