Sunday, October 7, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.11: A Face-to-Face Transmission

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Vāṇī)
taṁ tuṣṭuvuḥ saumya-guṇena ke-cid-vavandire dīptatayā tathānye |
saumukhyatas-tu śriyam-asya ke-cid-vaipulyam-āśaṁsiṣur-āyuṣaś-ca || 3.11

Some praised him for his gentle, moon-like quality;

Others celebrated his blazing brilliance.

But such was the brightness of his face,

That some wished to make his majesty their own,
and to attain the depth of his vital power.

As a rule I approach each verse of this translation as a work in its own right, which is to say that I didn't translate and comment on yesterday's verse with one eye on today's verse.

That being so, it is reassuring to find that what I wrote yesterday about the relationship between balance and constant effort – as in Albert Einstein's famous observation about riding a bicycle – gels with the content of today's verse. 

The point, as I see it, is that singing the praises of the symptoms of balance in another person is one thing, and being inspired to make balance into one's own possession is another thing altogether.

The point, in other words, is not to build a statue in adoration of some person. This may be why in less degenerate times followers of the Buddha never bothered with building images of the Buddha. Instead they worked single-mindedly to make his teaching their own. 

To people who wished to build monuments in praise of moon-faced buddhas and sun face-buddhas, so they say, the Buddha put his bowl on top of his folded robe and recommended them to heap earth and stones into that shape. So there may be merit to be had in piling up earth and stones, bucket by bucket and rock by rock, into a great big stūpa – as long as one doesn't expect said stūpa to become a permanent monument, which would be stūpid.

Once upon a time, a wise Irish mother, come the school summer holidays, gave her son a spade and asked him to dig a large hole in the back garden. The son would eat his breakfast, spend the morning digging the hole, come in for his lunch, get back to digging in the afternoon, and so on. After several weeks of such constant effort, the son received instructions for the second half of his mission – you guessed it, to fill the hole back in again.

Such, as I understand it, is the merit of building a stūpa in praise of moon-faced buddhas and sun face-buddhas. The merit is not in the veneration, not in the religious impulse to praise: the merit is rather in the constant effort to direct one's energy in a particular direction.

Thus the Buddha tells Nanda at the end of Saundara-nanda Canto 16: 
“So direct your energy in pursuit of peace, for in directed energy, undoubtedly, lies all growth."
tad-vīryaṃ kuru śāntaye viniyataṃ vīrye hi sarva-rddhayaḥ 

In directed energy lies all growth.
vīrye hi sarva-rddhayaḥ

Yesterday, a day during which, as usual, I sat four times, I memorized today's verse. Then when I woke up this morning, before I even opened my eyes, my first thought was not my own thought. It was the words of the Buddha, resounding through the centuries via Aśvaghoṣa: 
In directed energy lies all growth.
vīrye hi sarva-rddhayaḥ

That must be the essential and real point of today's verse -- not to admire and praise something in others, and not to wish for something in others, but really to want it for yourself. 

The ostensible meaning of āśaṁsiṣur in the 4th pāda is reflected in the respective translations of EBC (eulogised / desired for him) , EHJ/PO (wished him):

EBC: “others eulogised his beauty from his fine countenance and desired for him length of days.”
EHJ: “but for his benignity others wished him sovereignty and length of days.”
PO: “some, on account of his benignity, wished him long life and sovereignty.”

But what Aśvaghoṣa is really pointing to, as I hear him, is the reality of the face-to-face transmission, so that the definition of ā-√śaṁs which is relevant is “to wish to attain” -- in other words to want to share in it, to have the will to make it your own.

To think that the face-to-face transmission is all about personal chemistry is a mistake. The personal chemistry between Gudo Nishijima and me, for example, was sometimes not very good. At other times it was terrible. But Gudo undeniably had something – something which he, in his ineffable stupidity, tried to reduce to “balance of the autonomic nervous system.” Whatever it was, it was evidently rooted in daily sitting practice and study of Dogen's teachings, and so whatever understanding Gudo had of sitting pratice and Dogen's teachings, I had a very strong will to make it my own.

Between the ages of 22 to 26, I must have been a regular pain in Gudo's backside. Specifically I remember an episode in the autumnn of 1983, when I had a lot of fallow time on my hands, and a lot of frustrated sexual energy. If a wise Irish mother had been around, she might have given me a spade. I had left my girlfriend in England to come back to learn from Gudo Nishijima but was only getting to see him intermittently, once or twice a week. So I proposed coming to visit him at his office more regularly – as I was aware that Jeffrey Bailey (with whom Gudo seemed to enjoy a very good personal chemistry) was permitted or even encouraged to do. But Gudo refused my proposal, telling me that one visit per week to his office was enough, because he had other important jobs to do.

Things changed in 1986, when I stopped relying on Gudo so much and started studying Dogen's words for myself in their original Japanese, which was like finally getting a spade of my own. I would add that Gudo did not give me the spade, not in any sense. Far from it. In the matter of sitting-dhyāna, he offered no practical teaching of any merit whatsoever, but simply grabbed people's chins and pulled them backwards, transmitting his woefully inadequate understanding of “right posture” in sitting. In the work of translation, he only wanted the cooperation of native speakers who could re-write his English, not somebody who would “violate my personal job.”

