Friday, February 12, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.31: Beware of Indra's Net

yo hi pravRttiM niyataam avaiti
n'aiv' aanya-hetor iha n'aapy a-hetoH
pratiitya tat tat samavaiti tat tat
sa naiShThikaM pashyati dharmam aaryaM

= = - = = - - = - = -
= = - = = - - = - = =
- = - = = - - = - = =
- = - = = - - = - = =

For he who understands that the doing in this world

Is determined neither by any outside cause
nor by no cause,

Who appreciates everything depending on everything:

He sees the ultimate noble Dharma.

This verse is part of the explanation of what it is to meet Buddha -- because without seeing the ultimate noble Dharma (which hopefully might also carry with it a sense of some practical human duty), there is no meeting Buddha.

What Ashvaghosha means by the doing in this world (pravRtti) needs to understood on the basis of the Buddha's exposition in Canto 16 of the evils of doing, viz:

The many and various disappointments of men, like old age,

Occur as long as their doing goes on.

(For even when violent winds blow,

Trees do not shake that never sprouted.)

And this, the suffering of doing, in the world,

Has its cause in clusters of faults which start with thirsting --

Certainly not in God, nor in primordial matter, nor in time;

Nor even in one’s inherent constitution, and not in predestination or self-will.

Again, you must understand how, due to this cause,

Because of men's faults, the cycle of doing goes on,

So that those imbued with redness and darkness succumb to death.

He is not reborn who is without redness and darkness.

Then comprehend that suffering is doing

And witness the faults moving it forward.

Realise its stopping as non-doing,

And know the path as a turning back.

To give an illustration of doing in this world with which we will all be familiar from our schooldays, think of that unreasonably unruly or so-called "hyper-active" child who was a pest in the classroom. Such a child is liable to be described as having a so-called "specific learning difficulty" such as "attention-deficit disorder" (ADD) or "attention-deficit hyper-activity disorder" (ADHD) or "dyslexia" (difficulty with words) or "dsypraxia" (clumsiness).

When I was at primary school, nobody thought I had any kind of learning difficulty, since, judged by the criteria of the times, I was always top of the class. But when I was eight years old, Miss Whittle did famously tell my parents at parents' evening "Michael is very bright, but his behaviour is disgusting."

Somehow or other I have managed to end up in my dotage, in a small way, working with children, mainly boys, who struggle in the classroom. And when I endeavour to explain to mothers that their son's doing is likely to be profoudly related with faults in the vestibular system, mothers often ask me back, "What caused him to have those faults?"

If I answered "dependent origination," I might get a funny look and end up with an unsatisfied customer. That would not be a good answer.

The answer I usually give is that genetic factors seem to play a very big role. Then difficulties in the processes of pregnancy and birth. Then illness or other factor that might have prevented the child in infancy from doing the movements it needed to explore thoroughly on its tummy, and then on hands and knees, before getting up and walking.

What about environmental factors, like brain-altering chemicals that have got into the water supply and into the air we breathe: are they also a factor? What about interventions like the MMR jab? Is that a factor?

I don't know. Even if such external causes are a factor, the doing in this world, I think Ashvaghosha is saying here, is not determined by such external factors.

So line 2 can be read as a negation of the viewpoint of determinism; and also as a negation of the viewpoint which denies causality.

And so we come to line 3, which should I think be treated with caution. Line 3 relates to "the doctrine of dependent origination," as sometimes represented by the metaphor of indra's net.

The Wikipedia entry on Indra's net
(indra-jaala) contains the following quote from Alan Watts:

"Imagine a multidimensional spider's web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image."

"Buddhist conception of the universe" eh, Alan? Hmmmmm.

Jaala means a net or web not only in the sense of a network but also in the sense of a trap or snare that people get tangled up in. And indra-jaala in particular is given in the dictionary, tellingly, as: n. the net of indra ; a weapon employed by arjuna ; sham , illusion , delusion , magic , sorcery.

What is called "the doctrine of dependent origination" is a doctrine, an -ism. And therein lies the trap. When people see a doctrine as true, our unenlightened tendency is to clutch at it, in the absence of anything else to grasp onto.

There is in the "Buddhist" world, as I see it, a lot of intellectual grasping onto the doctrine of dependent origination. And this grasping onto a doctrine is itself just another form of unenlightened doing.

Originally speaking, from where does all this doing arise?

I don't know. In the final analysis, it may be that everything depends on everything.

What I do know is this: when I am working with a lad who is meeting all kinds of difficulty in the classroom and who didn't crawl properly in infancy, I can help that lad to inhibit his wrong inner patterns of doing, by for example encouraging him to crawl now. What I am teaching him, by getting him to re-visit crawling, is the prevention of doing by non-doing. It is a kind of turning back.

It was never my intention when I was captain of the U16 rugby team of King Edward's School Birmingham to work with children with developmental problems, a field which tends to be populated in the main by flocks of soft unambitious women. I rather saw myself occupying some lofty pulpit, pontificating importantly to dragons and elephants from the worlds of politics and business, on such weighty doctrines as dependent origination. Before occupying that exalted platform, however, I understood that there were one or two little issues in myself that I needed to sort out first... and so 35 years later here I am, in the over-50s club already and not one step nearer to macho VIP-hood.

Is crawling about on the floor together with a child with learning difficulties what Ashvaghosha meant by seeing the ultimate noble Dharma? I don't know whether it is the ultimate noble Dharma. But, seeing what I see, it might be my inescapable duty.

It is more fun than getting tangled up in a doctrine, anyway!

EH Johnston:
For he, who recognises active being in this world not to be determined by any outside cause or to be without a cause, but understands that everything is dependent on something else, sees the noble Law that leads to final beatitude.

Linda Covill:
For he who understands that while a particular activity in the here and now is not caused by something else, it is also not without a cause, and who recognizes that everything is dependent on a variety of things -- he sees the ultimate noble dharma.

yaH (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
hi: for
pravRttim (acc. sg.): f. moving onwards , advance , progress ; active life , doing (as opp. to ni-vRtti, non-doing)
niyataam (acc. sg. f.): held back or in , fastened ; restrained, restricted ; disciplined , self-governed ; fixed , established
avaiti (3rd pers. sg. ave): he sees, perceives, understands

na: not
eva: (emphatic)
anya: other
hetoH = abl. sg. hetu: m. cause
iha: here & now, in this world
na: not
api: also
a-hetoH (abl. sg.) m. absence of cause or reason

pratiitya: ind. dependent on
(pratiitya-samutpaada: m. dependent arising/origination)
tat = nom./acc. sg. tad: that
tat tat (nom.): this and that, everything
samavaiti = 3rd pers. sg. samave: to regard , consider
tat tat (acc.): this and that, everything

saH (nom. sg. m.): he
naiShThikam (acc. sg. m.): forming the end , final , last; highest , perfect , complete
pashyati: he sees
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. the teaching, the law
aaryam (acc. sg. m.): noble

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