Wednesday, June 13, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.44: Climbing Social Ladders & Drawing Lines in Sand

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Indravajrā)
yac-ca dvijatvaṁ kuśiko na lebhe tad-gādhinaḥ sūnur-avāpa rājan |
velāṁ samudre sagaraś-ca dadhre nekṣvākavo yāṁ prathamaṁ babandhuḥ || 1.44

That rank of twice-born brahmin
which “Squint-Eyed” Kuśika never won,

O King!, the son of Gādhin did attain;

And “Poison-Possessing,” Sagara gave the ocean a shoreline,

A boundary which formerly the Ikṣvākus had failed to fix. 

The Brahmins are alluding to the story that Viśva-mitra “Friend of All,” who was the son of Gādhin and the grandson of Kuśika, was born into the warrior caste of kṣatriyas but after enduring years of ascetic self-denial eventually earned the epithet “Brahman Seer,” signifying his elevation up the greasy pole of the ancient Indian caste system, from the rank of kṣatriya to the rank of brahmin. Nanda refers to the same story while feeling sorry for himself in Saundarananda Canto 7:
The son of Gādhin who, in order to become 'the Brahman Seer,' renounced his kingdom and retired to the forest, having become indifferent to sensual objects: / He was captivated by the nymph Ghṛtācī, reckoning a decade with her as a single day. // 7.35 //
The intention behind today's verse was already suggested by yesterday's verse, so that before I even came to study today's verse my mind had already been caused to reflect that society tends to imbue us with the idea, and we in our unenlightened state tend to imbue others with the idea, that it is good to get on. Get into a good school, get good grades in exams, get into a good university, get into a good career, and so on, so that everything might be allright.

The reference to Sagara giving the ocean a shoreline somehow brings to mind the metaphor of drawing a line in the sand – which is sort of what I did about ten years ago when my elder son was taking the “eleven plus” exam which would determine whether or not he got to go to the local grammar school. If he didn't get in, I let it be known, we were going to pack our bags and head as a family for France, turning our back on the British education system. So no undue pressure then. My son did pass the test, and went on to gain a place at Imperial College in London, one of the top universities in the world. So part of me feels like a proud father. And at the same time something within whispers “You bloody hypocrite!” 

In the background a root idea lingers on that the whole world could go to hell in a hand-cart but never mind as long as we as a family – thanks mainly to my own cunning management of things – are cocooned from suffering

Compare my habitual “We're all right, Jack,” kind of thinking, rooted in the yet-to-be-totally-abandoned idea of getting on, with the conclusion that Nanda comes to in Saundarananda Canto 12:

"For since I have heard of heaven's fleeting whirl and of the varieties of aimless wandering, / Neither among mortal beings nor among heavenly beings does doing appeal to me.// 12.14 //
If, after struggling to get to heaven, through self-restriction and restraint, /Men fall at last, unsatisfied, then homage to the heaven-bound who give up on the way. // 12.15 //
Now that I have seen through the whole world of man, with its changeability and its fixity, /It is the eradicator of all suffering, your most excellent dharma, that I rejoice in. // 12.16 //
Therefore, in detail and in summary, could you please communicate it to me, /O Best of Listeners, so that through listening I might come to the ultimate step.” // 12.17 //
Then, knowing from where he was coming, and that, though his senses were set against it, / A better way was now emerging, the Realised One spoke: // 12.18 //"Aha! This gaining of a foothold is the harbinger of a higher good in you, / As, when a firestick is rubbed, rising smoke is the harbinger of fire. // 12.19 //Long carried off course by the restless horses of the senses, / You have now set foot on a path, with a clarity of vision that, happily, will not dim. // 12.20 //Today your birth bears fruit; your gain today is great; /For though you know the taste of love, your mind is yearning for indifference. // 12.21 //In this world which likes what is close to home, a fondness for non-doing is rare; /For men shrink from the end of becoming like the puerile from the edge of a cliff. // 12.22 //People think 'there might be no suffering, just happiness for me!' And as they labour under this illusion, /Any respite from incessant suffering they sense not as such, but as happiness. // 12.23 //
In 12.14 “doing” is pravṛtti (pra, forward + vṛtti, rolling) and in 12.22 “non-doing” is nivṛtti (ni, downward/backward + vṛtti, rolling). Doing pravṛtti  has to do with being driven forward by an idea. Non-doing nivṛtti has to do with dropping off an idea, a letting go, which is a backward step towards a more natural way of being. But being natural does not mean doing what is habitual, which is why Dogen wrote of learning it:
“Learn the backward step of turning light and letting it shine.”

