Monday, September 10, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.41: Non-Buddhist Virtues (ctd.) - Progressing through Four Phases

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Indravajrā)
ekaṁ vininye sa jugopa sapta saptaiva tatyāja rarakṣa pañca
prāpa tri-vargaṁ bubudhe tri-vargaṁ jajñe dvi-vargaṁ prajahau dvi-vargam || 2.41

He gave direction to the one and guarded the seven;

He shunned the seven 
and turned his attention to the five;

He experienced the three and minded the three;

He knew the two and abandoned the two.

On the surface, the present series of verses are simply descriptions of King Śuddhodhana, in which case the one might be his kingdom; the sevens might be the seven constituents of a kingdom and the seven vices of a king; the five might mean the five upāya (means of success against an enemy) mentioned in SN15.61; namely cajoling, bribing, dividing, use of force, use of restraint; the three he experienced might be dharma, wealth and pleasure; the three he minded might be the enemies, friends and neutrals mentioned in BC1.6; the two he knew might be good and bad policy, and the two he abandoned might be the anger and passion seen in the Arthaśāsra to be at the root of the seven kingly vices. Again the two he knew might be defensive and offensive strategy, and the two he abandoned might be left wing and right wing politics. 

EHJ understood understood the verse basically along these lines. Hence:
“The One is his self. The sevens are the constituents of a kingdom and the seven vices of kings. Five refers to the five upāyas. The three are dharmaartha and kāma, and either the three śaktis, or the three parties of verse 6 above, or the three conditions, sthānavṛddhi and kṣaya. The twos seem to be good and bad policy, and kāma and krodha.”

PO in his endnotes follows EHJ but expands on EHJ's note by going back to the Arthaśāstra, and listing the seven constituents as a kingdom as king, minister, countryside, fort, treasury, army and ally; and the seven vices of a king as three springing from anger (verbal abuse, physical assault, and plunder of property) and four springing from passion (hunting, gambling, women, and drink). PO traces in the Mahā-bhārata five policies of the state when dealing with other kingdoms; namely, conciliation, giving gifts, fomenting dissension, war, and staying quiet.

Buried deeper than these and various other possibilities which Aśvaghoṣa may have intended to open up on the surface, did Aśvaghoṣa intend one “right interpretation” that he wished some bloke with a spade to come along and bring to the surface?

Or is the very idea of a one “right interpretation,” the very thing Aśvaghoṣa wants us to abandon, like good post-modernists?

Fuck post-modernism. Here is what I think the verse really means:

Below the surface, the verse is an invitation to go back to the four phased progression which can be seen as underlying the four noble truths. Those four phases are namely 
(1) the idealistic phase (the thesis), 
(2) the materialistic phase (the anti-thesis), 
(3) the practical phase (the synthesis), and 
(4) the suggestion of that which is beyond such dialectical reasoning, like a round black cushion pushing up against a person's sitting bones.

(1) Idealistic Phase
Understood on that basis, “giving direction to the one and guarding/upholding the seven” expresses the aim. Giving a unifying direction to the one means, in other words, naturally becoming all of one piece – which is the essential aim of sitting-meditation.

The aim, equally, is to uphold the seven limbs of awakening, namely 1. dharma-pravicaya, investigation of things, 2. vīrya, manly endeavor, directed energy, 3. prīti, joy, 4. praśrabdhi, confidence, 5. upekṣā, equanimity/non-interference, 6. samādhi, balanced stillness, 7. smṛti, awareness/vigilance/mindfulness. These seven are referenced twice in Aśvaghoṣa's description of Nanda's progress towards peace in Saundara-nanda Canto 17:
Then, unsheathing a sword that the limbs of awakening had honed, standing in the supreme chariot of true motivation, / With an army containing the elephants of the branches of the path, he gradually penetrated the ranks of the afflictions. // 17.24 //
Again, with the seven elephants of the limbs of awakening, he crushed the seven dormant tendencies of the mind, / Like Time, when their destruction is due, crushing the seven continents by means of the seven planets. // 17.58 //
(2) Materialistic Phase
In the 2nd phase, one is required to throw away the very idea that stimulated one in the first phase. Shunning the seven, therefore, suggests a materialistic or cynical attitude towards a bloke who idealistically aspires to heroic energy (vīrya), equanimity (upekṣā), and the rest. In the 2nd phase, we should laugh at such a bloke and call him a tosser – particularly when we happen to catch sight of him in the mirror. What one maintains in the 2nd phase is nothing idealistic or abstract. One throws out the idealistic and abstract and retains interest only in the material, the concrete. One turns one's attention, for example, to the five skandhas.

What are the five skandhas? Never you mind. Lingering at the 2nd phase is not where it is at. Thus in Canto 18, when Nanda reports back to the Buddha on his progress (or regress), Nanda confidently asserts:
Again, the five skandhas, beginning with the organized body, I see to be inconstant and without substance, / As well as unreal and life-negating; therefore I am free from those pernicious constructs. // 18.15 //
(3) Practice
At the third phase, there is practice itself, whose essence is elimination of the three root faults of greed, anger, and delusion.

(4) Not That!
And at the fourth phase, it is impossible to say what it is, but we can know what it is not. For example, pulling the head back and down is not it. And pulling or pushing the head forward and down is not it either.

