Wednesday, July 11, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.72: The Way Out of Saṁsāra

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
duḥkhārditebhyo viṣayāvṛtebhyaḥ saṁsāra-kāntāra-patha-sthitebhyaḥ |
ākhyāsyati hy-eṣa vimokṣa-mārgaṁ mārga-pranaṣṭebhya ivādhvagebhyaḥ || 1.72

To sorrow-afflicted, object-laden souls

Stuck in the scrubby ruts of saṁsāra,

He will tell a way out,

As if to travellers who have lost their way.

In translating today's verse as pithily as possible, I have followed the principle of “omit needless words.” And so, sort of by way of compensation, there now follows a veritable woffle-fest.

The Alexander teacher Marjory Barlow used to tell me, “Being wrong is the best friend you have got in this work.” I didn't understand then and I still fail to understand this truth. I am still working out its implications. The following comment, though it felt in the process of being written like an instance of binging on intellectual thinking, is at the same time part of my continuing effort to work out the implications of Marjory's bombshell. It is a self-indulgent comment, written for my own benefit. But anybody is welcome to eavesdrop on it.

Firstly a note on viṣayāvṛtebhyaḥ in which viṣayāvṛta means hidden or encompassed or hemmed in (āvṛta) by objects (viṣaya); or involved or entangled (āvṛta) with objects (viṣaya), or full ( āvṛta ) of objects (viṣaya).

The old Nepalese manuscript which was EHJ's primary source for his Sanskrit text has viṣayāvṛttebhyaḥ in which viṣayāvṛtta means whirled around or stirred (āvṛtta) by objects (viṣaya). The double tt, however, would make the 3rd syllable from the end of the pāda long, which the Upajāti metre does not permit. Therefore EHJ was quite justified in amending viṣayāvṛttebhyaḥ to viṣayāvṛtebhyaḥ.

On first hearing, I quite liked the sound of “being whirled around by objects,” which tallies with experience.

At the same time, “being enveloped in objects” somehow seemed to fit the metaphor of a traveller, suggesting the struggles of a walker weighed down under a mountain of baggage, which might be material baggage or psychological baggage.

Previous translators have tended to understand viṣaya in today's verse to mean sense objects, or objects of sensual desire, hence:

EBC: “entangled in objects of sense”
EHJ: “obstructed by the objects of sense”
PO: “ensnared by the objects of sense”
Chinese translator: 染著五欲境 "defiled by/attached to the objects of the five desires.”

But I prefer not to limit viṣaya to objects that actually exist in the sensory sphere. To paraphrase a wise man who knew a thing or two about pursuit of objects, “The most difficult objects to let go of are the ones that don't exist.”

Still on the subject of objects, like a greedy pig who has munched his way through several chocolate biscuits already and thinks “to hell with it; I might as well eat the whole packet,” I am now going to go right ahead and quote what the Buddha tells Nanda about objects in Saundarananda Canto 13:
And yet the power of the senses, though operative, need not become glued to an object, / So long as in the mind, with regard to that object, no conceptualization goes on. // 13.49 // Just as a fire burns only where fuel and air co-exist, / So a fire of affliction arises, from an object and the forming of a conception. // 13.50 // For through an illusory fixed conception one is bound to an object; / Seeing that very same object as it really is, one is set free. // 13.51 // On seeing one and the same form this man is enamoured, that man is disgusted; / Somebody else remains in the middle; while yet another feels thereto a human warmth. // 13.52 // Thus, an object is not the cause of bondage or of liberation; / It is due to peculiar fixed conceptions that attachment arises or does not. // 13.53 //
Digging deeper, then, a translation of viṣayāvṛta that sounds as if part of the blame might reside with objects, is best avoided. So “object-enveloped” does not hit the target, and “whirled around by objects” is even further off the mark. The blame needs to be directed more towards the damn fool subject who gets himself entangled with objects; and so I will follow EBC in opting for “entangled.” viṣayāvṛta: object-entangled.

(Having discussed it thus and decided thus on Monday afternoon, on Tuesday morning while sitting I decided instead on “object-laden.” So then, to have another go at paraphrasing FM Alexander, "The most difficult baggage to unload is the baggage that does not exist.")

Turning to the 3rd pāda of today's verse, it is easy to translate that line so that it sounds like somebody preachy preaching something religious, hence:

EBC: “he will proclaim the way of deliverance,”
EHJ: “he will proclaim the way of salvation”
PO: “he will proclaim the way to release.”

I considered each of these three translations of vimokṣa – deliverance, salvation and release -- as well as freedom, variously combined with a/the, way/path, and of/to.

Eventually I arrived at “a way to freedom,” but then felt a nagging sense of dissatisfaction, perhaps rooted in the fact that I don't really know what or where freedom is, any more than I have ever set foot in deliverance, salvation, or release. Presumably freedom lies the other side of saṁsāra, but so far I have never trodden the earth there with my muddy boots or grasped the clouds there in my dirty paws.

Turning back to the dictionary for inspiration, I looked up vi-√muc, the verb from which vimokṣa is derived and the first definitions were much as I had remembered: to unloose, unharness; to release, set free, liberate.

But then, looking further down the page: to leave, abandon, quit, desert, give up, relinquish.

Ah ha! So vimokṣa-mārgaṁ can be understood as a way to leave -- not necessarily a way to someplace else, but just a way out from here. Vimokṣa-mārgaṁ: a way out.

This translation, “a way out,” suits my purposes well, those purposes being irreligious ones.

