Monday, October 20, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.77: Abandonment With No Freedom In It

saṁkhyādibhir amuktaś ca nir-guṇo na bhavaty ayam |
tasmād asati nairguṇye nāsya mokṣo 'bhidhīyate || 12.77

Again, when not freed from intellectual efforts like enumeration,

This [abandonment] does not become free of defining features;

Therefore, in the absence of freedom from defining features,

There is said to be no freedom in it.

Today's verse as I read it is about freedom in non-intellectual practice.

What today's verse as I read it is implying, below the surface, is that when there truly is liberation (mokṣaḥ) in the practice of abandonment, this abandonment (parityago 'yam) is a bit of nothing.

As a bit of nothing, this abandonment has no defining features (nir-guṇaḥ). Alternatively, it might reside in the state whose  defining feature is being without anything (nairguṇye--  see discussion of  nairguṇya,"the being-without virtue," in BC6.24 and BC6.38.

Either way, so long as this practice of abandonment is stuck in the area of saṁkhyā (saṁkhyādibhir amuktaḥ) then this abandonment has as its defining features a bit of something, and is therefore not yet a bit of nothing.

The meanings of saṁkhyā include: reckoning or summing up, numeration, calculation; a number, sum; deliberation, reasoning, reason, intellect. So being stuck in the area of efforts like saṁkhyā means being stuck in the area of miscellaneous intellectual philosophies – including, for example, the Sāmkhya philosophy and Vaiśeṣika philosophy of ancient India; and including also all approaches in modern Western philosophy ranging from the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle of the 1920s to the One True Buddhism so stupidly expounded by my own Zen teacher in Tokyo from the 1980s.

Why do I criticize my own teacher so severely, when he was so much more than a reader of books and an expounder of theory? Because, although my teacher was sincerely devoted through his life to sitting practice itself, he failed to see the practical value of thinking as the antagonist of doing. His objection to what FM Alexander called “thinking” was based only on his own intellectual thinking. In the final analysis, though he spent his whole life championing realism and reality itself, my teacher was not so practical.

People with some justification may point out a similar irony in me – maybe that I devoted myself to asserting the practical value of thinking as opposed to habitual doing, while at the same time hanging on to too many bad habits.

Still, if I am on the right track in reading today's verse as all about freedom in actual practice, then previous efforts to understand today's verse have been on the wrong track. And vice versa.

Way back in the 1890s EBC translated today's verse:
The soul does not become free from qualities as long as it is not released from number and the rest; therefore, as long as there is no freedom from qualities, there is no liberation declared for it.

In the 1930s EHJ translated:
And as the soul is not released from the activity of reason and the like, it is not devoid of attribute; therefore, as it is not devoid of attribute, it is not admitted to be liberated.

In a footnote in which he discussed today's verse from the standpoint of what he knew about Sāmkhya philosophy, EHJ added: 
The exact meaning of saṁkhyā here is uncertain; if it could be solved, we should perhaps know how the name Sāṁkhya arose. The use in Pali of saṁkhā is also enigmatical and not fully explained yet.... Here I take the reference to be to sampaśyan of verse 63, showing that the intelligence is still active, and I translate tentatively accordingly. What attributes are indicated by ādi also escapes me. It would be wrong to understand a secondary sense in the second line with reference to the guṇas of classical Sāṁkhya for the word guṇa in Aśvaghoṣa's day was ordinarily used in Sāṁkhya discussions of anything rather than the three factors of prakṛti, and in the Sāṁkhya known to the poet salvation was attained by the destruction of rajas and tamas only, sattva remaining alone in an enhanced state.

In 2005 Prof. Johannes Bronkhorst published a short paper titled Aśvaghoṣa and Vaiśeṣika in which he tentatively suggested that today's verse might better be read in light of Vaiśeṣika philosophy rather than Sāṁkhya. 

For Vaiśeṣika, the MW dictionary gives: 
name of the later of the two great divisions of the nyāya school of philosophy (it was founded by Kaṇāda , and differs from the "nyāya proper" founded by Gautama, in propounding only seven categories or topics instead of sixteen; and more especially in its doctrine of viśeṣa , or eternally distinct nature of the nine substances, air, fire, water, earth, mind, ether, time, space, and soul, of which the first five, including mind, are held to be atomic).
Based on EHJ's translation, JB translated today's verse (taking samkhyā to mean “number,” as "number" is meant in the Vaiśeṣika system) as follows:
And as the [soul] is not released from number etc.,it is not devoid of qualities; therefore, as it is not devoid of qualities, it is not admitted to be liberated.

