Category Archives: Chiasmic Matching

What and how elements in the story have been matched

A bloodline of a different sort 不一樣的血脈

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In a sense, there really is no need to tell you that the birth of the Buddha-to-be, and His death, supposedly 80 years later, is related to one another. But one it serves as a very clear example of what a chiasmus is supposed to look like – something happens at the start or the story, and it is repeated (although in a different way) at the story’s end. More importantly, this pattern is noticed at the center of the story.

One of the things that struck me, and I hope you too, is the repetition of the non-human assembly at these events. Nagas, Yaksas, Devas, beings of the Suddhadhivasa (Pure Abode) Heavens. Even Mara – or better known as kamadeva, the god of passions – was involved.

Mara probably stands out the most, for his reactions were the very opposite of the other non-human crowd attendant at these events. At Siddhartha’s birth he “did not rejoice” and at the Buddha’s death he “uttered loud laughs” at “obtain[ing] his heart’s desire”.

The drum beaten by the heavenly beings at Siddhartha’s birth, was metaphorically used to describe the resounding Dharma realized and uncovered by the Buddha at his enlightenment. You wouldn’t have to guess that the gay Kamadeva was the one cheering the aged Buddha towards his parinirvana.

But if because of his controversial role we think Mara was the enemy of the Buddha, I think we are quite mistaken. Kamadeva was not trying to be an enemy, he was just sentient. He was the chief god of the realm of the passions, in which we live in. He stood against the Buddha’s realization because he was threatened, his realm could potentially be emptied if we transcended the passions following the Buddha’s instructions.

But that didn’t happen. On his deathbed, the Buddha reminds his disciples that he is the physician who has dispensed the necessary medicine, the onus now falls on them to take the medication. It is a message addressed to us all, even Mara, who was perhaps too etched in his role to notice.

But I might just be subjectively interpreting this passages, so further proof should be offered. Surprisingly, not all beings were so expressive of their emotions at these events. The beings of the Suddhadhivasa heavens are a key example. At the Siddhartha’s birth, they “rejoiced in their pure natures, though passion was extinct in them, for the sake of the world drowned in suffering”, and at the Buddha’s death, they “were composed and felt no agitation of mind; for they despised the nature of the world”. The ways of the world…sounds really familiar, isn’t it?

Before I go on, here’s some information about these beings:

The Śuddhāvāsa (Pāli: Suddhāvāsa; Tib: gnas gtsang ma) worlds, or “Pure Abodes”, are distinct from the other worlds of the Rūpadhātu in that they do not house beings who have been born there through ordinary merit or meditative attainments, but only those Anāgāmins (“Non-returners”) who are already on the path to Arhat-hood and who will attain enlightenment directly from the Śuddhāvāsa worlds without being reborn in a lower plane. Every Śuddhāvāsa deva is therefore a protector of Buddhism.                                                                                                                              (Wikipedia, 31/12/2013)

So we see that there are beings who, while being aloof from the world and partake in none of its emotions, are interested in the enlightenment of the Buddha.

But where do we stand? Whose ways do you inherit?

在某層面上,我其實不需要提說悉達多的出生與佛陀的涅槃是有關聯的。可是它卻又非提不可,因爲它是U-型環狀的最佳範例 – 它突現了某樣事件或主題出現在整篇故事中的開頭,結尾以及中間點。

讀著這些片段讓我印象最深刻的是非人類頻繁的出現。您也發現了嗎?龍天夜叉,淨居天眾,就連魔,推廣眾欲望之神也一樣。

魔的角色大概最爲明顯,因爲他對佛陀的態度往往與其它非人是相反的。悉達多太子出生時,他”震動大憂惱“。佛陀入涅是他卻“奏樂以自娛”。

悉達多太子出生時天中所響起的鼓,到了佛陀証道時被用來寓意佛法有多響亮,而到了佛快入涅時,居然是魔在興奮歡慶之餘所鼓奏。

佛所行讚裏記載魔的舉止可能會讓讀者認爲魔就是佛陀的敵人。我認爲這種認知是錯誤的。魔不是存心以佛陀為敵,而只是表現出他被情欲所影響的衆生。他處處阻撓佛陀的成道宣法因爲他認爲他所主宰的欲界受到了威脅。畢竟,如果人人都聽從佛陀的教誨,欲界會清空。

現實狀況當然不是如此。臨終時,佛陀提醒了他的弟子他雖是良醫,也盡其責任把癔病的藥方交給了大家,可是服藥的責任落在病人的身上。這警訊是對我們以及一切的衆生說的,就連魔也是如此,雖然他大概因爲太入戯而無法聼進腦袋裏去。

