Tuesday, September 4, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.35: Non-Buddhist Virtues (ctd.) - Wishing the Other All the Best

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−    Upajāti (Indravajrā)
nādhyaiṣṭa duḥkhāya parasya vidyāṁ jñānaṁ śivaṁ yat-tu tad-adhyagīṣṭa
svābhyaḥ prajābhyo hi yathā tathaiva sarva-prajābhyaḥ śivam-āśaśaṁse || 2.35

He did not pursue learning to the detriment of the other

But was steeped in that wisdom which is kindness;

For he wished all the best, in like manner,

For his own offspring and for every offshoot.

The 1st pāda, on a gross level, seems to negate the application of, for example, nuclear science to the building of weapons of mass destruction – “he did not seek knowledge for the suffering of others.” On a subtler level it might negate, for example, the attitude of a Zen practitioner who studied an ancient Zen text with a view to shaming those who, via the mirror principle, he fearfully saw as “the other.” “The other” in that case, might be a Buddhist scholar who studied a Zen text intellectually but did not practise sitting-Zen. Or “the other” might be a fake Zen elephant – a bluffer– who garnered fame and position by pretending...
You've got a lot of nerve To say you are my friend. When I was down you just stood there grinning. You've got a lot of nerve To say you've got a helping hand to lend. You just want to be on the side that's winning....
You see me on the street. You always act surprised. You say, how are you, good luck, but you don't mean it. When you know as well as me, You'd rather see me paralyzed Why don't you just come out once and scream it?
Among many strong lyrics that Bob Dylan wrote in his younger years, the strongest to my mind are the above lyrics. Equally, a phrase of Bob's that sticks in the mind is the one delivered at that moment in Manchester when a lover of acoustic guitar shouted from the audience, “Judas!” and Bob, after a moment of consideration, shouted back “I don't believe you. You are a liar.”

In similar vein, Marjory Barlow once memorably said to me after an Alexander lesson, “It has to be real.”

The 2nd pāda, and the relation between the 1st and 2nd pādas, has to be understood in that light. It is not about pursuing, or expecting, the wisdom that is kindness. It is not even about aspiring to such wisdom. It is not about trying to be like the Dalai Lama. It is about, in the first instance, not being a grasping, striving hypocrite.

What is negated by the na in the 1st pāda is striving, or expectation of a result, or both – adhyaiṣṭa can be understood as the 3rd pers. sg. imperfect of adhi-√iṣ: to seek or strive after, or as the 3rd pers. sg. aorist of adhi-√ikṣ: to expect.

The verb at the end of the 2nd pada, adhyagīṣṭa, is from adhi-√gā, which means to go over, to learn, to study.

Both the √iṣ of adhi-√iṣ and the √gā of adhi-√gā have a connotation of seeking after or pursuing. So at first glance vidyām adhi-√iṣ (to seek learning) and adhi-√gā (to study) mean much the same thing.

Hence EBC: “He sought not learning to vex another; such knowledge as was beneficent, that only he studied;” EHJ: “He did not learn science to cause suffering to others but studied only the knowledge that was beneficent;" and PO "He did not acquire learning to hurt other men; he mastered the knowledge that was beneficial." 

Influenced by these translations, and mindful of the fact that the √gā of adhi-√gā means “to go after or pursue,” my first effort to to translate the first two pādas was:

“He did not seek learning for the sorrow of the other, but pursued the wisdom that is kind.”

I reasoned that “pursue” has more of a connotation of physical effort, or of effort with the whole body-mind, than “seek knowledge/learning” and so “pursue” was suitable for the 2nd of four pādas.

But as I sat beneath the stars on Monday night, coming back to the most fundamental teaching of the Buddha – not doing wrong, allowing the right thing to grow by itself – and reflected what today's verse is really all about, I realized that “pursued” did not fit.

As I sat reflecting beneath the stars I thought of the kind of Buddhist hypocrite who Dylan might have been addressing in his song – the kind of detestable character who I could easily use as a mirror in which to see the person I don't wish to be (but fear I might be). That Buddhist hypocrite is just the kind of spiritual end-gainer who would aspire to the wisdom which is kind (jñānaṁ śivam), and who would pursue it accordingly. That's what happens when the positive butts in before the negative has cleared the ground, when there is direction without inhibition.