In his academic paper JB writes:
The difficulties surrounding the correct interpretation of saṁkhyā vanish when we consider the possibility that a Vaiśeṣika-like position is criticised here. The word saṁkhyā in classical Vaiśeṣika means number, and numbers are conceived of in this system as qualities (guṇa). Even a liberated soul will, from the Vaiśeṣika perspective, possess the quality ‘number’ by virtue of the fact that it has a number: each liberated soul by itself is one in number.

In 2008, following Bronkhorst in translating saṁkhyā as “number,” PO translated:
This soul is not attributeless when it is not released from number and the like; / And it is not viewed as released, when it's not free of attributes. //

PO added an endnote in which he credited Bronkhorst with having shown [sic] this and that. 
As Bronkhorst (2005) has shown, number here refers not to Sankhya, as had previously been thought, but to a category in the Vaisheshika system of philosophy. “Number” (saṁkhya) appears in a list of fourteen qualities in a soul. According to Vaisheshika, the first nine disappear in a liberated soul, whereas some of the remaining five headed by “number” remain. The Buddha says that when such qualities are present, a person cannot be viewed as liberated. Bronkhorst has shown that the entire argument of the following verses is also directed at doctrines of Vaisheshika rather than Sankhya.

In fairness to JB, he never claimed to have shown what PO claimed he had shown. JB's paper finishes with a concluding paragraph which is much more modest and tentative than that:
All this is of course pure speculation and should be taken as such. It may nonetheless be useful to ask the question whether the objection against Vaiśeṣika (if it is one) that we find in the Buddhacarita may also have occupied the minds of others, including the Vaiśeṣikas themselves, and whether the latter felt the need to find an answer to this objection.

Thus the conclusion of JB's paper is much less tainted by the sin of certainty than PO's own ineffably daft conclusion about Buddhacarita, which is that Aśvaghoṣa presents Buddhism as the crowning and consummation of the Brahmanical religion.

JB's more tentative and more modest approach is much better suited, in my view, to studying Aśvaghoṣa. The more enlightened approach of JB probably has something to do with the fact that JB's academic career, according to Wikipedia, began with study of Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy – fields in which the opinions of academic grandees, in the end, count for less than real evidence. But an approach which is still better suited to studying Aśvaghoṣa, I think, is to make an effort in the very direction which Aśvaghoṣa points his reader, which is the direction of understanding no teaching other than the Buddha's teaching. And that direction is followed primarily by seeking freedom on a round cushion.

Having praised JB for not manifesting the sin of certainty, I am now nevertheless going unwaveringly to assert that all four of the eminent professors made the same mistake, in assuming that ayam in today's verse necessarily referred to ātman, the soul. 

The basic wrong assumption, I think, is that Aśvaghoṣa might have been interested in engaging in any kind of philosophical debate about Saṁkhyā or Vaiśeṣika ideas about the soul. I think Aśvaghoṣa was not at all interested in debating those ideas, beyond totally negating the existence of “the soul” as a spiritual something that can leave a physical body like a bird flying out of a cage.

What the Buddha's teaching is about, and what I think in today's verse the bodhisattva is interested in, is the practice of abandonment (parityagaḥ) in which there is true freedom (mokṣaḥ).

For this reason, and also for the grammatical reason that ayam in today's verse is nom. sg. m., I read ayam in the 2nd pāda of today's verse as referring back in yesterday's verse to parityāgaḥ (nom. sg. m.), abandonment, and not to ātmani (loc. sg. m.), the soul.

When the subject of today's verse is thus understood to be the actual practice of abandonment (and not a non-existent soul), today's verse brings to my mind what Marjory Barlow told me when I showed here how I had been taught to sit in Japan -- pulling in the chin “a little” in order to keep the neck bones straight. Marjory took one look at what I was doing and said, “There is no freedom in it.”

I know almost nothing about Sāṁkha or Vaiśeṣika, and I have no intention of finding out more about those systems. But I do know that Zazen as I was taught it in Japan had some very definite defining features, one of which was the pulling in of the chin in order to keep the neckbones straight. And I know for damn sure that, so long as such a defining feature persists in a bloke's sitting, there is no freedom in it.

