Tuesday, December 23, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 13.19: Of Donkeys & Lions; Of Three-Headed Duffers & Big-Bellied Buddhas

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
varāha-mīnāśva-kharoṣṭra-vaktrā vyāghrarkṣa-siṁha-dviradānanāś ca |
ekekṣaṇā naika-mukhās tri-śīrṣā lambodarāś caiva pṛthūdarāś ca || 13.19

Having the faces of pigs, fish, horses, donkeys, and camels;

Having the snouts of tigers, bears, lions, and two-tuskers;

One-eyed, many-mouthed, three-headed;

With big bellies, just hanging, and with broad bellies, expanding;

EHJ notes that this and the next five verses (i.e. the six verses from BC13.19 to BC13.24, including the spurious BC13.23) have parallels in various texts, viz:
  • Lalitavistara, ch. 21;
  • Mahāvastu, 2, 338 and 410;
  • Fo pen hsing chi ching (Jap: Butsu-hongyo-kyo) ch. 28;
  • Mahā-bhārata 9.2576ff and 10.265ff (the descriptions of Śiva's and Skanda's followers).

It was not clear, however, even to EHJ, even after consulting Windisch's discussion (1.312ff), whether Aśvaghoṣa himself would have known any of these passages in their extant form.

So it might be instructive to examine these passages in order to discern where Aśvaghoṣa's wording agrees with, and where it departs from, the wording of the other texts.

What we do know from experience by now is that when Aśvaghoṣa in his epic poems, like Dogen in Shobogenzo, describes things in lists, those lists invariably follow a certain order.

Thus in describing buddhas, for example, Dogen might describe, in a certain order,
  1. golden buddhas
  2. clay buddhas
  3. wooden buddhas
  4. sitting buddhas.
When we read today's verse in that light, looking for signs of an underlying order,
  1. the 1st pāda can be read as describing figments of Māra's imagination who have the faces of more-or-less domesticated animals;
  2. those described in 2nd pāda, in contrast, are more-or-less wild animals;
  3. the 3rd pāda, then, can be read as representing states that a practitioner is bound to pass through as he or she struggles to walk the middle path, on the way from being wild to being tamed; and
  4. the 4th pāda brings to mind the image of an enlightened Happy Buddha.

Going back to the 1st pāda, then, what kind of person has a face like a pig or a fish? If we let our imaginations be guided by fear, we could easily conjure all kinds of grotesque images of deformed human faces. But if we think about how faces of pigs and fish, and even tigers, bears and elephants, evolve, then one answer is that every human being has a face like a pig or a fish – with a mouth through which to eat food, with eyes through which to see, with ears through which to stay in balance, et cetera.

In general, in long descriptive passages like the one that is now beginning, Aśvaghoṣa's intention seems to be that the reader should exercise his or her grey matter, taking care not to jump to a wrong conclusion based on a superficial first reading. Other notable examples of descriptive passages with layers of hidden meaning can be found in SN Canto 10 (in the description of Indra's heaven) and BC Canto 5 (in the description of sleeping women).

Both EBC and EHJ have at the end of the 4th pāda, pṛṣodarāś ca, which both translated “and speckled bellies.” In a note to his Sanskrit text, however, based on the Tibetan translation, EHJ queried mahodarāś ca “and big bellies.”

The Chinese translation 或大腹長身 means “in some cases big bellies and long bodies.”

In a further note, to his English translation, EHJ writes:
The last compound of the verse is uncertain. For [the old Nepalese manuscript]'s reading [pṛṣodarāś ca] cp. kabarakucchi of a Yakṣa at Jātaka I.273, but the Tibetan and Chinese translators agree in a word meaning “with large bellies”; akṛśodarāś ca involves amending the preceding caiva to cāpy, and mahodarāś ca the change of two letters, while pṛthūdarāś ca does not agree with T and C's indications. For Windisch's conjecture [kṛśodarāś ca] cp. Mahā-bhārata 10.75.

In light of the four-phased progression outlined above, I read the 4th pāda as an ironic description of pot-bellied buddhas standing or sitting with naturally lengthening-and-widening torsos.

