Friday, March 13, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.27: Being Present Here in the Murky World of the Ancestors

upapannās tathā ceme mātsaryākrānta-cetasaḥ |
pit-loke nir-āloke kpaṇaṁ bhuñjate phalam || 14.27 

And so these ones, likewise, find themselves fittingly

– With minds given over to dissatisfaction –

In the murky world of deceased ancestors,

Where, lamentably, they reap their reward.

The hard work on today's verse -- in terms of tracing the ostensible versus the ironic threads -- has already been done in connection with yesterday's verse. 

The ostensible meaning of today's verse is conveyed by EBC and EHJ as follows: 
And others there are who, when born again, with their minds filled with envy, reap the miserable fruit of their actions in a world of the Pitṛs destitute of all light; (EBC)
And so those, who are obsessed by stinginess, are reborn in the dark world of the Pretas and reap their reward in wretchedness. (EHJ)

The ostensible meaning of mātsaryākrānta-cetasaḥ, then, is “with their minds filled with envy” (EBC) or “who are obsessed by stinginess” (EHJ). The ostensible meaning is that base emotions in the animal realm – envy, stinginess, jealousy, and so on – lead beings in saṁsāra to be reborn in the world of the envious pretas, the hungry ghosts.

Hence EHJ notes:
Pitṛ is here used for pretas, a class of being about whom Buddhist traditions are very confused. The reference here, as is shown by nirāloka [dark], is to the realm of Yama, which according to the Saddhama-smṛty-upasthāna-sutra (S. Levi JA, 1918, i, p. 36) is 'tout assombri par l'egarement et par l'obscurcissement des esprits qui s'y trouvent.' It places the land of Yama on the surface of the earth, while Abhidharma-koṣa, II, 156, puts it 500 yojanas below.

Yama, according to the MW dictionary, is the name of the god who presides over the pitṛs (q.v.) and rules the spirits of the dead.

A signal toward the ironic hidden meaning is once again provided by kṛpaṇam, “lamentably.” As in BC14.11 and BC14.22 kṛpaṇam might, below the surface, be an ironic suggestion of our incredible good fortune to be able as bodhisattvas to experience
  1. hell, where we abide in golden cauldrons and are attended to by big birds with golden beaks;
  2.  the realm of animals, where we have opportunities to understand what it means to be a white ox with a ring through its nose, or a saddled horse as Aśoka had depicted on the stone carvings of magnificent stupas, or the kind of elephant to which Nanda is compared throughout Aśvaghoṣa's epic tale of beautiful happiness;
  3. the realm of ghosts, or deceased ancestors;
  4.  the human realm;
  5.  heaven.
If we go through today's verse again, then, with this kind of irony in mind,
  • upapannāḥ (EBC: born again; EHJ: reborn), as also in BC14.11 and BC14.21, really means “rightly finding oneself” in a particular realm, or really being present there, as a bodhisattva.  
  • mātsaryākrānta-cetasaḥ suggests that when jostling bodhisattvas struggle, as if vying with each other, to understand the real meaning of the Buddha's teaching, our minds must inevitably be possessed of displeasure or obsessed with dissatisfaction (mātsarya) – or how else are we going to get to the bottom of the four noble truths, beginning with the truth of suffering?
  • pitṛ-loke nir-āloke (EBC: in a world of the Pitṛs destitute of all light; EHJ: in the dark world of the Pretas) might be an ironic description of the deep dark underground labyrinths into which the cryptic verse of the dead ancestor Aśvaghoṣa always seems to be leading us, so far away from uplifting Buddhist vistas on the surface.
  • phalam, the fruit, then -- our reward for seven years of effort to mine the murky depths of an ancestor's mind -- is what? The fruit, lamentably, might already have been eaten just in the effort itself.

Though I have never expected to receive a penny in financial compensation for this Aśvaghoṣa translation project, I must admit I couldn't help harbouring a sneaking hope that the buddhas of the three times and ten directions might see to it that I might be rewarded indirectly, for example by a rising price of gold. 

Any such expectation has been thoroughly crushed once again, over the past few weeks, as the US dollar has risen with extraordinary speed, going from strength to strength against all alternative kinds of money, including gold and silver. 

How could a bloke not feel dissatisfaction, not to say envy, looking at the gullible masses who have maintained their faith in the power of the US Federal Reserve, and continued to watch their stock market investments rise in value? 

Looking at my struggles these past few years, as a practitioner and as an investor, I can't help thinking that Zen Master Dogen would agree with these sentiments of mine, saying, in his own words:
kanashimubeshi, kanashimubeshi 
Lamentable! Lamentable! 

upapannāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. obtained , reached , gained ; happened , fallen to one's share , produced , effected , existing , being near at hand (see BC14.11; BC14.21)
tathā: ind. likewise, again
ca: and
ime (nom. pl. m.): these

mātsaryākrānta-cetasaḥ (nom. pl. m.): minds overrun by envy ; minds possessed of dissatisfaction
mātsarya: n. envy , jealousy ; displeasure , dissatisfaction
ākrānta: mfn. on which anything lies heavily , pressed by (instr. or in comp.) ; overcome , overrun , attacked , in the possession of (instr. or in comp.)
ā- √ kram: to step or go near to , come towards , approach , visit ; to step or tread upon ; to hold fast with the hands , seize ; to attack , invade ; Causative: to cause to come or step near ; to cause any one (instr.) to enter into (acc.)

pitṛ-loke (loc. sg.): m. a father's house ; the world or sphere of the pitṛs
pitṛ: (pl.) the fathers , forefathers , ancestors , (esp.) the pitṛs or deceased ancestors
preta: m. the spirit of a dead person (esp. before obsequial rites are performed) , a ghost , an evil being
nir-āloke (loc. sg. m.): deprived of light , dark or blind
āloka: m. looking , seeing , beholding ; sight ; light

kṛpaṇam: ind. miserably, in distress
bhuñjate = 3rd pers. pl. bhuj: to enjoy , use , possess , (esp.) enjoy a meal , eat , eat and drink , consume ; to suffer , experience , undergo , be requited or rewarded for (acc.) or at the hands of (gen.)
phalam (acc. sg.): n. fruit, result

慳貪増上者 生於餓鬼趣


Rich said...

Do you want to be like the north Korean diplomat who carries a suitcase of gold to Burma or just click and have anything delivered to your doorstep? I always believed in the dollar because the economic system it represents is most effective and efficient and it's military is the strongest to defend it.

Mike Cross said...

Plus you've got the rule of law in the US -- at least in principle. Something troubling, though, about the amount of its own population that your system incarcerates. And am not sure either, how you ended up promoting Alan Greenspan to be chairman of the Fed, despite a proven track record for getting everything wrong.

Eagle, elephant, or dragon? Not sure that I trust any of them fully.