The irony was that for my teacher the chin being pulled in to keep the neck bones straight vertically was a kind of hallmark of action which is different from thinking. As my teacher saw it, when we are thinking something our neck is prone to incline slightly forward and the face to incline slightly upward. So to prevent this we should do something. We should make a postural adjustment, pulling the chin in slightly to keep the neck bones straight vertically.

saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the dopey one do.

Pulling in the chin was a defining feature of my teacher's teaching. The suggestion in today's verse, as I read it, is that this kind of defining feature is symptomatic of practice that is not yet freed from the influence of intellectual effort. I dare say that this was true in my own teacher's case. By following my teacher's teaching as sincerely as I could, I found a fault in it. Or rather I presented myself to Alexander teachers who were able to show me the fault in me. 

The silver lining here, unless I am deluding myself, is that making my mistake so thoroughly, guided by my teacher's wrong teaching, has given me a good basis from which to understand what Aśvaghoṣa is really wishing to convey in today's verse. A better basis, at least, than intellectual understanding of ancient Indian philosophical systems. 

The final thing I have to acknowledge on this post, however, as a P.S., is that for my understanding that the compound nairguṇya might mean not only, as per the dictionary, "absence of virtue," but also, ironically, "the virtue of absence" or "the virtue of being without," I am pretty  much totally indebted to Gudo Nishijima, who clarified that principle for me in connection with the Chinese Zen teaching of 仏性MU-BUSSHO, "being without, the Buddha-nature." 

saṁkhyādibhiḥ (inst. pl.): from numeration and the like
saṁkhyā: f. reckoning or summing up , numeration , calculation ; a number , sum , total ; deliberation , reasoning , reflection , reason , intellect ; name , appellation (= ākhyā)
saṁkhya: mfn. counting up or over , reckoning or summing up
sāṁkhya: mfn. (fr. saṁ-khyā) numeral , relating to number ; n. (accord. to some also m.) N. of one of the three great divisions of Hindu philosophy (ascribed to the sage kapila [q.v.] , and so called either from " discriminating " , in general , or , more probably , from " reckoning up " or " enumerating " twenty-five tattvas [» tattva] or true entities [twenty-three of which are evolved out of prakṛti " the primordial Essence " or " first-Producer "...
amuktaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. not loosed , not let go , not liberated from birth and death , not liberated from rāhu , still eclipsed
mukta: mfn. loosened , let loose , set free , relaxed , slackened , opened , open; liberated , delivered , emancipated (esp. from sin or worldly existence) Mn. MBh. &c (with instr. or ifc. = released from , deprived or destitute of ;)
ca: and

nir-guṇaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having no cord or string ; having no good qualities or virtues , bad , worthless , vicious ; devoid of all qualities or properties ; having no epithet (said of the Supreme Being)
guṇa: m. string or thread ; a quality , peculiarity , attribute or property ; (in sāṁkhya phil.) an ingredient or constituent of prakṛti , chief quality of all existing beings (viz. sattva , rajas , and tamas i.e. goodness , passion , and darkness , or virtue , foulness , and ignorance; a property or characteristic of all created things (in nyāya phil. twenty-four guṇas are enumerated , viz. 1. rūpa , shape , colour ; 2. rasa , savour ; 3. gandha , odour ; 4. sparśa , tangibility ; 5. saṁkhyā , number ; 6. parimāṇa , dimension ; 7. pṛthaktva , severalty ; 8. saṁyoga , conjunction ; 9. vibhāga , disjunction ; 10. paratva , remoteness ; 11. aparatva , proximity ; 12. gurutva , weight ; 13. dravatva , fluidity ; 14. sneha , viscidity ; 15. śabda , sound ; 16. buddhi or jñāna , understanding or knowledge ; 17. sukha , pleasure ; 18. duḥkha , pain ; 19. icchā , desire ; 20. dveṣa , aversion ; 21. prayatna , effort ; 22. dharma , merit or virtue ; 23. adharma , demerit ; 24. saṁskāra , the self-reproductive quality) ; good quality , virtue , merit , excellence

na: not
bhavati = 3rd pers. sg. bhū: to be, become
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this , this here , referring to something near the speaker

tasmād: ind. therefore
asati (loc. abs.): there not being
nairguṇye (loc. abs.): n. absence of qualities or properties ; want of good qualities or excellencies ; mfn. having no connection with qualities

na: not
asya (gen. sg. m.): this
mokṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. liberation, release
abhidhīyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive abhi- √ dhā: (in classical Sanskrit generally) to set forth , explain , tell , speak to , address , say , name ; abhi- √ dhī: to reflect upon , consider [see BC12.64]

