Saturday, December 13, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 13.9: When Up! Is a Poisoned Word

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Vāṇī)
uttiṣṭha bhoḥ kṣatriya mtyu-bhīta cara sva-dharmaṁ tyaja mokṣa-dharmam |
bāṇaiś ca yajñaiś ca vinīya lokaṁ lokāt padaṁ prāpnuhi vāsavasya || 13.9

“Up, up! You death-fearing kṣatriya warrior!

Follow your own dharma. Set aside the dharma of liberation.

Subjugate the world, using arrows and sacrifices,

And from the world obtain the position of an Indra,
highest among the bright ones.

utthiṣṭha bhoḥ!, Māra booms. "Up! Up! You!"  The bhoḥ! has the sound about it of a bassoon, or of a pantomime villain.  Like Homer Simpson's Doh!, except with more menace. 

When I sat first thing this morning, in the rainy darkness, Māra's words seemed to be resonating there... Up! Up! 

Fortunately, I have the means to deal with this stimulus, thanks to FM Alexander. 

Thanks to FM Alexander I am familiar with the root irony that when we react unconsciously to the stimulus to go up -- when we go directly for an ill-conceived end like "correct posture," relying on faulty sensory appreciation -- the invariable result is that we pull ourselves down. 

In this matter, I really do know whereof I speak, which is why I keep coming back to this root irony as the key to understanding all of Aśvaghoṣa's irony. 

A virtuouso Alexander teacher named Nelly Ben-Or once observed while she was giving me an Alexander lesson, with the clarity and resonance of a concert pianist, but with lingering traces in her accent of her native Poland, "For you 'up' is a poisoned word, isn't it?" 

Never was a truer word spoken to me. For me up was a poisoned word because I had spent so many years conscientously trying to do it, as opposed to allowing it. 

But in Alexander work trying to do is death and destruction. And "death and destruction" is the original meaning of Māra's name, māra, from the root √mṛ, to kill or destroy. 

Since mṛtyu in the 1st pāda is also derived from the root √mṛ, this particular irony was not lost on EHJ. Thus, in a footnote to his translation, EHJ observes that the use of mṛtyu-bhīta [EHJ: "afraid of death"] is typical of the poet; it implies 
  • (1) ordinary cowardice, 
  • (2) a reference to the Buddha's statements such as at BC11.7, aham jarā-mṛtyu-bhayam viditvā ["having become aware of the terror of ageing and dying"]
  • (3) an allusion to the etymology of Māra, i.e 'afraid of Māra', just as at BC27.38, the word māra is used for “death."
BC27.38 is rendered by EHJ from the Tibetan as follows: 
Even Māra, accompanied by his hosts and raging mightily to destroy Him, was no match for the Sage, yet to-day Māra, raging mightily to destroy Him, has been able by alliance with Death (māra) to lay Him low. 
EHJ's point then is that "death-fearing" is ironic in more ways than one  And such use is indeed very typical of Aśvaghoṣa's poetry. Such use of irony may be even more typical of Aśvagahoṣa's poetry, I dare say, than the likes of EHJ, and me too, are able to realize. I say that on the basis that the more one digs, the more layers of irony one uncovers. 

In this opening salvo, then, on one level Māra sounds like he is being sarcastic, for what kind of true warrior trembles at the prospect of death? 

On another level Māra is being intimidating, since māra means the same as mṛtyu, death, and so Māra knows that he is the personification of the very thing that the bodhisattva fears.

So the irony at this latter level is related with two meanings, at least, of death and dying. The bodhisattva is not afraid of the kind of death that confronts a soldier on a battlefield, fighting for a good cause. He is afraid of the kind of death and destruction that is rooted in ignorance. 

So māra means death, but Māra in this Canto is the personification of death and destruction to the true dharma. 

Thus "true dharma," lest the phrase sounds too abstract, is embodied, as discussed yesterday, in sitting still. 

Sitting still is not a metaphor. It is an action that can exist, if we decide to let it. In the real world there is such a practice as sitting still. Even if you are a stiff-hipped westerner for whom sitting in full lotus is not a likely prospect, you can still practise sitting still in other ways, as for example in an Alexander lesson.

But there is no such person as Māra.

Yesterday on the radio news I heard a serial murderer described as “pure evil,” but I do not buy that description. The murders this person committed might fairly be described as pure evil, but the personification of pure evil, in the form of Māra, or in the form of serial murderers, is a kind of convenient fiction – or short-hand for a person whose past has been a story of unremittingly bad karma. 

In the Buddha's day there was Aṅgulimāla (Finger Bracelet), whose story is told in the Aṅgulimāla Sutta (MN86), and in this Wikipedia entry.

So there was such a person as Aṅgulimāla, whose dialogues with the Buddha are recorded in the Pali Suttas. But there was no such historical person as Māra.

That being so, what is expressing itself in a verse like today's verse?

Without being too psycho-analytical about it, I think it was a tendency within the bodhisattva's own mind, and within every bodhisattva's mind, to be influenced for the worse by thinking about the road not taken.

