Wednesday, September 17, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.44: Asking about Means & End (2) – A Bodhisattva's Worst Evil?

brahma-caryam-idaṁ caryaṁ yathā yāvac-ca yatra ca |
dharmasyāsya ca paryantaṁ bhavān vyākhyātum-arhati || 12.44

“How is this brahma-practice to be practised?

And to what lengths? And where?

Again, what is the end-point of this dharma?

Will you please explain in detail.”

The bodhisattva's words in today's verse mirror Aśvaghoṣa's narration in yesterday's verse. In yesterday's verse Aśvaghoṣa told us that the bodhisattva-prince asked about the means and the end. In today's verse the bodhisattva-prince asks in his own words about the means and the end.

Are we being invited to play spot the difference? 

If so, what may be particularly worthy of comment is the different words used to express the end.

In yesterday's verse Aśvaghoṣa used the word padam, which means a step, a footstep. Aśvaghoṣa wrote that the prince asked about padaṁ naiṣṭhikam, the step which forms the end. A step can mean something static – a position or station. But before it means a step in the sense of a set position, or something to stand on, padam means a step in the sense of a pace or a stride. Padam, according to the MW dictionary, primarily suggests not something static, and still less something fixed, but rather something that is going on, something in movement. That is why I invariably translate padam as “step,” even when “state” would seem more natural English. Thus whereas in yesterday's verse EBC and PO translated padaṁ naiṣṭhikam “the final state” (EHJ: “the sphere of final beatitude”), I went with the unwieldy but less final “step which represents the end.”

In today's verse the bodhisattva expresses his conception of an end using the word paryantam (EBC/PO: "limit"; EHJ: "where [this dharma] ends"). The prefix pari- means around and anta means end, limit, conclusion. So paryanatam seems to carry much more of a connotation of a limit that is fixed, a boundary or an an end-point.

Thinking of the aim of life in this way, as something fixed, might be a bodhisattva's worst evil.

“You all fix,” said FM Alexander to the student-teachers he was training. “It is your worst evil!”

FM's admonition was related with the famous Alexander maxim, quoted countless times on this blog over the years, that there is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a thing as a right direction.

So my own tentative conclusion, for the present, on reflection, is that what Aśvaghoṣa called padaṁ naiṣṭhikam might be nothing more, and nothing less, than a step in the right direction.

brahma-caryam (nom. sg.): n. brahma-practice, the spiritual life, devout abstinence
idam (nom. sg. n.): this
caryam (nom. sg. n.): to be practised or performed

yathā: ind. in which manner, how
yāvat: ind. how great, how far, how long
ca: and
yatra: in what place, where
ca: and

dharmasya (gen. sg.): m. dharma
asya (gen. sg. m.): this
ca: and
paryantam (acc. sg.): m. circuit , circumference , edge , limit , border ; side , flank , extremity , end

bhavān (nom. sg. m.): the gentleman present, you
vyākhyātum = infinitive vy-ā- √ khyā: to explain in detail , tell in full , discuss ; to relate , communicate
arhati = 3rd pers. sg. arh: to ought

行何等梵行 復應齊幾時
何故修梵行 法應至何所
如是諸要義 爲我具足説

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.43: Asking about Means & End

iti vākyam-idaṁ śrutvā munes-tasya npātmajaḥ |
abhyupāyaṁ ca papraccha padam-eva ca naiṣṭhikam || 12.43

The prince, having listened

To these words of that sage,

Asked about the means;

And about the step, yes, which represents the end.

Here, I thought yesterday, is a verse for Jordan Fountain -- nothing too elaborate; no great perspicacity required.

The prince, having listened to these words of that sage, /
Asked about the means and about the ultimate step.//

Nice and simple. After all the ambiguity we have been investigating in Arāḍa's words, I thought to myself, today's verse is like a breath of fresh air. The bodhisattva, cutting through all philosophical problems, is simply asking, with a practical emphais, about means and end.

If only every problem in the world could be reduced to such plain simplicity, like killing people and breaking things.

But when I woke up in the morning, the emphatic eva in the 4th pāda was bothering me. 

And, yes, there is no getting away from it, the eva can be taken in at least two ways. So some perspicacity may be necessary after all.

Perspicacity is required, appreciation of irony is required, if we think the bodhisattva's question about means and ends is the question that was picked up by the Zen masters of ancient China, using the metaphor of polishing a tile and making a mirror.

