Thursday, August 14, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.10: Going Against Convention

śiṣye yady-api vijñāte śāstraṁ kālena varṇyate |
gāmbhīryād-vyavasāyāc-ca na parīkṣyo bhavān mama || 12.10

Although the teaching [as a rule]
is elucidated after some time,

When the student has been investigated,

From the depth of your sincerity, 
and the strength of your resolve,

There is no need for me to examine you.”

Today's verse can be read as antithetical to yesterday's verse in a couple of ways.

Firstly, and most evidently, the 1st pādas of both verses have a verb from vi-√jñā, to investigate. (The 2nd pāda of tomorrow's verse does too.) Yesterday's verse describes investigation conventionally, in terms of a student investigating the dharma. Today's verse turns the tables, describing how a teacher may investigate a student before deciding whether or not to teach anything to him or her. In other words, the subject of investigation in yesterday's verse has become the object of investigation in today's verse.

Secondly, yesterday's verse can be read as expressing a general rule. The general rule is that human knowledge is like a raft by means of which we are to overcome hardships and difficulties and approach our human aims. In today's verse, on the contrary, Arāḍa is expressing his willingness to make a special case of the bodhisattva-prince, dispensing with preliminaries and thereby breaking a general rule.

In the spirit of going against convention, I would like to express my opposition to all -isms, and especially Buddhism.

On the radio this morning it was reported, as a possibly anti-semitic incident, that FREE GAZA was daubed on the wall of a synagogue in Brighton, and so the rhetorical question was raised, what has the bombing of Gaza got to with Judaism? 

Quite a lot, it seems to me.

To condemn the actions of the Israeli state, evidently, is regarded as politically acceptable, or maybe even politically imperative, in my country, Britain (including Scotland!) at the present time. But any view that is perceived to be rooted in anti-semitism is not acceptable, as if such a view ran the risk of being the thin end of the wedge leading to another Nazi genocide.

So when I hear on my beloved BBC Radio 4 people dancing on the head of a pin so as to distinguish between Judaism and the actions of the Jewish state of Israel, so as not to commit the cardinal sin of appearing to be anti-semitic, I feel the urge to poke my head above the parapet and declare my own anti-semitism.

Anti-semitism, according to Wikipedia is prejudice, hatred of, or discrimination against Jews as a national, ethnic, religious or racial group.

In that case, where do I sign?

I am totally prejudiced against Jews as a religious group. In equal measure I am Islamophobic. And I am not overly keen on Christianity either. But most of all I abhor Buddhism, in all its forms.

This morning a robin hopped onto the porch of my meditation hut. And in its very action of bob-bob-bobbing along, the red red robin seemed to be expressing the essence of the Buddha's teaching, and I loved it. But Buddhism in all its forms – Theravada, Zen, Tibetan, you name it – I hate.

If the Buddha appeared in the world today, he would lack the qualifications to get an academic position in the field known as Buddhist studies. But if he earned a degree in say, Sanskrit, and then explained in a detailed historical thesis, amply cross-referenced to the literature of other Buddhist scholars, how his own original teaching evolved into all the various schools and sects of Buddhism, then they would give him a Ph. D. no problem.

It is the same perverse situation that Ken Robinson has pointed out in connection with Picasso and art historians. In the educational hierarchy as it stands, those who go to university to study art history are higher up the pecking order than artists who go to art college to make art. So somebody who couldn't paint a barn door with a 6-inch brush but who had earned a Ph. D. by writing about Picasso, would be higher up the educational food chain than Picasso himself.

