Saturday, March 14, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.28: The Hidden Merit of Sealed Lips and a Lengthening & Widening Back

¦⏑⏑⏑−¦¦−⏑−⏑¦⏑−⏑−    navipulā
sūcī-chidropama-mukhāḥ parvatopama-kukṣayaḥ |
kṣut-tarṣa-janitair duḥkhaiḥ pīḍyante duḥkha-bhāginaḥ || 14.28

With mouths like the eye of a needle

And mountainous bellies,

By sufferings born of hunger and thirst

They are pained – suffering being their lot.

In today's verse the bodhisattva is ostensibly painting a familiar picture of pretas, or hungry ghosts, the Wikipedia entry for which states:
Hungry ghost is a concept in Chinese Buddhism and Chinese traditional religion representing beings who are driven by intense emotional needs in an animalistic way. The term 餓鬼 èguǐ, literally "hungry ghost", is the Chinese translation of the term preta in Buddhism. "Hungry ghosts" play a role in Chinese Buddhism and Taoism as well as in Chinese folk religion. The term is not to be confused with the generic term for "ghost", guǐ (i.e. the spirit of a deceased ancestor). 

In fact Aśvaghoṣa is making a deliberate play on this confusion. Hence in yesterday's verse he used the word pitṛ (forefathers, deceased ancestors), which corresponds to the Chinese  guǐ (ghosts, spirits of deceased ancestors). The Chinese translator, however, translated pitṛ in yesterday's verse as 餓鬼, “hungry ghosts,” and EHJ similarly understood pitṛ to mean “the Pretas.” EHJ, as usual, thus failed to spot Aśvaghoṣa's irony. 

In Japanese, the 餓鬼 are called gaki. In everyday speech calling children gaki is like calling them pesky brats in English, or low-life scumbags. When my sons were young I would generally refer to them as “the scumbags.” My wife informs me that gaki in Japanese would have a more sinister register than this, and wouldn't be used as an affectionate term of address for one's own pesky kids.

The Wikipedai entry on hungry ghosts continues with respect to Japanese gaki:
In Japanese Buddhism.... gaki (餓鬼) are the spirits of jealous or greedy people who, as punishment for their mortal vices, have been cursed with an insatiable hunger for a particular substance or object. Traditionally, this is something repugnant or humiliating, such as human corpses or feces, though in more recent legends, it may be virtually anything, no matter how bizarre.

In today's verse, then, mouths like the eye of a needle ostensibly represent the difficulty that hungry ghosts have in receiving sustenance, and mountainous bellies represent their insatiable hunger and thirst.

But following the thread from yesterday's verse which refers to pitṛ, or the ancestors, the ironic hidden meaning might be that when bodhisattvas find ourselves in the murky world of the Zen ancestors, the task we are charged with is to get to the bottom of suffering. Primarily this does not mean such efforts as looking up the word duḥkha in the Sanskrit-English dictionary, and reading what deceased ancestors like Aśvaghoṣa wrote. Primarily this means experiencing for ourselves what real suffering really is -- the suffering, for example, that is born of physical and emotional hunger and thirst. 

Being ones who accept such suffering as our lot, then, might primarily mean sitting with our sitting bones on a round black cushion and our knees on a mat. 

Being ones who accept such suffering as our lot, in other words, might mean sitting with our lips sealed and allowing our spines to lengthen in such a way that the lengthening of the spine is not associated with what FM Alexander called “an arching and narrowing of the back.”

sūcī-chidropama-mukhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with mouths like the eye of a needle
sūcī: f. a needle
chidra: n. a hole , slit , cleft , opening
upamā: (mfn. ifc.) equal , similar , resembling , like

parvatopama-kukṣayaḥ (nom. pl. m.): with bellies like a mountain
parvata: m. a mountain
upamā: (mfn. ifc.) equal , similar , resembling , like:
kukṣi: m. the belly , cavity of the abdomen

kṣut-tarṣa-janitaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): engendered by hunger and thirst
janita: mfn. born ; engendered , begotten; produced
duḥkhaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): sufferings

pīḍyante = 3rd pers. pl. passive pīḍ: to be pressed or pained or afflicted ; to cause pain , hurt
duḥkha-bhāginaḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. having pain as one's portion , unhappy
bhāgin: mfn. entitled to or receiving or possessing a share , partaking of , blessed with , concerned in , responsible for (loc. , gen. or comp.)

巨身如大山 咽孔猶針鼻
飢渇火毒然 還自燒其身

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