Saturday, October 11, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.68: A Timely Reminder about Karma

iti tasya sa tad-vākyaṁ ghītvā tu vicārya ca |
pūrva-hetu-bala-prāptaḥ pratyuttaram uvāca ha || 12.68

But he [the bodhisattva],
having taken in these words of the other,

And reflected on them this way and that,

Being possessed of the power of previous causes,

Spoke up in reply:

A hetu can mean (in the order listed in the MW dictionary): an impulse, a motive, a cause, and an argument.

Hence EBC translated pūrva-hetu-bala in the 3rd pāda “the force of his former arguments,” and PO as “the power of impulses from previous births.”

I think EHJ was closer to the mark in translating pūrva-hetu-balathe force of the motives perfected in previous births.” Thus:

But the prince, marking these words and pondering on them, thus made reply, since he was filled with the force of the motives perfected in previous births: [EHJ]

Pūrva can sometimes refer to the ancient past, which is one of the three times. Still, I think that in today's verse pūrva-hetu-bala is more accurately understood not only in terms of previous births but in terms of all three times in which an action as cause produces its karmic effect.

The three times in which action as cause produces its karmic effect, as explained in Shobogenzo chap. 84, 三時業, Sanji-no-go, are
  • 1. in the immediate present (or in this life),
  • 2. after a short time (or after one life), and
  • 3. after a very long time (or after multiple rebirths).
In that chapter of Shobogenzo, whose title 三時業 means “Karma in Three Times,” Dogen gives examples of individuals doing bad, or doing good, and receiving corresponding retribution in the three times.

So the gap between cause and effect is not always to be measured in terms of previous lives. Sometimes the previous cause meets retribution with only a short time lag. 

Thus, doing good and receiving one's reward immediately afterwards, is exemplified by an androgynous person in the court of King Kaniṣka who paid a lot of money to save a herd of five hundred bulls from the suffering of being castrated. As a result of this good deed, the androgynous person was, in his present lifetime, promoted by the King. 

This person did not only pray for the bulls when they were on the way to castration, and did not only direct loving kindness towards the bulls after they had been castrated, wishing “May all beings be well.” He or she got out his or her purse and paid the bill to have them set free. The good cause he enacted had a psychological or motivational aspect of course – connected with the desire of a person who knew suffering to save other beings from similar suffering – but it also had a material aspect, involving a hefty financial sacrifice. The freedom of five hundred bulls could not have come cheap. 

iti: “....,” thus
tasya (gen. sg.): his
sa (nom. sg. m.) he [the prince]
tad (acc. sg. n.): that
vākyam (acc. sg.): n. speech, saying, words

gṛhītvā = abs. grah: to grasp ; to take on one's self , undertake; to perceive (with the organs of sense or with mánas) , observe , recognise ; to receive into the mind , apprehend , understand , learn ; to accept , admit , approve ; to obey , follow
tu: but
vicārya = causative abs. vi- √ car: to cause to go or roam about ; to move hither and thither (in the mind) , ponder , reflect , consider
ca: and

pūrva-hetu-bala-prāptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): being possessed of the power of previous causes
pūrva: mfn. former , prior , preceding , previous ; ancient
hetu: m. " impulse " , motive , cause ; a logical reason or deduction or argument
bala: n. power , strength , might , vigour , force
hetu-balika : mfn. strong in argument
prāpta: mfn. attained to , reached , arrived at , met with , found , incurred , got , acquired , gained

pratyuttaram (acc. sg.): n. a reply to an answer , rejoinder , answer
uvāca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vac: to speak
ha: ind. (prob. orig. identical with 2. gha , and used as a particle for emphasizing a preceding word , esp. if it begins a sentence closely connected with another ; very frequent in the brāhmaṇas and sūtras , and often translatable by) indeed , assuredly , verily , of course , then &c (often with other particles e.g. with tv eva , u , sma , vai &c ; na ha , " not indeed " ; also with interrogatives and relatives e.g. yad dha , " when indeed " ; kad dha , " what then? " sometimes with impf. or pf. ; in later language very commonly used as a mere expletive , esp. at the end of a verse)

太子聞彼説 思惟其義趣
發其先宿縁 而復重請問 

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