śiṣye (loc. sg.): m. pupil, student
yadi: ind. if
api: even
vijñāte (loc. sg. m.): mfn. discerned , understood , known &c
vi- √ jñā: to distinguish , discern , observe , investigate , recognize , ascertain , know , understand ; to have right knowledge ; to become wise or learned

śāstram (nom. sg.): n. order ; teaching , instruction , direction , advice , good counsel; any instrument of teaching , any manual or compendium of rules , any bock or treatise , (esp.) any religious or scientific treatise , any sacred book ; a body of teaching (in general)
kālena: ind. (inst.) after a long time
varṇyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive varṇ: to paint , colour , dye ; to depict , picture , write , describe , relate , tell , explain

gāmbhīryāt (abl. sg.): n. deepness , depth (of water , sound , &c ) ; n. depth or profundity of character , earnestness
vyavasāyāt (abl. sg.): m. strenuous effort or exertion ; settled determination , resolve , purpose , intention
ca: and

na: not
parīkṣyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. to be tried or tested or examined or proved
bhavān (nom. sg.): m. the gentleman present, you
mama (gen. sg.): for me

凡人誘來學 審才而後教
我今已知汝 堅固決定志
但當任意學 終無隱於子

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.9: The Race Is Not Always to the Slow (The Conscious Mind Must Be Quickened)

tad-vijñātum-imaṁ dharmaṁ paramaṁ bhājanaṁ bhavān |
jñāna-plavam-adhiṣṭhāya śīghraṁ duḥkhārṇavaṁ tara || 12.9

To investigate this dharma, therefore,

You are a supremely fit person.

Climbing aboard the raft of knowing,

May you swiftly cross over the foaming sea of suffering.

EHJ cross-references today's verse to a verse in the Mahā-bhārata (viii. 3551).

A google search for “raft of knowledge” leads to the place in the Bhagavad-gita where Kriṣṇa tells Arjuna:
Even if thou beest the greatest sinner among all that are sinful, thou shalt yet cross over (saṁtariṣyasi) all transgressions by the raft of knowledge (jñānaplavenaiva).

The first thought that occurs to me, however, is to cross-reference today's verse to the Old Testament, viz:
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

This might be a nice example of Jewish epic poetry, translated in such a way, in the King James Version of the Bible, as to be readily engraved in the memory:

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift...

The race is not to the swift.

How true.

And yet, today's verse seems to want to remind us, hanging around until old age tempers our desire for sensual pleasures – as recommended by the likes of King Bimbisāra – is not always the wise option either.

In the 2nd pāda of today's verse paramam could be taken (as each of the three professors took it) as accusative agreeing with dharmam or could be taken (as I have taken it, and PO also took it, in a double sense) as nominative neuter agreeing with bhājanām.

I think Arāḍa's intention is not to big up his teaching (EBC: this highest religion; EHJ: this, the highest dharma; PO: this, the supreme dharma), but rather to express his recognition that the bodhisattva-prince is evidently a person of the highest order. Hence in tomorrow's verse Arāḍa will tell the bodhisattva that he intends, in his case, to dispense with usual preliminaries and to proceed -- swiftly -- to the elucidation of his teaching.

So this is one meaning of śīghram, “swiftly.” One meaning of swiftly is “while you are still young, without waiting for old age.”

But today's verse also causes me to reflect on FM Alexander's aphorism that “the conscious mind must be quickened.”

In particular it may be because the link between avidyā (ignorance) and saṁskārāḥ (doings), in the twelvefold chain, is formed with such lightning swiftness, that the conscious mind must be quickened.

Just now as I sat, as often naturally happens when I am sitting, I found myself going through Alexander's four directions. Just to think the words without letting doings arise in response to those words, is a challenge in itself.

Many years from now people may read this blog and see that this work was right at the beginning of the connection being made between the discoveries of FM Alexander and the Buddha's teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, Springing Up by going back. Not that others before me didn't make the connection of course – not least FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow. Marjory herself caused me to see the lightning rapidity with which doings arise, in the ignorant one; Marjory also gave me a glimpse of what it might mean to be the wise one. In that sense, this translation of the closing verses of Nāgārjuna's MMK chapter 26 owes as much to her as it does to me:

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 ceasing of ignorance,
There is the non-coming-into-being of doings.
The cessation of ignorance, however,
Is because of the bringing-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 totally demolished.

