Thursday, March 26, 2015

BUDDHACARITA 14.40: The Grieving Breast - When Sexual Fun is Over & Done

[No Sanskrit text] 

| ’dod pa can rnams lhuṅ ba la | | lag pa rnams kyis braṅ brduṅ źiṅ |
| ’khrugs chen gyi ltar ñam thag pa | | lha mo’i tshogs rnams kyis bstan to |  

lag: hand 
brang: chest, breast 
brdung: to beat
shing: [connective particle] 
chen: great, big (Ch. 
ltar: like, as if
bstan: teach; indicate; show; demonstrate 

EHJ's translation from the Tibetan: 
40. In their love for those who are falling, the troops of Apsarases beat their breasts with their hands and, distressed, as it were, with great affliction, remain attached to them.

既有如此苦 鄙哉何可貪
大方便所得 不免別離苦
Obtaining which, these sorrows come apace ; despicable joys ! oh, who would covet them ! using such mighty efforts (means) to obtain, and yet unable thence to banish pain. (SB)
but because one has such suffering, how base is this? What is there to covet? What is obtained through great application will not avoid the suffering of separation. (CW)

EHJ noted that the sense of the main verb brten (Skt: sev, saj, bhaj, etc.) was not clear to him. It is not even clear to me which word in the Tibetan EHJ was referring to – presumably a word conjugated from the word brten? 
The Tibetan braṅ (or brang without the diacritical mark) means breast, and we know from experience that Aśvaghoṣa rarely missed an opportunity, whenever discussing women, to mention women's breasts.

Today's verse, then, may have included the Sanskrit payo-dhara, lit. "milk-bearer," a compound which brings out the primary functional aspect of the female breast, associated with child-rearing and nutrition. At the same time, following on from the mention yesterday of ornaments, the female breast has also got its decorative and sensual aspect, associated with both male and female pleasure. But then today's verse, if the Tibetan translation is to be believed -- and experience suggests that the Tibetan is to be believed -- seems designed to remind us of the emotional aspect of the breast, the beating of which in many cultures gives vivid expression to human grief. 

Perhaps it was such multiple powerful associations of female breasts that caused Aśvaghoṣa to favour them so much in his poetry .

This appreciation of breasts was evidently not shared by the Chinese translator, however. Scanning ahead through the Chinese text for a glimpse of breast, like a sexually frustrated adolescent seeking sexual titillation in a school library, we find only dour references to love in the abstract: 
積劫修苦行 永離於愛
“Through heaps of kalpas practising ascetic practice, forever distanced from love.” 
(I have provisionally connected these two lines of Chinese with BC14.42.) 

In the specific instance of Buddhacarita, without any doubt, the Tibetan gives a more reliable indication of the original Sanskrit than does the Chinese. 
But what of other texts, like Nāgārjuna's Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā (MMK)? 

The natural place for me to begin to answer that question is the three verses from the end of MMK chap. 26 that I have quoted so often in recent months, viz: 
saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ |
avidvān kārakas tasmān na vidvāṁs tattva-darśanāt ||MMK26.10.
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra
Thus does the ignorant one do. 
The ignorant one therefore is the doer;
The wise one is not, because of reality making itself known. 
avidyāyāṁ niruddhāyāṁ saṁskārāṇām asaṁbhavaḥ |
avidyāyā nirodhas tu jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt ||MMK26.11
In the destruction of ignorance,
There is the non-coming-into-being of doings
The destruction of ignorance, however,
Is because of the allowing-into-being of just this act of knowing.
tasya tasya nirodhena tat-tan nābhipravartate |
duḥkha-skandhaḥ kevalo 'yam evaṁ samyaṅ nirudhyate ||MMK26.12
By the destruction of each,
Each is discontinued. 
This whole edifice of suffering
Is thus well and truly demolished.

Here, drawn from Oslo University's Bibliotecha Polyglotta, is Kumārajīva's translation into Chinese of MMK26.10 and 26.12, with a literal translation by me from Chinese into English. (For some reason, MMK26.11 is omitted from the Chinese.)
是謂為生死 諸之根本
無明者所造 智者所不為  
This, what is called “life and death,” has actions () as its root -- 
Produced by the ignorant one; not done by the wise one. 
以是事滅故 是事則不生
但是苦陰聚 如是而正滅 
Because of the cessation of this thing, this thing then does not arise; 
Rather, this mass of suffering and gloom, in this manner, well and truly ceases. 

Here, also from Oslo University's Bibliotecha Polyglotta, is the Tibetan translation by Jñānagarbha and Klu’i rgyal mtshan, together with Stephen Batchelor's translation from Tibetan into English:
| ’khor ba’i rtsa ba ’du byed de | | de phyir mkhas rnams ’du mi byed |
| de phyir mi mkhas byed po yin | | mkhas min de ñid mthoṅ phyir ro |  
The root of life is formative impulses. Therefore, the wise do not form impulses. 
Therefore, the unwise are formers, but not the wise since they see reality.
| ma rig ’gags par gyur na ni | | ’du byed rnams kyaṅ ’byuṅ mi ’gyur |
| ma rig ’gag par ’gyur ba ni | | śes pas de ñid bsgoms pas so | 
When ignorance stops, formative impulses too do not occur. 
The stopping of ignorance [comes] through practising that with understanding.
| de daṅ de ni ’gags gyur pas | | de daṅ de ni mṅon mi ’byuṅ |
| sdug bsṅal phuṅ po ’ba’ źig pa | | de ni de ltar yaṅ dag ’gag | 
By the stopping of the former, the latter will clearly not occur. 
The entire mass of anguish will likewise completely stop.

In the verses quoted above, saṁskārān in Nāgārjuna's Sanskrit was translated into Chinese by Kumārajīva as  (actions), and translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan as ’du byed rnams (SB: formative impulses). 

When we study Nāgārjuna's words in the original Sanskrit, however, the doings as object (saṁskārān), the doing as verb (saṁskaroti), and the doer as agent (kārakaḥ), are all words derived from the root kṛ, to do. 
When this is understood, Nāgārjuna's statement is crying out to be translated in only one way:
“The doings which are the root of saṁsāra, thus does the ignorant one do.”

saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ 
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra, thus does the ignorant one do.
avidvān kārakas tasmān
The ignorant one therefore is the doer

Between now and the appearance of “doings” in BC14.82, I would like to look at some other ancient verses in which saṁskārāh appears as the 2nd of the 12 links, and to clarify how understanding saṁskārāh to means “doings” rather than “actions” can maybe deepen our understanding of the core teaching of pratītya-samutpāda. 
To that end, tomorrow I will go through an important passage from the 7th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, in Sanskrit and in Kumārajīva's translation into Chinese.

With respect to today's verse in Buddha-carita, and with respect to Buddha-carita in general, it is almost certain that the Tibetan translation, with its mention of breasts, is more reliable than the Chinese translation, which offers naught for our comfort in the breast department.

With respect to Nāgārjuna's MMK, the Chinese and the Tibetan both convey the gist and the spirit of Nāgārjuna's original Sanskrit.

But nothing beats going back to the original Sanskrit text as written by the Indian Zen patriarch himself.

Translations of translations, even if they succeed in transmitting the spirit and the gist of the original, easily become the cause of complication and confusion. (Send three and fourpence, we are going to a dance.) Whereas the direction it might behove us all to go in, on the contrary, is towards unity and simplicity. (Send reinforcements, we are going to advance.)

Let us hope that the second half of Buddhacarita, following the example of the Abhidharma-kośa, will turn up some day soon, having been preserved somewhere in some long-forgotten place. Thus reinforced, we really will advance.

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