I write this at 4.15 in the morning, having woken up before 3.00 with a very itchy ear and a bad taste in my mouth. I had a partial metal crown but on a back tooth on Tuesday and I seem to be reacting to it badly, unless I am imagining something. Yesterday (Thursday) I phoned the dentist to inquire where the crown had been made (thinking it might have been made on the cheap in some dodgy Chinese laboratory). The dentist invited me to come and see him at his surgery, so there I duly cycled. He confirmed that, yes, the crown had been made in China, but the laboratory was accredited, and dentistry in the UK is very tightly regulated. The dentist assured me that any symptoms I was experiencing were psycho-somatic. In the course of our discussion, I inquired if there might be any mercury (amalgam) in the crown, and he assured me that no, amalgam was not used in crowns, and that anyway many scientific studies had looked into it and the evidence was incontrovertible that amalgam is safe to use in dental fillings. I left the consultation unconvinced, and naturally enough, the dentist seemed offended that I seemed to think he might have done some harm by giving me a poisonous crown.
So as I sat just now, mindful of Dogen's words that the secret of sitting-dhyāna is JI-JO-IPPEN, "naturally/spontaneously to become one piece," and mindful also of how the presence of this metal crown a few inches from my brainstem makes my health and integrity dependent on the honesty and integrity of some person running a dental laboratory somewhere in China, I am more than usually aware of the fact that more than ever before human beings really are in the same big boat, so that we will all sink or we will float.
Who the hell I am, what role there is for me to play in preventing the ship sinking, I do not know. As I cycled back from the dentist, I reflected on the series of famous experiments in which Matthieu Ricard showed himself to be such an extraordinarily excellent person. In one of these experiments a grouchy professor was supposed to antagonize MR in a philosophical discussion, but found it impossible, as MR's metta-soaked brain continued to pump out gamma waves in massive profusion. MR, doubtless, would have handled the consultation with his dentist more skillfully than I had done. Before that, indeed, MR might have had the wisdom not to agree to having a metal crown put in, especially one made in China. An enlightened person might have had the wisdom to leave alone a tooth that was only a bit broken, and not bother going to the dentist at all.
As I cycled back from the dentist, pondering that my life has possibly been shortened by having some alloy of mercury, lead and god knows what else implanted into my head, I felt a surge of desire to do something useful with whatever is left of it.
The business of not really knowing what the Buddha is on about when Aśvaghoṣa quotes him talking about using different nimitta, apparently in the context of extinguishing the faults that start with thirsting by means of the water of bhāvanā, has sharpened my sense of being far behind a monk like Mathieu Ricard, trained in the Tibetan tradition and evidently highly skilled in the use of specific antidotes to specific faults, e.g. compassion as an antidote to hatred, as described in Saundara-nanda.
In one of the experiments Mathieu Ricard was subjected to, he astonished Prof. Paul Ekman by not showing even a slight facial flicker when subjected to a stimulus that triggered a startle response in everybody else that had ever done the experiment. MR rather demonstrated what FM Alexander called "constructive conscious control," and "inhibition of unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions." This is the kind of thing I aspire to. But in so aspiring, I reflected yesterday, as I cycled back from the dentist, I am like one of the guys in wheelchairs that take part in the London marathon, whereas MR is akin to one of the so-called "elite" athletes.
Thinking somewhat positively, I may never be a champion in the field of demonstrating what "constructive conscious control" is, but out of the failure which my life has been so far, I may at least have gleaned some insight into what disables, or shackles, a non-elite athlete, in the marathon whose finishing line is full realization of the buddha-nature. I am thinking primarily here of faults in the vestibular system, centred on an immature Moro reflex. Those of us who have grown up with such faults -- and we may be in the majority -- may forever in this life be up against it.
With this in mind, it occured to me as I cycled back yesterday, that I might at some point post on the internet my voluminous record of years of questions and answers with Gudo Nishijima, in case somebody could find my record useful -- as well, inevitably, as ridiculous. As ridiculous as a guy in a wheelchair dreaming of becoming a champion elite athlete.
So it seems that I did a lot of reflecting in a few hundred yards yesterday. And further to that, as I sat earlier on (it is now 5.05), I reflected that Aśvaghoṣa's writing is truly seminal. For practitioners like me whose starting point was Dogen's teaching, Aśvaghoṣa is a founding Zen patriarch. The same goes for any practitioner in China who reveres Bodhidharma; that is to say, any Chinese dental laboratory entrepreneur who reveres Bodhidharma as a grandfather also has to recognise Aśvaghoṣa as a great grandfather. Again, if any extraordinarily excellent Tibetan monk wishes to highlight the simplistic ignorance of his faulty Zen brother who knows nothing about the Buddha's teaching of using specific antidotes to specific faults, Aśvaghoṣa's writing provides a basis for so doing. And finally, it did not escape my notice that when a few months ago I googled "Aśvaghoṣa, Buddhacarita," I arrived at the website of a certain Ānandajoti Bhikkhu, a monk in the Theravada tradition who described himself to me as a fellow fan of Aśvaghoṣa.
At Ānandajoti's behest I have been dutifully preparing a transcription of the text of Saundara-nanda, painstakingly noting the variants, of which there are more than a hundred in most chapters. At time of writing, I am half-way through Canto 16, so should be finished noting the variants by next week. Then I intend to have several runs through the text and translation.
If Aśvaghoṣa's writing truly is as seminal as it seems to me to be, then planting this seed skillfully might be the most useful thing I could possibly do, notwithstanding my own multifarious faults.
Trying to be skillful, of course, is the very end-gaining that triggers a faulty individual's multifarious faults. So saying, at 5.26, I shall go back to bed.