tad: ind. so, therefore
vijñātum = inf. to distinguish , discern , observe , investigate , recognize , ascertain , know , understand
imam (acc. sg. m.): this
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. dharma

paramam (acc. sg. m. / nom. sg. n.): mfn. (superl. of pára) most distant , remotest , extreme , last ; chief , highest , primary , most prominent or conspicuous ; best, most excellent
bhājanam (nom. sg.): n. (fr. Caus. bhaj) " partaker of " , a recipient , receptacle , (esp.) a vessel , pot , plate , cup ; n. (with gen. or ifc. with f(ā).) , a place or person in which anything is collected or in whom any quality is conspicuous , any fit object or clever or deserving person
bhavān (nom. sg. m.): the gentleman present, you

jñāna-plavam (acc. sg.): the raft of knowing
jñāna: n. knowing , becoming acquainted with , knowledge , (esp.) the higher knowledge
plava: mfn. floating, swimming; mn. a float , raft , boat , small ship
adhiṣṭhāya = abs. adhi-√sthā to stand upon , depend upon to inhabit abide to stand over ; to ascend, mount

śīghram: ind. quickly , rapidly
duḥkhārṇavam (acc. sg.): the foaming sea of suffering
arṇava: m. the foaming sea
tara = 2nd pers. sg. imperative tṛṛ: to pass across or over , cross over (a river) , sail across

觀汝深固志 堪爲正法器
當乘智慧舟 超度生死海

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.8: Something Out of the Ordinary

idaṁ me matam-āścaryaṁ nave vayasi yad-bhavān |
abhuktvaiva śriyaṁ prāptaḥ sthito viṣaya-gocare || 12.8

This I deem a wonder:

That you in the flush of youth

Have come here 
– without ever taking the reins of royal power –

Living in the thick of sense-objects.

we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
and wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.

It is funny how the lyrics of an old hymn like this linger deep in the memory, and seem to retain a certain power to inspire and uplift, long after thee has ceased to exist as an object of any kind of religious belief.

Maybe the words of the hymn continue to hold meaning in an irreligious heart and mind because the dharma whose praises the heart wishes to sing is that very law by which all things wither and perish – as described, totally irreligiously, by the 2nd law of thermodynamics. The 2nd law might truly be the Almighty One.

The connection of these musings with my reading of today's verse, lest I seem to be digressing too far, is that in the old days lovers of Aśvaghoṣa must have memorized not only individual verses, as I generally do, just for a day at a time, and not only whole cantos. People must have memorized the whole epic poem of 28 cantos so that they could -- in the days before TV and radio provided endless hours of entertainment -- recite the whole thing. I mean they would have been able to bring the whole thing out of deep storage, from that part of the brain where hymns sang long ago are remembered. 

The present Canto is a long one, with 121 verses. So memorizing these first eight verses, less than one fifteenth of one canto, is nothing to write home about. But when I did commit these opening verses to memory and practise reciting them from memory, I realized how much of an aid to the memory it must have been all those years ago to see the underlying logical progression, especially when that progression falls neatly into four phases.

Thus, in the present series of four verses (i.e. the first four verses of Arāḍa's opening speech), I read 
  1. BC12.5 as having to do with a thesis, namely the aim of breaking free;
  2. BC12.6 as representing an anti-thesis, which opposes the hippy ideal with the traditional virtues of steadfastness and wisdom;
  3. BC12.7 as describing what is not a wonder, what in other words is as ordinary as digging up a stone in a vegetable patch;
  4. and today's verse expressing what is a wonder, i.e., something transcendent.

Talking of transcendence, for an ordinary young bloke such as I was at the bodhisattva's age of 29, to transcend family life in the sense of living as a celibate monk was not difficult. It was out-and-out impossible.

But even for one who fails to walk the royal road of a bhikṣu who has cut the fetters of emotional attachment, I venture to submit, transcendence can still be nailed, by the simple act of sitting in lotus. That is the message of Dogen's Fukan-zazengi.

That is mainly what fuelled me for the 13 years I lived in Japan – the sense that here was something truly extra-ordinary, and here was a teacher whose mission, which I could be part of, was to make this extra-ordinary something accessible to “all people in the world!”

Alexander work has caused me often to reflect that my sense in those days was very faulty. What is truly extraordinary, I have come to think, is what happens in those rare moments when one allows sitting in lotus to be not the doing of anything.

Any way up, when we read today's verse as expressive of transcendence, we are caused to reconsider what kind of transcendence the 4th pāda might be suggesting.

On the face of it, the 2nd and 4th pādas of today's verse, both being in the locative case, naturally go together. Hence 
  • EBC: that thou... in life's fresh prime, set in the open field of the world's enjoyments
  • EHJ: that you, who are in the flush of youth and are placed in the pasture-ground of sensory pleasures; 
  • PO: that you, while still a young man, living in the thick of sensual pleasures.

But to translate like that might be to obscure a progression through four phases within the four pādas of the verse, whereby
the 1st pāda is what I deem to be a wonder;
the 2nd pāda is objective fact – a matter of 29 years and however many months;
the 3rd pāda describes a bodhisattva's action;
and the 4th pāda suggests something transcendent.

Ostensibly, then the 4th pāda goes with the 2nd pāda. But as an expression of the fourth phase, the 4th pāda goes beyond the 2nd pāda, and at the same time includes all the first three pādas.

As such the 4th pāda is difficult to translate. 

It could be read as referring back to life in the palace, when the young prince, like a frisky young bull set in grassy cow-filled pastures, was living in a domain of sensory enticements. In that case the 4th pāda and the 2nd pāda are naturally translated together – something like “that you, in the flush of youth, while dwelling in the domain of sensory enticements,...”

But the 4th pāda can also be read as suggestive of the kind of transcendence that a Chinese Zen Master expressed when a monk wanted to ask him about something truly extra-ordinary.

What is the mind of an Old Buddha?” the monk inquired.

And the Old Buddha, continuing to dwell nowhere but in the very thick of sense-objects, replied:   Fences, walls, tiles and pebbles.

idam (nom. sg. n.): this
me (gen. sg.): for/to me
matam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. thought, considered
āścaryam n. a wonder , miracle , marvel , prodigy; surprise

nave (loc. sg. n.): mfn. new, fresh, young
vayasi (loc. sg.): n. vigorous age , youth , prime of life , any period of life , age
yad: ind. (relative pronoun) that
bhavān (nom. sg. m.): the gentleman present, you

abhuktvā: ind. without having enjoyed
bhuktvā = abs. bhuj: to enjoy , use , possess , (esp.)
eva: (emphatic)
śriyam (acc. sg.): f. royal power
prāptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. arrived

sthitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. standing , staying , situated ; standing firm ; resting or abiding or remaining in (loc.)
viṣaya-gocare (loc. sg. m.): in the open field of the world's enjoyments (EBC); in the pasture-ground of sensory pleasures (EHJ); in the thick of sensual pleasures (PO).
viṣaya: m. realm, object, object of sense ; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
gocara: m. pasture ground for cattle ; range , field for action , abode , dwelling-place , district (esp. ifc. " abiding in , relating to " ; " offering range or field or scope for action , within the range of , accessible , attainable , within the power ") ; the range of the organs of sense , object of sense , anything perceptible by the senses , esp. the range of the eye (e.g. locana-gocaraṁ- √yā , to come within range of the eye , become visible)

未若汝盛年 不受聖王位

Monday, August 11, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.7: Nothing Out of the Ordinary

¦⏑⏑⏑−¦¦−−−−¦⏑−⏑−   navipulā
nāścaryaṁ jīrṇa-vayaso yaj-jagmuḥ pārthivā vanam |
apatyebhyaḥ śriyaṁ dattvā bhuktocchiṣṭām-iva srajam || 12.7

No wonder is it that, in their old age,

Lords of the earth have gone to the forest,

Handing to their offspring royal power,

Like what's left of a used garland.

In today's verse and in tomorrow's, Arāḍa expresses an attitude which contrasts with the conventional wisdom, as expressed by King Bimbisāra, about when to retire to the forest.