The order of elements in today's verse is not like that. Rather the verse is written in accordance with the most fundamental teaching of the Buddha, namely, first do no wrong. Not doing wrong is expressed in the 1st pāda. Then, wrong not being done, the right thing is allowed to do itself -- like wisdom seeping in. 

To pursue the right thing (paraphrasing Dogen) is delusion. But when the right thing is allowed to do itself, that might be when real wisdom seeps in.

Having established that I had gone off track with “pursued,” I went back to the dictionary and took notice of something important that I had neglected, which is that adhyagīṣṭa is in the middle voice  (ātmanepada) – which it is to say, it is occupying the middle ground between active and passive.

Once it is recognized that adhyagīṣṭa is as much passive as it active, that opens the way to some interesting variations:
“But that wisdom which is kind, he was learned by.”
"But that wisdom which is kind, he was penetrated by.”
"But that wisdom which is kindness, he was mastered by.”

In the effort to bring it back more towards the middle, I ended up with
“But in that wisdom which is kindness, he became learned.”
And finally “But he was steeped in that wisdom which is kindness.”

Thus, buried in what at first glance appears to be a fairly inconsequential description of the Buddha's father's virtuous attitude towards science/knowledge/learning, is Aśvaghoṣa's subtle and indirect preaching of the principle at the very heart of the Buddha's enlightenment – namely, not doing wrong, letting it do it.

Why does Aśvaghoṣa, as he did in Saundara-nanda, use the Buddha's father as such a mirror of enlightened behaviour? I think because the Buddha's father, as a non-Buddhist, or pre-Buddhist, represents virtue which is not Buddhist virtue but which is universal virtue.

“If we stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing tends to do itself” is not a Buddhist principle. It is a universal law, intimately related with the 2nd law of thermodynamics, on which the Buddha based his teaching.

The 3rd and 4th pādas feature a word which gives pause for reflection in many places in Saundara-nanda, and that is prajā, among whose meanings are offspring and people/subjects. But prajā also means the after-growth of plants, and so sarva-prajā seems to carry a connotation of all offshoots of the human species. But then again prajā can also mean animal or creature, so perhaps “every offshoot of the tree of life” might be close to the intended meaning.

Any way up, I think the point is that the king is being portrayed as one who when he wished everybody all the best, really did mean it -- he wished the best for all living beings connected together on the tree of life, and not some subset thereof. And if that sounds like a nice state to be in, trying to be like that is always a mistake, the essence of delusion.

Trying to be like anything is not a good place to start. The best place to start, in an activity like sitting-meditation, on the contrary, might be to stop trying.

na: not
adhyaiṣṭa = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect adhi- √iṣ: to seek (or 3rd pers. sg. aorist adhi- √ikṣ: to expect)
iṣ: to endeavour to obtain , strive , seek for
duḥkhāya (dat. sg.): n. uneasiness , pain , sorrow , trouble , difficulty
parasya (gen. sg.): another, the other, others
vidyām (acc. sg.): f. knowledge , science , learning , scholarship

jñānam (acc. sg.): n. knowing, wisdom
śivam (acc. sg.): mfn. auspicious , propitious , gracious , favourable , benign , kind , benevolent ; n. welfare , prosperity , bliss
yat (acc. sg. n.): [that] which
tu: but
tat (acc. sg. n.): that
adhyagīṣṭa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. adhi- √ gā: to go over , learn , read , study
gā: to go, to go after, pursue

svābhyaḥ (dat. pl. f.): his own
prajābhyaḥ (dat. pl.): f. offspring , children , family , race , posterity , descendants , after-growth (of plants); a creature , animal , man , mankind; people, subjects (of a prince)
hi: for
yathā: just as
tathā: so likewise
yathā tathā: in every way
eva (emphatic)

sarva-prajābhyaḥ (dat. pl. f.): all the people, all his subjects, every offshoot
śivam: n. welfare , prosperity , bliss
āśaśaṁse = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ā- √ śaṁs: to hope for , expect ; to wish to attain , desire ;

和顏善聽訟 慈教厭衆心
宣化諸外道 斷諸謀逆術
教學濟世方 萬民得安樂
如令我子安 萬民亦如是  

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