Tuesday, June 5, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.36: Beware of Brahmin Superiority

[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦[?]−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * |
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * || 1.36

The Chinese translation places the comparison with Mt. Sumeru in the next part. It therefore misses the sense conveyed by EHJ's translation from the Tibetan that the prince “will overcome all creeds and stand on the earth, like Meru king of mountains among all the heights.”

By looking up in the dictionary each word of the 3rd line of the Tibetan translation, I suppose that the Tibetan word EHJ translated as “creeds” was lugs. According to Roland Steiner's glossary, lugs represents the Sanskrit mati, whose original meaning the dictionary gives as “devotion, prayer, worship.”

So the original Sanskrit word may have been pointing to something religious, as per the divided view which, as explained yesterday, I suspect the Brahmins of expressing. But this is just guesswork.

My guess is that Aśvaghoṣa is relating the Brahman's two-part prophecy in such a way that the unquestioning listener/reader simply thinks “Ah yes, the second part of the prophecy is true,” and at the same time in such a way as to cause an attentive reader to question: how can any kind of Brahmanist idea about the Buddha ever have been true?

With little else to go on apart from the fact that a Brahmin is discussing superiority, my mind is still easily capable of filling an hour of sitting with a whole summer holiday's worth of rambling on the subject of Brahmanism and superiority – especially since being stimulated last night by an excellent programme on BBC Radio 4 in which Steve Keen, an upstart professor from the Antipodean colonies, described how Brahmin Oxbridge economists have tended to dismiss any contrarian challenge to classical economics orthodoxy with “effortless superiority.”

The models of classical economics that I studied 35 years ago, including what George Soros calls “market fundamentalism,” have not only failed to predict or even describe reality, but they have caused human beings actually to make a thorough mess of things.

In this situation, what kind of truth does the Buddha's teaching, centred on sitting practice, have to bring to bear?

The starting point is that any model of reality is totally inadequate to model reality. Hence the old metaphor of a finger which points at the moon being unable to touch the moon.

In the past I did Alexander work with a student who was a mathematician and a mining engineer. He was always coming up with new models to try to understand the experience that Alexander work gave him, one model after another. It was obvious to me, from the outside, that the latest model he was so enthused by would soon be consigned to the dustbin. But he, from the inside, couldn't see it. Somebody looking at me from the outside would probably observe the same kind of process going on.

Certainly while I was in Japan the model I was employing of “right sitting posture” was a grossly distorted one. But now here is the point where the old metaphor about the finger and the moon falls down – because the grossly distorted model of right sitting posture to which I was so attached, caused me to produce in myself a lot of over-tension, hyper-extension, rigidity and fixity. So in that sense the finger trying to point at the moon actually left its dirty prints all over the moon.

George Soros, as a result of many years of observing the relation between thinking and reality in the laboratory of the financial markets, has observed much the same thing. False models of reality do actually impact reality, sometimes massively, as in the growth of a capital investment bubble like Japan saw in the 1980s, and as in the growth of the debt bubble which is still going on now. What this means is that, notwithstanding the old Buddhist metaphor, what we are actually witnessing is a pointing finger  fingering the moon. The pointing finger is classical economics / market fundamentalism; and the moon is the real economy in which people are struggling to earn a living and save for what the future holds -- namely, sickness, aging and death. 

The moral of this ramble might be this: Don't trust clever Brahmins who talk a good talk – even if they seem to possess “an effortless superiority.” Listen to buddhas who have walked a good walk – even if, like Bodhidharma facing Emperor Wu, they haven't got any model of who is who or what is what.

Steve Keen, to his credit, when asked if he had made money out of correctly forewarning of the global financial crisis, confessed that no he hadn't, because he had got the timing wrong. George Soros, in contrast, has made a lot of money over the years by getting his timing more or less right. But both of these thinkers are contrarian heroes, individuals who worked things out for themselves.

Both were trained in classical economics. Should we say, in that case, that George Soros' teaching of reflexivity is “the consummation of classical economics”? I don't think so. George Soros made his money not by consummating classical economics, but by seeing it as flawed and abandoning it.

Similarly, should we say that the teaching of the Buddha (who went to the forest and sat in full lotus following ancient Brahmanical tradition) was the consummation of Brahmanism? There may be Brahmins of Balliol College who say so, but I beg to differ.

Tibetan Text:
| de ni gal te thar bźed nags su gśegs gyur na |
| mkhyen daṅ de ñid kyis ni de tshes steṅs su |
| lugs kun zil gyis mnan nas ’di ni gnas ’gyur te |
| mtho ba kun la ri rab ri yi rgyal po bźin |

EHJ's translation (from the Tibetan/Chinese):
36. Should he desire salvation and go to the forest, then by his knowledge and truth he will overcome all creeds and stand on the earth, like Meru king of mountains among all the heights.

lugs: approach, system, method, tradition, casting, founding metal
kun: all
zil: brightness, splendor, brilliancy, glory
gyis: do, make, you should
mnan: pressed down / squashed
nas: (stop letter), barley, from, since, through, barley, oat, from, gerundive clause connective, instrumental particle, by, implies temporal consequence, starting from
'di: it, this it, the, nearness, such a one, particular, this
gnas: gnas - 1) place, realm, site, abiding, domain, land; 2) to exist, to be, live, stay; 3) sacred ground, holy place, place of pilgrimage, power place; 4) stillness, place of rest, stability, stable abiding, tranquility. 5) point, topic; 6) ground, state of being, existence, subsistence, abiding, situation, lifetime, state, state (of rebirth). {gnas, yul, shes rgyu, gzhi} are all synonyms and mean basis
’gyur: become, will be
te: so that, when ; makes a gerund

Chinese Text:
若處於山林 專心求解脱
成就實智慧 普照於世間
譬如須彌山 普爲諸山王

S. Beal's translation (from the Chinese):
But if he seek a dwelling among the mountain forests, with single heart searching for deliverance, 49. ’Having arrived at the perfection of true wisdom, he will become illustrious throughout the world; for as mount Sumeru is monarch among all mountains,

C. Willemen's translation (from the Chinese):
45. “If he dwells in the forests in the mountains and seeks deliverance with all his heart, he will accomplish true wisdom and shine everywhere in the world. 46. “Just as Mount Sumeru is the king among mountains

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