In Brahmanism āśrama meant not only an ashram, a place like Arāḍa's ashram, but also a stage in the life of a Brahman of which there considered to be four: (1) brahmacārin, "student of the veda"; (2) gṛha-stha, "householder"; (3) vānaprastha, " anchorite " ; and (4) saṁnyāsin, "abandoner of all worldly concerns" , or sometimes bhikṣu, "religious beggar.”

So whereas King Bimbisāra's view (see BC10.34 ff) was that it is better to wait for old age before pursuing the truth as a homeless beggar, Arāḍa's attitude is more affirmative with regard to finding freedom as a bhikṣueven as a young bloke.

Looking ahead, we can see that words like samṣāra, karma, and tṛṣṇā were part of Arāḍa's vocabulary, and that he also described four dhyāna or stages of sitting-meditation. So it is evident, from Aśvaghoṣa's description of Arāda as the truest or best of sages (muni-sattamaḥ), and from the Buddha's later recognition of Arāḍa as his teacher, that there was some overlap. That said, the challenge that ultimately awaits us will be to be clear about what, in the end, the Buddha realized that Arāda didn't.

At the centre of that ultimate realization is what Aśvaghoṣa calls in SN3.13 dvādaśa-niyata-vikalpam, the statement of twelvefold linkage. In Saundarananda Aśvaghoṣa thus refers only indirectly to the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, having covered it in full in BC Canto 14 – in that part of BC Canto 14 after the extant Sanskrit manuscripts have run out.

This posting is a bit late because I couldn't sleep well last night, and lay awake in the dark listening to the BBC World Service, then fell asleep again to the dulcit tones of John Humphreys when BBC Radio 4 got going with the Today Programme.

In general I don't feel much of a connection with world news, tending to think that it is a function of other people's ignorance, and especially that brand of ignorance which is religious belief. But today's news did cause me to reflect back to 2003 when I was not one of the ones opposing the UK following the US into Iraq. I didn't realize that the British government under Tony Blair was telling the UK electorate a pack of lies about weapons of mass destruction and all the rest of it. So that is an example in my own experience of how my own ignorance, as no. 1 in the twelvefold chain, was a factor leading to a whole lot of the sickness and dying which are now in Iraq so manifestly constituting no. 12 in the twelvefold chain. 

What was the real motivation of the powers that be in the US for invading Iraq? Some say that it had mainly to do with oil and the petrodollar. I don't know if they are right. I do know that I was wrong. I was one of the ignorant ones. One of the dumb masses. One of the ordinary blokes who was prepared to have the wool pulled over his eyes. 

na: not
āścaryam n. a wonder , miracle , marvel , prodigy; surprise
jīrṇa-vayasaḥ (nom. pl. m.): old-aged

yad: (relative pronoun) that
jagmuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. gam: to go
pārthivāḥ (nom. pl.): m. a lord of the earth, king
vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest

apatyebhyaḥ = dat. pl. apatya: n. (fr. apa) , offspring , child , descendant
śriyam (acc. sg.): f. royal power, royal insignia
dattvā = abs. dā: to give

bhuktocchiṣṭām (acc. sg. f.): used and discarded
bhuktocchiṣṭa: n. the rejected leavings or remnants of food
bhukta: mfn. enjoyed, eaten
ucchiṣṭa: mfn. left , rejected , stale; spit out of the mouth (as remnants of food)
iva: like
srajam (acc. sg.): f. a wreath of flowers , garland , chaplet worn on the head , any wreath or garland , circle , series , chain

古昔明勝王 捨位付其子
如人佩花鬘 朽故而棄捨

Sunday, August 10, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.6: Being Altogether Steadfast

sarvathā dhtimac-caiva prājñaṁ caiva manas-tava |
yas-tvaṁ prāptaḥ śriyaṁ tyaktvā latāṁ viṣa-phalām-iva || 12.6

Altogether steadfast,

And wise, is your mind;

In that you have come here abandoning royal power

As if it were a creeper bearing poison fruit.

These are the words of a teacher Aśvaghoṣa has praised as muni-sattamaḥ, the truest of sages, the best of sages. Since the principle generally holds good that it takes one to know one, it seems to me that in the present series of verses Arāḍa is demonstrating that he, like the bodhisattva, is a sincere seeker of the exit route out of saṁsāra.

