Sunday, July 15, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.76: Impediments to Obeying Dharma

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
tan-mā kṛthāḥ śokam-imaṁ prati tvam asmin sa śocyo 'sti manuṣya-loke |
mohena vā kāma-sukhair-madād-vā yo naiṣṭhikaṁ śroṣyati nāsya dharmam || 1.76

Therefore do not sorrow for him;

Those who deserve sorrow
are those in this human world who,

Whether through the delusion 

that stems from sensual desires
or because of fervent inspiration,

Will not learn his ultimate dharma.

In today's verse, as I read it, Asita expresses his awareness of the dual impediments of (1) delusion (mohena), and (2) intoxication by sensual desires (kāma-sukhair-madāt). [But, on second thoughts, see comment below.]

In EBC's translation the impediments are threefold: (1) illusion (mohena), (2) the pleasures of desire (kāma-sukhaiḥ), and (3) intoxication (madāt).
In EHJ's translation the impediments are twofold: (1) delusion by reason of the sensual pleasures (mohena kāma-sukhaiḥ) and intoxication of the mind (madāt).
In PO's translation the impediments are threefold: (1) delusion (mohena), (2) pride (madāt), and the love of pleasures (kāma-sukhaiḥ).

So I agree with EHJ in seeing the impediments as twofold, but I have read kāma-sukhaiḥ with madāt. (I would be grateful if any benevolent pandit out there who thinks I have got the grammar wrong would leave a comment.)

On the surface, the impediments Asita is talking about are listening impediments. He is feeling sorry for the man who will not hear or listen (śroṣyati na) to the ultimate dharma.

I usually think -- based on my own experience of various listening impediments which seem to be centred in a dodgy vestibular-auditory system -- of listening impediments having a neuro-developmental basis.

But for all my vestibular-auditory faults, one thing I have not done is befuddle my brain and nervous system by ingesting industrial quantities of those varieites of strong cannabis known as skunk.

This use of strong cannabis seems to be associated in some habitual ingesters with both impediments cited in today's verse as I read it, namely: (1) a delusional paranoia (moha) that manifests itself in gullible acceptance of conspiracy theories, and at the same time (2) an over-attachment to sensual pleasures (kāma-sukhair madāt) that manifests itself in symptoms like the munchies and a certain reluctance to get out of bed and go to work.

This is a reflection stimulated by recent dealings with one or two long-term smokers of cannabis.

Digging deeper, today's verse calls into question what it might really mean to hear or listen to the ultimate dharma. That is to say, is Asita really describing impediments to hearing or listening? On reflection, I think not. 

As translations of yo naiṣṭhikaṁ śroṣyati nāsya dharmam,
EBC's “who... refuse to hear his perfect Law,”
EHJ's “who... refuses to hear, his, the final Law,”
and PO's “who... listens not to his absolute dharma,”
all seem to presuppose that there is such a thing as “perfect/final Law” or “absolute dharma” that can be heard or listened to. But when I investigate this supposition from the inside of practice, there is nothing for it but to abandon such a supposition.

From the inside of practice, I think the Chinese translator was closer to hitting the target with his  違正法 , "who go against the true dharma." The reason I think the Chinese translator was nearer the mark is that it is evidently possible to go against the true dharma -- for example by approaching sitting-zen in an extremely doing manner, like what I did ad nauseam in my 20s. But whether it is ever possible to hear or listen to a perfect/final/absolute Law/dharma, I somehow doubt. 

On the basis of deluded thinking (mohena), we are liable to THINK that there is such a thing as an ultimate truth that can be told and heard, but that nobody has yet found this theory of everything. Or, on the outer edges of delusion, with minds beffudled by skunk, some suppose that there are those who know the ultimate truth -- the conspiratiorial cognoscenti who wish to keep us in the dark – but those cognoscenti are deliberately ensuring that we their oppressed victims do not hear the truth.

On the opposite basis of being intoxicated by sensual desires (kāma-sukhair madāt), we are liable to FEEL that there might be such a thing as an ultimate truth that can be felt – perfect enlightenment as a kind of cosmic orgasm, probably heralded by a fanfare of trumpets.

Both those views having been abandoned, what might the ultimate dharma sound like?

I am skeptical about it sounding like anything. The sound of one hand clapping?

When we cross our legs, place our sitting bones roughly in the centre of a round black cushion, adopt something along the lines of what Alfred Tomatis called “the listening posture,” and listen, what does the ultimate dharma sound like?

Again, I am skeptical about it sounding like anything. At the same time, such an act of listening, when sincerely practised, as an integral act of allowing/obeying, might itself just be the ultimate dharma.

