Sunday, March 15, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.29:Giving Up One's Limbs, Like Śibi

puruṣo yadi jānīta mātsaryasyedśaṁ phalam |
sarvathā śibi-vad dadyāc charīrāvayavān api || 14.29 

If a man knew

That such was the result of dissatisfaction,

He would by all means, like Śibi,

Yield up the limbs from his body as well.

Today's verse as I read it follows on perfectly from yesterday's verse since both verses, below the surface, allude to the practice of practitioners who are making the Buddha's four noble truths into their own possession. 

The practice thus referred to is sitting practice, practised with the lips sealed, in which the whole self is allowed to expand, or develop, or grow. Hence the reference in yesterday's verse to a mountainous belly. And hence the reference in today's verse to yielding up the limbs of one's own body, following the famous example of Śibi, as recounted in the Mahā-bhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa.

The story goes that the gods tested Śibi by taking the form of a hawk and a pigeon. Chased by the hawk, the pigeon fell into the lap of King Śibi. Then the King proved his generosity by offering to let the hawk eat his own flesh, rather than eating the pigeon.

In SN Canto 11, Ānanda refers to the story while cautioning Nanda against pursuing pleasures in heaven as if playing for keeps:
Through tender love for living creatures Śibi gave his own flesh to a hawk./ He fell back from heaven, even after doing such a difficult deed. // SN11.42 //

This ironic meaning of today's verse again rests (as in BC14.27) on the ambiguity of mātsarya, which ostensibly means selfishness (EBC) or avarice (EHJ):
If a man only knew that such was the consequence of selfishness, he would always give to others even pieces of his own body like Śibi. (EBC)
If man knew that such was the fruit of avarice, he would always give away even the limbs of his own body, as Śibi did.(EHJ)

Below the surface mātsarya, as displeasure or dissatisfaction, can be understood to be synonymous with the first noble truth, i.e. duḥkha, dissatisfaction or suffering.

So when we understand the irony operating below the surface, the suggestion is that when bodhisattvas sit as described in yesterday's verse, with lips sealed and belly expanding, we sit like this as a result of the Buddha's compassionate teaching of 
  1. dissatisfaction, 
  2. the cause of dissatisfaction, 
  3. the cessation of dissatisfaction, and 
  4. a way of cessation of dissatisfaction. 

And when a man or woman knows this, he or she very willingly directs his or her arms and legs to release out of his or her lengthening and widening back. The sense of releasing out, or separation, seems to me to be hinted at by the word ava-yava which means a limb, but which is derived from the verb ava-√yu, to separate from.

Read like this, the final word in today's verse api, which ostensibly means "even" might also mean "as well" -- so keeping the lips sealed, letting the belly/back be mountainous, and letting go of arms and legs as well. 

Seeing the irony running through this description of saṁṣāra, one cannot help but
(a) marvel at Aśvaghoṣa's brilliance, and
(b) be inspired to sit in such a way as to release the limbs out of an expanding torso -- as opposed to the alternative of going through life as if holding on for dear life to heavy baggage. 

Not seeing the irony, one might be tempted to tear Aśvaghoṣa's inscrutable poem in half and throw it away!

EHJ, as usual, did not catch the irony. I think it was for that reason, as I shall discuss tomorrow, that EHJ followed the Chinese translation in transposing this and tomorrow's verses.

puruṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): a man
yadi: if
jānīta = 3rd pers. sg. optative jñā: to know

mātsaryasya (gen. sg.): n. envy , jealousy ; displeasure , dissatisfaction
idṛśam (nom. sg. n.): such
phalam (nom. sg.): n. fruit, result

sarvathā: ind. in every way , in every respect , by all means ; altogether ; at all times , always
śibi-vat: ind. like Śibi
śibi: m. name of a king (renowned for his liberality and unselfishness , and said to have saved agni transformed into a dove from indra transformed into a hawk by offering an equal quantity of his own flesh weighed in a balance) MBh.
dadyāt = 3rd pers. sg. dā: to give , bestow , grant , yield , impart , present , offer to ; to give up , cede (āsanam , " one's seat ") ; to sacrifice (ātmānam , " one's self. "

śarīrāvayavān (acc. pl. m.): the limbs of his body
śarīra: n. body ; one's body i.e. one's own person
ava-yava: m. a limb , member , part , portion
ava- √yu: to separate from (abl.)
api: even, also

若人聞慳貪 苦報如是者
割肉以施人 如彼尸毘王
[N.B. In the original Chinese text, these four lines come after the six lines of text which correspond with tomorrow's verse. In other words, BC14.29 and BC14.30 in the old Nepalese manuscript appear in reverse order in the Chinese translation.]

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