One track of understanding is that buddhas take pains to encourage us bodhisattvas to attend primarily to the proper means, the next step, and not to be particularly interested in the ultimate end.

Hence, after taking the ultimate step, the Buddha spoke not in terms of ends but rather in terms of there being here a means:

iti duḥkham etad iyam asya samudaya-latā pravartikā śāntir iyam ayam upāya iti;
"This is suffering; this is the tangled mass of causes producing it; this is cessation; and here is a means." (SN3.12)

So even though the teaching of buddhas thus focuses our attention on a means, we bodhisattvas in our immaturity cannot help but be interested in the end.

The eva in today's verse can be read in this light, as a kind of ironic recognition of the bodhisattva's tendency – our immature tendency, yes – to take our eye off the ball.

FM Alexander, in the context of teaching a golfer how to eradicate faults in his game, looked in detail at this problem. He titled a chapter of his third book, “The Golfer Who Could Not Keep His Eye on the Ball.” 

In that chapter FM discusses the problem which he called “end-gaining” – going directly for the end without paying due attention to the means.

Overly conscientious Alexander students, however, misunderstanding Alexander's means-whereby principle, sometimes become shy about going ahead and gaining any end. 

A corollary in my experience, is the attitude of a devoted student of Zen Master Dogen who professes only to be interested in “just sitting” – as if enlightenment or nirvāna were mere words, like Father Christmas, with no basis in reality.

Alternatively, then, the eva in today's verse can be read as Aśvaghoṣa's affirmation, contrary to a certain strand of Soto Zen orthodoxy, that the ultimate step in the Buddha's teaching is nothing other than nirvāṇa. Hence:

uḥkha-kṣayo hetu-parikṣayāc-ca śāntaṃ śivaṃ sākṣi-kuruṣva dharmaṃ /
Again, the ending of suffering follows from the disappearance of its cause.
Experience that reality for yourself as peace and well-being,
tṛṣṇā-virāgaṃ layanaṃ nirodhaṃ sanātanaṃ trāṇam-ahāryam-āryam //SN16.26
A place of rest, a cessation, an absence of the red taint of thirsting,
a primeval refuge which is irremovable and noble,

yasmin-na jātir-na jarā na mṛtyur-na vyādhayo nāpriya-saṃprayogaḥ /
In which there is no becoming, no aging, no dying,
no illness, no being touched by unpleasantness,
necchā-vipanna priya-viprayogaḥ kṣemaṃ padaṃ naiṣṭhikam-acyutaṃ tat //SN16.27 
No disappointment, and no separation from what is pleasant:
It is an ultimate and indestructible step, in which to dwell at ease.

dīpo yathā nirvṛtim-abhyupeto naivāvaniṃ gacchati nāntarikṣam /
A lamp that has gone out reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky,
diśaṃ na kāṃ-cid vidiśaṃ na kāṃ-cit sneha-kṣayāt kevalam-eti śāntim //SN16.28 
Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point:
Because its oil is spent it reaches nothing but extinction.

evaṃ kṛtī nirvṛtim-abhyupeto naivāvaniṃ gacchati nāntarikṣam /
In the same way, a man of action who has come to quiet
reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky,
diśaṃ na kāṃ-cid vidiśaṃ na kāṃ-cit kleśa-kṣayāt kevalam-eti śāntim //SN16.29
Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point:
From the ending of his afflictions he attains nothing but extinction.

asyābhyupāyo 'dhigamāya mārgaḥ prajñā-trikalpaḥ praśama-dvikalpaḥ /
A means for gaining that end is the path
of threefold wisdom and twofold tranquillity.
sa bhāvanīyo vidhivad budhena śīle śucau tripramukhe sthitena // SN16.30 //
It is to be cultivated by a wakeful person working to principle -
- abiding in untainted threefold integrity.

In conclusion, I think the eva in today's verse can be read in at least three ways:
  1. As a word that brings the number of syllables in the pāda up to the required eight; in so doing, though eva places a certain emphasis on the word that precedes it, the word does not have any meaning that can be adequately conveyed in English translation. In that case, ironically, I needn't have tried, after all, to be so persipicacious. 
  2. As an ironic negation of end-gaining.
  3. As an ironic affirmation which negates the negation of end-gaining.

Any way up, what we are studying on this blog, day by day, is the irony that resides in the gap between what is thought and what is really meant; or between what is expected and how things really turn out to be.

And as the Scottish Independence vote looms, I cannot help feeling that the whole bloody idea of an in-out referendum was misconceived from the start, and the whole thing will turn out to be a massive exercise in irony. 

If Scotland votes yes, with a view to prospering as an independent nation, a left-leaning Scottish economy is liable to go down the pan, facing unmanageable borrowing costs. If Scotland votes no, with a view to us all sticking together, we will probably be left more divided than we have been for 300 years. It already annoys me that my two sons have left university heavily in debt, whereas if we had been Scottish their fees would have been paid by the UK tax payer. 

IMHO, since the Big Bang in London in the 1980s, we as a United Kingdom have placed too much emphasis on money and finance, activities that have been more and more centred on London. We as a United Kingdom have not placed enough emphasis on helping people by making things.

Money is a means to an end. When we pursue it as an end in itself, money – ironically – becomes a hindrance. 
Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

iti: thus, these
vākyam (acc. sg.): n. words, speech, saying; an express declaration or statement (opp. to liṅga , " a hint " or indication) Sarvad.
idam (acc. sg. n.): this
śrutvā = abs. śru: to hear, listen

muneḥ (gen. sg.): m. the sage
tasya (gen. sg. m.): of him
nṛpātmajaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the self-born of the protector of men, the prince

abhyupāyam (acc. sg.): a means , an expedient
ca: and
papraccha = 3rd pers. sg. perf. prach: to ask, to ask after inquire about (acc.) ;

padam (acc. sg.): n. step, position, state
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and
naiṣṭhikam (acc. sg.): mfn. forming the end , final , last

太子聞斯説 復問阿羅藍
云何爲方便 究竟至何所 

Monday, September 15, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.42: Brahma as Practice = Buddha, Going On Up?

ity-arthaṁ brāhmaṇā loke parama-brahma-vādinaḥ |
brahma-caryaṁ carantīha brāhmaṇān vāsayanti ca || 12.42

For this purpose brahmins here on earth,

Giving voice to the highest brahma,

Practise here and now brahma-practice,

And cause brahmins to dwell in it.”

On first perusing this verse several weeks ago, I took it as evidence that Arāḍa was, in the final analysis, a religious believer in parama-brahman (EBC: “the supreme Brahman”; EHJ: “the supreme Absolute”).

But on reflection that might not have been very perspicacious of me.

Certainly Aśvaghoṣa is inviting us, if we are superficial enough, to jump to the conclusion that Arāḍa must, in the final analysis, belong to “the Brahmanical tradition.” 

But if we look for hidden, deeper meaning in today's verse that presages the Buddha's teaching, today's verse can be read as an ironic expression of a teaching that totally transcends not only Brahmanism but also Buddhism.

Read in this way, today's verse and yesterday's verse can be read as belonging to the 4th phase, so that this first speech of Arāḍa ends with three verses at the fourth phase, pointing to the ultimate, transcendent truth. 

Shakespeare might have been writing at the fourth phase when he wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. 

In support of this ironic reading of today's verse, we can cite examples of how the Buddha himself, as recorded in Aśvaghoṣa's own writing, and as recorded in the Pali Suttas and Sanskrit Sūtras, used words like brahman and brāhmaṇa, which are derived from the root √bṛh (to be thick, to grow great or strong, to increase).

In Aśvaghoṣa's writing we can find the following such uses (since I am citing so many examples, I shan't bother too much about formatting):

Brahma as the Absolute / a sacred sound or word

yatra sma mīyate brahma kaiś-cit kaiś-cin-na mīyate /
There some prayed to Brahma; none suffered the frustration of losing his way;
kāle nimīyate somo na cākāle pramīyate // SN1.15 //
The soma, at the right moment, was measured out;
and nobody, at a random moment, came to nothing.

