Wednesday, November 26, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.114: Turning Back & Drifting Away

āvtta iti vijñāya taṁ jahuḥ paṇca-bhikṣavaḥ |
manīṣiṇam ivātmānaṁ nirmuktaṁ pañca-dhātavaḥ || 12.114 

Knowing that he had turned back,

The five bhikṣus left him

Like the five elements melting away

When a thinking self has been set free.

The ostensible meaning of today's verse is something along these lines:

Reaching the [wrong] conclusion that he had given up, the five bhikṣus left him as the five elements leave the thinking soul when it is liberated.

EBC: Thinking that he had returned to the world the five mendicants left him, as the five elements leave the wise soul when it is liberated.
EHJ: The five mendicants, holding that he had renounced the holy life, left himas the five elements leave the thinking soul when it is liberated.
PO: The five mendicants left him, thinking he had relapsed, as the five elements leave the wise and released soul.

Ostensibly, then, the five bhikṣus jumped to a wrong conclusion, and the metaphor of the five physical elements leaving the ātman – the disembodied soul, or spiritual essence – is used to illustrate the manner in which the bhikṣus drifted away from the bodhisattva.

To understand today's verse like this, however, is to have failed to understand Aśvaghoṣa's irony in using the word ātman hitherto in this Canto – from BC12.72 onwards.

As explained in previous comments, the bodhisattva seems on the surface to speak of the soul continuing to exist as if such a thing as a disembodied soul really could exist; whereas we are required to understand that the continued existence of the soul (saty ātmani) really means the continued existence of a disembodied soul as a false conception, existing in the minds of deluded people, which is the only place a disembodied soul can exist.

That being so, I think Aśvaghoṣa requires us to understand that ātmānam in today's verse is used like ātmanaḥ in BC12.95 where akarot kārśyam ātmanaḥ means “he wasted himself away."  Not “he wasted his disembodied soul away,” which would be nonsense, but he wasted himself away.

Thus seeing ātmanam in the 3rd pāda of today's verse as a red flag signalling us to be on the look-out for irony, let us go back and examine the meaning of āvṛttaḥ and vijñāya in the 1st pāda.

Both EBC and PO translated vijñāya as “thinking,” which accords with the ostensible meaning but is not a very literal translation of vijñāya, at least as Aśvaghoṣa has used vijñāya in the present Canto, to mean to investigate or to know. EHJ was closer to the original with “holding that.” Still, I think vijñāya is better understood as describing the knowing or investigation of a fact rather than the holding of a view.

In that case, the five bhikṣus knew for a fact that the bodhisattva had turned back from asceticism. And this “turned back” is the literal meaning of āvṛttaḥ. EBC's “returned to the world”, EHJ's “renounced the holy life”, and PO's “relapsed” are not so literal translations.

I think that today's verse, then, is much better translated as I have translated it (though admittedly I might not be an impartial judge, and at the same time my translation fails literally to convey that manīṣinam ātmānaṁ nirmuktam is originally accusative). 
Knowing that he had turned back, the five bhikṣus left him / Like the five elements melting away when a thinking self has been unloosed.//

Read like this, today's verse is another example of a verse in which ostensibly a metaphor is used to illustrate the narrative, but Aśvaghoṣa's real interest lies in the metaphor itself, which, below the surface, might be a description of what happens, when the conditions are right, when we are sitting in nature. 

The point, when we read today's verse like this, might be that true liberation is always a turning back. And in such a turning back, miscellaneous circumstances like the so-called “five elements” all evaporate. Those circumstances all evaporate like five commited ascetics drifting away from a former companion who has turned back from asceticism.

Read like this, in conclusion, today's verse brings us back to what Dogen called the secret of sitting-meditation, the vital art of sitting-zen:

forget all involvements - let miscellaneous circumstances melt away

right, wrong. Stop the driving movement of mind, will, consciousness. Quit weighing things up with ideas, thoughts, and views. When practising upright sitting, lay a thick mat and use a round cushion on top of that. Then sit in full lotus or sit in half lotus. To sit in full lotus first put the right foot on the left thigh and put the left foot on the right thigh. To sit in half lotus, just let the left foot press down on the right thigh. Let clothes hang loose and keep them neat. Then place the right hand over the left foot, and place the left hand over the right palm, with the thumbs meeting and propping each other up. Just sit upright, not leaning left, inclining to the right, slumping forward or arching backward. It is vital to bring about an opposition between the ears and the shoulders, and an opposition between the nose and the navel. Let the tongue rest against the roof of the mouth, with the lips touching and the teeth together. Keep the eyes open as normal. Having brought the physical form to stillness, let the breathing also be regulated. When an idea arises, just wake up. Just in the waking up to it, it ceases to exist. Taking plenty of time, forget all involvements and you will spontaneously become all of a piece. This is the vital art of sitting-zen. What is called sitting-... 

āvṛttaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. turned round , stirred , whirled ; reverted
ā- √ vṛt: to turn or draw round or back or near ; to turn round or back , return , revolve
iti: “...,” thus
vijñāya = abs. vi- √ jñā: to distinguish , discern , observe , investigate , recognize , ascertain , know , understand

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
jahuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. hā: to leave, desert
paṇca bhikṣavaḥ (nom. pl. m.): the five bhikṣus

manīṣiṇam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. thoughtful , intelligent , wise , sage , prudent
manīṣā: f. thought , reflection , consideration , wisdom , intelligence , conception , idea (páro manīṣáyā , beyond all conception)
manīṣikā: f. wisdom , intelligence
manīṣi-tā: f. wisdom
iva: like
ātmānam (acc. sg.): m. the self ; the person ; the soul

nirmuktam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. loosed , separated , sundered , liberated or saved or escaped or free ; given up , lost , disappeared , vanished ; (a serpent) that has lately cast its skin ; free from every attachment (= niḥ-saṅga) ; deprived of all , possessing nothing (= niṣ-parigraha)
pañca dhātavaḥ (nom. pl. m.): the five elements (viz. kha or ākāśa , anila , tejas , jala , bhū) ; dhātu: m. element; or a constituent element or essential ingredient of the body (distinct from the 5 mentioned above and conceived either as 3 humours or as the 5 organs of sense , indriyāṇi [cf. s.v. and MBh. xii , 6842 , where śrotra , ghrāṇa , āsya , hṛdaya and koṣṭha are mentioned as the 5 dhātu of the human body born from the either] )

五比丘見已 驚起嫌怪想
謂其道心退 捨而擇善居

如人得解脱 五大悉遠離 

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