Monday, July 16, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 1.77: The Confession of a Non-Learner

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
bhraṣṭasya tasmāc-ca guṇād-ato me dhyānāni labdhvāpy-akṛtārthataiva |
dharmasya tasyāśravaṇād-ahaṁ hi manye vipattiṁ tri-dive 'pi vāsam || 1.77

And since I have fallen short of that merit,

In spite of having mastered the stages of meditation,
I have failed.

Because of being a non-learner of his dharma, 

I deem it a misfortune 
to remain 
even in the highest heaven.”

Originally I translated śru in the previous verse as “to obey” and āśravaṇa in today's verse (which is also from the root śru) as “a non-hearer.” But in order to preserve a certain symmetry/asymmetry between yesterday's verse and today's verse, I have changed the translation of yesterday's verse to “will not learn his ultimate dharma,” and translated āśravaṇa in today's verse as “a non-learner” of his dharma.

The same root śru appears in the word śrāvaka, 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.

So śru has meanings that range widely from hearing/listening through hearing (from a teacher),  studying (intellectually), learning (really) and on to obeying; and Aśvaghoṣa, typically, is using this ambiguity for his own irony-filled purpose.

Why is Aśvaghoṣa's writing so filled with irony? I don't know but it seems to me, on the basis of my own experience, that human life tends to be too bloody full for words of situations that totally defy expectations by turning out exactly the opposite of what one hoped for and worked towards.

When I was in my 20s I absolutely bust a gut in the hope of ultimately being seen as a good guy, if not maybe even a great guy. But I ended up being seen as a bad guy, not only by people who have never even met me, like miscellaneous latter-day dharma-heirs of my teacher, but also by people who I thought were my closest friends. This was brought home to me a few days ago when I went for a pint with one such old friend who told me, in connection with an old love rivalry, “It was natural for everybody to see you as the bad guy.”

Those three words were a sort of wake-up call. The bad guy. I sort of already knew that I had sunk with my old mates in the popularity stakes, as reflected by things like not being invited to people's weddings, but it wasn't until I heard those three words that the ultimate irony hit home: The bad guy.

The guy who kind of harboured a hope that he might be greeted on his return home as a hero, was in fact seen as the bad guy. There have doubtless been many generations of men over the years who have come back from fighting wars only to taste such bitter irony. For one such example, about 25 years ago I read a book titled Chickenhawk, which I remember as an excellent read, written by a helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam only to end up in a US prison for trying to smuggle dope across the border. ("Suck it up!" I hear Jordan saying.)

Any way up, the key to understanding the irony that Aśvaghoṣa intended to convey in today's verse might lie in the word aśravaṇāt, which literally means “because of not hearing” but which is also a technical term in the tradition of ancient Indian religions.

Hence the MW dictionary defines aśravaṇāt as: on account of not hearing i.e. not seeing anything declared in the sacred texts.

When Emperor Wu demanded to know who the hell Bodhidharma thought he was, and Bodhidharma responded “I don't know,” that might have been an excellent example of “not seeing anything declared in the sacred texts" and an excellent example of being a non-learner of the dharma.

Being a non-learner of the Buddha's dharma might mean, in other words, not being a śrāvaka of the small vehicle but just being a bodhisattva whose life is one mistake after another.

When Dogen finished his rules of sitting-zen for everybody by recommending us to revere a person who is beyond study and spontaneous (絶学無為人) he may have had in mind nobody but a non-learner of the Buddha's dharma.

bhraṣṭasya (gen sg. m.): mfn. fallen , dropped , fallen down or from or off (abl. or comp.)
tasmāt (abl. sg. m.): from that [merit]; ind. therefore
ca: and
guṇāt: m. good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
atas: ind. from this, hence, since
me (gen. sg.): of me

dhyānāni (acc. pl.): n. meditation ; stages of sitting-meditation
labdhvā (abs.): to take , seize , catch ; gain possession of ; to gain the power of (doing anything) , succeed in
api: even, though
akṛtārthatā (nom. sg.): f. the being unsuccessful
akṛtārtha: mfn. having one's object unaccomplished , unsuccessful
-tā: (abstract noun suffix)
eva: (emphatic)

dharmasya (gen. sg.): dharma
tasya (gen. sg.): his
aśravaṇāt (abl. sg.): n. not hearing
aśravaṇāt (ind. abl.) on account of not hearing i.e. not seeing anything declared in the sacred texts
aham (nom. sg.): I
hi: for

manye = 1st pers. sg. man: to think ; to regard or consider any one or anything (acc.) as (acc.)
vipattim (acc. sg.): f. going wrongly , adversity , misfortune , failure , disaster
tri-dive (loc. sg.): n. the 3rd or most sacred heaven , heaven (in general)
api: even
vāsam (acc. sg.): m. staying , remaining (esp. " overnight ") , abiding , dwelling , residence , living in (loc.)

我今老死壞 遠離聖功徳
雖得諸禪定 而不獲其利
於此菩薩所 竟不聞正法
身壞命終後 必生三難天


Jordan said...

If only a Buddha can know a Buddha, I wonder if the same can be said for heroes. I know some people who have been hailed as heroes that certainly are not. And I have known a few real heroes that did not seek but rather avoided praise. More often than not, it seems to me, these things are upside down.

But the dope smuggler probably got what he deserved.

Semper Fi

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan.

We all got what we deserved, absolutely and exactly.

Hence the wisdom of "Suck it up!"

Dorella Belle said...

I think I'll go on for now with my mistake :D i.e. the interpretation of "listening his dharma" that came up from my mistake :)))
I'll try to explain.
Going to the cushion I was thinking "you know there are those two meanings of dharma, they use the upper and lower case to identify them...". As soon as I sat on the cushion this changed in "sanskrit has so many words... why using just one word for these crucial and important concepts? If your intuition/experience Dharma is always one and the same go on with that"

if there is the dharma of Buddha there is also the dharma of Asita as well as my dharma and your dharma. ... and they are all the same Dharma, but...
Let assume that Asita is a great listener of his own dharma, so good that he is able to "listen the directions" and "know" who is the baby better than anyone else... and he is listening that this baby will be able to listen not only "his" dharma but the "absolute" Dharma,and he is missing the opportunity of listening it!
When you listen to your dharma when you are listening to someone that is able to listen the absolute dharma it must be like "to drink from the water of dharma flowing forth from him"...

Well... I know in advance that my attempts of explaining what I experience still confusely will end in such a poor result. Let's listen to Asvaghosa... :)