Sunday, September 30, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.4: More Irony, In Prohibiting Afflicted Plebs

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Kīrti)
nivartayām-āsa ca rāja-mārge saṁpātam-ārtasya pṛthag-janasya |
mā bhūt-kumāraḥ su-kumāra-cittaḥ saṁvigna-cetā iti manyamānaḥ || 3.4

He decreed, again, that on the royal road

No afflicted common person must be met,

So that the prince with his impressionable young mind

Would not be mentally perturbed -- or so the king supposed.

The saṁvigna-cetā (being mentally perturbed) in the 4th pāda mirrors the saṁvega (perturbation) of the canto title saṁveg'otpattiḥ, lit. “Arising of Perturbation.” 

Thus the main irony in today's verse, as I read it, is a kind of dramatic irony, whereby we the audience are able to see what the king himself is unable to see -- apropos of which I would like to quote a few sentences from the annual F.M.Alexander memorial lecture given by Marjory Barlow on 9 November 1965 at The Medical Society of London.
Alexander's favourite way of describing his work was as "a means of controlling human reaction." Under this basic umbrella can be included every form of blind, unconscious reaction, and here we come to the whole question of Self-Knowledge.

The muscular bad habits of misuse harm only oneself -- unconscious habits of thought and emotion harm oneself and other people, because they determine our reactions to everyone else. It could be said that we use other people to practise our unconscious bad habits on.

The greatest misery and misunderstanding we experience is often in this field of personal relationships. Of course, these inner emotional states are mirrored in the way we use ourselves -- states of rage, anxiety, and fear -- to take only the most obvious examples -- are there for all the world to see by the unmistakeable bodily attitudes. This is also true of more subtle inner conditions such as depression, worry and hopelessness.

In some way the constant and deep reaction-patterns are more obvious to other people than to ourselves.

I sometimes think that there is a wry sense of humour lurking somewhere in the background of the Universe permitting this tragi-comic state of affairs, where certain characteristics of a person are known and clearly seen by everyone, except the person himself.

At the heart of Alexander's work as Marjory Barlow taught it  there is a paradox. The paradox can be summed in these contradictory instructions applied to the activity of lying down with knees bent and then straightening one leg with minimal disturbance to the head, neck, and back: 
(1) Decide not to move the leg (and not to do anything else), in order to be free to move the leg in a non-habitual way.
(2) While maintaining the freedom that thus arises from deciding not to move the leg, decide to move the leg -- and move it.

These paradoxical instructions are designed to deal with a certain situation irony, which is that when one tries to do something in a non-habitual way, the trying causes the thing to be done in the habitual way. When one tries to lengthen the spine, for example, one succeeds only in shortening it. When one tries to breath mindfully, one succeeds only interfering with a process that, if one stopped interfering, would otherwise do itself.

Coming up against this irony, an irresolute type gives up, and therefore continues to be pushed and pulled by the restless horses of the senses.

A resolute type, using constancy, does not give up but gradually learns doing without trying – he gradually learns, in other words, to stop doing and allow the right thing to do itself.

The king who is the protagonist of today's verse is just such a resolute type. Hence:  
dhṛtyendriyāśvāṁś-capalān vijigye
The restless horses of the senses he tamed through constancy. [BC2.34]

And yet the king supposes that he can steer the prince in the direction of the king's own choosing, primarily by tying the prince to those very restless horses he has worked so constantly to tame in himself.

The king is like politicians everywhere who try to bring about change in the right direction by doing this, that, and the other, without paying due attention first to stopping the wrong thing. Equally, the king is just like Zen meditators everywhere who strive to get the right thing to do itself without paying due attention first to stopping the wrong habitual patterns that their striving stimulates.

To laugh at the king's stupidity, which truly is laughable, might be to laugh at our own stupid selves. 

I thus venture to submit that in endeavoring on this blog to understand Aśvaghoṣa's use of irony we are endeavoring to clarify the paradox at the heart of Zen practice. Conversely, it may be that only people who devote themselves to investigating the paradox at the heart of Zen practice can truly understand Aśvaghoṣa's use of irony – on the basis of sitting on the same round cushion as him.

The irony of which I speak miscellaneous Buddhist scholars and Zen dharma-heirs, notwithstanding their various positions and titles, have not seen, as Dogen used to say, even in a dream. 

nivartayām āsa = 3rd pers. sg. periphrastic perf. ni- √ vṛt: to turn back , stop (trans. and intrans.) ; [caus.] to turn away , avert or keep back from (abl.); to give up , abandon , suppress , withhold , refuse , deny ;
ca: and
rāja-mārge (loc. sg.): m. the king's highway , a royal or main road , principal street (passable for horses and elephants)

sampātam (acc. sg.): m. flying or rushing together , collision , concussion , encounter with (saha) ; taking place , happening , appearance , occurrence
ārtasya (gen. sg.): mfn. fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained , disturbed ; injured ; oppressed , suffering , sick , unhappy
pṛthag-janasya: m. a man of lower caste or character or profession ; a fool , blockhead; a villain

mā: a particle of prohibition or negation most commonly joined with the Subjunctive i.e. the augmentless form of a past tense (esp. of the aorist)
bhūt = subjunctive bhū: to be, become
kumāraḥ (nom. sg.): m. the prince
su-kumāra-cittaḥ (nom. sg. m.): having the mind of a delicate youth
su-kumāra: mfn. very tender or delicate; m. a delicate youth
citta: n. mind

saṁvigna-cetā (nom. sg. m.): having an agitated mind
saṁvigna: mfn. agitated , flurried , terrified , shy
cetas: n. consciousness , intelligence , thinking soul , heart , mind
iti: “...,” thus
manyamānaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. man: to think , believe , imagine , suppose , conjecture

平治正王路 并除諸醜穢
老病形殘類 羸劣貧窮苦
無令少樂子 見起厭惡心

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