Monday, March 9, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.23: Praise Be to the Powerless & Helpless

¦−⏑⏑−¦¦−−−⏑¦⏑−⏑−    bhavipulā
a-śaknuvanto 'py avaśāḥ kṣut-tarṣa-śrama-pīḍitāḥ |
go-'śva-bhūtāś ca vāhyante pratoda-kṣata-mūrtayaḥ || 14.23

Again, powerless and helpless,

Oppressed by hunger, thirst, and exhaustion,

As oxen and horses, they are driven along,

While goads injure their bodies.

In today's verse, again, the bodhisattva is ostensibly describing animals, as distinct from human beings. So ostensibly he is not describing human beings at all; and much less is he describing true human beings, i.e., buddhas.

Below the surface, though, again, these ones who are different (ime' nye) might be different from what we are inclined to assume.

Read in that light, the bodhisattva's description could indeed be of a human being – for example, somebody like yours truly, being driven along powerlessly and helplessly by ignoble goads such as academic examinations, karate gradings, need to earn money, and desire to see all kinds of tasks and jobs through to completion.

Such goads as these – ends to be gained – are liable to be injurious insofar as they are a stimulus to go directly for the end without due care and attention to harmful side effects caused along the way to self and others. 

But buddhas, it is surely safe to assume, could never be driven along like that.

Or could they?

Maybe, in the final analysis, the only thing that it is safe to assume, when it comes to reading Aśvaghoṣa's multi-layered verse, is that no assumption is safe. It may be that all assumptions are unreliable. It may be that every view is a view to be abandoned. 

Since we are talking here about horses being driven along – and at the same time are mindful that all this talk is leading to the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, in which the antidote to ignorance resides not in intellectual knowledge but in the development of real, practical knowing – I find myself thinking of champion jump jockey Tony McCoy.

The picture below speaks for itself. In it, it is A.P. McCoy himself who is carrying a whip. But if ever a sportsman was driven, for the past twenty years he it has been.

In a recent interview, McCoy said: 
‘I often think I am not sure why I’m retiring. I think every morning when I wake up “I don’t know why I’m retiring”, but I know it’s the right thing to do. I don’t mean this in an arrogant way but I don’t just want to be a normal jockey. I often think that if I was to carry on and ride three or four days a week and ride in the big races I could carry on riding for another five years. But that’s not me. I am an all-in person. That’s just the way I am.’

A.P. McCoy almost makes it sound like the decision to retire -- albeit after a struggle -- has made itself, and so now he is powerless to carry on. And equally, for the past twenty-odd years, even if he had wanted to stop, McCoy might have said that he could not help carrying on. He had no choice but to be the all-in person he is. So this might be an example of the powerlessness and helplessness of those who are different (anye). 

Should I --  in the spirit of goading myself -- commit to giving a talk in Oxford titled something like "Dogen, Alexander, Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna - Making the Connection"? 

There is clearly a connection there, and I think it deserves to be clarified. So the next step will be to find a venue and decide a date. Or else renew the decision not to do anything. 

a-śaknu-vantaḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. unable
śak: to be strong or powerful , be able to or capable of or competent for ; to be strong or exert one's self for another (dat.) , aid , help , assist
api: also
avaśāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. not having one's own free will , doing something against one's desire or unwillingly
vaśa: m. authority , power , control , dominion

kṣut-tarṣa-śrama-pīḍitāḥ (nom. pl. m.): oppressed by hunger, thirst, and exhaustion
pīḍ: to be squeezed or pressed out (as soma) ; to hurt , harm , injure , oppress , pain , vex

go-aśva-bhūtāḥ (nom. pl. m.): turned into oxen and horses / being like oxen and horses
ca: and
vāhyante = 3rd pers. pl. passive causative vah: to cause to bear or carry or convey or draw, drive (a chariot) , guide or ride (a horse) , propel (a boat) , go or travel by any vehicle

pratoda-kṣata-mūrtayaḥ (nom. pl. m.): their bodies wounded by goads
pratoda: m. a goad or long whip
pra- √ tud: to strike at , cut through , pierce
tud: to push , strike , goad , bruise , sting , vex
toda: m. a driver (of horses &c ) ; " instigator , exciter " , the Sun ; pricking pain
kṣata: mfn. wounded , hurt , injured
mūrti: f. any solid body or material form , (pl. material elements , solid particles ; ifc. = consisting or formed of)

負重而抱軛 鞭策鉤錐刺

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