可是可能我這一些説法只不過是片面的解讀,所以仍然該進一步給大家多些證據。在探討佛陀的生死事故,我發現並不是全部參與的大眾都會表現高昂亢奮的情緒。淨居天眾就是個例子。悉達多太子誕生時,他們“歡喜”因爲雖然“已除愛欲歡”仍然“為法而欣悅”。佛如涅後,佛所行讚記載:

p0050a10-11║ 淨居天來下,虛空中列侍,

觀察無常變,無憂亦無喜。

也就是說他們不順世間之法。雖然如此,他們仍舊參與著佛法在世間流傳的工作。

在這新年之際,大家不妨想想,我這一年來有把努力與實踐用在自己認爲是最重要的目的與人身上嗎?會不會因太入戯而忘卻了最重要的學習呢?

What’s with Asita and Subhadra? 阿私陀和須跋陀羅的關係

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So, why did I choose the story of Asita and Subhadra for our daily reading? Much because  they are chiasmically important. For one they occur at the start and end of the Buddhacarita, chapters 1 and 26 respectively. Of equal importance is that it they both reference the Enlightenment of Siddhartha, which occurs at the 14th chapter. If you recall the rough correspondence of the chapters of the Buddhacarita, the stories here figure into a triangle, as shown in the diagram below.

Preliminary Matching for Asita-Subhadra

And what does this chiasmic structure tell us about how to interpret the story? Think: what does Asita and Subhadra share? How do they differ?

Comparison Asita-Subhadra

Subhadra heard the teachings while Asita did not, and this enabled the former to quit samsaric (cyclical) existence despite both being extremely accomplished spiritual practitioners.

It might seem trivial to raise this point to any Buddhist, but this two sections quite clearly mirrors each other, and tells us what

changes the climax – the Enlightenment – brings about. And it should encourage us to see if similar discoveries can be made in other sections of the Buddhacarita.

讀者們如果這一個星期來有跟著我閲讀阿私陀和須跋陀羅的故事就會發現他們的重要性。首先,他們在整體故事裏所處在的位置符合了我正在探討的U-型環狀結構。阿私陀出現在第一品,而須跋陀羅出現在接近尾聲的第二十六品。他們兩的故事也提及與涉及到第十四品的佛陀証道。

可是這又怎樣呢?試想想,讀阿私陀和須跋陀羅之間是否有沒有什麽共同或不相似之處?然我以下面的表略說:

阿私陀---須跋陀羅

須跋陀羅聽聞了佛法之後,証了涅槃而不再得生而死,死而復生,而修行極爲高超的阿私陀無法凴他的修持而逃脫輪回之苦。這雖然對一般佛教信徒而言是看似人人皆知,不值一提的小事,可是從故事整體的結構來看卻是非常重要的。他們出現的位置再叮嚀著我們佛陀所証悟的法對世間起了什麽作用,也提醒我們要更努力地探索佛所行讚的其它部分是否也有類似可比對的故事。而我們又會發現什麽其它的訊息呢?

What is the Buddhacarita like?

Tomorrow is D-day. Well, it isn’t all that severe, but it is the day of I meet my thesis adviser to decide if I should continue on this topic. I think it’s a foregone conclusion, but it still bugs me if he would come up with questions to fall my proposition. But, that aside, I think it is right to give you an idea of what the Buddhacarita looks like.

First of all, the was composed entirely in Sanskrit verses. I can’t read Sanskrit, and so right now I’m depending on the English and Chinese versions, the latter of which comprises of about 60,000 characters. It comes in 28 chapters which are titled, but the titles are misleading because they might contain more events or characters they claim to be about. An example is chapter 12, titled “Visit to Arada” but it really also talks about the Bodhisattva Siddharta meeting Udraka (both Arada and Udraka are major teachers of the Sramanic tradition) and even the five ascetics.

So, the chapters are:

And if I may order them chiastically, they would roughly be:

You might notice that the ordering might not align according to specific themes or characters at this point, but that is work-in-progress. At the same time the question remains as to what is the center of the entire story. Certainly many Buddhists would be pretty confident that it is the Buddha’s enlightenment, without which the whole story would not have been passed till this day. But the magic of the chiasmic structure is that the matching of content on both sides of the center point might lead us to a very different conclusion than what has been normally assumed.

A few things, though, are clear at this point. The Bodhisattva’s birth probably matches the Buddha’s nirvana, and his leaving home can correspond to the “Meeting of Father and Son”. Closer to the time of enlightenment, the Bodhisattva met the five ascetics, who he duly first taught after his enlightenment. Yet another match is in Srenya’s (Bimbisara), King of Magadha, appearance before and after the Buddha’s enlightenment.

But, is the enlightenment really the most important point of the story? What do you think?