Thoughts alsong the lines of "Cudda, wudda, shudda..." are invariably associated with the kind of backward direction that is associated with death and destruction. When I fall back into  "Cudda, wudda, shudda...", and I often do,  ten times out of ten, I am pulling my head back and down into the past. 

The preventive direction, in Alexander work, for combatting cudda, wudda, shudda, is therefore "head FORWARD and UP." 

If we read today's verse like this, the imperative uttiṣṭha, again, is very full of irony, since Māra is saying "Rise up!" when following his advice would only take the bodhisattva down. 

PO translated   uttiṣṭha  "Rise up..!", which fits better with the sense that Māra is encouraging the bodhisattva to go back to the place in the yellow wood where two roads diverged -- as if the bodhisattva could -- and this time to take the road not taken, which could have, would have and should have caused a Śākya prince to rise up in the world. 

Both EBC and EHJ, however, translated  uttiṣṭha  "Up, up..!"  And on reflection I have decided to follow suit, since "Up! Up! You...!" seems somehow to convey more evocatively the sense of a tyrant's imperative -- to which the informed response might be a simple "No." 

uttiṣṭha = imperative ud-√sthā: to stand up , spring up , rise , raise one's self
bhoḥ: an interjection or voc. particle commonly used in addressing another person or several persons = O! Ho! Hallo l , in soliloquies = alas!
kṣatriya (voc. sg.): O kṣatriya! m. a member of the military or reigning order (which in later times constituted the second caste)
mṛtyu-bhīta (voc. sg.): afraid of death

cara = imperative car: to practise, do
sva-dharmam (acc. sg. m.): your own dharma
tyaja = imperative tyaj: to abandon
mokṣa-dharmam (acc. sg. m.): the dharma of release

bāṇaih (inst. pl.): arrows
ca: and
yajñaiḥ (inst. pl.): sacrifices
ca: and
vinīya = abs. vi- √ nī : to lead or take away ; to train , tame , guide (horses) ; to chastise , punish
lokam (acc. sg.): the world

lokāt (abl. sg.): the world
padam (acc. sg.): n. step, stage, state
prāpnuhi = imperative prāp: to realize, obtain
vāsavasya (gen. sg.): m. N. of indra (as chief of the vasus)
vasu: mfn. excellent , good , beneficent; N. of the gods (as the " good or bright ones " , esp. of the ādityas , maruts , aśvins , indra , uṣas , rudra , vāyu , viṣṇu , śiva , and kubera)

死甚可怖畏 當修汝自法
捨離解脱法 習戰施福會
調伏諸世間 終得生天樂


Malcolm M said...

Hi Mike,

Do you not hear Māra's 'cara sva-dharmaṁ' as 'Do your duty!' - the dharma/duty any obedient kṣatriya warrior was expected to recognise and unquestioningly submit to (says the Bhagavadgita &c)? I don't have EHJ's or PO's translations of Buddhcarita, but I see that's how EBC translates it. (Or) is there an alternative direction which 'Follow your own dharma' is intended to indicate?

Mike Cross said...

Hi Malcolm,

Yes, for sure, I hear "Follow your own dharma" as including that meaning.

EHJ translated as "Follow your own dharma" and PO as "Follow the dharma that's your own."

EBC sometimes translates dharma as "duty" (hence "Follow thine own duty") and sometimes as "religion." I find the latter translation always problematic.

Since dharma includes such a wide variety of meanings, the safest bet is generally just to translate it as dharma in every case. In this I agree with PO.

The point in today's verse is to contrast two dharmas, and two value systems. This contrast is picked up in tomorrow's verse.

So EBC's translation of dharma as "[thine own] duty" and "[this] law [of liberation]" is not so helpful. It obscures the contrast between two dharmas.

One dharma is the dharma of a warrior, encompassing his duty, his rules of engagement, his chivalric code, and all the rest of it, which Māra affirms, as a means of rising to the top of the greasy pole.

The other is the dharma of liberation, to which Māra stands opposed, seeming to denigrate it as the way of a loser.

I did wonder whether to put liberation in quotation marks, to give the sense of Māra using the word "liberation" sneeringly... in much the same way as I would like to put quotation marks around "religion."

Malcolm M said...

"Since dharma includes such a wide variety of meanings, the safest bet is generally just to translate it as dharma in every case. In this I agree with PO."

I'm not sure I agree with that, Mike.

I may be underestimating your readership's knowledge of Sanskrit, but there must be a few unfamiliar with the use of 'dharma' to mean [a caste-member's] duty. Might they not wonder what dharma (*law/truth/practice*?) the Buddha is following if not his own, engaged as he is in sitting still under that tree, by himself? And might they not wonder why Māra would (apparently) be exhorting him to carry on with it?

Whatever, we've clarified it now, so all's long as said imaginary readers read the comments!

It's tricky this translation business, no?

Mike Cross said...

So far, Malcolm, I'm afraid I've clarified sod all to anybody!

If you notice anybody starting to translate saṁskārāḥ as "doings," please let me know, and I will stand corrected.