Wednesday, June 27, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.58: Intuiting the Cosmic Directive

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Sālā)
śrutvā vacas-tac-ca manaś-ca yuktvā jñātvā nimittaiś-ca tato 'smyupetaḥ |
didṛkṣayā śākya-kula-dhvajasya śakra-dhvajasyeva samucchritasya || 1.58

Listening for that directive, applying the mind to it,

And intuiting it by signs, on that basis I am arrived,

Desirous of seeing the banner of the Śākya clan

Held aloft like the flag of mighty Indra.”

Asita in today's verse, depending on how his words are understood and translated, is either expressing a delusory/psychotic state of hearing non-existent voices, or else he is expressing the essence of the tradition of upright sitting which the Buddha received and cherished.

EBC translated śrutvā vacas-tat as “Having heard that voice,” EHJ as “As soon as I heard the voice,” and PO as “When I heard those words.”

But Asita, as I hear him, is not talking about a voice or some words that he heard in the past. What Asita called divyā vak, “the cosmic word,” is always providing a practitioner with the fundamental basis for arriving, providing that he or she listens out for it, and applies the mind to it, and intuits it, by signs.

On that basis I have translated vacas tat in today's verse not as “that voice” or as “those words” but as “that directive.” And that cosmic directive, it seems to me, on the basis of 30 years of listening out for it, and applying my mind to it, and intuiting it by signs, has to do with gravity and has to do with evolution of consciousness. It has to do, in short, with what is known in Alexander work as “thinking up.”

As regards the meaning of nimittaiḥ, “by signs,” the primary signs for a practitioner who is sitting in lotus might be provided, for example, by how the whole organism is working, or not working, as a respiratory mechanism. And this, I venture to assert, might be why the Buddha recommended Nanda to practise the practice known in Sanskrit as ānāpāna-smṛtiṃ, mindfulness of inward and outward breathing:
So for the giving up, in short, of all these ideas, / Mindfulness of inward and outward breathing, my friend, you should make into your own possession. // 15.64 //
The nub of the matter is this: my sense of up is not reliable, and so I cannot feel whether I am truly going up or depressing myself by stiffening or slumping. What I can do is (1) to adopt a listening attitude, a condition of openness which is very different from believing that I know or feel what is right; (2) to apply my mind; or, in short, to think – to think the up which I cannot feel; and (3) to intuit whether or not I am in fact going up, not directly by feeling, but indirectly by means of signs.

Those signs may be subtle good signs, like an easy movement of the floating ribs, or subtle bad signs like a faint sniffing sound as air passes in and out of the nose. I am not sure whether there is any such thing as a gross good sign, but gross bad signs certainly do arise, as a result of the practitioner failing to attend to subtle bad signs. An example of a gross bad sign might be a constant gnawing pain in the stomach, of the like of which I was suffering before beginning this job of mining Aśvaghoṣa's gold.

One of the latest new-fangled -isms to be trotted out by sceptical Christian thinkers is so-called “post-religionism.” Recently there was a series on BBC Radio 4 titled “Honest Doubt” presented by one such radical sceptic named Richard Holloway, a fomer Bishop of Edinburgh. I am tempted to react to Holloway's post-religionist thesis by describing myself as a pre-religionist. But pre-religionism would also be just another -ism to be abandoned. What I would say is that the non-Buddhist Asita represents to me an examplar of a tradition which is prior to religion, and I belong to that tradition. In the same degree as I look down on the Buddhist striver who features in Saundara-nanda, I look up to the non-Buddhist Asita who is expressing in today's verse truth that no Buddhist religionist or post-religionist has ever seen, even in a dream. 

My own teacher, Rev. Gudo Nishijima, never saw so clearly as Asita the truth that Asita is expressing in today's verse. If he had seen it, for one thing, he would not have called himself "Rev." For another, he would not have been so prejudiced as he was against the teaching of FM Alexander.

Because Asita could describe himself as asmyupetaḥ “arrived, I am,” Gautama could subsequently refer to himself as tathāgata, “come in the same manner” -- on the basis of opening the ears and listening out for the cosmic directive, applying the mind thereto (i.e. thinking up), and intuiting that direction indirectly, by means of signs.

śrutvā = abs. śru: to hear, listen
vacaḥ (acc. sg.): n. speech , voice , word ; singing , song (of birds) ; advice , direction , command , order ; an oracular utterance (declarative of some future fate or destiny) ; a sentence
tat (acc. sg. n.): that
ca: and
manaḥ (acc. sg.): n. mind
ca: and
yuktvā = abs. yuj: to yoke or join ; to make ready , prepare , arrange , fit out , set to work , use , employ , apply ; to turn or direct or fix or concentrate (the mind , thoughts &c ) upon (loc.)

jñātvā = abs. jñā: to know, perceive , apprehend , understand
nimittaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. a butt , mark , target ; sign , omen
ca: and
tataḥ: ind. from that ; thereupon , then , after that , afterwards
asmi (1st pers. sg. as): I am
upetaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who has come near or approached , one who has betaken himself to , approached (for protection) , arrived at , abiding in

didṛkṣayā = inst. sg. didkṣā: f. ( √ dṛś Desid.) desire of seeing
śākya-kula-dhvajasya (gen. sg.): the banner of the Śākya clan
śākya-kula: the Śākya clan
kula: n. a herd; a race , family , community , tribe
dhvaja: m. a banner , flag , standard; mark , emblem , ensign , characteristic , sign

śakra-dhvajasya (gen. sg.): m. the banner of mighty Indra
śakra: mfn. strong , powerful , mighty (applied to various gods , but esp. to indra)
iva: like
samucchritasya (gen. sg. m.): mfn. well raised or elevated ; surging , high ; exalted , powerful

并見先瑞相 今故來到此
欲觀釋迦王 建立正法幢

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