Adhyaiṣṭa yaḥ paraṁ brahma na vyaiṣṭa satatam dhṛteḥ /
He minded the supreme sacred word; in fortitude, he never failed;
dānāny-adita pātrebhyaḥ pāpaṁ nākta kiṁ-cana // SN2.12 //
He gave fitting gifts to deserving recipients; and no evil did he do at all.

aśrāntaḥ samaye yajvā yajña-bhūmim-amīmapat /
A man of tireless sacrifice when the time was right,
he caused sacrificial ground to be measured out;
pālanāc-ca dvijān brahma nirudvignān-amīmapat // SN2.35 //
And he enabled twice-born men,
who under his protection were unburdened by anxiety,
to know the weight of the sacred word

A knower of brahma among brahma-knowers, ushered in him who was blazing with brahma-begotten brilliance, and with the glowing heat of ascetic exertion – / The king's guru, with the gravity and hospitality due to a guru, ushered Asita into the king's royal seat. //BC1.50//

brahma as a personal god

tathāṅgirā rāga-parīta-cetāḥ sarasvatīṃ brahma-sutaḥ siṣeve /
So too did brahma-begotten Aṅgiras,
when his mind was seized by passion, have sex with Sarasvatī;
sārasvato yatra suto 'sya jajñe naṣṭasya vedasya punaḥ-pravaktā // SN7.31 //
To her was born his son Sarasvata, who gave voice again to missing Vedas.

maitrayā sapta-vārṣikyā brahma-lokam-ito gataḥ /
Through seven years of loving kindness,
Sunetra went from here to Brahma's world,
sunetraḥ punar-āvṛtto garbha-vāsam-upeyivān // SN11.57 //
But he span around again and came back to live in a womb.

brahmins as a class of men

tad-vanaṁ muninā tena taiś-ca kṣatriya-puṁgavaiḥ /
That forest, through the sage, and through those warrior heroes,
śāntāṁ guptāṁ ca yugapad brahma-kṣatra-śriyaṁ dadhe // SN1.27 //
Radiated tranquillity and security -- the majesty of the brahmin and of the kṣatriya, in one yoke.

For near to us, inhabited by brahmin seers, king-seers, and god-seers, rises a holy Himālayan mountain / Through whose closeness are augmented those very investments of painful effort of people whose capital is painful effort.//BC 7.39//

So again did Druma, the Śālva king whose name means Tree, in the company of his son, enter the city from the forest. / And, having become a brahmarṣi, a brahman seer, Antideva the Sāṁkṛti received the royal insignia from the sage Vasiṣṭha. // BC9.70//

brahma-carya as devout practice of abstinence / the spiritual life

kāma-caryāsu kuśalo bhikṣu-caryāsu viklavaḥ /
Adept in the practices of love, confused about the practices of a beggar,
paramācārya-viṣṭabdho brahma-caryaṃ cacāra saḥ // SN11.4 //
Set firm by the best of practice guides,
Nanda did the devout practice of abstinence.

duṣkaraṃ sādhv-anāryeṇa māninā caiva mārdavam /
For an ignoble man good is hard to do;
for an arrogant man it is hard to be meek;
atisargaś-ca lubdhena brahmacaryaṃ ca rāgiṇā // SN11.13 //
For a greedy man giving is hard,
and hard for a man of passion is the practice of devout abstinence.

titāḍayiṣayā dṛpto yathā meṣo 'pasarpsati /
Just as, in its desire to charge, a wild ram draws back,
tadvad-abrahmacaryāya brahmacaryam-idaṃ tava // SN11.25 //
So, for the sake of non-abstinence, is this devout abstinence of yours!

hṛdi kāmāgninā dīpte kāyena vahato vratam /
Blazing with a fire of desire in your heart,
you carry out observances with your body:
kim-idaṃ brahmacaryaṃ te manasābrahmacāriṇaḥ // SN11.30 //
What is this devout abstinence of yours,
who does not practise abstinence with his mind?

taj-janma-vyādhi-mṛtyu-vyasana-parigataṃ matvā jagad-idaṃ
Therefore, see this world to be shot through
with the calamities of birth, sickness, and death;
saṃsāre bhrāmyamāṇaṃ divi nṛṣu narake tiryak-pitṛṣu ca /
See it -- whether in heaven, among men, in hell, or among animals or the departed -- to be reeling through saṁsāra.
yat-trāṇaṃ nirbhayaṃ yac-chivam-amarajaraṃ niḥśokam-amṛtaṃ
Seeing the world to be thus, for the sake of that fearless refuge, for that sorrowless nectar of immortality, which is benign, and beyond death and decay,
tadd-hetor-brahmacaryaṃ cara jahi-hi calaṃ svargaṃ prati rucim // SN11.62 //
Devoutly practise abstinence, and abandon your fancy for a precarious heaven.

tasmāc-cāritra-sampanno brahmacaryam-idaṃ cara /
Steeped in good conduct, therefore, lead this life of devout abstinence,
aṇumātreṣv-avadyeṣu bhaya-darśī dṛḍha-vrataḥ // SN13.20 //
And in what is even minutely blameworthy see danger, being firm in your purpose.

