Friday, February 20, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.6: Bodhisattva vs. Banana Tree

ity evaṁ smaratas tasya babhūva niyatātmanaḥ |
kadalī-garbha-niḥsāraḥ saṁsāra iti niścayaḥ || 14.6

While he was recollecting thus,

There grew in him, who was resolute to the core,

The conviction that saṁsāra was no more durable

Than the fragile heart of a banana plant.

The description in today's verse of the decision or conviction or certainty (niścayaḥ) of one who was firm, constant, or resolute, brings to mind the series of verses at the end of BC Canto 12, and especially BC12.107, where the bodhisattva rejects the dharma of asceticism and settles on a more moderate means-whereby:
“This dharma is good neither for detachment, nor for awakening, nor for liberation. / What I realized back then, at the foot of the rose-apple tree – that is a sure method. //BC12.101// But that cannot be realized by one who is weak.” Thus did he reflect. / Still more, with a view to increasing his bodily strength, on this did he meditate further: //12.102// "Worn out by hunger, thirst and fatigue, with a mind that, from fatigue, is not well in itself, / How can one obtain the result which is to be realized by the mind – when one is not contented? //12.103// Contentment is properly obtained through keeping the senses constantly appeased; / By full appeasement of the senses, wellness of the mind is realized. //12.104// In one whose mind is well and tranquil, samādhi, balanced stillness, sets in. / In one whose mind is possessed of samādhi, dhyāna, meditative practice, progresses. //12.105// Through meditation's progress are obtained dharmas, timeless teachings, by which is realized the deathless – / That hard-won, quieted, unaging, ultimate immortal step.” //12.106// Having therefore decided  (iti niścayaḥ) that eating food is the foundation of this means to an end, / He, the firm and constant one, whose resolve was beyond measure, resolving to take food... //BC12.107// .… had got out of the water.

Whereas the bodhisattva is thus resolute to the core, the trunk of a banana tree, according to this website, is not really a trunk at all; it is rather "a pseudostem": 
The pseudostem is formed by the tightly packed overlapping leaf sheaths. Even though the pseudostem is very fleshy and consists mostly of water, it is quite sturdy and can support a bunch that weighs 50 kg or more. The pseudostem continues to grow in height as the leaves emerge one after the other and reaches its maximum height when the inflorescence emerges at the top of the plant.

The pseudostem may be sturdy enough to support a 50 kg bunch of bananas, but sturdiness is relative and in Sanskrit literature, the MW dictionary informs us, the soft, perishable stem of the Musa Sapientum is a symbol of frailty.

The contrast, then, is between
  • (a) the stalwart figure of the bodhisattva who is constantly working to the means-whereby principle he has outlined from BC12.101; and
  • (b) the saṁsāra rooted in the volatile doings which the end-gaining one does do.

EBC translated niḥsāraḥ as “insubstantial” and EHJ likewise as “lacking in substance.” But how lacking in substance is saṁsāra, really?

I should think there are people in parts of Syria at present, and eastern Ukraine, and Iraq's third city of Mosul, who would strongly assert that they are actually living through hell on earth, and in no sense do mortar shells and bullets lack substance.

What is harder to refute is the recognition that hell on earth is not sustainable, or not durable. Sooner or later the shooting will stop, birdsong will reassert itself, and people will feel again like human beings.

But more strongly than that, I think today's verse is reminding us that the bodhisattva was confident that, by sticking to his resolve -- or, more accurately, by embracing his resolve like a friend (sva-niścayaṁ bandhum ivopaguhya; BC13.43) -- he could break saṁsāra. 

In BC Canto 13 the bodhisattva just sat, and Māra defeated himself. But in the present Canto, it seems to me, the bodhisattva actively goes (back) looking for the way to break saṁsāra. And this positive attitude again relates to the word bhāvanā, which originally means developing, cultivating or, most literally, "bringing-into-being" -- as in Nāgārjuna's most excellent words, which I hereby quote again: 
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 bringing-into-being of just this act of knowing.//MMK26.11//

ity evam: ind. thus
smarataḥ = gen. sg. pres. part. smṛ: to remember, be mindful
tasya (gen. abs.): him

babhūva = 3rd pers. sg. perf. bhū: to be, become
niyatātmanaḥ (gen. sg.): mfn. self-controlled , self-restrained
niyata: restrained , checked , curbed , suppressed , restricted , controlled ; constant , steady , quite concentrated upon or devoted to (loc.) ; fixed , established , settled , sure , regular , invariable , positive , definite

kadalī-garbha-niḥsāraḥ (nom. sg. m.): insubstantial as the core of a banana plant
kadalī-garbha: m. the inside of a banana tree
kadalī: f. the plantain or banana tree , Musa Sapientum (its soft , perishable stem is a symbol of frailty)
garbha: m. the womb; the inside , middle , interior of anything , calyx (as of a lotus)
niḥsāra: mfn. sapless , pithless , worthless , vain , unsubstantial 
sāra: mn. the core or pith or solid interior of anything ; firmness , strength power , energy ; the substance or essence or marrow or cream or heart or essential part of anything , best part , quintessence

saṁsāraḥ (nom. sg.): m. saṁsāra
iti: “...,” thus
niścayaḥ (nom. sg.): m. inquiry , ascertainment , fixed opinion , conviction , certainty , positiveness (iti niścayaḥ , " this is a fixed opinion ") ; resolution , resolve , fixed intention

虚僞無堅固 如芭蕉夢幻

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