Wednesday, May 23, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.23: Spontaneous Flow Facilitates Practice

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Indravajrā)
prāg-uttare cāvasatha-pradeśe kūpaḥ svayaṁ prādur-abhūt-sitāmbuḥ |
antaḥ-purāṇy-āgata-vismayāni yasmin kriyās-tīrtha iva pracakruḥ || 1.23

In the north-eastern corner of the residence

A well of pure water spontaneously appeared;

And there the royal householders, filled with wonder,

Performed bathing practices 
as if on the bank of a sacred stream.

EH Johnston wrote somewhere that Aśvaghoṣa does not anywhere waste any word, and on the basis of my own investigations so far, I think EHJ was right on this point.

Googling“significance of north-east direction,” led me to a blog post which confirms that “Out of the eight directions the North-east has a special importance. The sun rises from the East, moves towards the North and sets in the West. The early morning rays are auspicious and must fall on the land we live on. These rays, to a great extent are absorbed by water; therefore it is beneficial to have wells and underground water tanks in the North-East direction.”

“The northeast direction” the blogpost continues, “is enriched with the confluence of this energy pool with the magnetic and subtler energy currents of the earth and the etheric hole. The rishis, the Indian sages of Vedic Age had mastered this knowledge.”

Fair enough. Nice one, Indian sages of the Vedic Age.

What interests me even more about today's verse is the meaning of the word svayam “spontaeously, by itself,” in the 2nd pāda, and the way that this meaning was not missed, but rather given particular emphasis, in the Chinese translation. Nice one, Chinese translator, whoever you were. 

In the following series of four 5-character lines, the Chinese character corresponding to the Sanskrit svayam appears not once but twice, describing not only the spontaneous appearance of the well in today's verse but also the spontaneous burning of fire in yesterday's verse.

世界諸火光 無薪自炎熾
淨水清涼井 前後自然生

Svayam, “by itself,” expresses the principle of spontaneity which the Chinese, even before the eastern migration of the Buddha's teaching from India to China, were already investigating in connection with the Tao. Hence, when in the opening words of Shobogenzo Dogen described the supreme and subtle method of the buddha-tathāgatas as 無為 , “free of doing, spontaneous,” (Chinese: WU-WEI; Japanese: MU-I), he was using a term borrowed from Taoism to express a fundamental principle of the Buddha's teaching.

Thus, when in yesterday's verse I interpreted anīritaḥ, without being stirred,” as an expression of non-doing, it turns out that I wasn't thinking anything original: the Chinese translator had gone even further in the direction of a “non-doing” interpretation and written of the light of fires (諸火光) spontaneously () blazing (炎熾) without any firewood (無薪). The Chinese translator lent emphasis to this sense of spontaneous arising by repeating the character which means “spontaneously, by itself,” () in connection with the arising of a well in today's verse. Thus:

世界諸火光 無薪炎熾
淨水清涼井 前後然生

S. Beal: whilst in the world the fire’s gleam of itself prevailed without the use of fuel. Pure water, cool and refreshing from the springs, flowed here-and there, self-caused; 
C. Willemen: Fires flared up spontaneously, without any fuel, all over the world. Cool wells with clean water sprang up here and there all by themselves.

In his instructions for how to sit, Dogen describes the secret of sitting-dhyāna as 
自成 一片 
 “to spontaneously become all of a piece.”

Be totally oblivious to all involvements,” Dogen recommended, “and spontaneously become all of a piece.”

The words of the Chinese Zen Master Tozan were 
打 成 一片 
"become all of a piece in action,” “become all of a piece by just doing it!”

But Dogen evidently felt that he could improve on that with
自成 一片 
spontaneously become all of a piece.”

I am tempted to go on and on at length about this point, because it is so intimately related to my own struggles when I was in Japan and somehow knew that something in my practice and in my life wasn't flowing as easily as it might flow, but I couldn't see or figure out how I was getting in the way – until, filled with wonder (āgata-vismayaḥ), I began to experience for myself what FM Alexander was going on about.

In the Saundarananda, Aśvaghoṣa describes Nanda's successive entry into four stages of sitting-meditation – though in practice itself there do not seem to be any clear boundaries between one stage and the next. Anyway the first stage might be described as a condition of spontaneous flow in which endorphins are flowing around freely and in profusion and one is thinking whatever one likes. In the second stage thoughts are recognized as akin to waves that make ripples on a steady spontaneous flow of clear water, and on this basis thoughts are stopped.

The practice of sitting-dhyāna, then, is akin to the witnessing of the spontanous flow of a sacred stream, and the 4th pāda of today's verse, as I read it, points to that.

prāg-uttare (loc. sg. m.): mfn. north-eastern
ca: and
āvasatha-pradeśe (loc. sg. m.): in a corner of the dwelling-place
āvasatha: m. dwelling-place , abode , habitation
pradeśa: m. pointing out; a spot , region , place

kūpaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a well
svayam: (ind.) by itself, spontaneously
prādur abhūt: it appeared
prādur: (ind.) " out of doors " (with bhū , to become manifest , be visible or audible , appear , arise , exist)
sitāmbuḥ (nom. sg. m.): with pure water
sita: mfn. white , pale , bright , light ; candid, pure
ambu: n. water

antaḥ-purāṇi (acc. pl.): n. the king's palace , the female apartments , gynaeceum ; those who live in the female apartments
antar: inside, internal
pura: n. fortress; the female apartments , gynaeceum
āgata-vismayāni (acc. pl. n.): mfn. filled with wonder
āgata: mfn. entered (into any state or condition of mind)
vismaya: wonder , surprise , amazement , bewilderment , perplexity

yasmin (loc. sg. relative pronoun): wherein
kriyāḥ (acc. pl.): f. doing , performing , performance , occupation with (in comp.) , business , act , action , undertaking , activity , work , labour ; bodily action , exercise of the limbs ; a religious rite or ceremony ; religious action , worship
tīrthe (loc. sg.): n. a passage , way , road , ford , stairs for landing or for descent into a river , bathing-place , place of pilgrimage on the banks of sacred streams , piece of water
iva: like, as if
pracakruḥ = 3rd pers. pl. pra- √ kṛ : to make , produce , accomplish , perform 

No comments: