Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Vintage Tor on the Buddhacarita of Asvagosha (Open Trackbacks)

I've recently come across some old college papers that are now well into their second decade of sitting in one closet or another. It's been interesting to read them again, especially the ones dealing with Buddhism. I thought I might share a few of them with you. In some ways, I feel that the Tor who wrote these papers knew a lot more about some of the specific fine points of Buddhism and its history than the Tor who currently blogs, yet the Tor who currently blogs has perhaps gained some wisdom from outside of sutra reading. Both Tors have something to gain from the dialogue that could emerge. For now, I'm just going to set up the first paper for you, and then let the vintage Tor take over. I hope to come back to these topics soon and give an update on how I see things now.

This first paper dealt with the Buddhacarita, or "Works of the Buddha," of Asvagosha. It's a narrative of the Buddha's path to enlightenment. The citations are from Cowell's translation, available in Buddhist Mahayana Texts, edited by Muller.

The new understandings of the terms "religion" and "merit" which the Bodhisattva teaches in the Buddhacarita contrast sharply to those put forth by his father's priest and counsellor, by Bimbisara, and by Arada.

The family priest of Suddhodana asks the prince to "abandon this purpose (religion) for the sake of duty."[IX, 15] This statement implies that duty to one's family and people and the religious quest are mutually exclusive.

However, he suggests an alternative method of self-cultivation: the collection of merit. He recalls Suddhodana's speech about ancient kings who "were well skilled in attaining the merit which leads to final bliss...royal magnificence and control over the mind."[IX,21]

The Bodhisattva replies to this argument by saying that the collection of merit does not solve the problems of sickness, old age, and death.[IX,31] He also says, "parting is inevitably fixed in the course of time, "[IX,35] which means that all who follow the way of collecting merit will suffer. Therefore the answer to the problems of old age, sickness, and death do not lie within the physical realm, "the home of illusion. "[IX,40]

The counsellor argues that the religious quest of the Bodhisattva is not inherently wrong, but only ill-timed. He says the duty of the prince is to stay with his father, and then, having fulfilled that duty, the prince could pursue the religious quest.

The counsellor also favors a "carpe diem" philosophy about life. He calls into doubt the existence of afterlives, saying that if there are afterlives they "will enjoy ourselves in it,"[IX,46] but says that if there is no hereafter, then "there is an assured liberation."[ibid.]

The counsellor also says each man has a debt to his ancestors, to the saints, and to the gods, and liberation is found by respecting this debt.[IX,55]

The Bodhisattva replies that because the tradition of his ancestors has uncertain results, and because he cannot follow the definition of "duty" of "those who have broken their vows,"[IX,67] he cannot return to the world of pleasure.

Bimbisara advocates the pursuit of "religious merit, wealth, and pleasure."[X,28] He says that when these three things are complete, "the end of man is complete."[X,30] He says that pleasure and wealth are for youth, and religion is for old age.

The Bodhisattva says that pleasure only leads to the desire for more pleasure, and wealth only destroys people by making them trust worldly objects.[XI,10-16] He calls the attainment of pleasure and wealth "intoxication" and therefore results in loss of self control.[XI,21-24] He also says pleasure is nothing more than a reaction to misery. The Bodhisattva does not agree, therefore, that the accumulation of "religious merit" needs to be complemented by pleasure and wealth.

Arada holds the views that are closest to those of the Bodhisattva, but still differences are apparent. He propones meditation that leads to the state of not being. This method of religion leaves behind only the liberated soul, which must be freed from an entanglement similar to that which the Bodhisattva perceives.[XII,64]

The Bodhisattva, however, feels that even with the remnant of a soul there is not true abandonment from "qualities" which bind one to the material. [XII, 77]

The Bodhisattva also notes that the absence of knowing is an existence in itself.[XII,79]

Therefore, the views of the Bodhisattva involve the realization of the transience of the material as the primary duty of "religion." The accumulation of "merit" or wealth or pleasure only leads to one's eventual downfall. Even the soul has qualities which make it prone to the laws of the material world, and thus even the soul must be abandoned.

Okay, it was a dreadful paper. I promise they will get better.



This is this week's post. You may trackback on any subject, provided you link to this post. Click on the chicklet for an FAQ on open trackbacks.

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