Among the readings considered by EHJ, the reading of the 4th pāda that seems best to convey this sense – with the additional virtues of being paleographically close to the old Nepalese manuscript, and close enough also to the meaning of the Tibetan and Chinese translations – is lambodarāś caiva pṛthūdarāś ca, lit. "pot-bellied (emphatically) and broad-bellied."

But what, in the end, I hear you ask, has any of this got to do with the all-important teaching of pratītya-samutpāda. And the answer would seem to be "nothing" -- unless a big belly just hanging is an expression of pratītyagoing back, to the principle of non-doing; and unless a broad belly expanding is an expression of samutpādaeverything springing up together. 

As I write this, early in the morning, this blog's flag counter informs me that You haven't had any visitors yet today!  I am afraid that may be symptomatic of what an upside-down kind of world we live in, where derivatives exist in a massive bubble, but real gold attracts little interest even when given away. There again, the lack of visitors might be symptomatic of a tendency in me, in my wife's words "to drive people away."

For anybody who, nevertheless, has not been driven away yet, may everything spring up together, sooner or later, as a result of having gone back to the principle and practice of non-doing. May what the Buddha really taught, and what the Buddha really thought, thus be realized, not only intellectually. And ultimately, may it having nothing it all to do with me.

May it have nothing to do with this one-eyed, many-mouthed, three-headed duffer. 

varāha-mīnāśva-kharoṣṭra-vaktrāḥ (nom. pl. m.): having the faces of boars, fish, horses, donkeys, and camels
varāha: m. a boar , hog , pig , wild boar
mīna: m. fish
aśva: m. horse
khara: m. a donkey (so called from his cry) ; mfn. hard , harsh , rough
uṣṭra: m. a buffalo; a camel
vaktra: n. " organ of speech " , the mouth , face

vyāghrarkṣa-siṁha-dviradānanāḥ (nom. pl. m.): having the snouts of tigers, bears, lions, and two-tusked elephants
vyāghra: m. tiger
ṛkṣa: m. a bear (as a ravenous beast)
siṁha: m. lion
dvirada: m. 'two-tusked' ; an elephant
ānana: n. the mouth, the face ; entrance, door
āna: m. (fr. √ an, to breathe) , face ; mouth, nose ; exhaling the breath through the nose ; inhalation , breath inspired , breathing , blowing
ca: and

ekekṣaṇāḥ (nom. pl. m.): one-eyed
naika-mukhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): many-mouthed
tri-śīrṣāḥ (nom. pl. m.): three-headed

lambodarāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. having a large or protuberant belly , potbellied ; voracious
lamba: mfn. hanging down ; long, large, spacious
udara: n. the belly , abdomen , stomach , bowels
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
pṛṣodarāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. having a spotted belly TS. (cf. Pa1n2. 6-3 , 109)
pṛṣat: mfn spotted , speckled , piebald , variegated ; n. a drop of water or any other liquid
mahodarāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. big-bellied
kṛśodarāḥ [Windisch] (nom. pl. m.): mfn. thin-waisted
akṛśodarāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with not emaciated bellies
akṛśa: mfn. not emaciated
pṛthūdarāḥ (nom. pl. m.): m. " broad-bellied " , a ram ; N. of a yakṣa
pṛthu: mfn. broad , wide , expansive , extensive , spacious , large ; ample , abundant
ca: and

猪魚驢馬頭 駝牛兕虎形
師子龍象首 及餘禽獸類
或一身多頭 或面各一目
或復衆多眼 或大腹長身 


Jordan said...

Still here.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan.

Semper Fidelis?

Jordan said...

Well, mostly just work days. I try to avoid the computer on holidays now.

Mike Cross said...

There's something ironic (or plain stupid), isn't there, about writing a daily blog with the intention of pointing self and others away from the computer and in the direction of the round cushion (and then complaining about lack of daily visitors)?

The doings which are the root of samsāra...

an3drew said...

I still read you ! :o)

incidently I have walked over the farm that f.m. alexander grew up on, wonderful place to live if a little windy ! :o)

he certainly led an active and interesting life !

http://www.alexandertechnique.com/ats/staring/NEW ALEXANDER BIOGRAPHY.doc

Mike Cross said...

Thank you for persisting.

Many thanks also for sharing the biographical information on FM Alexander.

The reference to teeth might be timely in view of the next verse!

May all beings be equipped with strong teeth to chew up all miscellaneous troubles!