Friday, October 24, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.81: The Ghost Busting Bodhisattva, Not Knowing and Realization of Logs & Walls

athājña iti siddho vaḥ kalpitena kim ātmanā |
vināpi hy ātmanājñānaṁ prasiddhaṁ kāṣṭha-kuḍyavat || 12.81

Or else, if it's your conclusion that he is unknowing,

Then what is the point of inventing a soul?

For even without a soul, not knowing is well established,
For even without a soul, the act of knowing is accomplished,
For when the self is truly absent, realization is realized,

As in the case of a log or a wall.

The ghost-busting gist of the bodhisattva's words is conveyed so clearly in the 2nd pāda of today's verse that it comes through the translations of each of the four professors:
EBC: then of what use to you is this imagined soul?
EHJ: what then is the use of inventing the existence of a soul?
JB: what then is the use of inventing the existence of a soul?
PO: then why do you invent a soul?

What the bodhisattva meant by knowing or not knowing or realizing (jñānam/ajñānam/ājñānam) in the 3rd pāda, however, and by being like a log or a wall (kāṣṭha-kuḍyavat) in the 4th pāda, is open to investigation.

In the paper by Johaness Bronkhurst discussed in earlier posts, JB states his case for understanding that the bodhisattva in yesterday's verse and today's verse is directing criticism specifically against Vaiśeṣika teaching:
Once again, this criticism has not much force if directed against something like classical Sāṁkhya, which conceives of the consciousness of the soul as being essentially without object. Vaiśeṣika, on the other hand, thinks of consciousness as essentially object-oriented. What is more, consciousness or knowledge (buddhi) is, in Vaiśeṣika, a quality (guṇa) of the soul which does not remain in the state of liberation. The liberated soul, and consequently the soul in and by itself, is unconscious, and therefore like a log or like a wall.

If JB's speculation is well-founded, then, the true meaning of today's verse cannot fully be understood without some knowledge of Vaiśeṣika philosophy.

In that case modern-day professors in Buddhist studies departments around the world are able to understand today's verse, thanks to what “Bronkhurst has shown” (PO's words). 

But in that case the 6th Zen patriarch in China – the one who, as mentioned yesterday, said that the Flower of Dharma turns the Flower of Dharma – would not have had a cat in hell's chance of understanding today's verse, because he was, before becoming a monk, an illiterate wood-cutter. One suspects that he never ceased being more interested in logs than in ideas about “the liberated soul.” Even after entering the monastery, the story goes, Hui-neng liked the non-intellectual work of pounding rice with a big wooden pestle. The niceties of Vaiśeṣika philosophy would have been totally wasted on him.

At the same time, as the 6th Zen patriarch in China, Hui-neng (Japanese: Daikan Eno) was celebrated in China for his excellent understanding of the intention in coming from India of Bodhidharma, who famously spent the best part of nine years facing a wall. Moreover, Hui-neng's student, known in China as “the National Master,” because he was the Emperor's teacher, when he was asked, “What is the mind of eternal buddhas?,” famously replied “Fences, walls, tiles and pebbles.”

So much for logs and walls. What about knowing and not knowing?

In the 3rd pāda ātmanājñānam can be read as the compound ātmanā + ajñānam (not knowing), but also as the two words ātmanā and jñānam (knowing), or even as the compound ātmanā + ājñānam (realizing).

The Chinese translator seems to have read jñānam (; knowing) in the 3rd pāda; hence his translation
[When] the I is absent and knowing  exists,
The I is just the same as wood and stone.

Evidently the Tibetan translator also read jñānam, leading EHJ to note:
I have not thought it necessary to follow [the Chinese and Tibetan translations] in the second line, as it is a question, not of reading, but of division of words, and the first line makes ajñānam certain in the second.

Thus EHJ followed EBC in reading ajñānam, and JB and PO also followed suit.
EBC translated ajñānam “the absence of knowledge”; EHJ as “the quality of not-knowing”; JB as “the feature of not knowing”; and PO as “non-knowing.”

So EHJ asserted that ajñānam (not knowing) – as opposed to jñānam (knowing), or ājñānam (realizing) – was certain. But I am not so sure.

In the final analysis, under whom should we study knowing and not knowing? Under the Chinese and Tibetan translators? Under EHJ? Or under Bodhidharma, who, when the Emperor asked him who the hell he thought he was, is said to have replied, pithily, “Dunno!”

vināpi hy ātmanājñānaṁ prasiddhaṁ kāṣṭha-kuḍyavat
For even without a soul, not knowing (ajñānam
is well established, as in the state of a log or a wall.

vināpi hy ātmanā jñānaṁ prasiddhaṁ kāṣṭha-kuḍyavat
For even without a soul, the act of knowing (jñānam)
 is accomplished, as in [knowing] a log or a wall.

vināpi hy ātmanājñānaṁ prasiddhaṁ kāṣṭha-kuḍyavat
For in the true absence of self, the act of realizing (ājñānam
is realized, as in the case of a log or a wall.

Which translation is best?

I honestly do not know.

Either that, or I have established beyond all reasonable doubt that Aśvaghoṣa was a master of irony.

Just as a log or a wall is , “not knowing,” so ultimately does Aśvaghoṣa leave the reader – in more ways than one.

atha: ind. or else
ajñaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. unknowing
iti: “....,” thus
siddhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. accomplished ; admitted to be true or right , established , settled , proved
vaḥ (gen. pl.): your

kalpitena (inst. sg. m.) mfn. made , fabricated , artificial ; composed , invented ; assumed, supposed
kim: [with inst.] what is the use of?
ātmanā (inst. sg.): m. the soul

vinā: ind. without (followed by inst.)
api: even; (emphatic) indeed, truly
hi: for
ātmanā (inst. sg.): m. the soul
jñānam: (nom. sg.): n. the act of knowing
ajñānam (nom. sg.): n. not knowing, ignorance
ā-jñānam (nom. sg.): n. noticing , perceiving ; the act of realizing
ā- √ jñā: to mind , perceive , notice , understand

prasiddham (nom. sg. n.): mfn. brought about , accomplished ; well known , notorious , celebrated
kāṣṭha-kuḍyavat: ind. like
kāṣṭha: n. a piece of wood or timber , stick
kuḍya: n. a wall

若言無知者 我則無所用
離我而有知 我即同木石 

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