是故有求那 當知非解脱 
求尼與求那 義異而體一

Sunday, October 19, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.76: Fire, Smoke, Chickens, Eggs & Abandoning I-Doing

ahaṁ-kāra-parityāgo yaś caiṣa parikalpyate |
saty ātmani parityāgo nāhaṁ-kārasya vidyate || 12.76

As for this abandonment of the self-consciousness of “I-doing”

Which, again, is posited –

So long as the soul persists

There has been no abandonment of “I-doing.”

I wrote a couple of days ago about how Aśvaghoṣa's use of the locative absolute saty ātmani (“so long as the soul persists”) in BC12.73, and the equivalent construction yatra.... tatra... (“where [the soul prevails]... there...”) in BC12.74, deliberately avoids identifying one of two elements as cause and the other as effect. The construction rather describes the two factors as being present together, like chicken and egg, and leaving it to the reader to decide which came first

By repeating the locative absolute saty ātmani in today's verse, Aśvaghoṣa is giving us ample opportunity to get the point.

Neither EBC nor EHJ, by their translations, showed any evidence of having got the point. Hence,

EBC: But as for this supposed abandonment of the principle of egoism, — as long as the soul continues, there is no real abandonment of egoism.
EHJ: And as for this imagined abandonment of the ego-principle, so long as the soul persists, there is no abandonment of that principle.

PO, however, provides clear evidence of not having got the point:
This abandonment of ego that you imagine to take place – When there's a soul, the abandonment of the ego cannot take place.

PO's translation reflects the ostensible reading which Aśvaghoṣa, I suspect, was cynically inviting the unwary to fall for. But by implying that the soul is the impeding factor which prevents abandonment from taking place, PO's translation blots out the real meaning of the bodhisattva's words.

When there's a soul, the abandonment of the ego cannot take place” makes it sound like (a) the continued real existence of the soul, is like fire; and (b) failure to abandon, is like smoke. Or like (a) is real root cause and (b) is symptomatic effect.

But what the bodhisattva actually says is only that where the soul persists, there abandonment is not found. So this could equally well mean that (a) the positing of “a soul” is a symptom, like smoke; and (b) the absence of abandonment is the real root cause, like a fire that has yet to be extinguished. 

In order for it to convey the latter meaning, PO's translation should read: 
When there's a soul, the abandonment of the ego cannot have taken place” 

If we follow PO in following the ostensible meaning in which continued real existence of the soul is a causal factor preventing abandonment of ego / self-consciousness / "I-doing", then the bodhisattva must reject the whole of Arāḍa's teaching as being founded on a faulty premise. But, as we explored seven or eight weeks ago, Aśvaghoṣa presented Arāḍa's teaching about the causes of saṁsāra, including ahaṁ-kāra self-consciousness, in such a way that Arāḍa's teaching about the causes of saṁsāra can be read as not diverging by a hair's breadth from the Buddha's teaching about the causes of saṁsāra. In other words, it is possible to understand that although Arāḍa's conclusion about the meaning of liberation was totally false, his analsysis of the causes of saṁṣāra was perfectly true. Thus,
Ignorance, karma, and thirsting are to be known as the causes of saṁsāra; / A creature set in these three ways fails to transcend the aforementioned Sattva, Being – //BC12.23// [It fails] because of wrong grounding, because of “I-doing” self-consciousness, because of blurring of sight, because of blurring of boundaries, / Because of lack of discrimination and wrong means, because of attachment, and because of pulling down.//12.24// Among those, “wrong grounding” keeps setting movement in the wrong direction – / It causes to be done wrongly what is to be done; and causes to be thought wrongly what has to be thought. //12.25// I speak, I know, I go, I stand firm – / It is thus that here, O unselfconscious one!, the self-consciousness of “I-doing” carries on.//12.26//.... “The seer, the hearer, the thinker, and the very act of doing of what is to be done – / All that is I.” Having fallen into such thoughts, around and round he goes in saṁsāra. //12.38// Thus, O perspicacious one!, in the presence of these causes the stream of births starts flowing. / In the absence of causes, there is no effect, as you are to investigate.//BC12.39//

If we take the alternative way of reading today's verse, then, the bodhisattva is not rejecting this part of Arāḍa's teaching. He is rather telling Arāḍa the truth that Arāḍa has not yet got to the end of his own teaching. And this failure of Arāḍa to realize the consummation of his own true teaching (but do not call it Brahmanism!) is evidenced by Arāḍa's irrational belief in the existence of a soul that can leave the body like a bird escaping from a cage.

