asau kShemo janapadaH
su-bhikSho 'saav asau shivaH
ity evam atha jaayeta
vitarkas tava kash cana
- = = = - - - =
- = = = - = - =
= = - - - = = -
- = = - - = - -
"That country is an easy place to live;
That one is well-provisioned; that one is happy."
If there should arise
Any such idea in you,
Following the previous series of eleven verses in which the Buddha has negated romantic ideas about people, here begins a series of ten verses in which the Buddha seems to want to negate romantic ideas about places.
A few months ago I read on one of Dosho Mike Port's blog posts a characteristically honest reflection on our tendency to yearn for "the other monastery."
For me "the other monastery" is a place that is always quiet. In Japan I visited a monastery named Eihei-ji, "Temple of Eternal Peace," but that wasn't it.
The house I live in near Aylesbury in the south of England is sometimes quiet, but often not quiet enough for my liking. If a noise is not too obtrusive, like a gurgling radiator, for exampe, I can sometimes distract myself from listening to it by practising "mindfulness" of, say, the sight of this stick of incense, and the feel of this zafu pushing up, and the functioning of my breathing apparatus during this in-breath and during this out-breath. Practising mindfulness in this case means a kind of effort to keep several things present in my field of attention at the same time. It is a kind of antidote to troublesome ideas of the other monastery.
Nearly ten years ago now, I bought a derelict pile of bricks by the forest in France, thinking it might fit the bill for the other monastery. As with Eihei-ji my romantic expectation didn't quite hit the target. My idea was mainly falsified by a local guy who bought the place next door, and who has since regularly breached the peace with cars, chainsaws, construction machinery, et cetera. So not a few times -- particularly during my neighbour's summer holidays -- I have found myself sitting in the grounds of my other monastery dreaming of yet another monastery.
But on some days in spring, under the falling blossoms of a big ash tree, or in autumn under its falling leaves, I have been able to dispense totally with mindfulness practice, and just enjoy just sitting. At those moments, there was no other monastery, nor any effort to give up the idea of the other monastery.
If the tumbling pound or some other circumstance causes me to give up the place in France, or if death strikes me down tomorrow, I am grateful to have had those moments, which, I am confident, were nothing but the lifeblood.
The title of this canto, vitarka-prahaaNa, "Giving Up an Idea," just means the lifeblood. The lifeblood is just to sit.
Sometimes, when a Zen Master fails to give up his idea, something gets in the way of the true transmission of the lifeblood. That is the greatest lesson my own Zen Master taught me. It has been a very tough lesson to be taught. And even having been taught it, I am evidently not immune from making the same mistake of holding on to a troublesome idea.
My teacher had an idea that translating Shobogenzo into English was "his personal job," for which he needed some help to re-write his English sentences. He also had the idea that he knew how to teach people to sit in "the right posture." After I started translating Shobogenzo for my teacher, in 1986, and the translation actually became my translation, Gudo was not able to give up his idea that it was still his translation. After I first heard the Alexander principle of non-doing in 1994, and endeavoured in my unskilful way to let my teacher know that his idea about right posture was wrong, because in truth there is no such thing as right posture, again, Gudo was not able to give up his idea.
This is why, in 1997, he and some of his students did something that really hurt me to the core. After that, I stopped translating work and waited more than ten years for Gudo to give up his own idea and redeem himself. But he never gave up those two wrong ideas of his. He just got older and older and soon he will die.
When Gudo dies, I don't know whether I will grieve or not. My sense is that I have done my grieving already. I had a dream of being the true successor of a true teacher, but it was only an idea. It was a very troublesome idea that really got in the way of me living my life. It caused me to spend the best part of 30 years with the glazed eyes of one who is trying to be right. Giving up the idea of being the one true successor, the one who is right, continues to be not easy. But the more deeply I give the idea up of being right, helped along in equal measure by the truth of Alexander's teaching and the natural energy of the forest, the more chance the right thing has to do itself.
As I write this, a nagging pain is beginning to re-emerge in my stomach. Voila.
May this translation work help me and others not repeat the mistake of holding on to an idea that should be given up.
May this translation work help to clarify, for self and others, the Buddha's original idea of giving up an idea.
Or if any such thought should arise in your mind that such and such a country is peaceful or prosperous or happy,
'That country is safe; in that one they give alms generously; that one is happy.' If any such notion should arise in you,
asau (nom. sg.): that
kShemaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. habitable ; giving rest or ease or security ; at ease , prosperous , safe
janapadaH = nom. sg. janapada: m. sg. or pl. a community , nation , people (as opposed to the sovereign) ; sg. an empire , inhabited country
su-bhikShaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having good food or an abundant supply of provisions; n. abundance of food (esp. that given as alms) , abundant supply of provisions
asau: that one
asau: that one
shivaH (nom. sg. m.): auspicious , propitious , gracious , favourable , benign , kind , benevolent , friendly , dear ; happy , fortunate
iti: " ," thus
evam: ind. thus, such
atha: now, then, etc.
jaayeta = 3rd pers. sg. optative jan: to be born or produced , come into existence
vitarkaH (nom. sg.): m. an idea, thought etc.
tava (gen.): of you
kash cana: an