tato hitvāśramaṁ tasya śreyo 'rthī kta-niścayaḥ |
bheje gayasya rājarṣer nagarī-saṁjñam āśramam || 12.89
Thus having abandoned the ashram of that sage,
Seeking better, with determination,
He betook himself to the hermitage of the royal seer Gaya –
To the ashram known as Nagarī.
In today's verse śreyaḥ was traslated by EBC “final bliss,” by EHJ “the supreme good” and by PO simply “bliss.” In her translation of Saundarananda Linda Covill rendered śreyaḥ throughout as “excellence.”
The word śreyas is thought to be derived from the comparative of śrī, which means splendid or beautiful. So used as an adjective, śreyas can mean more splendid or better; and used as a (neuter) noun śreyas can mean “the better state." At the same time as a noun (generally masculine) śreyas can indicate “the bliss of final emancipation.”
Śreyas, then, can be understood to express something relative or comparative and at the same time something ultimate or final.
In this śreyas is like param, which featured in three of the previous four verses, where I translated it as “beyond” (BC12.85, 86) and as “the ultimate” (BC12.88).
In this, again, the Sanskrit words param and śreyas are like the Chinese word 道 (tao; Jap: DO), which the Chinese used to represent both the Sanskrit word for the goal (bodhi, awakening), and for the means, (mārga, path).
Some Zen teachers opine that there is no goal in Zen, but only the way. The way is the goal. The goal is the way.
This sounds good. And there may be some truth in it.
But when we go back to how things were expressed by the Zen ancestors in India, the goal is anuttara-samyak-saṁbodhi, the supreme, integral, full awakening; and the practical way there is the noble eightfold path (āryāṣṭāṅgamārga) with its three divisions of śila (integrity), samādhi (integration) and prajñā (integral wisdom).
And yet in today's verse as I read it, it is an open question whether śreyas primarily expresses the direction or the destination. Maybe by his use of param in three of the four previous verses, and śreyas in today's verse, Aśvaghoṣa wished to stimulate us to ask the question.
Thus stimulated, I reflected this morning, as I sat, what “seeking better” might actually mean, to a bloke who sits.
As a bloke who sits, I retreat to the forest in the summer, or I head for the round black cushion in the quiet of the early morning, with the idea in my head of allowing into being more completely the act of knowing. I don't have the idea of cultivating wisdom.
Maybe this sounds too abstract to you. If so, fucking well wake up and pay attention!
Last week I took the trouble, out of the kindness to my heart, to endeavour to convey some sense of what inhibition is to a person who knew a little bit, from the Alexander Technique, and Pilates, about “core stability.”
The Alexander Technique, FM Alexander said, is the most mental thing there is. But people don't see it like that. They see it as all about “core stability,” or curing back pain.
So as I lay on the floor with my knees bent, demonstrating the meaning of NOT moving a leg, of totally abandoning all idea of moving a leg, to a customer steeped in the wisdom of AT/Pilates, it all sounded too far removed to her from practical matters like moving a leg. So she insulted my teaching as being “abstract.”
And I bit my lip. But now my repressed rage is exploding onto the computer screen!
What śreyas, better, means to me is allowing into being more completely the act of knowing. This is not effort in the direction of doing something; on the contrary, it is effort in the direction of stopping off doing at source.
Thus when I read Nāgārjuna's words jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt I don't read them and don't translate them as “because of cultivating just this wisdom.” I understand them and translate them as “because of bringing-into-being just this act of knowing” or “because of allowing-into-being just this act of knowing.”
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 dopey one do.
The dopey 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 destroying of ignorance,
There is the non-coming-into-being of doings.
The destroying of ignorance, however,
Is because of the allowing-into-being of just this act of knowing.
Thus, I don't believe in EBC's “final bliss” and don't believe in EHJ's “supreme good.” I don't believe in MW's “good (as opposed to 'evil')”. I don't believe either in MW's “bliss of final emancipation.” I don't believe in śreyas. Despite the exhortations to which Sky TV subjects me, I don't believe in better.
Rather, I submit to you the idea – call my teaching too abstract if you like – that śreyas, better, lies in the direction of more complete abandonment of the ignorance which leads to doing.
As such, śreyas is nothing to be believed in, but it might be something for each individual to look into for himself or herself, in his or her own practice of non-doing.
Apropos of which I will sign off by quoting some excellent words of the Alexander Teacher Walter Carrington:
Non-doing is, above all, an attitude of mind. It's a wish. It's a decision to leave everything alone and see what goes on, see what happens. Your breathing and your circulation and your postural mechanisms are all working and taking over. The organism is functioning in its automatic way, and you are doing nothing.If you're going to succeed in doing nothing, you must exercise control over your thinking processes. You must really wish to do nothing. If you're thinking anxious, worried thoughts, if you're thinking exciting thoughts that are irrelevant to the situation at hand, you stir up responses in your body that are not consistent with doing nothing. It's not a matter of just not moving--that can lead to fixing or freezing--it's a matter of really leaving yourself alone and letting everything just happen and take over.This is what we're aiming at in an Alexander lesson, and if we're wise, and we understand, it's also what we aim at in our own practice of non-doing. It is something that requires practice. Like most other things in life, it isn't some-thing that you can achieve by simply wishing to do so, by just thinking, 'Well, I will now leave myself alone and not do anything.' Unfortunately, it doesn't work out like that. The whole process requires a lot of practice, and a lot of observation. Out of this process a tremendous lot of experience is to be gained...
tataḥ: ind. then, thence ; from that , in consequence of that
hitva = abs. hā: to leave, quit
āśramam (acc. sg.): mn. ashram, hermitage
tasya (gen. sg.): his
śreyaḥ (acc. sg.): n. the better state , the better fortune or condition (sometimes used when the subject of a sentence would seem to require the masc. form) ; m. good (as opp. to " evil ") , welfare , bliss , fortune , happiness ; m. the bliss of final emancipation , felicity ; mfn. (either compar. of śrī , or rather accord. to native authorities of śrī-mat or praśasya) more splendid or beautiful , more excellent or distinguished , superior , preferable , better
arthī (nom. sg. m.): mfn. active, industrious; one who wants or desires anything; longing for, libidinous
kṛta-niścayaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. determined, resolved, resolute
bheje = 3rd pers. sg. perf. bhaj: to go, betake oneself to
gayasya (gen. sg.): m. (fr. √ji) "what has been conquered or acquired" , a house , household , family , goods and chattels , contents of a house , property , wealth ; N. of a rājarṣi (performer of a celebrated sacrifice MBh. i , iii , iv , ix , xiii R. ii ; he was conquered by māndhātṛ )
rājarṣeḥ (gen. sg. m.): royal seer
nagarī-saṁjñam (acc. sg.): called “Nagarī”; called “the Town”
nagarī: f. = nagara: a town , city , N. of sev. cities
saṁjñā: f. consciousness ; a name , appellation , title , technical term (ifc. = " called , named")
āśramam (acc. sg.): mn. ashram, hermitage
[There is no mention in the Sanskrit of 5 bhikṣus , 五比丘, until BC12.91; so there is some confusion of order in the Chinese.]