In terms of the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda with its twelve links, the persistence of the so-called ghost in the machine -- or the view of people like the young Sting that “we are spirits in the material world” -- might be a symptom of ignorance (avidyā). And this ignorance might be the real causal grounds for all doings (saṁskārāḥ), including the self-consciousness of “I-doing.”

The challenge that lies before the bodhisattva, then, is true abandonment of the self-consciousness of “I-doing.” And this abandonment is never to be found in an act of doing. According to Nāgārjuna it is realized, on the contrary, in an act of knowing. Hence, 
  1. ignorance avidyā
  2. doings saṁskārāḥ
  3. consciousness vijñānam
  4. psychophysicality nāmarūpam
  5. six senses ṣaḍ-āyatanam
  6. contact saṁsparśaḥ
  7. feeling vedanā
  8. thirsting tṛṣṇā
  9. grasping hold upādānam
  10. becoming bhavaḥ
  11. birth jātiḥ
  12. the suffering of aging and death, and so on, sorrows, lamentations...                            jarā-maraṇa-duḥkhādi śokāḥ saparidevanāḥ....
...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 the act 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 well and truly demolished.

ahaṁ-kāra-parityāgaḥ (nom. sg. m.): abandoning of self-consciousness
ahaṁ-kāra: m. conception of one's individuality , self-consciousness ; the making of self , thinking of self , egotism

yaḥ (relative pronoun): which
ca: and
eṣa (nom. sg. m.): this
parikalpyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive pari- √ kḷp: to fix , settle , determine ; to perform , execute , accomplish , contrive , arrange , make ; to suppose

sati (loc. abs.): there being
ātmani (loc. abs.): the soul
parityāgaḥ (nom. sg.): m. abandoning

na: not
ahaṁ-kārasya (gen. sg. m.): self-consciousness
vidyate (3rd pers. sg. passive vid): is found, there is

汝言離我所 離者則無有
衆數既不離 云何離

Saturday, October 18, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.75: How Liberation Can Be Fabricated

sūkṣmatvāc caiva doṣāṇām avyāpārāc ca cetasaḥ |
dīrghatvād āyuṣaś caiva mokṣas tu parikalpyate || 12.75 

And yet, because of the subtlety of the faults,

Because of the inactivity of the mind,

And because of the length of a lifetime,

Liberation is posited.

Meanings of pari-√kḷp include to fix, to arrange, and to contrive. So a translation of parikalpyate is desirable that at least hints at these negative connotations, while also following in the logical stream from yesterday's verse.

EBC translated parikalpyate “is held (by some)”; EHJ “is a creation of the imagination”; and PO “one imagines.”

EHJ's translation of the whole verse conveys the meaning like this:
But such liberation is a creation of the imagination based on the subtility of the faults, the inactivity of the mind and the length of life in that state.
The metaphor which EHJ's translation thus implies, of something created on a base, is an apt one, in view of the meaning which pari-√kḷp has of physical as well as mental fabrication.

Based on a, b, and c...
Liberation is allowed to form itself into a figment of the imagination.

Since that is a bit long-winded, using ten words where one might do, my tentative solution, at the risk of arousing the ire of Jordan Fountain, has been to opt for a $64 word – posited.

However we handle the translation of parikalpyate, the gist of the bodhisattva's argument is that what Arāḍa's believes to be liberation is only a fabrication, a figment of the imagination, which is facilitated as a practitioner progresses through progressively refined stages of meditative practice.

And the logic of the bodhisattva's argument seems to be that there cannot be true and full liberation, as the bodhisattva sees it, so long as ignorance, thirsting and karma remain. Equally there cannot be true and full liberation, as the bodhisattva sees it, so long as the delusory concept of a separable soul remains.