The whole point of this blog is to demonstrate a kind of obedience. But if anybody would like me to listen to their dharma and obey it, they can fuck right off. The kind of obedience I would like to demonstrate, as underlined by my use of rough language, is not any kind of religious obedience. It is the obedience of an individual who is endeavouring, against the habits of a lifetime, to work to a principle. The habits of a lifetime are habits of doing. The habits, in other words, are those wrong inner patterns which are stimulated by the idea of doing or getting or achieving something. The principle is non-doing.

The essence of the struggle is to carry out an activity -- primarily sitting -- against the habits of life.

tad: ind. so, therefore
mā: a particle of prohibition or negation
kṛthāḥ = 2nd pers. sg. injunctive kṛ: to make
śokam (acc. sg.): m. sorrow , affliction , anguish , pain , trouble , grief
imam (acc. sg. m.): this one, him
prati: ind. towards
tvam (nom. sg.): you

asmin (loc. sg. m.): this
sa (nom. sg.): m. he
śocyah (nom. sg. m.): mfn. to be lamented, deplorable , miserable
asti = 3rd pers. sg. as: to be
manuṣya-loke (loc. sg. m.): the world of men, the human world

mohena (inst. sg.): m. delusion
vā: ind. or (generally immediately following the word to which it refers)
kāma-sukhair (inst. pl.): sensual pleasures, delight in desires, sensual desires
kāma: m. wish, desire, object of desire or of love or of pleasure ; pleasure, enjoyment
sukha: n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness ; joy , delight in
madāt (abl. sg.): m. hilarity , rapture , excitement , inspiration , intoxication
vā: or

yah (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
naiṣṭhikam (acc. sg.): mfn. forming the end , final , last ; highest, ultimate
śroṣyati = 3rd pers. sg. future śru: to hear , listen or attend to anything (acc.) , give ear to any one (acc. or gen.) , hear or learn anything about (acc.) ; to hear (from a teacher) , study , learn ; to be attentive , be obedient , obey
na: not
asya (gen. sg.): his, of him
dharmam (acc. sg.): dharma

王莫以此子 自生憂悲患
當憂彼衆生 著欲違正法


Mike Cross said...

On further reflection, I have decided that EHJ's reading of the grammar might be right, and so have changed the translation of the 3rd pāda from:

Whether through delusion
or because of being intoxicated by sensual desires,

To understand moha, delusion, as related with faulty sensory appreciation, fits with the previous verse 1.75.

At the same time, mada (hilarity, excitement, enthusiasm, inspiration) can be taken as representing a state of over-excitement of the top two-inches, as frequently found among intellectual types.

Happi said...

Mike –

Let the neck be free, let the head go forward and up, let the back lengthen and widen, while sending the knees forwards and away.

Those aren’t my words. I think I heard them somewhere.

Mike Cross said...

That's right, Gisela. Those are Alexander's four directions, to be given "altogether, one after another."

Happi said...

You might consider attending to them more often. Then maybe you wouldn’t find it necessary to swear quite as much to get your point across. Just a suggestion.

Mike Cross said...

Sounds like you are suggesting that I follow a rule which you think is appropriate... Need I say more?

Happi said...

Not at all. I wouldn’t dare presume that you’d listen to anything that I have to say.

Dorella Belle said...

I do not like the "obey", it seems like it needs effort.

This "sru" is the same verb used in

Listening for that directive,"

You have already explained there this "listening".

I think I have already said something about how I prefer "listening to directions" instead of "giving directions".

In my lack of clarity listening to that directions and listening to Dharma are the same thing...

Mike Cross said...

Do I detect a note of irony?

Maybe Aśvaghoṣa is beginning to rub off on me at last!

If only somebody had explained to me 30 or 40 years ago that people, especially women, sometimes use words to suggest the opposite of their literal meaning.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Dorella,

You don't like obey? You must be getting less religious in your old age! I thought you were a fan of "Thy will be done."

Yes, listening or hearing may be better, depending on how one sees the relation between this śru and the word from the same root that appears in tomorrow's verse -- āśravaṇāt ("because of not hearing").

The same root śru appears in the word śravaka, which originally means "a hearer" but is translated in later Chinese texts (so-called Mahāyāna texts) as 声聞, "voice-hearer," i.e. an intellectual Buddhist of the small vehicle who is not a bodhisattva.

Since this is a work in progress, with no end in view, I can always go back and change the translation at any stage -- maybe tomorrow, or maybe at the end of the canto.

Happi said...

