Thursday, March 12, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.26: Pushing Others, to Get Ahead

kha-sthāḥ kha-sthair hi bādhyante jala-sthā jala-cāribhiḥ |
sthala-sthāḥ sthala-saṁsthais ca prāpya caivetaretaraiḥ || 14.26

For dwellers in emptiness are jostled by dwellers in emptiness,

Dwellers in water by those for whom water is life,

And dwellers on land by those who stand with them on firm ground –

Even as they push one another forward.

What I can say with confidence in relation to today's verse is that, even after seven years of struggle, Aśvaghoṣa's layers of deeper meaning do not get any easier to dig out.

The first difficulty presented by today's verse is the ambiguity of the two verbs, from bādh and from pra-√āp.
  • bādhyante is either passive or causative passive of √bādh, and as such ostensibly means “they are pressed” or, as per EBC and EHJ, “they are oppressed”; but there are many other meanings of  √bādh, including to repel, to oppose and to vex. 
  • prāpyante (EBC) is the passive or causative passive of pra-√āp and as such could mean “are made to suffer” (EBC); prāpya (EHJ) is the absolutive or causative absolutive of pra-√āp, and as such could mean “catching” (EHJ). But pra-√āp  also covers a wide range of meanings, including to promote. 

The further complication is that for the 4th pāda the old Nepalese manuscript has prāpya revaitaretaraiḥ, with the two underlined characters marked for error.
EBC's text has prāpyaṁte (=prāpyantecetaretaraiḥ; hence his translation “are made to suffer... in mutual hostility.”
In amending to prāpya caivetaretaraiḥ (“catching each other mutually”), EHJ noted that he did not like this reading of the 4th pāda, but saw no alternative.
Air-dwellers are oppressed by air-dwellers, the denizens of water by the denizens of water, those that dwell on dry land are made to suffer by the dwellers on dry land in mutual hostility. (EBC)
For catching each other mutually, the sky-dwellers are oppressed by sky-dwellers, water-dwcllers by those who move in the water, and land-dwellers by land-dwellers. (EHJ)
The ostensible gist, in any event, is thus that in the animal realm members of the same species vie with each other for survival. 

The context is that today's verse represents the end of the consideration of the animal realm in saṁsāra, and the transition into the realm of ghosts. Ostensibly, therefore, yesterday's verse concerns subhuman infighting, tomorrow's verse is about jealous hungry ghosts (pretas), and today's verse describes pushing and jostling of like beings to get ahead of each other. So ostensibly the three verses all have to do with the competitive jostling for position of like beings in saṁsāra. Today's verse seems to give three examples of such groups of like beings – birds, fish, and land-animals – that make life difficult for each other as they struggle to get ahead.

Below the surface, I see more clearly than I did yesterday, when I wandered off the path on a wild elephant chase, that Aśvaghoṣa is continuing to portray saṁsāra as just the place where a bodhisattva practices.

And so, better to bring out the hidden meaning of yesterday's verse, I would like to amend the translation as follows:
Though there are other sufferings too, suffering here arises especially / From competing with each other, while in the very thick of subjection to the enemy. //14.25//

The hidden meaning of yesterday's verse, then, is that bodhisattvas also inevitably compete with each other in saṁsāra. Even if they don't hate each other, they cannot avoid finding themselves opposed to each other – as seems to be celebrated, for example, in the sylized manner of debating that monks have developed over the centuries in Tibetan monasteries.

But the point of this mutual opposition or competitive jostling is not to do one's fellows down; the point is rather that all should advance together, as when somebody makes a breakthrough in scientific research and development. Thus the hidden meaning of prāpya in today's verse might be pushing forward not in the ostensible sense of pushing rivals off balance but in the ironic sense of promoting everybody's development -- as per the MW dictionary defintion of pra-√āp as “to advance, promote, further.”

When today's verse is read like this, as a description of real life in saṁsāra, 
  • dwellers in emptiness might mean, for example, not only birds but also bodhisattvas who study the philosophy of Nāgārjuna;
  • those for whom water is life might mean, for example, not only fish but also bodhisattvas who work in rice paddies, vegetable plots and greenhouses; and 
  • those who stand with [like beings] on firm ground might mean not only oxen, horses and elephants but also metaphorical oxen, horses and elephants – for example, bodhisattvas as bus drivers, driving instructors, nurses, care workers, school teachers and so on.

kha-sthāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. standing in the air
kha-sthaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. standing in the air
kha: n. cavity ; vacuity , empty space , air , ether , sky
stha: (only ifc.) standing , staying , abiding , being situated in , existing or being in or on or among ; occupied with , engaged in , devoted to performing , practising
sthā: to stand , stand firmly , station one's self , stand upon , get upon , take up a position on

hi: for
bādhyante = 3rd pers. pl. passive [or causative passive] bādh: to press , force , drive away , repel , remove ; to harass , pain , trouble , grieve , vex ; to resist , oppose , check , stop , prevent ; [passive] to be pressed &c ; to be acted upon , suffer ; [causative] to oppress , harass , attack , trouble , vex

jala-sthāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. standing or situated in water
jala-cāribhiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. living in or near water ; m. an aquatic animal , fish
cārin: mfn. moving ; ifc. moving , walking or wandering about , living , being ; acting , proceeding , doing , practising
car: to move one's self , go , walk , move , stir , roam about , wander (said of men , animals , water , ships , stars , &c ) ; to spread , be diffused (as fire) ; to move or travel through , pervade , go along , follow ; to be engaged in , occupied or busy with

sthala-sthāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. standing on dry ground
sthala-saṁsthaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): those who stand together on dry land
sthala: n. dry land (opp. to damp low-land) , firm earth (opp. to water) ;
saṁstha: mfn. standing together , standing or staying or resting or being in or on ; m. a dweller , resident , inhabitant
ca: and

prāpya = 3rd pers. pl. absolutive [or causative absolutive] pra- √āp: to attain to ; reach , arrive at , meet with , find ; to obtain , receive (also as a husband or wife) ; to suffer (capital punishment) ; to extend , stretch , reach to ; [causative] to cause to reach or attain (2 acc.) , advance , promote , further ; to impart , communicate , announce , relate ; to meet with
vā: or (also sometimes used as an expletive); just , even , indeed , very (= eva , laying stress on the preceding word)
itaretaraiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. one another , one with another , mutual , respective , several

虚空水陸中 逃死亦無處

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