Friday, September 7, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.38: Non-Buddhist Virtues (ctd) – Levels of Not Doing Wrong

     −−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−     Upajāti (Bhadrā)
sāntvaṁ babhāṣe na ca nārthavad-yaj-jajalpa tattvaṁ na ca vipriyaṁ yat
sāntvaṁ hy-atattvaṁ paruṣaṁ ca tattvaṁ hriyāśakann-ātmana eva vaktum || 2.38

He spoke gently, and yet said nothing lacking in reality;

He chatted the truth, and yet said nothing nasty;

For a gently spoken untruth, or a harshly told truth,

Modesty forbade him from voicing, even inwardly.

Followers of the Buddha, and devotees of Alexander work, are all in the business of not doing wrong. But there are levels of doing wrong, gross and subtle. Among myriad varieties of wrong, there is wrong which we know to be wrong and yet do anyway, and there is the wrong which we don't even know that we are doing and yet are required to stop. Loudly condemning people, via the mirror principle, (instead of the wiser course of condemning their contemptible behaviour) might be an example that falls within the former category, at least for a person who should know better by now. Shortening the spine and narrowing the back as one pulls one's limbs into the body like a frightened tortoise, generally belongs in the latter category. So does indulging in unconstructive patterns of thinking, based on unexamined ideas and unhelpful expectations.

Today's verse is concerned with wrong doing around the use of words, at the level of outward speech and at a subtler and deeper level of communication within the self. Alexander work is also very much concerned with such use of words, both outwardly and inwardly. 

Some in the Alexander world are big fans of a field of endeavour called “non-violent communication,” where great emphasis is laid upon the speaking of gentle words. The 1st pāda of today's verse suggests that such effort is virtuous, so long as the effort remains arthavat, full of reality. A friend of mine was persuaded to go along to an NVC workshop a while back and, though I can't speak for him, I got the impression he thought it was a load of bollocks -- that is to say, he deemed it to be nārthavat, lacking in reality.

Now I am chatting the truth, but did I just say something nasty (vipriyam)? I don't know.  Am I telling the truth crudely (paruṣam)? Very probably. Am I telling the truth harshly (paruṣam)? I hope not. 

In the 3rd pāda the word paruṣam, insofar as it means rough or crude, brings to mind an aphorism of my old Alexander head of training, the late Ray Evans, who used to say – modestly -- that in Alexander work “We are dealing in crude approximations of the truth.” Similarly, any verbal expression was regarded by buddha-ancestors of the past as, at best, a crude approximation of the truth. Hence Nangaku Ejo famously said – equally modestly – to Daikan Eno: “To describe a thing does not hit the target.”

Probably what Aśvaghoṣa has in mind with paruṣam, however, is not so much the inevitable crudeness of any approximation of the truth, as unnecessary crudeness, or harshness, in telling the truth.

The 4th pāda set a fairly high bar for a bloke to jump over. It seems to point to a level of modesty wherein one inhibits wrong habits of speech not at the level of outward speech itself but rather at the level of thought, or inward speech, along the lines of messages sent from brain to muscles.

The words ātmana eva might most naturally be translated into English as “even to himself.” But i
n the original Sanskrit ātmanaḥ is genitive or ablative (“in/of himself” or “from/out of himself”). This conveys a less dualistic sense than the English “to himself,” in which the self is divided into a self which speaks and a self which is spoken to. So I opted to translate ātmana eva as “even inwardly.”

Among verbal directions, outward or inward, "Don't think about the pink elephant” is a notoriously unhelpful one. That's mainly why doing this blog has been such a blessing for me. It has been just the work I needed to help me not think about pink elephants. The same thing was probably true for the Shobogenzo translation – though that is beginning to seem like more than one lifetime away.

Rigorously focusing my energy/attention on such minutiae helps me not to think about... well, pink elephants. 

Direction, as a wise old bird once said, is the truest form of inhibition.

"Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the spine lengthen and the back widen, sending the knees forwards and away," said FM Alexander, adding "You've got to talk to it nicely." 

In the end, which is better: to talk shit gently, or to tell the truth crudely? Instinctively I would always tend to favour the latter. ("Fucking forward and up!" my brother probably recalls me enjoining into his lug-hole, about ten years ago now, in an outstanding example of the non-application of the theory of NVC in Alexander work.) But the choice, today's verse seems to indicate, is like that between shortening and narrowing. That which does itself, It, is not that. And It is not that either.

Having written the above and sat for a while out in the garden, I changed the translation of paruṣam in the 3rd pāda from "crudely" to "harshly," and tinkered with the comment accordingly. The end result, I hope, is a good translation and not-so-good comment. 

In the end, I think it is much better to tell the truth crudely than to peddle gentle untruths. So I shall keep on channeling my energy in that direction, while possibly being more mindful, aided by today's verse, that being unduly harsh also is not it. 

sāntvam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. mild , gentle; n. (sg. and pl.) consolation , conciliation , mild or gentle language or words
babhāṣe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. bhāṣ: to speak , talk , say , tell
na: not
ca: and
na: not
arthavat (acc. sg. n.): mfn. wealthy ; full of sense , significant ; suitable to the object , fitting ; full of reality , real
yat (acc. sg. n.): [that] which

jajalpa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. jalp: to speak inarticulately , murmur ; to chatter , prattle ; to say , speak , converse with ; to speak about
tattvam (acc. sg.): n. true or real state , truth , reality
na: not
ca: and
vipriyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. disagreeable, unpleasant
yat (acc. sg. n.): [that] which

sāntvam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. mild , gentle
hi: for
atattvam (acc. sg.): n. an untruth, falsehood
paruṣam : mfn. knotty (as reed); spotted , variegated , dirty-coloured ; hard , stiff , rugged , rough , uneven , shaggy ; intertwined with creepers (as a tree) ; piercing , keen , sharp , violent , harsh , severe , unkind
ca: and
tattvam (acc. sg.): n. true or real state , truth , reality

hriyā (inst. sg.): f. shame , modesty ,
aśakat = 3rd pers. sg. aorist śak: to be able
na: not
ātmanaḥ (gen. sg.): himself
eva (emphatic)
vaktum = inf. vac: to say, speak

愛言非無義 義言非不愛
愛言非不實 實言非不愛

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