In today's verse no direct mention is made of ignorance, thirsting and karma, nor of the soul. But below the surface I think Aśvaghoṣa might wish us to understand that
  • ignorance tends to go unrecognized because of the subtlety of associated faults;
  • thirsting tends to go unrecognized because of inactivity of the mind; and
  • the influence of karma tends to go unrecognized because of the length of time over which karma operates.
And these three are the grounds or the causal roots (pratyayāḥ) for the continued existence, as a figment of people's imagination, of a separable soul.

From the practical standpoint, so what?

I remember at the end of one Alexander lesson Marjory Barlow saying to me quite feistily, in connection with Alexander work, “It has to be real.”

From that standpoint today's verse as I read it challenges us to ask what is a figment of people's imagination, and what, on the contrary, is real.

As a conception of liberation, how real is the escape from the body of a separable soul? When people talk of the soul, as a pure spiritual essence (viśuddho...ātmā ; BC12.71), how real is that?

Conversely, as I sit here, just here and now, how real is the ignorance that pulls my head back and down?
How real here and now is the influence of wrongs that I did in the distant past?
How real is the tendency to thirst for arrival at a given destination, thereby failing to drive with due care and attention?

Again, if the king of samādhis is just liberation itself, is it a sitting posture that can be fixed or arranged? Is it an enlightenment that can be contrived or fabricated?

True enlightenment, from my reading of the records of Zen ancestors, is nothing contrived but just utter forgetting of oneself in the act of sitting. 

And a Zen master who could fabricate that might have it made.

In writing the above, I am half joking. But there again FM Alexander did famously say: 
When an investigation comes to be made it will be found that every single thing we do in the work is exactly what is done in Nature, where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously.

sūkṣmatvāt (abl. sg. n.): because of subtlety
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
doṣāṇām (gen. pl.): m. fault

avyāpārāt (abl. sg. m.): because of inactivity
ca: and
cetasaḥ (gen. sg.): n. mind, consciousness

dīrghatvāt (abl. sg. n.): because of length
āyuṣaḥ (gen. sg.): n. life , vital power , vigour , health , duration of life , long life
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)

mokṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. liberation, release
tu: but, and yet
parikalpyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive pari- √ kḷp: to fix , settle , determine ; to perform , execute , accomplish , contrive , arrange , make ; to suppose

微細過隨故 心則離方便
壽命得長久 汝謂眞解脱 

Friday, October 17, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.74: No Smoke Without Fire?

¦⏑⏑⏑−¦¦⏑−−−¦⏑−⏑−   navipulā
hitvā hitvā trayam idaṁ viśeṣas tūpalabhyate |
ātmanas tu sthitir yatra tatra sūkṣmam idaṁ trayam || 12. 74 

By progressive abandoning of these three,

Higher distinction is obtained,

But where the soul prevails,

There – subtly – these three are.

“There is no smoke without fire,” the saying goes.

But it is not always clear what constitutes smoke and what constitutes fire. A false accusation may seem like smoke, but if the accusation was false – though it may have serious repercussions for the accused  the accusation and surrounding publicity were not in fact fairly comparable to smoke and were not indicative of fire.

If we follow the ostensible meaning of today's verse, the soul is like fire, and ignorance, karma, and thirsting are like smoke.

Again, however, as in yesterday's verse, the grammatical construction leaves unspecified the exact causal relation that the bodhisattva intended to express, between (a) the soul and (b) the three causes of saṁsāra under discussion.

Yesterday (as again in BC12.76) the construction was the locative absolute saty ātmani, “the soul being there,” or “the soul continuing to be there,” which I followed EHJ in translating “as long as the soul persists.” Today the construction is the analagous yatra... tatra, “where [the soul is], there [the three are].”

So Aśvaghoṣa has framed the grammar in such a way that -- ironically -- (b) ignorance etc., could be like fire; and (a) the soul, could be smoke.

Such might have been the case  in recent years in places in Ireland where the soul prevailed -- in Catholic churches where children were sexually abused by priests hiding behind a religious smokescreen.  That may have been an example of people not being able to see the fire for the smoke. 

EBC translated the second half of today's verse:
as long as the soul itself continues, there this triad continues in a subtil form.

EBC thus seemed to understand the second tu as having expletive force: he translated ātmanas tu as “the soul itself.” The effect is to strengthen the impression that the bodhisattva is talking of the soul as something that really exists. So this might be in accordance with the ostensible meaning in which the soul is comparable to fire. But it is not in accordance with the alternative meaning in which ignorance is analagous to causal fire and the delusory concept of the soul is analagous to symptomatic smoke.

