Monday, May 14, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.14: First Steps

−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Haṁsī)
anākulāny-abja-samudgatāni niṣpeṣavad-vyāyata-vikramāṇi |
tathaiva dhīrāṇi padāni sapta saptarṣi-tārā-sa-dśo jagāma || 1.14

With even footsteps,
his feet going up like water-born lotuses,

And coming down in long stamping strides:

Seven such firm steps he took,

Looking like the Seven Seer cluster of stars.

Uncertainty surrounds the text of the 1st pāda. The Sanskrit manuscript from which EHJ was working has ubja, with a correction on the manuscript to abja “water born.” EHJ ignored the correction, while noting that ubja does not occur elsewhere. I have gone with abja, understanding that the natural upward movement of the foot of a baby showing the stepping reflex seemed to Aśvaghoṣa to be as natural, light, effortless and beautiful as a lotus emerging out of a pond, its weight being lifted up by the water.

In the continuing spirit of endeavoring to demystify what translators hitherto have misconstrued as a description of unnatural miracles, I shall include a link to this clip of a baby exhibiting the steppingreflex.

The cluster of seven stars that we call the Plough (or Big Dipper) the ancient Indians called saptarṣi, the Seven Seers, or Seven Ṛṣi. This asterism is part of the larger constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, the representation of which in this image is somehow similar to the form of the baby exhibiting the stepping reflex.

The stepping of a baby, as also of a bear, is the reality of action, which is totally different from thinking.

So also is the truth of Zazen the reality of action, which is totally different from thinking.

Hence, Dogen said the secret of Zazen was that it is  非思量 HI-SHIRYO, “Different from thinking.”

The fundamental teaching of Gautama Buddha has to do with the unbridgeable gulf that thus exists between thinking on one side and the reality of action on the other side.

Such was the fundamental teaching of my teacher, Gudo Nishijima, which I believed in religiously for a long time.

In this paradigm, which represents what George Soros calls the enlightenment fallacy, thinking corresponds to what Soros, in his consideration of the relation between thinking and reality, terms “the cognitive function.”

But Soros understood, from his work in the laboratory of the financial markets, that there is a kind of thinking which does interact with reality, in a manner that exhibits reflexivity. This Soros calls, somewhat unfortunately for my purposes, “the manipulative function of thinking.”

FM Alexander, from his work in the laboratory of accepting and using himself, also understood that there is a kind of thinking which is not separate from the reality of action. Alexander termed it “thinking in activity” and asserted that his work was an exercise in finding out what thinking is. From what I have learned of it, I would say that what Alexander meant by thinking does not have to do with manipulation, but has to do with allowing. Applied to a problem like breath control, for example, Alexander thinking does not involve direct manipulation; rather, the natural mechanisms of respiration are allowed to work. So the process of control is an indirect and not a manipulative one.

This thinking in activity is thinking, but not what people understand by thinking. It is, in other words, what Yakusan and Dogen calle 非思量  HI-SHIRYO, “non-thinking.” As described in detail by Aśvaghoṣa in Saundarananda Canto 17, this kind of thinking is intimately related with the process of negative feedback by which a system returns to equilibrium.

“You pays your money and takes your choice,” as the old saying goes. On this blog, you pays no money, but I invite you – all three or four of you -- to take your choice.

I used to think that when it came to understanding of the meaning of 非思量  HI-SHIRYO, history would judge that Gudo Nishijima got it wrong and that I got it right. More recently I have thought that history might judge that Gudo Nishijima got it wrong and that I also got everything wrong. But another possibility, it begins to dawn on me, is that history might pass me by without even relegating me to so much as a footnote. And in that situation, happiness is to come back to the Buddha's ultimate teaching of wanting little and being content.

anākulāni (acc. pl. n.): mfn. not confused , unperplexed , calm , consistent , regular
ākula: confounded , confused , agitated , flurried ; disordered
ubja-samudgatāni (acc. pl. n.): rising up like lotuses
abja: mfn. born in water; m. the moon; n. a lotus
ubja (?)
samudgata: mfn. risen up , come forth , appeared , begun

niṣpeṣa-vat: mfn. put down with a stamp
niṣ- √ piṣ: to stamp or beat
vyāyata-vikramāṇi (acc. pl. n.): far-striding, strong-striding
vyāyata: mfn. drawn asunder , separated ; opened , expanded; long , wide , distant , far ; hard , firm , strong
vikrama: m. a step , stride , pace; going , proceeding , walking
tathā: such
eva: (emphatic)
dhīrāṇi (acc. pl. n.): mfn. steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave
padāni (acc. pl.): n. a step, pace, stride; a footstep
sapta = acc. sg./pl. n. saptan: seven