Mike -

I actually wouldn't dare to presume. Which might be why I quoted Alexander since those aren't my words but rather words you seem to have some regard for.

Your reply seemed to me to be condescending -- as if after the time I've followed this blog I wouldn't know those were his words. Which is likely the stimulus that gave rise to the tone you detected as ironic.

Mike Cross said...

Dear Gisela,

You went to Antaiji to walk the walk under Muho, and I have some regard for that.

(Not a lot, but some!)

So feel free to write anything you like on this blog in your own words.

There's a good girl.

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Dorella Belle said...

Religious?? Are you kidding! :D I think I tryed up until sixteen years. :D
I never even been able to follow systematically any jap or english or indian teacher but sometimes I cherish the idea of finding one before getting too old :)

I'd like to emphasize this point about "listening" Mike, I think I'm following this translation to see if Asvaghosa has found a way to point it out. It is crucial in this context in relation to traditional AT and also to your discourse about religions.
Let's see how he will proceed..
(It is for this reason I would prefer to mantain a verb related to "hear/listen" even in the following sentence, there are two types of "listening" and they make the difference...)

How can one allow or obey or learn about "HIS Dharma" without knowing it? And how can you know it without listening to it? And how can you listen to it if you are deluded and intoxicated? And if Asita was not "devoted to sitting" but this was simply a consequence of his "devotion to listening"?

Mike Cross said...

Hi Dorella,

I guess that we, some of us, are coming round to recognizing how important LISTENING is. It is true that Alexander work has led me to practise sitting less as a form of doing and more as a way of listening.

For ancient Indians whose primary way of studying a text like this one might have been listening to self/others reciting it from memory, rather than reading from a book or a computer screen, it must have been easier to equate listening and learning; hence the ambiguity of śru.

So I agree with your questions.

When we find ourselves cherishing an idea, though, the wise course, according to the Buddha's teaching as I have heard it, might be to abandon that idea.

Perhaps we can say that when we have an idea, the idea tends to condition what we hear (śru); whereas to truly listen (śru) is to abandon all ideas. And since we have got out of the habit of such listening, it is something we need to learn (śru), or re-learn, as a backward step.

Dorella Belle said...

Other two questions came up a little later...

"Will not learn his ultimate dharma."

How can one "learn" or even "know" his dharma? (even if knowing has many meanings)
I'm really asking this since I'm aware only of that "listen-follow" moment by moment.

I would like to thank you for giving so clearly all the meanings of the words. You know I'm rather "sloppy" when I write in english but I usually pay great attention on the shades of meaning and the use of the words

Mike Cross said...

So we can understand that this verse is designed to encourage us to ask just that question. And the next verse, 1.77, contains a kind of answer in Asita's description of himself as a non-learner.

A non-learner might be a person who learns, but not by learning as learning is generally understood.

For an example of a non-learner in Chinese Zen there is Daikan Eno who famously said, 不会仏法
"[I] 不 not 会 understand 仏法 Buddha-Dharma."

Dorella Belle said...

I've stumbled on this right now and thought what a coincidence! What do you think?
"Before dawn, meditation was the immense opening into the unknown. Nothing can open the door save the complete destruction of the known. Meditation is explosion in understanding. There is no understanding without self-knowing; learning about the self is not accumulating knowledge about it; gathering of knowledge prevents learning; learning is not an additive process; learning is from moment to moment, as is understanding."

- a person who learns, but not by learning as learning is generally understood -

Mike Cross said...

I think it sounds like somebody who is fervently inspired.

Dorella Belle said...

A doubt, a grammar question
"yah (nom. sg. m.): [he] who"
"asya (gen. sg.): his, of him "

I've read:
he who will not listen/learn his (own) ultimate dharma

only now I notice that the translation is:
those who will not learn his (of Buddha) ultimate dharma


Mike Cross said...

Yes, asya means of the Buddha.

And I changed yaḥ from singular to plural (from "he who" to "those who") to help separate those (who deserve sorrow) from him (the Buddha).

Anyway, this being a work in progress, unresolved doubts can be left as they are. Not expecting any kind of solution like the solving of a maths equation but keeping on -- more like a cook, or a mother, than like a mathematician. Sleep. Get up tomorrow and head for the round cushion. Keep on keeping on, putting practice above intellectual thinking, and eschewing fervent inspiration!

Dorella Belle said...

(It is the first time I read something of him)

That "his dharma" is puzzling me from the beginning ... let say it has been an interesting mistake...

Dorella Belle said...

:) "eschewing fervent inspiration!" :D And now that you made me laugh I can go to my cushion smiling