Wednesday, December 24, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 13.20: Of Fearsome Monsters & Beautiful Models

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Haṁsī)
a-jānu-sakthā ghaṭa-jānavaś ca daṁṣṭrāyudhāś caiva nakhāyudhāś ca |
kabandha-hastā bahu-mūrtayaś ca bhagnārdha-vaktrāś ca mahā-mukhāś ca || 13.20

Having no knees and thighs, or having jars for knees;

Equipped with large teeth and equipped with nails;

Having big-bellied barrels for hands, and many embodiments; 

With faces split in half, and mouths of epic dimensions; 

These verses have much in common with the clues to a cryptic crossword puzzle, inviting us, if we can spare the time, to exercise the grey matter in our brains.

The alternative, in translating for example the 2nd pāda of today's verse, is to make the descriptions as fearsome as possible. Hence EBC's “armed with tusks and with claws” and EHJ's “armed with tusks or talons” conjure images rather more fearsome than my “equipped with large teeth and equipped with nails.” But the first entry for daṁṣṭra in the MW dictionary is “a large tooth” and the first entry for nakha is “a finger-nail.”

Equipped with large teeth and equipped with nails,” it might be objected, could describe a delicate ballerina who uses her gleaming front teeth to tear open nothing more gory than crusty french bread, and uses her sharp fingernails for no purpose more sinister than opening letters. And that might be Aśvaghoṣa's point. Aśvaghoṣa might be intending to remind us to beware of our own reactions to words. 

More than that, Aśvaghoṣa might be reminding us to keep remembering, because difficult circumstances are liable to cause us to forget, that we are living in a beautiful world. 

This beautiful world, it is true, is also bitterly unpredictable. For this reason, only a fool puts all his eggs in one basket -- speaking philosophically, emotionally, and financially. With a university degree in accounting and financial management, you would think I would have understood 35 years ago that only a fool puts all his eggs in one basket. But the doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the dopey one do.... resulting in the suffering of ageing and death, sorrows, lamentations, and all the rest of it. 

Tomorrow will be my birthday and so when I look back on my 55th year, it has been filled with the share of sorrows and lamentations that naturally accrue to a fool who put all his eggs in one basket. Nevertheless, one moment of deep appreciation of beauty stands out, of which Joe Cocker's death this week served as a reminder. Towards the end of this summer, I was sitting outside looking out at greenery when I found myself spontaneously singing (if my unmusical croaking could be called singing)  "You are so beautiful." I'm not exactly sure who I was singing to -- the garden, or Nature in the round, or the whole blooming universe -- but tears were rolling down my scarred and non-too-symmetrical face. 

I may seem to digress but if we have learned anything by now about Aśvaghoṣa's modus operandi, we have learned how, everywhere, he uses irony. Therefore, if Aśvaghoṣa wanted to remind us what a beautiful world we are living in, the most natural place for him to do that might be right here in what is ostensibly a description of fearsome gouls conjured up from the fiendish mind of Māra. 

Thus the 2nd pāda of today's verse seems to invite us to conjure up images of terrible inhuman fiends with elephantine tusks and aquiline talons. But if we inhibit our first reaction to Aśvaghoṣa's words and look and listen again, more deeply, being equipped with large teeth and nails might describe not only an ugly monster but also a beautiful human being. 

If we want to read Aśvaghoṣa's words as describing an ugly monster rather than, say, a beautiful model with perfect teeth and shapely nails, that is up to us. But in that case it was not that Aśvaghoṣa's words span anything in a negative way; it was rather that our own minds span it in a negative way.

Model Abbey Clancy: Equipped with large teeth..

.... and equipped with nails. 

Going back to the 1st pāda, thus alerted, we are charged first with deciding how to read the first element which in the old Nepalese manuscript is ajāmu-sakthāḥ. This calls for emendation since ajāmdoes not mean anything. 

EBC read as ajāsu saktāḥ and translated “blended with goats.”

EHJ, much more credibly, read as a-jānu-sakthāḥ and translated “without knees or thighs.”

Ostensibly “without knees or thighs” is a description of some dreadful monster or freak of nature. But could it also be intended, below the surface, as an ironic description of a Zen practitioner whose legs have gone to sleep? And in that case, going further, could “having jars for knees” be intended as an ironic description of a Zen practitioner whose legs, after a long period of sitting in lotus, are slowly coming back to life again?

