Monday, March 16, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.30: When Expectations are Not Met, and Impurity is Hard to Swallow

āśayā samatikrāntā dhāryamāṇāḥ sva-karmabhiḥ |
labhante na hy amī bhoktum praviddhāny aśucīny api || 14.30

For, totally exceeded by expectation

And constrained by their own actions,

These ones are not permitted to eat 

Any impure droppings at all.

The order of verses here follows the old Nepalese manuscript and the Tibetan translation. EBC's text also follows this order. In the Chinese translation, however, today's verse and the verse about Śibi are transposed. EHJ also transposed the two verses, based on the Chinese translation and the sense as he understood it.

I think that EHJ, however, did not catch the true sense, because he did not catch the irony which resides in the gap between the ostensible and hidden meaning of aśuci, “impure.”

The ostensible meaning is related to the tradition, as described in connection with BC14.28, that some hungry ghosts are cursed with an insatiable desire to feed on human filth. Ostensibly then aśuci means faeces, and  praviddhāny aśucīni means excretia that has been thrown away. Hence EHJ:
For reaching the limit of longing, yet kept in existence by their own deeds, they do not succeed in swallowing even the filth thrown away by others.

In the hidden meaning, if we continue to read the present series of verses as an ironic description of bodhisattvas practising in saṁsāra (because where else can we practise?), aśuci must mean impure in another sense. The suggestion might be, for example, that a bhikṣu is not permitted to eat food that has not been offered (or dropped into a begging bowl) freely.

When we read today's verse like this, aśuci, impurity, seems to work as a bridge between two stages in saṁsāra – since in tomorrow's verse the human world is described as aśuci-hrada a pool of impurity (EHJ: "a filthy pool").  I take this as further confirmation that the original order of verses was as per the old Nepalese manuscript and the Tibetan translation. 

In connection with the 1st pāda, EHJ noted: 
The reading in a is not quite satisfactory; the sense clearly being that they reach the extreme limit of starvation.

So, as a description of hungry ghosts, the wording of the 1st pāda looks suspect. Ostensibly,  āśā means desire; desire is synonymous with hunger; and āśayā samatikrāntāḥ, lit. "gone totally beyond, with desire" or "totally exceeded by expectation," is a somewhat unsatisfactory way of describing hungry ghosts who are reaching the extreme limit of hunger. 

"Totally exceeded by expectation," as I have translated the 1st pāda, strikes us as a particularly odd or unsatisfactory reading, since we usually talk of people exceeding expectations, whereas this wording suggests expectations totally exceeding people.

So ostensibly, as a description of hungry ghosts, the suggestion might be of beings whose eyes are bigger than their bellies. But below the surface, taking literally the words “totally exceeded by expectation,” the suggestion is of beings who have failed to live up to expectations. In that case, either those who failed to live up to expectations should have done better; or else the fault was in the expectation.

It reminds me of a poster in a Sheffield churchyard, that used to make me think as I rode past it on the bus more than 30 years ago. The Christian poster forewarned me:

“A man who aims at nothing seldom misses the target.”

If only, over the intervening  years, I had been better constrained by my own actions, I surely would have demonstrated the truth of that statement more fully! 

"If only..." 

Therein lies the tragedy, for a bloke who has been totally exceeded by expectations. 

āśayā (inst. sg.): f. wish , desire , hope , expectation , prospect
samatikrāntāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. gone entirely over or beyond , gone through
sam-ati- √ kram : to go or pass by entirely , cross or step over MBh. ; to step out of (abl.) ; to transgress , neglect , disregard , lose ; to surpass , excel ; exceed
aśanāsamatikrāntāḥ (nom. pl. m.): not being surpassed in desiring food (?)
aśana: n. eating , food
aśanā: f. = aśanāya q.v to desire food , be hungry

dhāryamāṇāḥ = nom. pl. m. pres. part. causative passive dhṛ: to hold back, stop, restrain
sva-karmabhiḥ (inst. pl.): their own actions

labhante = 3rd pers. pl. labh: to gain the power of (doing anything) , succeed in , be permitted or allowed to (inf.)
na: not
hi: for
amī (nom. pl. m.): they
bhoktum = inf. to enjoy , use , possess , (esp.) enjoy a meal , eat , eat and drink , consume

praviddhāni (acc. pl. n.): mfn. hurled , cast , thrown ; thrown asunder , spilt (as water); abandoned , given up
pra- √vyadh: to hurl , cast , throw away or down ; to hurl missiles , shoot ; to pierce , transfix , wound
pravṛddhāni [old Nepalese manuscript / EBC] (acc. pl. n.): mfn. grown up , fully developed , increased , augmented , intense , vehement , great , numerous ; swollen , heaving ; risen to wealth or power , prosperous , mighty , strong ; advanced in age , grown old ; haughty , arrogant
pra- √ vṛdh: to grow up , grow , increase , gain in strength , prosper , thrive
aśucīni [EBC] (acc. pl. n.): mfn. impure , foul
api: even, also (emphatic)

求者慳不與 或遮人惠施
生彼餓鬼中 求食不能得
不淨人所棄 欲食而變失

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