Of the above quotes from Saundarananda and Buddhacarita, only the last one is in the form of a direct quotation of the Buddha's own words. 

In Sanskrit sūtras, however, we can find the following examples  (drawn from
 of the Buddha talking of brahma. 

When, in The Discourse that Set the Dharma-Wheel Rolling (Dharma-cakra-pravartana-sūtram), the newly awakened Buddha tells the group of five ascetics not to address him casually as “friend” because he is an awakened Buddha, without pollutants, he encourages them with the following words:

yathā mayā samyag-avavaditāḥ samyag-anuśiṣṭā,
having been properly instructed by me, properly trained,
yūyam-apyāśravāṇāṁ cetovimuktiṁ prajñāvimuktiṁ ca,
you will be free from the pollutants, freed in mind, freed through wisdom,
dṛṣṭa eva dharmaṁ sākṣāt -kṛtvopasaṁpadya pravedayiṣyatha:
and in this very life, having seen directly, having attained, you will be able to say:
‘Kṣīṇā no jātir-uṣitaṁ ca brahmacaryam,
‘Destroyed is (re)birth for us, accomplished is the spiritual life,
kṛtaṁ karaṇīyam,
done is what ought to be done,
nāparam-ityato 'nyad-bhavaṁ - prajānāma’. iti
there is no more of this mundane state - this we know’.

In a verse section of the same sūtra:

Vācāya Brahmaruta kinnaragarjitāya,

Having a voice resounding like Brahmā, like the song of a Kinnara,
Aṁśaiḥ sahasranayutebhi samudgatāya,

Having ten-million rays radiating (from his body),
Bahukalpakoṭi sada satyasubhāvitāya,
Having cultivated truth continually for many millions of aeons,
Kauṇḍinyam-ālapati Śākyamuniḥ Svayaṁbhūḥ: 

The Self-made Sage of the Śākyans addressed Kauṇḍinya:

In this Pali Sutta, the Buddha seems to use the word brāhmaṇam as roughly equivalent to “a gentleman”:

“Yaṁ brāhmaṇaṁ vedaguṁ ābhijaññā, Mettagū ti Bhagavā,
You should know the brahmin who has true understanding, Mettagū, said the Gracious One,
akiñcanaṁ kāmabhave asattaṁ, 
who has nothing, and is not clinging to sense existence,
addhā hi so ogham-imaṁ atāri,
for he has surely crossed over the flood,
tiṇṇo ca pāraṁ akhilo akaṅkho.
without hindrance or doubt, he has crossed beyond.

Vidvā ca so vedagū naro idha,
That man here who is wise, and has true understanding,
bhavābhave saṅgam-imaṁ visajja, 
who has released the shackle of repeated existence,
so vītataṇho anīgho nirāso -
he is craving-free, not troubled, not yearning -
atāri so jātijaran-ti brūmī” ti
he has crossed over birth and old age, I say.”

Similarly in the Pali safeguards recited on a daily basis in countries like Śri Lanka:

Ye brāhmaṇā vedagū sabbadhamme
I revere those brahmins who have true understanding
te me namo - te ca maṁ pālayantu!
of all things - may they keep watch over me!

As far as brahma meaning the God Brahma, on the evidence of the Pali Sutta called the
Bodhirājakumārasuttaṁ (MN 85; The Discourse to Prince Bodhi), the Buddha did not rule out even that usage, or that possibility:

Tassa mayhaṁ, Rājakumāra, etad-ahosi:
Then, Prince, this occurred to me:
‘Adhigato kho mayāyaṁ Dhammo gambhīro duddaso duranubodho...
This Dhamma I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to understand...

appossukkatāya cittaṁ namati, no Dhammadesanāya.
and my mind inclined to inaction, not to teaching the Dhamma.
Atha kho, Rājakumāra, Brahmuno Sahampatissa,
Then, Prince, to Brahmā Sahampati,
mama cetasā cetoparivitakkam-aññāya etad-ahosi:
knowing with his mind the reflection in my mind, this (thought) occurred:
‘Nassati vata bho loko, vinassati vata bho loko,
‘The world is surely going to destruction, the world is surely going to complete destruction,
yatra hi nāma Tathāgatassa Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa
wherever the Realised One, the Worthy One, the Perfect Sambuddha’s
appossukkatāya cittaṁ namati no Dhammadesanāyā.’ ti
mind inclines to inaction, not to teaching the Dhamma.’

