Thursday, December 11, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 13.7: Māra as Troubler of Minds

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Mālā)
tato dhanuḥ puṣpa-mayaṁ ghītvā śarān jagan-moha-karāṁś ca pañca |
so 'śvattha-mūlaṁ sa-suto 'bhyagacchad asvāsthya-kārī manasaḥ prajānām || 13.7

Then, grabbing his bow made of flowers

And his five world-deluding arrows,

He with his offspring in tow 
approached the foot of the aśvattha tree 

To the fig tree where a horse rests easy,
went he who causes people's minds to be uneasy.

Translating Aśvaghoṣa is a losing game. But I love it. 

To sit in lotus in front of a blazing fire, burning wood from a fallen ash tree that I sawed and chopped three years ago, with a cup of coffee in hand, and nothing to think about except a verse that is more or less impossible to translate... it makes you understand why musicians and conductors, in studying a score written by Beethoven or the like, feel that they are communing with the long-dead composer. 

What makes today's verse particulary hard to translate with any semblance of economy of words is the play on aśvattha and asvāsthyaaśvatthathe name of the fig tree, is analyzed into aśva (horse) + stha (staying, abiding), and so it means something like "under which horses stand" or "under which horses rest easy." asvāsthya (unease) is analyzed into a (negative prefix) + svāsthya (ease), but svāsthya is the vṛddhi form of svastha (self-abiding, at ease), which is analyzed into sva (self) + stha (staying, abiding). 

EHJ noted that the Chinese translator "assumes a play of words on 'śvattha and asvāsthya."


He visited/went (
to that (
lucky/auspicious (
grove/ woods (
of ease ()

Wishing (
for living beings  (衆生
unease (不安). 

Neither EBC nor EHJ himself, however, attempted to reflect this play on words in their own translations. Hence, EBC: 
Then having seized his flower-made bow and his five infatuating arrows, he drew near to the root of the Aśvattha tree with his children, he the great disturber of the minds of living beings.
Then, seizing his flower-made bow and his five world-deluding arrows, he the causer of unrest to mortal minds, approached the aśvattha tree accompanied by his children.
Then, taking up his bow made of flowers and the five arrows that delude the world, the one who troubles the minds of people went to the foot of the bo-tree accompanied by his children. 
In the latter two translations  "his children" seems to receive added emphasis by coming at the end of the verse, whereas originally that emphasis is placed on the causing of unease to manasaḥ prajānām, people's minds. 

Still, the words sa-sutaḥ, "accompanied by his children" or "with offspring in tow," are worthy of comment insofar as the offspring referred to are the three boys and three girls of BC13.3, Hurry, Thrill and Pride;  and Fun, Pleasure and Thirst. Of these, Fun and Pleasure, today's verse seems to confirm, Aṣvaghoṣa is describing not as Māra's wives, as I inferred before, but his daughters. 

Either way, all six offspring are the agents of Love, of the God of Love, and so the gist of today's verse is that Love, personified by ugly old Māra and his beautiful young relatives, positive emotion though it is, has the negative consequence of creating unease in the mind. 

So the contrast is between the banyan tree under which human beings and horses naturally rest easy and come back to wellness of the mind...

...  and Māra who is out to disturb people's minds with his beautiful flower bow and his five arrows. 

According to this Wiki entrythe arrows are tipped with five flowers representing five emotion-driven love states. The five flowers on Kāma arrows are lotus flower (infatuation), aśoka flower (intoxication with thoughts about the other person), mango flower (exhaustion and emptiness in absence of the other), jasmine flower (pining for the other) and blue lotus flower (paralysis with confusion and feelings). In today's verse the five arrows are described generically as "world-deluding" or, in EBC's translation, "infatuating." 

Once in my callow youth, when I was suffering mightily in Māra's grip, I complained to my Zen teacher that it was all right for him, as a Japanese. He didn't know what I was going through. In reply he assured me that, even for a Japanese, Love was one fundamental factor in human life. And the other was Hate. 

My teacher in his own life, evidently, had faced down Māra. So he understood that the fundamental means of obtaining victory over Māra was just to sit, coming back to the balanced state of the autonomic nervous system whose psychological counterpart is the non-emotional state of plus/minus zero. This coming back requires us to keep the spine straight vertically, to which end one should pull the chin back a little, to keep the neck bones straight vertically, and deliberately maintain a certain tension in the lumbar spine, so as not to slump. 

Saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ. 
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the dopey one do. 

This, I venture to submit, is in general how Māra works. He tends not to appear with horns on his head, or under a skull-and-crossbones banner. He is more likely to manifest himself as a nice old chap doing his best in difficult circumstances, like the head of the Bank of England, Montagu Norman, during the Great Depression. 

Look! Here comes dear old well-meaning Monty, bearing flowers...

tataḥ: ind. then
dhanuḥ (acc. sg.): n. bow
puṣpa-mayam (acc. sg. n.): made of flowers
gṛhītvā = abs. grah: to grasp

śarān (acc. pl.): m. arrows
jagat: m. pl. people, mankind ; n. that which moves or is alive , men and animals ; the world, this world
jagan-moha-karān (acc. pl. m.): causing delusion to manking, infatuating 
moha: m. loss of consciousness , bewilderment , perplexity , distraction , infatuation , delusion , error , folly
ca: and
pañca: five

saḥ (nom. sg. m.): he
aśvattha-mūlam (acc. sg.): the root of the fig tree
sa-sutaḥ (nom. sg. m.): together with his children
abhyagacchat = 3rd pers. sg. imperf. abhi √ gam: to go near to, approach

asvāsthya-kārī (nom. sg. m.): causer of unwellness
asvāsthya: n. indisposition , sickness , discomfort
manasaḥ (gen. sg.): n. mind
prajānām (gen. pl.): f. creatures, offshoots

執弓持五箭 男女眷屬倶
詣彼吉安林 願衆生不安

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