Monday, June 4, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.35: An Idea to Be Abandoned

[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti
* * * * * * * * * * *  * * * * * * * * * * *  |
* * * * * * * * * * *   * * * * * * * * * * *  || 1.35

This is the first half of the famous prophecy by Brahman soothsayers, namely that if the  new-born prince opts for earthly power, he will become a king among kings, like the sun blotting out lesser lights; whereas if he opts for a religious life in the forest, as per Brahmanical ascetic tradition, then his religious teaching will tower over all religions, like Sumeru over lesser mountains. 

This “either, or” dichotomy is an idea that in Brahmanism has never been abandoned. But the fundamental point of the Buddha's teaching might be just to abandon ideas like this. 

Some people have the idea that the Buddha's teaching was the consummation of Brahmanism. But I strongly disagree. That idea is definitely an idea to be abandoned. Just because Aśvaghoṣa reported the Brahmans' prophecy does not mean that he affirmed the Brahmanistic thinking behind it. 

Attentive reading of Aśvaghoṣa's Saundarananda indicates that, on the contrary, Aśvaghoṣa did not recognise the dichotomy upon which the Brahmans' prophecy rested. Thus, at the end of the Saundarananda, the Buddha tells Nanda: 

The lowest sort of man only ever sets to work for an object in this world. But a man in the middle does work both for this world and for the world to come. / A man in the middle, I repeat, works for a result in the future. The superior type, however, tends towards abstention from positive action. // 18.55 //  But deemed to be higher than the highest in this world is he who, having realized the supreme ultimate dharma, /  Desires, without worrying about the trouble to himself, to teach tranquillity to others. // 18.56 //

In these verses, the Buddha's intention is that the man who is higher than the highest in this world is just the man in the middle. 

As an inferior sort with his sights intermittently set on samādhi, I found myself while sitting  last night composing this haiku: 

Flowing through green spring woods
Let me drink with open ears
The thirst-quenching stream. 

As I sat this morning, I remembered something Gudo Nishijima said to me quite forcibly 25  years ago during a sitting retreat: “We are not monks! We are not lay people! We are something ineffable.” 

Twenty years later in an email, when he was already becoming senile, Gudo wrote of his idea to establish Dogen Sangha as a quasi-religious organisation “in the middle way between the Soto Sect and secular society.” I suppose Gudo's idea, having fallen out with his most senior non-Japanese student Michael Luetchford over the translation of Nagarjuna's mula-madhyaka-karika (whereby ML, from where I sit, got the punishment he richly deserved), was that I should play some kind of leadership role in this new semi-church. My reply, in so many words, was “Fuck that for a game of cards.” 

The idea that the world can be helped by anything that is based on the distinction between this real world of human beings, and some other higher religious or spiritual world, it seems to me, is just an idea to be abandoned – and not only in one's youth or middle age but also at the end of one's life when one is deludedly thinking about establishing a legacy. 

When Gudo said “We are not monks! We are not lay people! We are something ineffable,” he was to my ears expressing the truth. When in his dotage he started calling people who sucked up to him “Ven. So and So,” and slighted his oldest students by calling us “Mr. Cross” and “Mr. Luetchford,” he was just being unhelpful and muddying the waters. 

Also this morning while sitting I remembered the help I received from an old friend in Japan called Colin Lendrum. 

When I was 17, when I should have been revising for exams, I started avidly reading Carlos Castaneda's books. The year after that I travelled around Latin America and met a German foodie who told me that Castaneda had simply ripped off Zen. So when I got back to England I was attracted to books about Zen and the martial arts, and to the practice of karate, which then led me to Japan. The essence of karate training in Japan seemed to have to do with concentrating all one's power in one's tanden (an area of the lower abdomen), whatever that meant. What it meant was not explained in detail, but transmitted by more intuitive means, through listening to the teacher's voice for example. But I basically  interpreted it as creating a lot of muscular tension in the lower abdominal area, and I took this understanding into my sitting practice. After a good many years of sitting like this, a couple of books on the Alexander Technique helped me see the error of my ways and I wanted to find an AT teacher in Tokyo. Colin was the man who knew where I could find one. He had had Alexander lessons in London years ago – from what he remembered it was mainly about learning to stand like a monkey – and he knew of an enigmatic Swiss buto dancer who had trained as an Alexander teacher with Yehuda Kuperman, one of the Israeli teachers trained by Patrick Macdonald.  As a result of what is now  nearly 20 years in the Alexander work, I have sort of come full circle so that a lot of my attention in sitting is given to the Alexander direction "knees forwards and away." This direction has little to do with the knees, but it might have a lot to do with flowing from the tanden. 

Anyway, the  specific reason I remembered Colin was that he had gone from Japan to Thailand and lived at a Theravada monastery, but his conclusion was that the monks there were all hung up on being Buddhist monks. “Up their own arses” was the phrase he used. 

Thinking scientifically, if one formed a hypothesis that "Theravada Buddhism is a religion and all Theravada Buddhist monks are primarily hung up on being monks," it would only take one irreligious Theravada monk to falsify the hypothesis. 

My conclusion, for the present, is to go and sit sending my own knees forwards and away, in order more truly to be centered around the tanden ... neither as a worldly practice nor as a religious teaching. 

Tibetan Text: 
| sa yi bdag po ñid la gal te dga’ ’gyur na | 
| stobs daṅ chos dag gis ni de’i tshe sa steṅs su |
| rgyal po kun gyi thog tu ’di ni gnas ’gyur te | 
| skar ma’i ’od rnams la ni ñi ma’i ’od bźin no | 

EHJ's translation (from the Tibetan/Chinese): 
35. Should he desire earthly sovereignty, then by his might and law he will stand on earth at the head of all kings, as the light of the sun at the head of all constellations. 

Chinese Text: 
普爲大地主 勇猛正法治
王領四天下 統御一切王
猶如世光明 日光爲最勝 

S. Beal's translation (from the Chinese): 
47. ’Everywhere recognised as the ruler of the great earth, mighty in his righteous government, as a monarch ruling the four empires, uniting under his sway all other rulers; 48. ’As among all lesser lights, the sun’s brightness is by far the most excellent.

C. Willemen's translation (from the Chinese): 
44. “All around he will be a ruler of the great earth, a brave and righteous ruler. He will rule the four worlds, governing over all kings, just as the light of the sun is superior among any kind of light in the world. 

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