Wednesday, March 25, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.39: Grieving & Suffering (in Tibetan, Chinese, French, Etc. ... Send three and fourpence!)

[No Sanskrit text]


| rnam pa sna tshogs rgyan phreṅ can | | gźan ’dis sdug bsṅal lhuṅ rnams la |
| gduṅ rnams brtse daṅ g-yo ba yi | | lta byed rnams kyi rjes su ’gro |  

rnam: kind, type
sna: various
tshogs: collection, group, mass
rgyan: ornament
sdug bsngal: suffering, pain, sorrow, grief (Ch. )
lhung: to fall
brtse: kindness, love, pity
lta: look, see
rjes: after, following, trace, tracks

EHJ's translation from the Tibetan:
39. Others, wearing ornaments and garlands of many kinds and grieved at their fall into suffering, follow them with eyes unsteady with sympathy.


生者哀墮落 死者戀生悲
精勤修苦行 貪求生天樂
Those who are born, sad in decay; those who are dead, beloved, cause of grief; thus ever struggling on, preparing future pain, covetous they seek the joys of heaven, (SB)
The living felt grief about their miserable fall, and the dead were sad, longing for life. Through strenuous practice of asceticism one wishes for the happiness of rebirth in heaven, (CW)

One point of correspondence in today's verse between the Tibetan and Chinese is mention of arising of grief (Ch: 生悲).

The two lines of Chinese that follow 生悲 mean “ strenuously cultivating painful practice; greedily seeking birth in the joy of heaven” (精勤修苦行 貪求生天樂). But these two lines do not seem to correspond to anything in the Tibetan until BC14.42, for which EHJ has “Paradise, obtained by many labours.”

Perhaps we can conclude that the Chinese translator conflated the meaning of the next few verses, as he understood that meaning, into a composition of his own making. Whereas the Tibetan suggests that Aśvaghoṣa discussed beautiful ornaments and female breasts, the Chinese translator edited out such decorations in favour of references to dour asceticism. 

In BC14.45 the discussion switches, in EHJ's translation, to “hunger and thirst among the pretas” which is unmistakably rendered in the Chinese as  餓鬼飢渇 “hunger and thirst among the hungry ghosts.” Between today's verse and 14.45, however, the relation between the Chinese and the Tibetan seems to be so tenuous that it is hard to say what corresponds with what.

If Aśvaghoṣa's original Sanskrit in today's verse, as EHJ's translation from the Tibetan suggests, contained both the words śuśucur (they grieved) and duḥkham (suffering), then it is possible that the Chinese translator rendered śuśucur as 生悲felt grief”, and duḥkha as the 苦 painful” in 苦行 painful practice.”

In the absence of Aśvaghoṣa's original Sanskrit, to grapple in this way with the Tibetan and Chinese translations somehow stimulates us to think about the bigger picture of how the Buddha's teaching spread out of India – sometimes assisted and sometimes impeded by the translation of Indian dialects into local languages.

I have thus been stimulated over the past few days by looking into the Tibetan and Chinese translations and commentaries of Sanskrit works not only by Aśvaghoṣa, but also by Nāgārjuna and Vasubandhu –  by the 12th, 14th and 21st Zen patriarchs in India.

Vasubandhu's Abhidharma-kośa, it turns out, was translated from the Tibetan into French, between 1923 – 31, by Louis de La Vallée Poussin. After that, in the 1940s, the original Sanskrit text, long thought to have been lost forever, was discovered in a Tibetan monastery.  

It seems that, seventy years after the original Sanskrit was discovered, people are still relying on LVP's French translation from the Tibetan, and translating that translation from French into English, rather than going back and working from the original Sanskrit.

Send three and fourpence, we are going to a dance.

It causes to form in me a resolve, as far as possible, to simplify things, by 
(a) going back to the original Sanskrit; 
(b) re-connecting that original teaching in Sanskrit with the backward step that Dogen exhorted us to learn, taking a rest from the intellectual work of studying sayings and chasing words; 
with reference along the way to 
(c) what FM Alexander, re-discoverer of the secret of Zen for our time, taught in the way of non-doing. 

To that end I intend in particular to focus on the original meaning of the word saṁskāra, as used, in chronological order, by
(a) Aśvaghoṣa in BC14.82;
(b) Nāgārjuna in Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā (e.g. MMK13.1; MMK16.1, 16.4, 16.5; MMK23.23; MMK26.1, 26.2, 26.10, 26.11);
(c) Vasubandhu, for example in Abhidharma-kośa (e.g. AK1.15).

In Chinese translations, for example of the Lotus Sutra, saṁskāra was generally rendered as , action. Hence the second chapter of the Lotus Sutra, where the Buddha expounds the 12 links, has 無明縁行, "ignorance leads to action" (LS2.56). I shall endeavor to clarify why I think that translating saṁskāra  like this, as  , action, has been a big stumbling block. 

The Chinese character 行, action, conveys an impression of something that proceeds along tracks, tending to do itself. But saṁskārāḥ , as the Zen patriarchs of India use the word, are not actions that do themselves. On the contrary, they are the doings that the one veiled in ignorance does do. 

Send reinforcements. We are going to advance.

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