As such, the first virtue Arāḍa praised in the bodhisattva, in yesterday's verse, was the will to pursue freedom from the bonds of emotional attachment. 

Insofar as that will is an inclination towards what is wild, or unfettered, today's verse is somewhat antithetical to yesterday's verse. In today's verse Arāḍa praises the bodhisattva's qualities of steadfastness and wisdom – virtues which tend to adorn one whose energies are harnessed in a particular direction.

To put it another way, breaking out or breaking free suggests a moment of liberation. Being steadfast and wise in every way suggests the necessity for such moments to continue in a long series of moments. 

The analogy of poison fruit may be fitting in the sense that the primary enemies of steadfastness and wisdom are known as the three poisons – namely, greed, anger, and delusion.

And yet, in the back of our minds we know that this is not a meeting between two fully awakened sambuddhas, because the bodhisattva is still a buddha-to-be, and Arāḍa's teaching is not sufficient for him to have fully realized his own aim.

There might be a hint of irony, therefore, in Arāḍa's sarvathā (in every way, entirely, altogether).

A connection might be drawn between Aśvaghoṣa's sarvathā  and Nāgārjuna's kevalaḥ

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 brought tumbling down.

sarvathā: ind. in every way , in every respect; altogether , entirely , in the highest degree , exceedingly
dhṛtimat (nom. sg. n.): mfn. steadfast , calm , resolute
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)

prājñam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. intelligent , wise , clever
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
manaḥ (nom. sg.): n. mind
tava (gen. sg.): your

yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who, which
tvam (nom. sg. m.): you
prāptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. arrived
śriyam (acc. sg.): f. prosperity , welfare , good fortune , success , auspiciousness , wealth , treasure , riches (śriyā , " according to fortune or wealth ") , high rank , power , might , majesty , royal dignity; symbol or insignia of royalty
tyaktvā = abs. tyaj: to leave, abandon

latām (acc. sg.): f. a creeper
viṣa-phalām (acc. sg. f.): mfn. bearing a poisonous fruit
iva: like

深智覺慧明 能免斯毒果

Saturday, August 9, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.5: Breaking Free & Knowing Freedom

viditaṁ me yathā saumya niṣkrānto bhavanād-asi |
chittvā sneha-mayaṁ pāśaṁ pāśaṁ dpta iva dvipaḥ || 12.5

“It is clear to me, O moony man of soma,

How you have come forth from a palace,

Cutting the snare of affection

Like a wild elephant breaking free of a fetter.

A phrase like viditaṁ me presents a challenge to the translator that is reflected in the divergence between the more English-sounding translations of EBC (“I know”) and PO (“I already know”) vs the more literal but stilted translation of EHJ (“It is known to me”).

I favour EHJ's translation not only because it is more literal but also because it places the emphasis more on what is known, rather than what I know.

A parallel can thus be drawn with the phrase tattva-darśanāt in the Nāgārjuna verse quoted again yesterday:

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.

The 4th pāda of Nāgārjuna's verse could just as literally be translated, “The wise one is not because of realizing reality.”

But “realizing reality” sounds like it requires that I do something; whereas “reality making itself known” sounds more like something that does itself, providing I am able to get out of the way and allow it – which might, ultimately, be the whole point.

Not to do, but to allow an un-doing.

Apropos of which, wondering how in fact a wild elephant does break free of a fetter, and wondering in particular what alternative to “to cut” might be available – since an elephant evidently would not generally tend to wield a cutting implement in its trunk – I came upon this web-page which, contrary to what I was expecting, uses the verb to undo.

A section titled Restraint begins as follows:
For this purpose fetters, chains, and ropes are employed. Fetters are of various patterns: those most commonly used consist of short lengths of chain. A fetter is carried for each foot, the fore-fetters are connected by a short chain like hand-cuffs, and those for the hind-legs are also joined in a similar manner. The fetters are fastened by means of a special link-hook. Some elephants can undo this fastening...