Part of my hypocrisy has been to spend so many years preaching non-doing, as the principle common to the teaching of the Buddha and the teaching of FM Alexander, while failing on so many levels to practise it. One continuous mistake. 

On one level I continued to hope that Gudo Nishijima, though I made it more or less impossible for him to do so, to recognize me as his “Buddhist successor.” That was a kind of religious idea, or at least a subjective delusion, behind a lot of doing.

On another level (to name but two levels), I have sought, like a scientist, to advance my understanding of delusion, and especially of what Alexander called “faulty sensory appreciation,” which I see as rooted in aberrant primitive reflexes.

Scientific endeavour, though much more reasonable than religious striving, and more grounded in the real world, still tends to be mainly a matter of doing, of forward movement, of seeking advance. 

Similarly the attitude of the Brahmins in today's verse, as I read it, is progressive. Their attitude may be said to represent a kind of progress, or maturity, as compared to the subjective and child-like “moon is the best of planets” view, but they are still concerned with getting somewhere and making a mark. In short, the Brahmins in today's verse are affirming what Nanda in 12.14 calls “doing” – pravṛtti.

The point this bunch of Brahmins has yet to get, and the point that I would like to allow this verse to bring me back to, because I am ever liable to forget it, is this: just sitting in full lotus, without suppressing anything, can be the physical embodiment of the principle of non-doing, nivṛtti. And in the teaching of the buddha-ancestors, nothing beats sitting like this – nobody can draw a line above it.

yat (acc. sg. n.): [that] which
ca: and
dvi-ja-tvam (acc. sg.): n. " the being twice-born " ; the condition or rank of a Brahman or of any one of the first 3 classes
kuśikaḥ (nom. sg.): m. “squint-eyed,” ; m. name of the father of gādhin (the latter being sometimes identified with indra , who is called kauśika or kuśikottama)
na: not
lebhe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. labh: to take, find, win, to gain possession of

tad (nom. sg m.): that
gādhinaḥ = gen. sg. gādhin: m. N. of viśvā-mitra's father (king of kānyakubja)
sūnuḥ (nom. sg.): m. a son
avāpa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ava√āp : to reach , attain , obtain , gain , get
rājan (voc. sg. m.): O king!

velām (acc. sg.): f. limit , boundary , end ; boundary of sea and land (personified as the daughter of meru and dhāriṇī , and the wife of samudra) , coast , shore
sam-udre (loc. sg.): m. " gathering together of waters " , the sea , ocean
sagaraḥ (nom. sg.): m. “containing poison,” N. of a king of the solar race , sovereign of ayodhyā (son of bāhu ; he is said to have been called sa-gara , as born together with a poison given to his mother by the other wife of his father)
ca: and
dadhre = 3rd pers. sg. perf. dhṛ: to hold ; to place or fix in , bestow or confer on (loc.)

na: not
ikṣvākavaḥ (nom. pl. m.): N. of a warrior-tribe descended from ikṣvāku
yām (acc. sg. f.): [that] which
prathamam: ind. firstly , at first , for the first time ; formerly, previously
babandhuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. bandh: to bind , tie , fix ; to form or produce in any way , cause , effect

二生駒尸仙 不閑外道論
後伽提那王 悉解外道法
甘蔗王始族 不能制海潮
至娑伽羅王 生育千王子
能制大海潮 使不越常限

No comments: