Friday, November 7, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.95: The Diminishing Self

upavāsa-vidhīn naikān kurvan nara-durācarān |
¦−−−−¦¦⏑⏑−−¦⏑−⏑−   mavipulā
varṣāṇi ṣaṭ śama-prepsur akarot kārśyam ātmanaḥ || 12.95

Doing many kinds of fasting

That were difficult for a man to do,

For six years, in the quest for peace,

He wasted himself away.

The many kinds of fasting referred to in the 1st pāda of today's verse are illustrated in tomorrow's verse.

The difficulty referred to in the 2nd pāda would seem to be the difficulty of not following our human instinct. Besides depriving himself of food, the Pali suttas record, the bodhisattva also went for long periods opposing the instinct to breathe, causing himself to suffer violent headaches.

The six years referred to in the 3rd pāda are the same period that Dogen refers to in Fukan-zazengi, in the phrase 端坐六年 (TANZA-ROKUNEN), six years of upright sitting.

The final word of today's verse EHJ and PO translated as “his body” (EHJ: “he made his body emaciated”; PO: “he shrivelled up his body”). And this sense of ātman as the real physical person – as opposed to “the soul” which Arāḍa described leaving the body like a bird leaving a cage – is clearly what Aśvaghoṣa is referring to in today's verse.

At the same time, I think there is something to be said here for translating ātmanaḥ as “himself” rather than “his body.”

In Alexander work many teachers talk of using the body well or badly, but the phrase that Alexander himself preferred was “The Use of the Self,” which he chose as the title of this third book.

Equally, when a student of Alexander's named Goddard Binkley published a diary covering the period when he had lessons with Alexander, he chose as the title, advisedly, “The Expanding Self.”

The point might be, then, that when we deprive ourselves of nourishment, we are not only depriving a body of nourishment; we are depriving our whole selves of nourishment.

At least this is how it seems in actual practice – even if Buddhist philosophers would have us believe that the self is merely an illusion.

In summary, in today's verse as in tomorrow's, Aśvaghoṣa is not advocating fasting as exemplary behaviour. What I think he is highlighting as exemplary is the bodhisattva's bodhi-mind, which was directed towards peace, this direction being strong and constant -- like a river constantly flowing.  Or perhaps a better analogy is of a person paddling a long way upstream against the powerful tide of the senses. Even if the choice of river was mistaken, the paddling was exemplary. 

upavāsa-vidhīn (acc. pl. m.): kinds of fasting
upavāsa: m. a fast , fasting
vidhi: m. means, method ; any act or action , performance , accomplishment , contrivance , work , business (ifc. often pleonastically)
naikān (acc. pl. m.): not many, multiple, many

kurvan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. kṛ: to do
nara-durācarān (acc. pl. m.): mfn. difficult (for men) to perform, Bcar.
ā- √ car: to approach ; to address , apply to (acc.) ; to proceed , manage , behave one's self ; to act , undertake , do , exercise , practise , perform

varṣāṇi (acc. pl.): mn. (pl.) the rains, a year
ṣaṭ: six
śama-prepsuḥ (nom. sg. m.): desiring to attain peace
śama: m. tranquillity , calmness ; peace
prepsu: mfn. (fr. pra- √āp) wishing to attain , desirous of obtaining , seeking , longing for , aiming at (acc. or comp.)

akarot = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect kṛ: to do, make
kārśyam (acc. sg.): n. emaciation , thinness
ātmanaḥ (gen. sg.): the self ; the person or whole body considered as one and opposed to the separate members of the body ; the body

淨心守齋戒 行人所不堪
寂默而禪思 遂經歴六年 

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