Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.49: How Can a Woman Delude a Man's Mind?

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
strī megha-kālī tu kapāla-hastā kartuṁ mahārṣeḥ kila citta-moham |
babhrāma tatrāniyataṁ na tasthau calātmano buddhir ivāgameṣu || 13.49

A woman, in contrast
– Megha-kālī, “the One Black as a Cloud” –
bearing a skull [or a bowl] in her hand,

To delude the mind of the truly great seer
[or of a would-be mahā-rishi ],

Flitted about there unrestrainedly;
she did not stand still –

Like the intellect of a flibbertigibbet
flitting through ancient scriptures.

  • How black is a cloud?
True, we sometimes notice black clouds on the horizon, but clouds are generally white -- especially in our minds, especially conceptual clouds. If we ask a child to draw clouds, the result will most likely look like puffs of cotton wool floating next to a smiling sun. 

In a similar way,  we are liable in general to think of the moon as being golden and round … and then suddenly one morning we notice the sliver of a white crescent moon in the blue sky.

  • What did Aśvaghoṣa mean by kapāla-hastā?
EBC translated “bearing a skull in her hand,” and EHJ similarly “with a skull in her hand”; but before “the skull,” the MW dictionary defines kapāla as a cup, jar, dish; the alms-bowl of a beggar.”

  • In light of such ambiguity, what should we make of the word strī
What is “a woman”? And a woman is, for example, who?

A celibate monk, like the striver in SN Canto 8, is liable to see “a woman” as a temptress to be feared; but no celibate monk, however exalted, ever got where he was without his mum.

So whereas the MW dictionary gives megha-kālī as 'cloud-black' ; name of a female demon, is it possible that Aśvaghoṣa was ironically painting a picture of a real woman – maybe a female monk of unfathomable dimensions, on her alms round?

In the Alexander world, there are more women Alexander teachers than men, and some of them are much more skillful exponents of non-doing than I will ever be – FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow being a case in point.

There is more than one way, then, in which a woman or “a woman” can delude the mind of a would-be great seer– taking kila to mean “purported" or "would-be." Another meaning of kila, however, is “indeed” or “veritable,” in which case mahārṣeḥ kila means “of the truly great seer.”

If we follow the second meaning, then a woman's effort to delude the mind of a truly great seer must be in vain, in which case those efforts might be a metaphor for trying with the intellect to penetrate the wisdom of the ancients.

So today's verse is another example, as discussed in connection with BC13.46, in which the second half of the verse ostensibly contains the main figure of speech, in the form of a simile; but the main figure of speech is actually in the first half of the verse, in the form of a metaphor.

And the main point Aśvaghoṣa is making, below the surface, might be that a concept can no more delude the mind of a truly great seer than the wavering intellect of a flibbertigibbet could drill holes in the text of a palm-leaf manuscript – this having been, down through the centuries, mainly the work of white ants.

When we read today's verse like this. it makes sense that Aśvaghoṣa chose as the subject of the verse strī, a woman. Just as anyaḥ, "one who is different," is usually a signal in Aśvaghoṣa's writing that he is discussing a real individual, one who is beyond stereotypes, a non-buddha, so strī, "a woman," might also be a signal to the reader, or a test of whether the reader is awake or asleep. 

If the Buddha's dharma, as Nāgārjuna concludes, is the abandoning of all -isms, then there might be a lot to be learned by investigating the meaning in Aśvaghoṣa's writing of strī, a woman.

Hence, I think, the titles of SN Canto 8, strī-vighātaḥ, A Tirade Against Women, and of BC Canto 4 strī-vighātanaḥ, Warding 'Women' Away.

Aśvaghoṣa was certainly no misogynist, of course; but I don't think he was any kind of feminist either. I think his consideration of a woman, in those cantos and in today's verse, was grounded in keen appreciation of the difference between generic concept and individual reality.

So the main point of today's verse, again, might be that the flitting intellect, wavering this way and that, has no material impact at all on the objective reality of the Buddha's teaching – any more than the finger of a person standing on the earth can touch the moon.

My Zen teacher used to say that the whole of the Buddha's teaching comes down to this point of the unbridgeable gulf  that exists between thinking and reality.

The big irony, which I somehow intuited but for years and years struggled to see, was that the direction in sitting that my teacher thought was up, was in reality down.
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra, thus did the dopey one do.

Worse still,
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra, thus did the twit transmit.

strī (nom. sg.): f. a woman
megha-kālī: f. 'cloud-black' ; N. of a female demon, Bcar.
tu: but
kapāla-hastā (nom. sg. f.): skull in hand
kapāla: mn. a cup , jar , dish ; the alms-bowl of a beggar ; a cover , lid ; the skull , cranium , skull-bone

kartum = inf. kṛ: to do, make
mahārṣeḥ (gen. sg. m.): of the great seer
kila: ind. (a particle of asseveration or emphasis) indeed , verily , assuredly" so said " " so reported " , pretendedly; (kila is preceded by the word on which it lays stress)
citta-moham (acc. sg.): m. confusion of mind

babhrāma = 3rd pers. sg. perf. bhram: to wander or roam about , rove , ramble ; to move to and fro or unsteadily , flicker , flutter , reel , totter ; to waver , be perplexed , doubt , err
tatra: there
aniyatam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. not regulated , uncontrolled , not fixed , uncertain , unrestricted , irregular , casual
na: not
tasthau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. sthā: to stand still

calātmanaḥ (gen. sg. m.): mfn. fickle-minded
buddhiḥ (nom. sg.): f. the mind , intellect
iva: like
āgameṣu (loc. pl.): m. science ; a traditional doctrine or precept , collection of such doctrines , sacred work ; anything handed down and fixed by tradition

魔王有姊妹 名彌伽迦利
手執髑髏器 在於菩薩前

作種種異儀 婬惑亂菩薩 

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