Friday, February 27, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.13: Eyes Down, Legs On Fire (Aśvaghoṣa vs Nāgārjuna)

pacyante piṣṭavat ke cid ayas-kumbhīṣv avāṅ-mukhāḥ |
dahyante karuṇaṁ ke cid dīpteṣv aṅgāra-rāśiṣu || 14.13

Some are cooked like paste

In cauldrons of the metal, their faces looking down;

Some are consumed, piteously,

On heaps of flaming coals.

Others are baked like flour, thrown with their heads downwards into iron jars; others are miserably burned in heaps of heated charcoal; (EBC)
Some, head downwards, are boiled like meal in iron cauldrons; others are miserably broiled on heaps of burning redhot coals. (EHJ)

Thus the first line ostensibly describes sinners in hell thrown head first into pots, boilers or cauldrons made of iron.

But below the surface a Zen meditation hut on a frosty February morning might be just the oven where a bodhisattva sits, with his face looking down, and legs on fire. 

Below the surface "the metal" (ayas) of the oven or the cauldron is not iron but gold, and gold is just what we are here mining.

This, at least, is how kāñcanam āsanam, golden sitting, is expressed metaphorically by Aśvaghoṣa.

For Marjory Barlow, also, the metaphorical metal was gold, when she said, "In this work being prepared to be wrong is the golden key." 

Why is being open to being wrong the golden key? Because trying to be right is ignorance itself. And so how can we hope to destroy ignorance by relying on ignorance? 

Without recourse to metaphor, Marjory summed it up in five words: 
"You cannot do an undoing." 

Nāgārjuna, coming two generations after Aśvaghoṣa, does not seem to bother much with metaphors. He does not compare the Buddha's most valuable teaching to gold. He rather states in the driest possible terms, eschewing any kind of embellishment, or spin, that what the Buddha taught is pratītya-samutpāda, Complete Springing Up, by Going Back.

Hence, MMK begins:

a-nirodham an-utpādam an-ucchedam a-śāśvatam
an-ekārtham a-nānārtham an-āgamam a-nirgamam ||MMK1.1
Beyond closing down, beyond springing up,
Beyond discontinuity, beyond continuity,
Beyond identity, beyond distinctions,
Beyond coming near, beyond going away,

yaḥ pratītya-samutpādaṁ prapañcopaśamaṁ śivam |
deśayām āsa saṁbuddhas taṁ vande vadatāṁ varam ||MMK1.2
There is Complete Springing Up, by going back,
Which, as the wholesome cessation of spin,
He the Fully Awakened Sambuddha taught.
I praise him, the best of speakers.

There follow 25 chapters of MMK in which it seems to me, though I have not studied those chapters in detail yet, that Nāgārjuna scrutinizes all kinds of views and finds every one of them to be bogus. Then in chapter 26 he expresses very succinctly that most valuable teaching of the Buddha which is not a view. Thus:
The doings that lead to rebirth one veiled in ignorance, in the three ways, / Does do; and by these actions he enters a sphere of existence. //MMK26.1 // Consciousness seeps, with doings as causal grounds, into the sphere of existence./ And so, consciousness having seeped in, pychophysicality is infused. //26.2// There again, once psychophysicality is infused, there is the coming into existence of the six senses; / The six senses having arrived, contact arises; //26.3// And when the faculty of sight, going back, has met a physical form, and met indeed a meeting together, / – When sight has gone back, in this way, to psychophysicality – then consciousness arises. //26.4// The combination of the three – physical form, consciousness and faculty of seeing – / Is contact; and from that contact arises feeling. //26.5// On the grounds of feeling, there is thirst – because one thirsts for the object of feeling. / While the thirsting is going on, grasping hold takes hold in four ways.//26.6// While there is grasping hold, the becoming originates of the one who grasps – / Because becoming, in the absence of grasping hold, would be set free and would not become becoming. //26.7// The five aggregates, again, are the becoming. Out of the becoming rebirth is born. / The suffering of ageing and death, and all the rest of it – sorrows, along with lamentations; //26.8// Dejectedness, troubles – all this arises out of rebirth. / In this way there is the coming about of this whole mass of suffering. //26.9// 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. //26.10// In the destruction of ignorance, there is the non-coming-into-being of doings./ The destruction of ignorance, however, is because of the bringing-into-being of just this act of knowing.//26.11// By the destruction of this one and that one, this one and that one are discontinued. / This whole edifice of suffering is thus well and truly demolished.//MMK26.12//

Then in the final verse of the final chapter of MMK, Nāgārjuna states his ultimate conclusion:

sarva-dṛṣṭi-prahāṇāya yaḥ saddharmam adeśayat |
anukampām upādāya taṁ namasyāmi gautamam || MMK27.30
In the direction of abandoning all views,
He taught the true dharma,
Taking pity.
I bow to him, Gautama.

The styles of expression of Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna are thus very different. And at the same time, below surface appearances, Nāgārjuna's anukampām upādāya (taking pity) of MMK27.30 sounds to me like a not-so-distant echo of the karuṇam (piteously) of today's verse. 

pacyante = 3rd pers. pl. passive pac: to cook , bake , roast , boil
piṣṭavat: ind. like flour, like cakes
piṣṭa: mfn. crushed, ground ; m. a cake , pastry ; n. flour , meal , anything ground
ke cid (nom. pl. m.): some

ayas-kumbhīṣu (loc. pl.): f. an iron pot or boiler
avāṅ-mukhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. having the face turned downwards , looking down ; turned downwards

dahyante = 3rd pers. pl. passive dah: to be consumed by fire or destroyed ; to be consumed by internal heat or grief , suffer pain , be distressed or vexed
karuṇam: ind. mournfully , woefully , pitifully , in distress
ke cid (nom. pl. m.): some

dīpteṣu (loc. pl. m.): mfn. blazing , flaming , hot , shining
aṅgāra-rāśiṣu (loc. pl. m.): heaps of charcoal
aṅgāra: m. charcoal , either heated or not heated
rāśi: m. a heap , mass , pile , group , multitude , quantity , number

投之沸湯 驅入盛火聚

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