Thursday, November 20, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.108: The Secret Is in the Preparation

snāto nairañjanā-tīrād uttatāra śanaiḥ kśaḥ |
bhaktyāvanata-śākhāgrair datta-hastas taṭa-drumaiḥ || 12.108 

… had got out of the water –
Having bathed, he climbed up the bank of the Nairañjanā,

Ascending, in his wizened state, gradually,

While, lowering the tips of their branches in devotion,

The trees on the shore lent him a hand.

What a losing game it is to presume to translate poetry in which every word, with unfathomable layers of hidden meaning buried below the surface, is like a great big elephant trap.

The biggest elephant trap in today's verse, as I read it (there may be others that I failed to notice), is the word uttatāra. This word is given added emphasis by being the main verb not only of today's verse but also of yesterday's verse.

nairañjanā-tīrād uttatāra means “he came up the bank of the Nairañjanā” (EBC/EHJ) or “he climbed up the bank of the Nairañjanā” (PO). These translations are in accordance with the first definitions of ud- √tṝ listed in the MW dictionary: 1. to pass out of (especially jalāt, water, with abl.) ; to come out of.

ud-√tṝ has another meaning, however, along the lines discussed yesterday, which is 2. to escape from (a misfortune, affliction, &c). So there is a sense in which the bodhisattva, having arrived at a sure means-whereby, is already out of the water – or out of the woods, to use the more usual English idiom. Relevant in this reading of ud-√tṝ, is the definition of √tṝ as to cross over; to get through, attain an end or aim.

Another layer of meaning is suggested by the definition of ud-√tṝ as 3. to elevate, strengthen, increase. More relevant in this reading of ud-√tṝ, is the original meaning of the prefix ud-, which expresses the upward direction, in short, up. So this layer of meaning has to do not with being absolutely in trouble or absolutely out; what is rather evoked is a relative sense of being gradually on the up and up, without attaining any final end. 

To convey some sense of each of these three meanings of uttatāra, abandoning any pretense of elegance, I have translated the one word uttatāra no less than three times:
  1. climbed up” to convey the ostensible meaning, a simple description of the bodhisattva's action;
  2. had got out of the water” to convey the sense that, having arrived at a means-whereby, he was already saved;
  3. ascending [gradually]” to convey the contrary sense of a work endlessly in progress, as in the matter of a buddha continuing on up (Jap: BUTSU-KOJO-JI, title of Shobogenzo chap. 28).
Read in light of these multiple meanings of uttatāra, the word śanaiḥ also takes on at least two possible meanings. The ostensible meaning of śanaiḥ is that, because of being emaciated and enfeebled (kṛśaḥ), the bodhisattva was only able to move slowly (EBC/PO) or painfully (EHJ). But another meaning of śanaiḥ is gradually. So śanaiḥ, like krameṇa, can suggest a meaning along the lines of “gradually, by degrees" i.e."methodically." 

Read like that, the description of the bodhisattva's progress as śanaiḥ brings us back again to the principle discussed yesterday of a methodical path, in which the secret is in the preparation. And part of this preparation, for the bodhisattva in today's verse as for Nanda at the beginning of SN Canto 17, is washing one's physical body:
Having thus had pointed out to him the path of what is, Nanda took that path of liberation. / He bowed with his whole being before the Guru and, with a view to abandoning the afflictions, he made for the forest. // SN17.1 // There he saw a clearing, a quiet glade, of soft deep-green grass, / Kept secret by a silent stream bearing water blue as beryl. // 17.2 // Having washed his feet there, Nanda, by a clean, auspicious, and splendid tree-root, / Girded on the intention to come undone, and sat with legs fully crossed. // SN17.3 //

Finally, then, kṛśaḥ, while it ostensibly describes the bodhisattva as being underweight and weak (EBC: thin; EHJ: in his emaciation; PO: in his feeble state), can also mean lean, i.e. carrying no excess. As a translation of kṛśaḥ in today's verse, “lean” would not be good, because it would blot out the ostensible meaning. Using the thesaurus to look for a word that ostensibly means thin and weak but which below the surface, ironically, could be describing a lean, mean fighting machine, I alighted on wizened. Even though there is no etymological connection between wizened and wisdom, it is for the present – translation being a losing game – the best I can do.

A final reflection stimulated by today's verse is that when the trees lowered the tips of their branches in order to help the bodhisattva climb up, their lowering of their extremities was only possible because of the gravity of the whole of the earth and the energy of the whole of the sun springing up through their centre.

There are times, then, when it might be vital not to overlook the significance of the prefix ud- / ut-. The ut-tatāra of today's verse is one example. But the most important example might be in the sam-ut-pāda of pratītya-samutpāda.

snātaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. bathed
nairañjanā-tīrāt (abl. sg.): from the bank of the Nairañjanā

uttatāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ud- √tṝ: to pass out of (especially jalāt , water , with abl.) to disembark ; to come out of ; to escape from (a misfortune , affliction , &c ); to elevate , strengthen , increase ;
ud-: a particle and prefix to verbs and nouns. (As implying superiority in place , rank , station , or power) up , upwards; upon, on ; over, above
√tṝ: to pass across or over , cross over (a river) , sail across RV. &c ; to float , swim ; to get through , attain an end or aim , live through (a definite period) , study to the end ; to fulfil , accomplish , perform ; to surpass , overcome , subdue , escape ; to acquire , gain ; caus. tārayati (p. °ráyat) to carry or lead over or across ; to rescue, save
śanaiḥ: ind. quietly , softly , gently , gradually , alternately
kṛśaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. lean , emaciated , thin , spare , weak , feeble

bhaktyā (inst. sg.): f. devotion
avanata-śākhāgraiḥ (inst. pl. m.): the tips of their branches bending down
avanata: mfn. bowed , bent down ; bending , stooping
śākhā: f. a branch
agra: n. tip

datta-hastaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. ifc. having a hand given for support , supported by ; shaking hands
taṭa-drumaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. a tree standing on the shore
taṭa: m. a slope , declivity , any part of the body which has (as it were) sloping , sides , a shore

浴已欲出池 羸劣莫能起

天神按樹枝 擧手攀而出

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