Friday, December 26, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 13.22: Of Painted Ascetics & Trees

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
śvetārdha-vaktrā haritārdha-kāyās tāmrāś ca dhūmrā harayo 'sitāś ca |
vyālottarāsaṅga-bhujās tathaiva praghuṣṭa-ghaṇṭākula-mekhalāś ca || 13.22

With half their faces white; with half their trunks green;

Some coloured also coppery-red; 
or smoky-grey or reddish-brown or black;

Some, again, with their upper limbs cloaked by snakes,

And with girths fully girdled by sounding bells;

According to EHJ, yesterday's verse, today's verse and BC13.24 all describe Māra's host as taking the form of Brahmanical ascetics. (BC13.23 interrupts the sequence, tending to confirm that it is an interpolation.)

So this is one level of irony, as perceived by EHJ. The irony at this level is that the ostensible description of imagined fiends in Māra's army is also a description of Brahmanical ascetics who painted themselves in various colours and associated themselves with snakes.

But at another level of irony again, just as yesterday's verse can be read as describing nothing more outlandish, and nothing less wonderful, than real elephants, today's verse can I think be read as describing real trees.

Thus kāya in the 1st pāda is given in the dictionary as both “the body” and “the trunk of a tree”; and bhuja in the 3rd pāda as both “the arm” and “a branch, bough.”

In that case, I suppose that having half their faces white might be taken as a description of trees whose white flowers are in bloom. The example that springs first to my mind is a hawthorn in early spring.

It requires less of a leap to read “having half their trunks green” as a description of a tree whose sun-facing side is more red, or grey, or brown or black, but whose opposite side has a green coating of moss and lichen.

The 4th pāda first brought to my mind the image of what is called in Japanese shimenawa, a rope that is tied around big old trees thought to be sacred. These ropes, however, do not have jingling bells – they do not have, in EBC's words “girdles jingling with rattling bells” or in EHJ's words “rows of jangling bells at their girdles.”

In some sense, however, we can think that all living things, even trees that far outlive human beings, are fully circumscribed by that chiming of bells which represents time.

Going further, the life of not only living trees but also of withered trees, in a withered tree hall, can be thought to begin and end with the sounding of a bell...

śvetārdha-vaktrāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with half their faces white
śveta: mfn. white, dressed in white , bright
ardha: half
vaktra: n. " organ of speech " , the mouth , face , muzzle , snout , proboscis , jaws , beak &c ; the point (of an arrow); the spout (of a jug); beginning , commencement ; the root of Tabernaemontana Coronaria
haritārdha-kāyāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with half their bodies green
harita: mfn. yellowish , pale yellow , fallow , pale red , pale (also , " pale with fright ") , greenish , green
kāya: m. the body ; the trunk of a tree

tāmrāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. of a coppery red colour
ca: and
dhūmrāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. smoke-coloured , smoky , dark-coloured , grey , dark-red , purple
harayaḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. fawn-coloured , reddish brown , brown , tawny , pale yellow , yellow , fallow , bay (esp. applied to horses) , green , greenish
asitāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. dark-coloured , black
ca: and

vyālottarāsaṅga-bhujāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with arms having an outer garment of snakes
vyāla: mfn. mischievous , wicked , vicious ; m. a vicious elephant ; a snake
uttarāsaṅga: m. an upper or outer garment
bhuja: m. the arm ; the trunk of an elephant ; a branch , bough
tatha: likewise
eva: (emphatic)

praghuṣṭa-ghaṇṭākula-mekhalāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with girdles filled with sounding bells
praghuṣṭa: mfn. sounding forth
pra- √ ghuṣ: Caus. -ghoṣayati , to cause to announce aloud , proclaim
praghoṣa: m. sound , noise
ghaṇṭā: f. a bell ; f. a plate of iron or mixed metal struck as a clock
ākula: mfn. confounded , confused , agitated , flurried ; filled , full , overburdened with (instr. or generally in comp.)
mekhala: mn. a girdle , belt
ca: and

或著虎皮衣 或復著蛇皮


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