Religous folk are prone to believe that the way out of saṁsāra might be via the pure land of Amitābha Buddha, or some other such non-existent place. But in irreligious reality, I venture to suggest, there is only one way out of saṁsāra, and that is through saṁsāra itself.

Saṁsāra, I venture to suggest further, is mainly a function of a person's brain and nervous system. “The scrubby ruts of saṁsāra” (saṁsāra-kāntāra-patha), then, are mainly pathways in the brain and nervous system. And “being stuck in the scrubby ruts of saṁsāra” (saṁsāra-kāntāra-patha-sthita), describes the condition of a person who remains more or less enslaved by the force of habit. 

With the last metaphorical chocolate biscuit in sight, I am thinking right now as I write about myself, like a monkey with his clenched paw grasping a treat in a bottle with a narrow neck. The monkey is unable to let go and therefore unable to get his paw out of the bottle.

Returning to the 3rd pāda, ākhyāsyati means "he will tell" or "he will communicate" or "he will inform." And when it comes to telling of a way out of the monkey trap, or a way out of the prison of habit, or a way to stop those wrong inner patterns which constitute the doing that has to be stopped, there are basically three types of voices – as identified by BBC Radio 4's favourite voice coach Patsy Rodenberg.

Buddhist preachers, along with pompous politicians preaching propriety and the like, tend to prefer what PR calls the 3rd circle, wherein the path of deliverance is widely trumpeted.

Reclusive writers of blogs who mumble on incoherently to themselves about saṁsāra are in the 1st circle.

Asita as I hear him is predicting that the Buddha will speak to sorrow-afflicted, object-enveloped individuals (as the Buddha talks to Nanda in Saundara-nanda, addressing him one to one as saumya, “my friend”) in the 2nd circle, aka the middle way.

And so, as I arrive at the conclusion of another mammoth comment, as with the scoffing of the last chocolate biscuit in the packet, the overriding sense is not one of satisfaction but rather one of self-disgust. Feeling too tired to go downstairs and sit in lotus, I have been sitting here on my fat arse in the office all afternoon, in the 1st circle, stuck in a scrubby rut.

The Buddha told of a way out of saṁsāra, but sometimes one cannot be arsed to listen. Sometimes it is easier to woffle on. I will sit later, though. 

After I wrote all of the above and did eventually go and sit, I imagined a 2nd circle dialogue between a person lost in saṁsāra and a guide who knows saṁsāra well.
Lost person: “Excuse me. I wonder if you could tell me a way out, please?”

Guide: “Well for a start, my friend, you see this scrubby old path on which everybody is pulling their legs up into their pelvis?”

Lost person: “Yes.”

Guide: “That's not it.”

So now it is Tuesday morning, and this definitely is the last word:

FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow, being very much in the middle, used to say, with real friendliness and at the same time with no-nonsense clarity: “Being wrong is the best friend you have got in this work.”
Being wrong is our best friend because the way out of saṁsāra exists in saṁsāra.

“Head forward and up” only means something real in connection with that wrong inner pattern in the brain and nervous system, intimately tied up with primitive vestibular functioning, which causes the head to pull back and down, the legs to pull into the pelvis, et cetera.

So the safest way out of saṁsāra that I know is as described in this article.

duḥkhārditebhyaḥ (dat. pl.): afflicted by suffering
duḥkha: n. suffering, sorrow, hardship
ardita: mfn. injured , pained , afflicted , tormented , wounded
viṣayāvṛtebhyaḥ (dat. pl.): hidden/encompassed by objects
viṣaya: object ; sphere, scope; special sphere or department , peculiar province or field of action , peculiar element , concern ; an object (as opp. to " a subject "); an object of sense (these are five in number); anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
āvṛta: mfn. covered , concealed , hid; screened ; enclosed , encompassed , surrounded (by a ditch , wall , &c ); spread , overspread , overcastl ; invested , involved; filled with , abounding with
ā- √ vṛ: to cover , hide , conceal ; to surround , enclose , shut , comprehend , hem in ;
ā- √ vṛt: to turn or draw round
āvṛtta: mfn. turned round , stirred , whirled

saṁsāra-kāntāra-patha-sthitebhyaḥ (dat. pl.): stuck on ways through the wasteland of saṁsāra
saṁsāra: m. going or wandering through ; course , passage , passing through a succession of states , circuit of mundane existence
kāntāra: mn. a large wood , forest , wilderness , waste
patha: m. a way , path , road , course , reach (generally ifc. for pathin)
sthita: standing , staying , situated , resting or abiding or remaining in

ākhyāsyati = 3rd pers. sg. future ā- √ khyā: to tell , communicate , inform , declare , announce
hi: for
eṣa (nom. sg. m.): this (sometimes used to give emphasis to the personal pronouns)
vimokṣa-mārgam (acc. sg. m.): the path of coming undone, a way to deliverance
vimokṣa: m. the being loosened or undone ; release , deliverance from (abl. or comp.)
vi- √ muc: to unloose , unharness ; to release , set free , liberate ; to leave , abandon , quit , desert , give up , relinquish
mārga: m. the track of a wild animal , any track , road , path , way

mārga-pranaṣṭebhyaḥ (dat. pl.): having lost their way
mārga: m. the track of a wild animal , any track , road , path , way
pranaṣṭa: mfn. lost , disappeared , vanished , ceased , gone
iva: like
adhvagebhyaḥ = dat. pl. adhva-ga: m. “road-goer,” a traveller

染著五欲境 衆苦所驅迫
迷生死曠野 莫知所歸趣
菩薩出世間 爲通解脱道

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