Thursday, January 22, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.50: Brilliantly Sending Up Religious Ardour

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
kaś cit pradīptaṁ praṇidhāya cakṣur netrāgnināśī-viṣavad didhakṣuḥ |
tatraiva nāsīnam ṣiṁ dadarśa kāmātmakaḥ śreya ivopadiṣṭam || 13.50

One of them directed a blazing eye,

Desiring with the fire of his glare,
like a venomous snake, to burn [his object] up;

He was blind to the seer right there, sitting –

As a sensualist is blind to a better way that has been pointed out.

Today's verse contains not one but two similes. I think the challenge, though, once again, is to dig out the meaning buried in the metaphor.

The first simile compares with a poisonous snake the subject who desires, with burning venom, completely to destroy [something or someone]. Hence āśī-viṣavad didhakṣuḥ, “desiring to burn like a venomous snake.”

The second simile compares with a blind sensualist the subject who fails to see what is in front of his nose. Hence na dadarśa kāmātmakaḥ śreya ivopadiṣṭam, “he did not see, like a sensualist failing to see the better way which has been pointed out.”

At first glance, then, today's verse looks like it cautions against straying off the middle way in the direction of sensuality.

What Aśvaghoṣa has in his sights, below the surface, however, with characteristic irony, might be the religious ardour that resides on the other side of the middle way.

Here again, then, as discussed in connection with BC13.45, when Aśvaghoṣa satirizes religious belief he does so in such a way as not to cause offence – not least because those that might be offended would never recognize themselves as being in the firing line.

Thus the metaphor in today's verse, if we strip away the similes and translate literally, is kaś cit pradīptaṁ praṇidhāya cakṣur netrāgninā didhakṣuḥ / tatraiva nāsīnam ṛṣiṁ dadarśa. “One of them directed a blazing eye, desiring with the fire of his eye to destroy [his object] by burning; / He did not see the Seer sitting right there.”

And this describes nobody better than a Zen Buddhist in the first flush of idealistic zeal, out to destroy all impediments to the Zen enlightenment he has read about and heard about and seen in books and other works of fiction.

If yesterday's verse satirizes one whose attitude is overly intellectual, then, today's verse can be read as satirizing one whose attitude is overly emotional.

These are two mistakes that, undeniably, this bloke who sits has made in the past. I am not even sure that I have stopped making those mistakes yet.

And so finally, to recap in the light of tainted experience from BC13.46, the starting point is to find the courage, or find the confidence, to shoot the blasted arrow. In other words, don't just read books or listen to talks or watch dharma documentaries: establish your own sitting practice. Thus having experienced your arrows being in mid-air, you can be one who is different, a free-faller, and on that basis you can talk your own talk, like wielding a powerful bludgeon. But if in the matter of non-doing, or free falling, or dropping off body and mind, you are too intellectual about it, or too zealous about it, then you will be talking the talk without walking the walk. And in that state you won't be meeting Buddha, even when Buddha is right there, just sitting.

So the present series of verses, which ostensibly uses many similes to paint an interesting and thought-provoking description of Māra's monsters, might better be understood as one metaphor for the process of every bodhisattva who sits, following the example of  a true mahā-rishi -- a truly great seer -- who sat. And the big clue in today's verse to such hidden meaning comes in the 3rd pāda with the words tatraiva (right there) āsīnam (sitting).

When we understand these verses as featuring a series of similes, then the subject is the bodhisattva who is sitting right there, confronted with various threatening objects. But when we see the metaphor running through these verses, the subject is the one who sits, and the ones we thought were objects turn out also to be the one who sits. So in this way, subliminally, our usual way of thinking in terms of subject and object, us and them, is being challenged.

The point, to spell it out, might be that ultimately there is only the one who sits, being right there, sitting. 

kaś cit (nom. sg. m.): one, somebody
pradīptam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. blazing, on fire
praṇidhāya = abs. pra-ṇi- √ dhā: to place in front , cause to precede ; to turn or direct (the eyes or thoughts) upon (loc.)
cakṣuḥ (acc. sg.): n. the act of seeing; eye ; a look

netrāgninā (inst. sg.): with the fire of his eye
netra: n. leading ; guiding ; the eye (as the guiding organ);
āśī-viṣavat: ind. like a venomous snake
āśī-viṣa: m. a kind of venomous snake
āśīs: f. a serpent's fang
viṣa: n. " anything active " , poison , venom , bane , anything actively pernicious
didhakṣuḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. wishing to burn
dah: to burn ; to consume , destroy completely

tatra: there
eva: (emphatic)
na: not
āsīnam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. sitting
ṛṣim (acc. sg.): m. the seer
dadarśa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. dṛś: to see

kāmātmakaḥ (nom. sg. m.): a desirous soul
kāmātman: mfn. " whose very essence is desire " , consisting of desire , indulging one's desires , given to lust , sensual , licentious
śreyaḥ (acc. sg.): n. (as) the better state , the better fortune or condition
iva: like
upadiṣṭam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. specified , particularized ; taught , instructed
upa- √ diś: to point out

[No corresponding Chinese translation]

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