In the 3rd pāda, EBC translated kabaṁdha-hastāḥ carrying headless trunks in their hands.” This reflects the spookiest of MW's definitions of kabandha as a headless trunk (shaped like a barrel ; esp. one retaining vitality).” The Chinese translator was also attracted to this sense of kabandha, sounding like some headless thing from a horror movie: the Chinese characters 或無頭目面 mean “in some cases (或), headless (無頭) eyes (目) and face (面)." 

EHJ noted that the exact equivalent of the Tibetan translation was kaṅkāla-vaktrāḥ [“with faces of skeletons”] but he preferred karaṅka-vaktrāḥ, as "closer paleographically to the old Nepalese manuscript and as apparently indicated by C [the Chinese translation]." EHJ amended the text accordingly and translated “with skulls for faces.

I think this must have been one of those relatively rare occasions when reliance on the Tibetan translation led EHJ astray. The Chinese translator's 無頭 (headless) as I read it supports the old Nepalese manuscript's reading of kabandha (a headless trunk) much more strongly that it supports EHJ's conjectured kaṅkāla (skeleton) or karaṅka (skull).

The first meaning of kabandha given in the MW dictionary is a big barrel, or large-bellied vessel, and hence a belly. And so the phrase kabandha-hastāḥ, “having big-bellied barrels for hands” immediately evokes for me the sense of the belly of a non-doing hand filling out, just as the belly itself fills out when a non-doing practitioner is allowing himself to be taken over by lengthening and widening direction.

If today's verse is thus like a cryptic crossword, it might be a crossword with more than one solution. Still,

  • bahu-mūrti, "having many embodiments," could, for example, suggest the same person having different bodies when working in the garden versus sitting at a computer; 
  • bhagnārdha-vaktra, "a face that splits in half," might suggest a face which, whether symmetrical or not, is balanced and healthy and part of a lengthening and widening whole; and  
  • mahā-mukha, "a great mouth," might suggest a mouth that -- transcending dimensions like large and small -- is capable of giving voice to the epic teaching of the great vehicle. 

ajāsu (loc. pl. f.) saktāḥ (nom. pl. m.): [EBC] “blended with goats”
ajā: f. a she-goat
sakta: mfn. fixed or intent upon , directed towards , addicted or devoted to , fond of , engaged in , occupied with (loc.)
a-jānu-sakthāḥ [EHJ] (nom. pl. m.): [EHJ] “without knees or thighs”
a-: negative prefix
jānu: n. the knee
sakthi: n. the thigh, thigh-bone
ghaṭa-jānavaḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. having knees swollen like jars, Bcar
ghaṭa: m. a jar , pitcher , jug , large earthen water-jar , watering-pot
ca: and

daṁṣṭrāyudhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. using tusks as weapons (dogs) ; having tusks for weapons, Bhag. ; m. a wild boar
daṁṣṭra: m. a large tooth , tusk , fang
āyudha: n. weapon ; implement
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
nakhāyudhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. " claw-armed " ; m. a lion, a tiger
nakha: mn. a finger-nail , toe-nail , claw , talon
ca: and

kabandha-hastāḥ (nom. pl. m.): having big-bellied barrels for hands
kabandha: mn. a big barrel or cask , a large-bellied vessel (metaphorically applied to a cloud) ; the belly ; a headless trunk (shaped like a barrel ; esp. one retaining vitality)
karaṅka-vaktrāḥ [EHJ] (nom. pl. m.): [EHJ] “with skulls for faces”
karaṅka: m. the skull
kaṅkāla-vaktrāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with skeletal faces
kaṅkāla: mn. a skeleton
bahu-mūrtayaḥ (nom. pl. m.): having multiple embodiments
mūrti: f. any solid body or material form , (pl. material elements , solid particles ; ifc. = consisting or formed of); embodiment , manifestation , incarnation , personification
ca: and

bhagnārdha-vaktrāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with broken half faces
bhagna: mfn. broken (lit. and fig.) , shattered , split , torn , defeated , checked , frustrated , disturbed
ardha: half
vaktra: n. organ of speech, mouth, face
ca: and
mahā-mukhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. large-mouthed (said of śiva) ; n. a great mouth ; the great embouchure of a river ; m. a crocodile
ca: and

或羸痩無腹 或長脚大膝
或大脚肥 或長牙利爪
或無頭目面 或兩足多身


Jordan said...

Happy Birthday Mike. Thanks for keeping on.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan. Likewise.