Monday, January 12, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.40: Blazing Sincerity, Shattering Irony

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Vāṇī)
cikṣepa tasyopari dīptam anyaḥ kaḍaṅgaraṁ parvata-śṅga-mātram |
yan mukta-mātraṁ gagana-stham eva tasyānubhāvāc chata-dhā paphāla || 13.40

One who was different put above himself a blazing mass of straw,

As high as the mountains' peaks;

As soon as he released it, it just hung there in the emptiness,

Then shattered, at his suggestion, into a hundred pieces.

Since today's verse is the fourth in a series of four verses, it is not surprising that its subject is our old friend anyaḥ, the one who is different, the individual, the one who does not necessarily fit anybody's stereotype, the non-buddha.

On the face of it dīptaṁ kaḍaṅgaraṁ parvata-śṛṅga-mātram means a fearful weapon of mass destruction, a blazing fireball as big as a mountain peak. Hence:
Another hurled upon him a mass of blazing straw as big as a mountain-peak, which, as soon as it was thrown, while it hung poised in the sky, was shattered into a hundred fragments by the sage's power. (EBC)
Another flung above him a blazing log as big as a mountain peak ; no sooner was it discharged than, as it hung in the sky, it burst into a hundred fragments through the sage's magic power. (EHJ)

But when we read anyaḥ as representing a non-buddha, the blazing mass of straw might mean the whole human world, extending to the peaks of the highest mountains on every continent.

In that case, cikṣepa tasyopari which on the surface means “flung above him” is an ironic description of non-Buddhist altruism – putting the world of suffering living beings above oneself.

Again, gagana-stham, which ostensibly means “as [the fireball] hung in the sky,” might be an ironic description of the sitting practice of one who is “just hanging, in emptiness” -- having been released by true teaching from the doings which are the root of saṁsāra.

Gagana, incidentally, is as in gagana-kusuma, which MW gives as "flower in the sky," any unreal or fanciful thing, impossibility. In Shobogenzo, however, Dogen investigates flowers in the sky as something as real as, for example, plum blossoms in early spring. See especially Shobogenzo chap. 43 whose title 空華, KUGE means “Flowers in the Sky / Space / Emptiness.”

Finally, then, the world being shattered into a hundred pieces means abstract conceptions being shattered and everything being realized distinctly as it is. 

In the translations of EBC and EHJ this shattering takes place through the magic power (anubhāvāt) of the sage (tasya), so that the tasya of the 4th pāda (the sage) is different from the tasya of the 1st pāda (the monster). This is as per the ostensible meaning, in which a monster and a bodhisattva are locked in mortal combat. Neither EBC nor EHJ, evidently, realized the ironic hidden meaning in which. below the surface, there is only enlightened action. 

If EBC and EHJ had realized this hidden meaning, they might have been bowled over by the brilliance of Aśvaghoṣa's use of irony. 

Speaking of irony, I listened on Saturday night to a good radio programme by American satirist Joe Queenan titled “A Brief History of Irony.

That programme, and today's verse, caused me to reflect this morning on the stereotypes of kick-ass American sincerity vs the British sense of irony.

When we reflect on this dichotomy, in light of the irony which pervades Aśvaghoṣa's writing, and in light also of the irony which pervades the koans preserved from the great age of Chinese Zen, isn't it obvious that the point is to cultivate both sincerity and a sense of irony, together?

Kick-ass sincerity unbridled by any sense of irony is just the kind of doing which the dopey one does – the doing which is the root of saṁsāra.

Conversely, irony without sincerity is just insincerity – another word for ignorance itself.

Ultimately, then, we come back to mindfulness of the noble path of śīla (integrity), samādhi (integration), and prajñā (integral wisdom) -- and equally to mindfulness of the principle that any Zen master who could fake those three, might have got it made. 

cikṣepa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kṣip: to throw , cast , send , despatch ; to put or place anything on or in (loc.) , pour on , scatter , fix or attach to (loc.);
tasya (gen. sg.): of him
upari: (As a separable preposition , with acc. loc. , or gen.) over , above , upon , on , at the head of , on the upper side of , beyond
dīptam (acc. sg.): mfn. blazing
anyaḥ (nom. sg.): m. another, one who was different

kaḍaṅgaram (acc. sg.): a partic. weapon, MBh.; [EBC] a mass of blazing straw; [EHJ] a blazing log ; ,
kaḍ: to be elated or intoxicated ; Caus. kāḍayati , to break off a part , separate , divide ; to remove the chaff or husk of grain &c ;
kaḍaṁgara = kaḍa-ṁ-kara: m. straw
kaḍaṁgariya = kaḍa-ṁ-kariya: mfn. to be fed with straw
parvata-śṛṅga-mātram (acc. sg.): the size of a mountain peak
parvata: m. a mountain , mountain-range , height , hill , rock (often personified )
śṛṅga: horn, peak
mātra: ifc. having the measure of i.e. as large or high or long or broad or deep or far or much or many

yad (acc. sg.): which
mukta-mātram (acc. sg.): as soon as it was released
mātra: mfn. after a pp. = scarcely , as soon as , merely , just e.g. jāta-mātra , scarcely or just born
gagana-stham (acc. sg.): staying in the sky
gagana: n. the atmosphere , sky , firmament
stha: (only ifc.) standing , staying , abiding , being situated in , existing or being in or on or among ; occupied with , engaged in , devoted to performing , practising (» dhyāna-stha absorbed in meditation)
gagana-kusuma: n. " flower in the sky " , any unreal or fanciful thing , impossibility
eva: (emphatic)

tasya (gen. sg.): of him
anubhāvāt (abl. sg.): m. sign or indication of a feeling (bhāva) by look or gesture ; dignity , authority , consequence
śata-dhā ind. in a hundred ways ; a hundred-fold , into a hundred parts or pieces (with √ bhū , to be divided into a hundred parts)
paphāla = 3rd pers. sg. perf. phal: to burst , cleave open or asunder , split (intrans.)

[No corresponding Chinese translation] 

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