The conclusion I draw from today's verse is that it might contain a warning not to be too quick to form an emotional reaction to the stimulus of a word or deed, as I did a few weeks ago on seeing the words brahmāṇa and brahma repeated in the same verse.

Yesterday, reacting to the beheading of a British aid worker in Syria, David Cameron spoke of an organisation which is the embodiment of evil. And few would disagree with him that the beheading of a humanitarian worker, there only to help, was an evil act. But when a person commits an evil act in the name of an organisation that calls itself “Islaamic State” and a politician calls the organization the embodiment of evil, that might be to set foot on a slippery slope. Exactly thinking, the evil thing was the act. Even if the same person repeated the evil act, that person is not originally evil; the evil thing is the act.

Sometimes it is difficult not to react against a word like brahma. Sometimes it is difficult not to react against a word like Buddhism, which people use to mean “the Buddha's teaching.”

The Buddha's teaching is in the direction of abandoning all -isms, and yet people call this teaching Buddhism. 

ity-artham: ind. for this purpose
brāhmaṇāḥ (nom. pl.): m. one who has divine knowledge (sometimes applied to agni) , a Brahman , a man belonging to the 1st of the 3 twice-born classes and of the 4 original divisions of the Hindu body (generally a priest , but often in the present day a layman engaged in non-priestly occupations although the name is strictly only applicable to one who knows and repeats the veda) RV. &c
loke (loc. sg.): m. the world ; loke or iha loke , " here on earth "

parama-brahma-vādinaḥ (nom. pl. m.): speaking about the Supreme Brahma
parama-brahman: n. the Supreme Spirit
brahma: in comp. for brahman. - Observe that in the following derivatives the nom. n. (brahma) is used for the impersonal Spirit and the nom. m. (brahmā) for the personal god.
brahman: n. (lit. " growth " , " expansion " , " evolution " , " development " " swelling of the spirit or soul " , fr. √2. bṛh) pious effusion or utterance , outpouring of the heart in worshipping the gods , prayer ; the sacred word (as opp. to vāc , the word of man) , the veda , a sacred text , a text or mantra used as a spell ; the brāhmaṇa portion of the veda ; the sacred syllable Om ; religious or spiritual knowledge (opp. to religious observances and bodily mortification such as tapas &c ) ; holy life (esp. continence , chastity ; cf. brahma-carya) ; (exceptionally treated as m.) the brahma or one self-existent impersonal Spirit , the one universal Soul (or one divine essence and source from which all created things emanate or with which they are identified and to which they return) , the Self-existent , the Absolute , the Eternal (not generally an object of worship but rather of meditation and-knowledge ; also with jyéṣṭha , prathama-já , svayám-bhu , a-mūrta , para , paratara , parama , mahat , sanātana , śāśvata ; and = paramā*tman , ātman , adhyātma , pradhāna , kṣetra-jña , tattva);
n. the class of men who are the repositories and communicators of sacred knowledge , the Brahmanical caste as a body (rarely an individual Brahman)
vādin: mfn. saying , discoursing , speaking , talking , speaking or talking about (often ifc. or sometimes with acc. of object) , declaring , proclaiming , denoting , designating

brahma-caryam (acc. sg.): n. study of the veda , the state of an unmarried religious student , a state of continence and chastity; acc. with √ grah , car , vas , ā- √gam , upa- √i , to practise chastity
brahma-cārin: m. a young Brahman who is a student of the veda (under a preceptor) or who practises chastity , a young Brahman before marriage (in the first period of his life) AV. Mn. MBh. &c (cf. āśrama and IW. 192 &c RTL. 84 &c ; the N. brahma-cārin is also given to older unmarried Brahmans , esp. if versed in the veda , and by the tantras to any person whose chief virtue is continence)
caranti = 3rd pers. pl. car:
iha: ind. here

brāhmaṇān (acc. pl.): m. brahmins
vāsayanti = 3rd pers. pl. causative vas: to dwell
ca: and

世間婆羅門 皆悉依此義
修行於梵行 亦爲人廣説

Sunday, September 14, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.41: Two Kinds of Knower of the Field? (On Seeing and Not Seeing the Gap)

¦−−−−¦¦−−−⏑¦⏑−⏑−   mavipulā
yathāvad-etad-vijñāya kṣetra-jño hi catuṣṭayam |
ājavaṁjavatāṁ hitvā prāpnoti padam-akṣaram || 12.41

For having properly fathomed this four,

The knower of the field

Abandons the rushing torrent of births and deaths

And realizes the undying step.

