Sunday, July 8, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.69: The ABC of A Buddha's Career

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (ddhi)
vihāya rājyaṁ viṣayeṣv-anāsthas-tīvraiḥ prayatnair-adhigamya tattvam |
jagaty-ayaṁ moha-tamo nihantuṁ jvaliṣyati jñāna-mayo hi sūryaḥ || 1.69

Indifferent to objects, he will give up his kingdom;

Then, through exacting and unrelenting effort,
he will realize the truth;

And then,
to dispel the darkness of delusion in the world,

He will shine forth as a sun whose substance is knowing.

Canto 15 of Saundara-nanda begins with the Buddha instructing Nanda thus:
yatra tatra vivikte tu baddhvā paryaṅkam-uttamam /
In whatever place of solitude you are, cross the legs in the supreme manner
ṛjuṃ kāyaṃ samādhāya smṛtyābhimukhayānvitaḥ // 15.1 //
And align the body so that it tends straight upward; thus attended by awareness that is directed...
In that verse as in today's verse, the double use of the absolutive indicates a certain order of progression. In SN15.1 the absolutives are baddhvā, samādhāya, indicating that Nanda should first cross the legs, and then align the body, and then he will be in a condition to practise mindfulness. In today's verse the absolutives are vihāya and adhigamya, indicating that first the prince will give up his kingdom, and then realize the truth, and then he will be in a condition to start dispelling the world's ignorance by shining his own light.

It struck me when I translated SN15.1 that implicit in Aśvaghoṣa's use of the absolutive to convey the Buddha's teaching is recognition of the importance of knowing where to start. In SN15.1 the starting point is crossing the legs in a place of solitude. It doesn't have to be a special place up some remote mountain or on some far-off desert island: any place of solitude will do – perhaps a shed down the bottom of the garden.

In today's verse the predicted starting point in the Buddha's career is the indifference to objects which will permit him to give up his claim to his father's kingdom.

Such indifference to objects, it seems to me, is not only the kind of virtue with which a great man like the Buddha was endowed (a virtue like for example honesty or steadfastness), but is also a sphere of practice that anybody can have a go at getting into (a sphere of practice like for example golf or darts).

For anybody who feels inspired by today's verse to have a go, indifference to objects can be practised along the lines described in this short article titled “Practising Detachment.”

On the surface, then, there seem to be certain parallels between SN15.1 and BC1.69. But digging deeper the two verses are not so much in parallel as identical. The two verses might be two expressions of exactly the same thing, which is in other words the backward step of turning light and letting it shine.

Digging deeper again, I want to write something about the dynamic relation between back and upper legs which FM Alexander pointed to with the words “knees to go forward and away.”

Baddhvā paryaṅkam-uttamam, "crossing the legs in the supreme manner," i.e. sitting in full lotus, is very advantageous for practising the direction "knees forwards and away." Similarly, moving into and out of a chair with the feet about hip-width apart and turned slightly outwards, a movement which involves having the knees bent at various angles while the pelvis and neck and the rest of the back remain all of a piece, is very advantageous for practising the direction "knees forwards and away." Bending the knees while at the same time sending the knees "forwards and away," when practised well, can make a person look and feel somewhat like a gorilla, which is why it is called for shorthand in Alexander work "monkey." But the official way that FM Alexander described it was as "a position of mechanical advantage." Standing like a gorilla is particularly mechanically advantageous for learning, practising and experiencing the direction "knees to go fowards and away." And so is sitting in full lotus extremely mechanically  advantageous for learning, practising and experiencing the direction "knees to go fowards and away." 

When it comes to skillful use of the hands, I am never going to be top of the class in the Alexander world – not for want of wishing to be, since I always want to be top of the class, in whatever field of learning I find myself. My wife, who trained as an Alexander teacher after I trained, does much more Alexander teaching than I do and I suppose that she has much nicer Alexander hands than I do. I may have the edge over her when it comes to mixing cement. But more importantly for the purposes of the present discussion, I suspect that thanks to spending so much time sitting in lotus I have a deeper understanding than she does of "knees forwards and away." At the moment, as it happens, my wife is suffering a bit from lower back pain, and I think the reason is neglecting the direction "knees forwards and away." When I observe her working in the kitchen, or flopping on the sofa, though she has been an Alexander teacher for more than ten years now, she does not seem to be attending much to the direction "knees forwards and away."

Work with children who didn't crawl properly has also given me some insight from a developmental standpoint into the meaning of the direction "knees forwards and away." People who didn't crawl sufficiently invariably retain an immature symmetrical tonic neck reflex, which interferes with their coordination of the top and bottom halves of themselves. "Knees forwards and away" is a direction to prevent that interference.

Crouching dragons who like to practise Tai chi and other Chinese martial arts tend to have a strong habit of pulling their legs into their groins which is the very opposite of "knees forwards and away." I was horribly reminded of this during the past week when I gave some Alexander work to a bloke who loves standing in a Tai chi posture with his legs pulling into his groin as if his life depended on it.

My strong advice to any such crouching dragon would be to stand in Alexander monkeys, and to sit in Buddha-lotuses, digging deeper into himself or herself for the real meaning of "knees forwards and away."

It may be that as a result of practising such practice, exactingly and unrelentingly, crouching dragons eventually realize that very few if any objects are worth pursuing, if such pursuit causes a person to stiffen his hips and pull his legs in like a frightened tortoise.

Since the mirror principle never fails, what this lecture is really all about is trying to remind myself, against the habit of a lifetime, that being top of the class is an utterly useless object to pursue; and if pursuit of that object causes a person to pull in his legs, arms, and neck like a frightened tortoise, then such pursuit is much worse than useless. Such pursuit has indeed been worse than useless. Q.E.D.

Thus, eschewing any kind of bejewelled crown and awarding myself the dunce's cap, I shall send myself to sit in the corner and go back to the very beginning of the alphabet.

vihāya = abs. vi- √hā: to leave behind , relinquish , quit , abandon
rājyam (acc. sg.): m. kingdom
viṣayeṣu (loc. pl.): m. objects
anāsthaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. indifferent

tīvraiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. strong , severe , violent , intense , hot , pervading , excessive , ardent , sharp , acute , pungent , horrible
prayatnaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. persevering effort , continued exertion or endeavour , exertion
adhigamya = abs. adhi -√gam: to go up to , approach , overtake , to approach for sexual intercourse , to fall in with , to meet , find , discover , obtain
tattvam (acc. sg.): n. true or real state , truth , reality

jagati (loc. sg.): n. that which moves or is alive , men and animals ; n. the world
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this one, he
moha-tamah (acc. sg. n.): the darkness of ignorance/delusion
moha: m. ( √ muh ) loss of consciousness , bewilderment , perplexity , distraction , infatuation , delusion , error , folly ; (in phil.) darkness or delusion of mind (preventing the discernment of truth and leading men to believe in the reality of worldly objects); (with Buddhists) ignorance (one of the three roots of vice )
nihantum = inf. ni- √ han: to strike or hew down

jvaliṣyati = 3rd pers. sg. future jval: to burn brightly , blaze , glow , shine
jñāna-mayah (nom. sg. m.): made of knowing
jñāna: n. knowing , becoming acquainted with , knowledge , (esp.) the higher knowledge
hi: for
sūryaḥ (nom. sg.): m. sun

當捨聖王位 不著五欲境
精勤修苦行 開覺得眞實

常爲諸群生 滅除癡冥障
於世永熾燃 智慧日光明

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