EHJ's translates:
but where the soul still remains, there these three remain in a subtile state.

EHJ notes further: “The argument recalls the Buddhist theory of the anuśayas.”

An anuśaya means a latent tendency. The word is derived from anu-√śī, to sleep alongside, and Aśvaghoṣa uses it in SN Canto 15:

yady api pratisaṃkhyānāt kāmān utsṛṣṭavān asi /
Even if, as a result of calm consideration, you have let go of desires,
tamāṃsīva prakāśena pratipakṣeṇa tāñ jahi // SN15.4
You must, as if shining light into darkness, 
abolish them by means of their opposite.

tiṣṭhaty anuśayas teṣāṃ channo 'gnir iva bhasmanā /
What lies behind those desires sleeps on, like a fire covered with ashes;
sa te bhāvanayā saumya praśāmyo 'gnir ivāmbunā // SN15.5
You are to extinguish it, my friend, by the means of mental developing, 
as if using water to put out a fire.

So what is EHJ suggesting about the relationship between the soul and the threesome of ignorance, karma and thirsting? EHJ is suggesting that what sleeps alongside what?

Is EHJ suggesting that ignorance is a latent tendency that can -- albeit in subtle form -- sleep alongside the soul? I think he is suggesting that. 

In that case, I would like to ask EHJ: how can ignorance, karma and thirsting, as latent tendencies, sleep alongside what has never existed?

I think, that EHJ, not for the first time, along with EBC, totally failed to notice Aśvaghoṣa's irony.

What EBC failed to notice in the 19th century, EHJ failed to notice in the 20th century. And in the 21st century Patrick Olivelle has only compounded the error by writing that Aśvaghoṣa presents Buddhism as the crowning and consummation of the Brahmanical religion.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Aśvaghoṣa, when we really get to know him, is so irreligious you could put him in a biscuit tin as a means of keeping moisture out.

hitvā = abs. hā: to leave , abandon , desert , quit , forsake , relinquish
idam (acc. sg. n.): this
idam (acc. sg. n.): this

viśeṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. distinction
tu: but (sometimes used as a mere expletive)
upalabhyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive upa- √ labh: to seize , get possession of , acquire , receive , obtain , find ; to perceive , behold , hear , to understand , learn , know , ascertain

ātmanaḥ (gen. sg.): m. the soul
tu: but (sometimes used as a mere expletive)
sthitiḥ (nom .sg.): f. standing upright or firmly , not falling ; continuance in being , maintenance of life , continued existence
yatra: ind. wherein

tatra: ind. therein
sūkṣmam (acc. sg. n.): finely, feebly, subtly
idam (nom. sg. n.): this
trayam (nom. sg.): n. three

處處捨三種 而復得三勝
以我常有故 彼則微細隨 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.73: Cause of Samsāra, Or Symptom of Ignorance?

yat karmājñāna-tṣṇānāṁ tyāgān mokṣaś ca kalpyate |
atyantas tat-parityāgaḥ saty ātmani na vidyate || 12.73

And as for liberation being brought about

Through letting go of karma, ignorance and thirsting,

There is no complete abandonment of them

So long as the soul persists.

For the sake of being clear what is going on here, at more than one level, I don't mind going over the same ground again and again – at the risk of boring even myself.

Arāda has concluded that liberation means the “knower of the field,” i.e. “the soul,” abandoning the body.

The bodhisattva in response is saying that, in his view, this soul also needs to be abandoned.

And one way of understanding this response is as if the bodhisattva
  • (a) is accepting that there is such a thing as a soul which can separate itself from a person's physical body, and
  • (b) is arguing that this soul, after it has abandoned the body, also needs to be abandoned.
But the way of understanding the bodhisattva's response which is, to use Aśvaghoṣa's word, anya (other, alternative, different), is to understand that the bodhisattva
  • (a) does never accept the religious notion of a disembodied soul, but rather
  • (b) is arguing that the whole ignorant religious notion of a separate soul needs to be abandoned.
In order truly to understand the anya/alternative nature of the bodhisattva's response, it seems to me, we have to be a person who in our sitting practice is anya, other, alternative, different, contrarian. That means being, in other words, a person who understands the principle that real change involves carrying out an activity against the habit of life. And such activty, I venture to submit, is what Nāgārjuna was pointing to when he wrote of bringing into being just that act of knowing (jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvana).