The present canto is turning out to be a particularly difficult one, and it seems to be getting more difficult with each verse. But the key may be, as always, to identify the ostensible and hidden meanings, and to understand-- with all due perspicacity – the significance of the gap. To understand, in other words, Aśvaghoṣa's use of irony.

My French neighbour has just turned 40, which is I suppose a cause for celebration. But the celebrations involved a party last night which kept going, energized by thumping bass, till 5 o'clock this morning. The result is that I tottered to my meditation hut this morning, later than usual, in the most fragile of conditions. In a bid to up my own energy, I hummed and recited out loud the verses I have memorized so far in the present canto, reflecting as I hummed what I had just recited and what I was going to recite next.

My thoughts came back to the matter of perspicacity – a word evidently frowned upon by the kind of reader of this blog who is steeped in killing people and breaking things.
perspicacious : having or showing an ability to notice and understand things that are difficult or not obvious

It occurred to me this morning how from an early age I have suffered from what might be labelled PDD, Perspicacity Deficit Disorder. From an early age I had a mind that was bright and – more to the point – sharp, so that I was precocious at reading and spelling and learning times tables. I was good, in other words, at learning things that were obvious and not difficult.

But when it came to noticing and understanding something that was difficult and not obvious, like the fact that the teaching of a Zen Master on such matters as Freudian psychology, could be totally wrong, I was the opposite of perspicacious and precocious. Among empty cups, there was none more vacuous than I was.

That is partly why I continue to feel angry about the modus operandi of my late teacher, Gudo Nishijima. He asked for an empty cup, filled my empty cup with a lot of crap, and then observing my efforts to empty it out again he called me, with no due sense of irony, a non-Buddhist.

Gudo had told me in the early days that without Sigmund Freud he would never have been able to understand true Buddhism.

I will leave each reader to explore for himself or herself the irony with which this statement was pregnant. But 30 years ago I totally failed to notice any irony in it. 

Taking my teacher's statement as a foundation stone, I read Freud's books one by one, trying to make sense of what was meant (in English translation from the German) by ego, id, and superego, as if those inconvenient fictions really existed.

I was particularly impressed by books like The Informed Heart and The Uses of Enchantment by psychologist Bruno Bettelheim – gullible sap that I was. On the surface, what BB wrote all seemed to make good sense. What was difficult, and not obvious, was that Bettelheim was committing the cardinal sin of failing to appreciate the neuro-developmental basis, rather than psychological basis, of the suffering of children on what is now called “the autistic spectrum.”

In general, the more fragile my condition is, the longer my blog posts tend to become. So I shall abruptly halt this digression here, and drag myself back to today's verse, bringing whatever shreds of perspicacity I can muster to an investigation of its ostensible and hidden meanings.

In these terms, the key to today's verse might lie back in BC12.20, in which Arāḍa seemed to distinguish between two kinds of kṣetra-jṇa, knowing/knower of the field:
Because it knows this field, the conscious is called Kṣetra-jña, “Knower of the Field.” At the same time, those who contemplate the ātman, the self, speak of the self as the knower of the field. //BC12.20//

One kind of kṣetra-jña, then, is the Kṣetra-jña, “Knower of the Field,” a disembodied consciousness as celebrated from darkest Indian antiquity in Sāṁkhya philosophy.

But another kind of kṣetra-jña might be a person, a human being in possession of himself or herself, who knows the unified field which has a dual aspect (Awake / Not Awake; Manifest / Not Manifest). That might be the person who, as discussed yesterday, is meeting the Tathāgata.

For the meaning of ājavaṁjavatām, EHJ refers us to an article in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (JRAS 1931, 569-70). But since I don't belong to the priesthood of academic scholars, I do not appear to be able to follow up that lead, at least not without paying a financial penalty.

What I can glean from the dictionary is that ājavaṁjavatām is probably formed from java, which means swift. EHJ translated it as “the rushing torrent of birth and death,” and so I have followed EHJ. PO also translated “the stream of births and deaths.” EBC, while suspecting that his text might be corrupt, had read ārjavaṁ javatām and translated “[having abandoned] all (ideas of) straightness or quickness.”

EHJ notes further that she second half of today's verse is equivalent to a line in the Mahā-bhārata (xii, 87675): Tad vidvān aksaraṁ prāpya jahāti prāṇajanmānī.

My tentative conclusion about today's verse, then, is that it can once again be read either as

  • (a) harking back to ancient Indian concepts, like the Sāṁkhya concept of kṣetra-jña, “Knower of the Field,” by which was meant the consciousness which distinguishes between the Awake and the Not Awake, and the Manifest and the Not Manifest;
  • (b) presaging the Buddha's teaching in which, by an act of knowing, the doings which are the root of saṁsāra are not done, and thus the whole edifice of suffering is brought crashing down.

In terms of four phases, however, the progression which has seemed to fit the first 40 verses of this Canto well enough, may now be breaking down. Which is to say that if we take today's verse as presaging the Buddha's teaching, then realizing the deathless step would most naturally belong to the fourth phase, as a pointer, like yesterday's verse, to the one bright pearl.

Here, for the record, is the progression so far as I have been using it, in four-phased blocks, to memorize the present Canto:

BC12.1 – ideal moon
BC12.2 - spatial dimensions
BC12.3 – subject and object meet at the place of purity
BC12.4 - Sitting

BC12.5 – ideal vessel
BC12.6 – dogged constancy, unromantic negation of emotion
BC12.7 – nothing miraculous
BC12.8 – something miraculous

BC12.9 - vi- √ jñā 1. to know
BC12.10 - vi- √ jñā 2. being known
BC12.11 - vi- √ jñā 3. knowing
BC12.12 – Like realization

BC12.13 – I esteem your teaching like...
BC12.14 – skepticism (Can it be explained?)
BC12.15 – Arāḍa acts (his own teaching)
BC12.16 – Listen!

BC12.17 – Intro; concepts / birth, death, aging 
BC12.18 – Prakṛti - what is really primary (not what you think) 
BC12.19 – Vikāra - physical bits and bobs; equally, the mind 
BC12.20 – Knowing the [Unified] Field  (= meeting the Tāthagata) 

BC12.21 – distinction 1; Awake vs Not Awake
BC12.22 – distinction 2: Manifest vs Not Manifest
BC12.23 – causes of saṁsāra
BC12.24 – the eight concrete causes

BC12.25, 26 – wrong grounding, selfishness
BC12.27, 28 – blurring (x2)
BC12.29, 30 – lack of discrimination, wrong means
BC12.31, 32 – attachment, pulling down

BC12.33 – thus, fivefold ignorance
BC12.34 – tamo, moha, mahā-moha
BC12.35 -  mahā-moha = kāma
BC12.36 – tamīsram (x2) 

BC12.37 – duḥkha (saṁsāra as 1st noble truth)
BC12.38 – negation of “ego” (ironic affirmation of aham)
BC12.39 – truth of cessation
BC12.40 – back to meeting the Tāthagata

BC12.41 - ??

yathāvat: ind. duly , properly , rightly , suitably , exactly
etat (acc. sg. n.): this, this here
vijñāya = abs. vi- √ jñā : to distinguish , discern , observe , investigate , recognize , ascertain , know , understand ; to have right knowledge

kṣetra-jñaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the knower of the field
hi: for
catuṣṭayam (acc. sg.): n. set of four

ājavaṁjavatām (acc. sg. f.): [EHJ] the rushing torrent of birth and death
java: mfn. ( √ ju , or jū) swift
jū: to press forwards , hurry on , be quick ; to impel quickly , urge or drive on , incite
hitvā = abs. hā: to abandon, leave

prāpnoti = 3rd pers. sg. pra- √āp: to attain to ; reach , arrive at , meet with , find ; obtain
padam (acc. sg.): n. step, state
akṣaram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. imperishable , unalterable ; m. a sword ; n. final beatitude religious austerity , sacrifice
kṣara: melting away , perishable ; m. a cloud ; n. water ; n. the body

若知此四法 能離生老死生老死既盡 逮得無盡處