On what grounds do I casually dismiss the views of a Buddhist scholar like EH Johnston who devoted many years of his life to clarifying Aśvaghoṣa's writings? And on what grounds do I so rudely negate post-modernism? On these grounds:
Comprehend, therefore, that suffering is doing; witness the faults impelling it forward; /Realise its stopping as non-doing; and know the path as a turning back// SN16.42 // Though your head and clothes be on fire direct your mind so as to be awake to the truths. / For in failing to see the purport of the truths, the world has burned, it is burning now, and it will burn. // SN16.43 //
Last week I heard a serious debate on BBC Radio 4 about whether or not some attempt should be made to teach children in school universal moral values. I don't know whether such an attempt should be made or not. I only know that different children, and individual children at different phases of their own development, will react to such a stimulus in unpredictable ways. But as a general rule, one individual at one time will believe the virtuous teaching and try to uphold it, and another individual, or the same individual at another time, will kick against the teaching and go and smoke a fag behind the bike shed.

Insofar as the point of this canto is to portray the non-Buddhist or pre-Buddhist king as a paragon of universal virtues, this whole canto can be read as Aśvaghoṣa's negation of post-modernist views – and I do read it like that, as a negation of post-modernism, as well as a negation of what post-modernism negates. 

What It is, I don't know. But Taliban-style absolutism is not it. And post-modernist relativism is not it either.

How much suffering has been caused, even during the 50-odd short years of my lifetime, by adults with big brains who thought their own particular -ism was It?

And yet, just because there is no -ism that hits the target of It, that doesn't mean there is no such thing as It.

What It is, again, who can say? But we can know the two, and on that basis can abandon the two.

The two to be known and abandoned can be seen as being one esssential duality having many aspects, the philosophical being rooted in the physiological –  pessimism vs optimism, materialism vs idealism, post-modernism vs absolutism, and so on, and so on, all being rooted in parasympathetic vs sympathetic nerves,  fear paralysis vs panic, and, at the level of the individual nerve cell, inhibition vs excitement.

I remembered that somewhere in Saundara-nanda Canto 16 the Buddha spoke to Nanda of liberating the mind from the duality of gloom and exuberance and when I searched for it, there it was right after the verses I had just copied and pasted above. 
Comprehend, therefore, that suffering is doing; witness the faults impelling it forward; / Realise its stopping as non-doing; and know the path as a turning back. // SN16.42 // Though your head and clothes be on fire direct your mind so as to be awake to the truths. / For in failing to see the purport of the truths, the world has burned, it is burning now, and it will burn. // 16.43 // When a man sees a separate bodily form as decrepit, that insight of his is accurate; / In seeing accurately he is disenchanted, and from the ending of exuberance ends the red taint of passion. // 16.44 // By the ending of the duality which is exuberance and gloom, I submit, his mind is fully set free. / And when his mind is fully liberated from that duality, there is nothing further for him to do. // SN16.45 //
Last nightI had a dream in which Gudo Nishijima asked me and others, in a thin and high voice, "Are you sure?" 

In the end Gudo and I presented to the world, through the medium of the internet, a totally disunited front. In the first instance he proclaimed a philosophy of action which struck me as true. But his thesis, as I later came to see it, was pra-vṛtti, whereas the true philosophy of action proclaimed by the Buddha is a much more difficult thing to practice, which is ni-vṛtti. 

The basic thrust of Gudo Nishijima's teaching, however, which he emphasized by reducing everything down to balance of the autonomic nervous system, was that abandonment of the two is not only an intellectual exercise but is a function of the samādhi of accepting and using the self, which is the gold standard of buddha-ancestors, experienced and entered through one gate, which is sitting-meditation. 

About that at least, yes, I am sure. 

ekam (acc.): n. the one, unity
vininye = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vi- √ nī: to lead or take away , remove , avert ; to stretch , extend ; to train , tame , guide (horses) ; to educate , instruct , direct
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
jugopa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. gup: to guard , defend , protect
sapta = acc. saptan: seven (a favourite number with the Hindus , and regarded as sacred , often used to express an indefinite plurality [in the same manner as "three" , by which it is sometimes multiplied] )

sapta (acc.): seven
eva: (emphatic)
tatyāja = 3rd pers. sg. perf. tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit ; give up, renounce
rarakṣa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. rakṣ: to guard , watch , take care of , protect , save , preserve; to tend (cattle); to guard against , ward of
pañca = acc. pañcan: five

prāpa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra- √āp: to attain to ; reach , arrive at , meet with , find ; to obtain, receive, incur
tri-vargam (acc. sg.): m. the three things ; the 3 conditions , " progress , stationariness , and decline " , the 3 higher castes ,
varga: (fr. √ vṛj) one who excludes or removes or averts ; a separate division , class , set , multitude of similar things
√ vṛj: to turn, avert, remove
bubudhe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. budh: to wake , wake up , be awake ; to observe , heed , attend to (with acc. or gen.) ; to perceive , notice , learn , understand , become or be aware of or acquainted with ;
tri-vargam (acc. sg.): m. the three things

jajñe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. jñā: to know , have knowledge , become acquainted with (acc.) ; perceive , apprehend , understand
dvi-vargam (acc. sg.): m. the two things
prajahau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra- √ hā: to leave ; to desert , quit , abandon , give up , renounce
dvi-vargam (acc. sg.): m. the two things

調一而護七 離七防制五
得三覺了三 知二捨於二

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