If a fetter is weak enough, then, a raging elephant will probably break it by brute force. But if a fetter is strong enough a wild elephant, in his effort to return to the wild, will evidently seek to undo the fetter by less direct means. 

So if we assume that domesticated humans are always clever, while wild elephants are necessarily dumb, that assumption might be another view to be abandoned.

In conclusion, and on further reflection, today's verse, like the whole of Buddhacarita, including the title itself, has a biographical element and a suggestive element.

Buddhacarita means in EBC's translation “The Life of Buddha” or in EHJ's translation Acts of the Buddha” or in PO's translation “Life of the Buddha.” Those titles reflect the biographical element. But the suggestive element is better conveyed by a translation in which buddha means “awakened” – so, for example, “Awakened Action.” Hence as a translation of buddha-carita-mahā-kāvya I generally go with “An epic tale of Awakened Action.”

In today's verse, the suggestive element has to do with (a) knowing (or reality becoming clear), and (b) freedom from emotional bonds, in the practice of non-doing.

If ignorance begets doing, today's verse thus causes me to reflect, on what kind of knowing does the practice of non-doing hinge?

avidyāyāṁ niruddhāyāṁ saṁskārāṇām asaṁbhavaḥ |
avidyāyā nirodhas tu jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt ||MMK26.11

In the ceasing of ignorance,
There is the non-coming-into-being of doings.
The cessation of ignorance, however,
Is because of the bringing-into-being of just this act of knowing.

This act of knowing (jñānasyāsyaiva), today's verse causes me to reflect, does not bear any relation to the fixed or certain knowledge in which subject knows object, or in which A knows B for a fact, like I know 2 + 2 = 4, or like I know the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066.

In SN Canto 17 Aśvaghoṣa describes the fourth dhyāna as a state in which the act of knowing abides as its own object. But what Nāgārjuna seems to mean by jñānasyāsyaiva, is an act of knowing beyond even the fourth dhyāna. Beyond the fourth dhyāna is the act of knowing which we are ultimately required to bring into being – the very act of knowing by which the cessation of ignorance is brought about.

Any way up,  today's verse reminds us that “the Zazen life is the free life.” Sitting-Zen is ultimately something transcendent, something that allows us to be free. Something – or a bit of nothing – like a wild elephant being free to wander on the wild side.

viditam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. known, understood
me (gen. sg.): to/for me
yathā: ind. in such a manner, in what way, how
saumya (voc. sg.): O man of the soma!

niṣkrāntaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. gone out , departed , come forth
bhavanāt = abl. sg. bhavana: n. a place of abode , mansion , home , house , palace , dwelling ; n. coming into existence , birth , production
asi = 2nd pers. sg. as: to be

chittvā = abs. chid: to cut, sever; to cut off , amputate , cut through , hew , chop , split , pierce
sneha-mayam (acc. sg. m.): made of affection
pāśam (acc. sg.): m. a snare , trap , noose , tie , bond , cord , chain , fetter (lit. and fig.)

pāśam (acc. sg.): ,m. a snare , trap , noose , tie , bond , cord , chain , fetter (lit. and fig.)
dṛptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. mad , wild , proud , arrogant
dṛp: to be mad or foolish , to rave ; to be extravagant or wild , to be arrogant or proud , to be wildly delighted.
iva: like
dvipaḥ (nom. sg.): m. 'drinking twice'; an elephant

斷親愛纒鎖 猶如象脱覊

Friday, August 8, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.4: A Sight for Sore Eyes, Sitting

¦⏑⏑⏑−¦¦−⏑−⏑¦⏑−⏑−   navipulā
tam-āsīnaṁ npa-sutaṁ so 'bravīn-muni-sattamaḥ |
bahumāna-viśālābhyāṁ darśanābhyāṁ pibann-iva  || 12.4

That son of a protector of men, sitting!