saptarṣi-tārā-sa-dṛśaḥ (nom. sg. m.): he who was like the constellation of the seven seers
saptarṣi: the 7 seers (seven ṛṣis are often mentioned in the brāhmaṇas and later works as typical representatives of the character and spirit of the pre-historic or mythical period); (in astron.) the 7 stars of the constellation Ursa Major
tārā: f. a fixed star , asterism
sa-dṛśa: mfn. like , resembling , similar to
jagāma = 3rd pers. sg. perf. gam: to go, move, set out


Jordan said...

Hi Mike,
I choose to continue observing your work in progress and continue to try and pick up on what you are putting down.

Andrew said...

I'm making that choice too, pretty much as Jordan tells it. Whether you're wrong or right? I am in no position to know or try to know, I really don't have a clue. But what you write is often fascinating and it is for me very important.

Bu the way, I don't think I've mentioned before in my (very few) comments here, that I have been for a long time and continue to be a loyal student of Mike Luetchford. It seems to me to be right to disclose that, whether it matters or not.
But of course that experience with Mike informs the way I receive what I read here.

Today I am very moved by your contribution.

Happi said...

Hi Mike -

Still choosing to listen. Wish I were a better source of verification.

Mike Cross said...

Thank you to all three of you.

For the present the "maybe not even a footnote" hypothesis seems to remain unfalsified.

Γιώργος Ασκούνης said...

Thank you Mike for helping me to get a bit closer to the root of the problem! Ofcourse there is still long way for the Tiperery!

Happi said...

Mike –

When you say things like “history might pass me by without even relegating me to so much as a footnote” I worry that you’re missing the point.

And while the opening lines and the gist of Dogen’s Fukan-zazengi are: “Awakening originally is all around. How could it depend on training and verification?,” he also was moved to tears when he found his vision of practice shared, for example as he describes in Kesa-kudoku: “At that time, there arose in me a feeling I had never before experienced. [My] body was overwhelmed with joy. The tears of gratitude secretly fell and soaked my lapels.” Dogen is full of contradictions like that. And I’ve heard people complain about those contradictions, but life, too, is chalk-full of contradiction.

I don’t think Dogen was concerned about fame and fortune. He was, however, a strong advocate of sincerity in practice. What is your practice? Is its worth to be decided by history, Nishijima’s story, or your story? Don’t undermine your story.

Excuse me if you think I’m being out of line.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Gisela,

"Don't undermine your story" could be another way of saying "Don't abandon an idea."

I don't know if you followed the link I provided to the talk in which George Soros gave his critique of the enlightenment fallacy of objective reality divorced from reason, and his even stronger critique of the post-modernist fallacy of no objective reality but just affirmation of individual stories, but I thought the talk was very good, exceptionally clear.

"Don't undermine your story" sounds like it could be somewhat leaning in the post-modernist direction.

My practice is sitting in lotus as the abandonment of all views -- especially religious ones, but thanks to George Soros I would like to add to the list post-modernism with its emphasis on "my story."

Yes, I excuse you for being out of line, so long as you say three Hail Mary's and don a hair shirt.

Happi said...

Hi Mike –

If your practice consists only of sitting in lotus as the abandonment of all views, then what is the rest of your life, including this translation effort, your conviction of a link between Alexander theory and not thinking, Nishijima’s teaching around right posture, not to mention your distain of most, if not all, –isms, due to, at the very least, the dangers of group think instead of thinking for one’s self? Why bother with anything at all?

I don’t subscribe to Catholicism and I haven’t the foggiest notion of where to procure such a shirt, so I can only hope that my confession to you that I have not yet had the opportunity to listen to the Soros lecture will suffice (though it’s on my list of things to do). Otherwise I may be up sh*t creek without a paddle.

Mike Cross said...

O, Oatmeal-munching Scientist! (voc. sg. f.):

Why bother? indeed. That might be the wisest thing you've written so far.

By the way, my eldest son is just finishing the 3rd year of a degree in Chemistry at Imperial College, London. Not bad, eh?

So I have succeeded pretty well in guiding his progress as a scientist such that he has already overtaken me in his understanding of science. How did I manage this? I will tell you the secret: I set the bar incredibly low!

Happi said...

Thanks Mike. Best of luck to your son.