In translating the 4th pāda of today's verse “So long as the soul persists,” I have gone with EHJ's translation. This translation, ironically (since I don't think EHJ himself was aware of the alternative gist), covers well enough both the ostensible gist of the bodhisattva's argument, and also the real or alternative gist.

The irony is possible because of Aśvaghoṣa's use of the locative absolute. Saty ātmani suggests the soul continuing to be present in the area of karma, ignorance and thirsting, but without specifying any causal relation between the soul and karma, ignorance and thirsting

The bodhisattva's citing of karma, ignorance and thirsting refers back to what Arāḍa said in BC12.23:
a-jñānaṁ karma tṛṣṇā ca jñeyāḥ saṁsāra-hetavaḥ
Ignorance, karma, and thirsting are to be known as the causes of saṁsāra...

According to the ostensible gist of today's verse, then, the continued existence of the soul, even after it has escaped from a human body, is causal. It is a cause of the non-abandonment of karma, ignorance, and thirsting, which are themselves the causes of saṁsāra.

But the real, alternative gist might be that belief in a non-existent soul is symptomatic of ignorance. And it is this ignorance, not its symptoms, which leads to chequered karma and spiritual thirsting for heaven. Hence...
  1. ignorance avidyā
  2. doings saṁskārāḥ
  3. consciousness vijñānam
  4. psychophysicality nāmarūpam
  5. six senses ṣaḍ-āyatanam
  6. contact saṁsparśaḥ
  7. feeling vedanā
  8. thirsting tṛṣṇā
  9. grasping hold upādānam
  10. becoming bhavaḥ
  11. birth jātiḥ
  12. the suffering of aging and death, and so on, sorrows, lamentations...                            jarā-maraṇa-duḥkhādi śokāḥ saparidevanāḥ....

...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 the act 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 well and truly demolished.

A further reflection on today's verse, lest this is all sounding too metaphysical, is that if we understand what Aśvaghoṣa is clarifying here, with regard to cause and symptom, we may be able to find applications for such understanding which are more pertinent to everyday life and current affairs.

When a lovesick bloke, for example, can't help thinking that if only he could get back together with his missing other half all his sorrows would be swept away, then he can't help seeing the suffering of being parted from his loved one as the central cause of his present struggling in saṁsāra. Whereas the deeper truth might be that what he is experiencing as suffering is only a symptom of his own ignorance.

Again, when stock markets fall, as has been happening this week, or when the price of other kinds of investment steadily declines, the suffering investor can't help thinking “If only the price could climb back to where it was x weeks, months or years ago,” as if the cause of saṁsāric suffering -- and hence the way out of saṁsāric suffering -- was within the remit of the behaviour of the market.

The general point, then, might be that our human mind is very prone, when faced with the symptoms of our own ignorance, to see those symptoms as if they were the cause of our trouble.

And that is bad enough when we do it on an individual level. But when the powers that be do it on the macro level, the result – sooner or later – is bound to be sorrows and lamentations on a global scale.

If the US stock markets continue to go down, the US president and his bankers, or the US bankers and their president, will doubtless do their best to address that symptom. But if the fall of the stock market is symptomatic of the bursting of a massive money bubble which has been inflating for twenty years or more, efforts to address the symptom will only lead to further inflating of the bubble.

yat: (relative pronoun) that “....”
karmājñāna-tṛṣṇānām (gen. pl.): karma, ignorance and thirst

tyāgāt (abl. sg.): m. leaving , abandoning , forsaking
tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit; to let go
mokṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. release, liberation
ca: and
kalpyate = 3rd pers. sg. causative passive kḷp: , to set in order , arrange ; to fix ; to declare as , consider as (with double acc.) ; to frame , form , invent , compose (as a poem &c ) , imagine

atyantaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. beyond the proper end or limit; excessive , very great , very strong ; endless , unbroken , perpetual ; absolute , perfect
tat-parityāgaḥ (nom. sg. m.): abandoning of that
parityāga: m. (ifc. f(ā).) the act of leaving , abandoning , deserting , quitting , giving up , neglecting , renouncing

sati = loc. sg. pres. part. as: to be
ātmani (loc. sg.): m. the self, the soul
na: not
vidyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive vid: to be found , exist , be ; (esp. in later language) vidyate , " there is , there exists " , often with na , " there is not "

無知業因愛 捨則名解者
存我諸衆生 無畢竟解脱