Wednesday, February 4, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 13.63: Knowing as Shedding of Light

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
sattveṣu naṣṭeṣu mahāndha-kāre jñāna-pradīpaḥ kriyamāṇa eṣaḥ |
āryasya nirvāpayituṁ na sādhu prajvālyamānas tamasīva dīpaḥ || 13.63

While living beings are lost in a great darkness,

He is being made into a lantern of knowing –

It is no more right for a noble Āryan to snuff him out

Than to snuff out a light being kindled in the dark.

The metaphor in today's verse jñāna-pradīpaḥ, “a lantern of knowing,” brings to mind what the Buddha told Nanda towards the end of the final canto of Saundarananda:

vihāya tasmād iha kāryam ātmanaḥ kuru sthirātman para-kāryam apy atho /
bhramatsu sattveṣu tamo-vṛtātmasu śruta-pradīpo niśi dhāryatām ayam // SN18.57
Therefore forgetting the work that needs to be done in this world on the self, 
do now, stout soul, what can be done for others. / 
Among beings who are wandering in the night, their minds shrouded in darkness, 
let the lamp of this transmission be carried.//

At one level the metaphor jñāna-pradīpaḥ, “a lantern/lamp of knowing,” may seem to compare with a lantern or a lamp the knowledge which the bodhisattva is in the process of acquiring.  

More literally, however, the bodhisattva is described not as in the process of acquiring the lantern, but as in the process of being made into the lantern. 

At this level, then, darkness is ignorance and the bodhisattva is compared to a lantern-to-be which, by knowing, will dispell the darkness of ignorance.

A deeper reading might be that the being of distinction is rightly prophesying that the bodhisattva is going to be the one who shines light not only into the darkness of ignorance but also onto the one great matter which is knowing itself. 

This latter reading is possible because of the way that pradīpa is used in titles of works that elucidate a particular subject. MW gives as an example mahābhāṣya-pradīpa, which means “The Lantern of [Patañjali's] Mahā-Bhāṣya” i.e, “Commentaries that Shed Light on Patañjali's Great Exposition.”

So one reading of jñāna-pradīpaḥ is as “the lantern which is knowing itself” and another reading is as “the lantern which will illuminate knowing.”

Either way, the great darkness is ignorance, and what opposes this ignorance, as in Nāgārjuna's most excellent elucidation, is jñāna, the act of knowing...
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do. / The ignorant one therefore is the doer; the wise one is not, because of reality making itself known. //MMK26.10// In the destruction of ignorance, there is the non-coming-into-being of doings./ The destruction of ignorance, however, is because of the allowing-into-being of just this act of knowing.//MMK26.11//

In today's verse, then, I submit, as in MMK, jñāna does not mean intellectual knowledge. It means knowing as an act. It means knowing as an act of knowing, as opposed to an act of doing. It might describe as "an act of knowing," the one great lantern which is buddha sitting. 

sattveṣu (loc. abs.): n. beings
naṣṭeṣu (loc. abs.): mfn. lost
mahāndha-kāre (loc. sg.) m. the great darkness ; thick darkness , gross spiritual darkness

jñāna-pradīpaḥ (nom. sg. m.): a lamp of knowing
pradīpa: m. a light , lamp , lantern MBh. Ka1v. &c (often ifc. " the light i.e. the glory or ornament of " e.g. kula-pr° q.v. ; also in titles of explanatory works = elucidation , explanation , e.g. mahābhāṣya-pr°)
kriyamāṇaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. passive kṛ: to make
eṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): this one, he

āryasya (gen. sg.): an Āryan, a noble person
nirvāpayitum = inf. causative nir- √ vā : to put out , extinguish
na: not
sādhu (nom. sg.): n. the good or right or honest , a good &c thing or act

prajvālyamānaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. passive pra- √ jval: to begin to burn or blaze , be kindled (lit. and fig.)
tamasi (loc. sg.): n. darkness ; gloom
iva: like
dīpaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a light , lamp , lantern

衆生墮大冥 莫知所至處
爲燃智慧燈 云何欲令滅 

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