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

  1. 中文版請點這裡

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。







p0050a10-11║ 淨居天來下,虛空中列侍,





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


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.





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?