Thursday, July 12, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.73: The Cooling Rain

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
vidahyamānāya janāya loke rāgāgnināyaṁ viṣayendhanena |
prahlādam-ādhāsyati dharma-vṛṣṭyā vṛṣṭyā mahā-megha ivātapānte || 1.73

To people being burned in this world

By a fire of passion whose fuel is objects,

He with a rain of dharma will bring joyous refreshment

Like a great cloud with rain at the end of sweltering heat.

In Asita's metaphor, the relation between fuel and fire parallels the relation between objects and passion.

This accords exactly with the Buddha's teaching in Saundara-nanda Canto 13, in which the Buddha clarifies to Nanda that the cause of attachment lies not in objects per se but in the conceptions we form around those objects.
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. // SN13.50 //
The contrast to be drawn here is not between the non-Buddhist ascetic Asita, on the one hand, and the Buddha on the other hand. The contrast to be drawn is between the non-Buddhist ascetic Asita and the Buddha on the one hand, and on the other hand the Buddhist striver who in Saundara-nanda Canto 8 preaches to Nanda:
To him whose thinking is not firmly fixed – in the matters of hearing, grasping, retaining and understanding the supreme truth, and in the matter of mental peace -- / To him who easily changes his mind, joy in dharma is not apportioned. // 8.24 // But that joy is certainly known to one who sees the faults in objects of the senses, who is contented, pure, and unassuming, / Whose mind is versed in the religious acts that generate peace and whose understanding therein is formed. // 8.25 //
If I relate the above to the teaching of Marjory Barlow that I referred to yesterday, around the action of moving a leg, in Marjory's experiment the object in view is the movement of a leg. But the result that is demonstrated by the experiment, 100 times out of a 100, is that what awakens a person's habitual pattern of misuse is the idea of going for the object.

The second half of today's verse goes on to pose the question of the relation between hot pursuit of objects and the Buddha's dharma. And simply thinking the supreme Buddha-dharma, which is just to sit in full lotus, is just to sit without any object.

But digging deeper, the true teaching is subtly different, i.e. totally different, from stupid people's simple idea.

In Asita's metaphor, which is never the simple idea of a stupid person, the Buddha's object is to bring cooling relief to people who are suffering. Prahlādam (“joyous refreshment”), then, may be understood as representing the true of object of sitting in full lotus, which is to experience and enter into samādhi.

In the word prahlādam, by the way, the prefix pra- acts as an intensive, so that hlāda, refreshment becomes pra-hlāda, joyous refreshment. This is an example of the use of pra-, as in prajñā, to which Jiblet drew attention in his comment to BC1.70:
Monier-Williams clarifies that 'pra', when prefixed to a verb - primarily a verb of motion – means 'before, forward, in front, on, forth' etc, but its use is not confined to that sense. When prefixed to adjectives (and so perhaps, by extension, when prefixed to substantives/nouns) it can, and usually does, act as an intensive meaning 'excessively/very/much'. So 'pracaṇḍa' (from the root 'caṇḍ', meaning to be 'fierce, cruel') means excessively violent, furious; 'pramatta' (from the root 'mad', meaning to gladden, exhilarate) means 'drunken, intoxicated, insane'. This is the ‘pre’ of ‘pre-eminent’ – an eminence that is to the fore, in front of, meaning chief, principal, best.
Thank you, Jiblet. You were right, and I was wrong.

Sadly, being right is no guarantee of going in the right direction. Rather being tight and right is generally a sign of definitely failing to go in the right direction, as my own efforts have tended to show all too clearly -- especially before I bumped into the teaching of FM Alexander nearly 20 years ago.

What I have spent the past nearly 20 years striving (I confess) to clarify, for self and others, is how NOT to let the object of entering and experiencing samādhi become fuel that feeds a fire.

I am something of an expert on this subject, as this is precisely what I did for 13 years while I was in Japan – before I got rained on by the odd shower of joyous refreshment in Alexander work. I turned the object of entering and experiencing samādhi into fuel that fed a fire.

My basic mistake was to pursue the object by direct means, following what Alexander called the lowly-evolved end-gaining principle. In accordance with this principle, I identified the aim, the coolness of samādhi, having sought out an expert coach in pursuit of samādhi, who instructed me that the key was to sit keeping the spine straight vertically. And so this is what I passionately and doggedly did, striving to keep the spine straight vertically as much as possible, and turning a deaf ear and a blind eye (in the typical manner of the religious believer) to evidence that my approach was not working.

What is the way out of such a bind? Today's verse sounds like a beautiful metaphor, one of many gems in a crowning glory of religious literature, but how in actual irreligious fact does the Buddha's dharma, like rain at the end of a spell of oppressive heat, bring relief to people who are burning themselves out?

One way, at least, was clarified for me by Marjory Barlow in the manner described in the aforementioned article. Namely, I think that as teaching and as practice, the Buddha's dharma, like the teaching and practice of the Alexander Technique, tends toward the giving up of those troublesome ideas without which the fire of passion cannot get going.

What Alexander clarified with unrivalled clarity, in my book, is that objects are not the cause of suffering. What triggers into action the many-tentacled monster of misuse that brings suffering down upon us, is just the hint of an end-gaining idea, i.e. an idea of going for an object directly.

vidahyamānāya = dat. sg. m. pres. part. passive vi- √ dah: to be burned up, consumed by fire
janāya (dat. sg.): m. person, people
loke (loc. sg.): m. the world

rāgāgninā (inst. sg.): by the fire of the passions
rāga: m. tint , dye , (esp.) red colour , redness ; any feeling or passion , (esp.) love
agni: fire
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this one, he
viṣayendhanena (inst. sg.): whose kindling is objects
viṣaya: object
indha: n. kindling , lighting ; fuel ; wood, grass etc. used for this purpose

prahlādam (acc. sg.): m. joyful excitement , delight , joy, happiness
hlāda: m. refreshment , pleasure , gladness , joy , delight
ādhāsyati = 3rd pers. sg. future ā- √ dhā: to place on, apply ; to give , supply , lend , deliver
dharma-vṛṣṭyā (inst. sg.): by the rain of dharma
vṛṣṭi: f. rain

vṛṣṭyā (inst. sg.): f. rain
mahā-meghaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a great or dense cloud
megha: m. (fr. √ migh ) " sprinkler " , a cloud
iva: like
ātapānte (loc. sg.): at the end of a hot spell
ātapa: m. heat (especially of the sun) , sunshine
anta: m. end , limit , boundary

世間貪欲火 境界薪熾然
興發大悲雲 法雨雨令滅

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