The best of sages sang his praises,

Eyes with admiration opened wide,

As if drinking him in: 

Since today's verse is the fourth in the opening series of four verses, we might expect it to refer, directly or obliquely, to the one great matter which is sitting – and indeed it does, with the word āsīnam, which ostensibly means “seated” (hence EBC: having seen the prince seated; EHJ: the seated prince; PO: after the king's son was seated); but which, below the surface, might be intended as an expression of that action, in progress, which embodies this teaching of the buddhas (etaṁ buddhāna' sāsanaṁ) referred to yesterday.

One particular point of interest in today's verse is Aśvaghoṣa's calling Arāḍa muni-sattamaḥ, “the truest of sages” or “the best of sages.” 

After listening attentively to Arāḍa's teaching, the bodhisattva will find a flaw in it. He will discern that Arāḍa's teaching, in the end, does not get down to the real root of suffering.

Doesn't that make Arāḍa one of the ignorant ones that Nāgārjuna wrote about?

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.

For better or for worse I don't know, but I was trained from an early age to see the teaching of buddhas in four phases.

And the best of Buddhist teachers in the world today, today's verse causes me to reflect, seem to see the core teaching of pratītya-samutpāda as a teaching at the 2nd phase – as a doctrine of interdependent origination that describes objective reality as a tangled web of causes.

But pratītya-samutpāda is more truly understood, in my book, as a teaching that belongs to the 3rd and 4th phases – as an expression of the truth of cessation, and ultimately as a pointer to sitting as the practice of non-doing. Thus, Springing Up (samutpāda) by going back (pratītya).

Sitting like that, as alluded to in today's verse as I read it, belongs to the fourth of four phases.

In some sense my own teacher, Gudo Nishijima, was the best of teachers. But by no stretch of the imagination could he be called a paragon of non-doing. He expounded with great clarity his "theory of four philosophies" or "three philosophies and one reality." And at the same time, he was a manager, an arranger, a manipulator, a fixer -- not only in his life as "a businessman in the modern ages" but also, following the example of Japanese Zen masters before him, in his approach to sitting posture. 

In my last couple of years in Japan I also visited and practised under Tsunemasa Abe, who was taught how to sit from a very early age (around ten or eleven) by Kodo Sawaki. And Abe Sensei placed great emphasis on not straining (Jap: kibaranai). But he also thought it was important to tuck the chin in, in order to stretch the neck. So this pernicious bit of doing, as I see it, was a kind of ignorance that was common to all the best Zen masters in Japan! 

Before sitting in the morning when I am in France I generally do just one prostration, as a chance to think the Alexander directions. When I do so, my first thought, in response to the direction "Let the neck be free," is to remember that this is nothing specific. And my second thought, in response to the direction "Head forward and up," is to remember that it is no kind of arrangement.  My third thought, in response to the direction "Back to lengthen and widen," is to remember that it has got nothing to do with symmetry. And my fourth thought, in response to the direction "Knees forward and away," is that it is an undoing, which has got nothing to do with deliberately tensing the abdomen in a bad imitation of a sumo wrestler. 

The four Alexander directions are thus a means by which I liberate myself from a kind of Zen ignorance that I practised quite religiously for a number of years when I lived in Japan, studying and practising under the truest of sages. 

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
āsīnam (acc. sg. m): mfn. sitting, seated
nṛpa-sutam (acc. sg.): m. the son of a protector of men, the prince

saḥ (nom. sg. m.): he
abravīt = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect brū: to speak, say, tell ; to speak about any person or thing (acc); to proclaim , predict
muni-sattamaḥ (nom. sg.): the best of sages
sat-tama: mfn. very good, the best, first
sat: mfn. real , actual , as any one or anything ought to be , true , good , right (tan na sat , " that is not right ") , beautiful , wise , venerable , honest

bahumāna-viśālābhyām (inst./abl. dual n.): wide with high esteem
bahumāna: m. high esteem or estimation , great respect or regard
viśāla: mfn. wide

darśanābhyām (inst./abl. dual): n. seeing; eye-sight ; eye
piban = nom. sg. m. pres. part. pā: to drink
iva: like, as if

梵志見太子 容貎審諦儀
沐浴伏其徳 如渇飮甘露