Still, Gudo had deep understanding of Dogen's teaching that I wanted to make my own. And I made constant tenacious effort in that direction. Thus, despite the lack of a good personal chemistry between us, by 1988 things had changed to the point where Gudo wrote me a letter when I was in Thailand asking me very sincerely to cooperate with him on the Shobogenzo translation. As I remember, he asked me for five years. I wish I could find the letter. Anybody who saw it might understand the anger I felt when nearly ten years later, in 1997, Gudo shafted me and went back to seeing the Shobogenzo translation, ex-post, as his own personal job.

The point I am endeavoring to clarify is that to think that the face-to-face transmission is all about personal chemistry, or personal friendship, is a mistake. The reason there was a face-to-face transmission between Gudo and me was that I wanted a piece of whatever he had and I made constant effort in that direction.

It is in these terms that the Buddha describes the face-to-face transmission in Saundara-nanda Canto 16, in exhorting Nanda to make the teaching his own, by his own constant effort:
So, in order to make the noble truths your own, first clear a path according to this plan of action, /Like a king going on campaign to subdue his foes, wishing to conquer unconquered dominions. // 16.85 //These salubrious wilds that surround us are suited to practice and not thronged with people. / Furnishing the body with ample solitude, cut a path for abandoning the afflictions. // 16.86 //Kauṇḍinya, Nanda, Kṛmila, Aniruddha, Tiṣya, Upasena, Vimala, Rādha, /Vāśpa, Uttara, Dhautaki, Moha-rāja, Kātyāyana, Dravya, Pilinda-vatsa,// 16.87 //Bhaddāli, Bhadrāyaṇa, Sarpa-dāsa, Subhūti, Go-datta, Sujāta, Vatsa, /Saṁgrāmajit, Bhadrajit, Aśvajit, Śrona and Sona Koṭikarna,// 16.88 //Kṣemā, Ajita, the mothers of Nandaka and Nanda, Upāli, Vāgīśa, Yaśas, Yaśoda, / Mahāhvaya, Valkalin, Rāṣṭra-pāla, Sudarśana, Svāgata and Meghika, // 16.89 //Kapphina, Kāśyapa of Uruvilvā, the great Mahā-kāśyapa, Tiṣya, Nanda, /Pūrṇa and Pūrṇa as well as Pūrṇaka and Pūrṇa Śonāparānta, // 16.90 //The son of Śāradvatī, Subāhu, Cunda, Kondeya, Kāpya, Bhṛgu, Kuṇṭha-dhāna, /Plus Śaivala, Revata and Kauṣṭhila, and he of the Maudgalya clan and Gavām-pati-- // 16.91 //Be quick to show the courage that they have shown in their practice, working to principle. /Then you will assuredly take the step that they took and will realise the splendour that they realised. // 16.92 // Just as a fruit may have flesh that is bitter to the taste and yet is sweet when eaten ripe, /So heroic effort, through the struggle it involves, is bitter and yet, in accomplishment of the aim, its mature fruit is sweet. // 16.93 //Directed energy is paramount: for, in doing what needs to be done, it is the foundation; without directed energy there is no accomplishment at all; /All success in this world arises from directed energy -- and in the absence of directed energy wrongdoing is rampant. // 16.94 //No gaining of what is yet to be gained, and certain loss of what has been gained, /Along with low self-esteem, wretchedness, the scorn of superiors, Darkness, lack of spirit, and the breakdown of learning, restraint and contentment: / For men without directed energy a great fall awaits. // 16.95 // When a capable person hears the guiding principle but realises no growth, When he knows the most excellent method but realises no upward repose, / When he leaves home but in freedom realises no peace: The cause is the laziness in him and not an enemy. // 16.96 // A man obtains water if he digs the ground with unflagging exertion And produces fire from fire-sticks by continuous twirling. / But those are sure to reap the fruit of their effort whose energies are harnessed to practice, For rivers that flow swiftly and constantly cut through even a mountain. // 16.97 // After ploughing and protecting the soil with great pains, a farmer gains a bounteous crop of corn; After striving to plumb the ocean's waters, a diver revels in a bounty of coral and pearls; / After seeing off with arrows the endeavour of rival kings, a king enjoys royal dominion. So direct your energy in pursuit of peace, for in directed energy, undoubtedly, lies all growth." // 16.98 //

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
tuṣṭuvur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. stu: to praise , laud , eulogize , extol , celebrate in song or hymns
saumya-guṇena (inst. sg. m.): because of his moon-like quality
saumya: mfn. having the nature or qualities of the moon-god; " resembling the moon " , placid , gentle , mild
guṇa: a quality , peculiarity , attribute or property ; good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
ke-cid (nom. pl. m.): some

vavandire = 3rd pers. pl. perf. vand: to praise , celebrate , laud , extol ; to show honour , do homage , salute respectfully or deferentially , venerate , worship , adore
dīptatayā (inst. sg. f.): because of his brilliance
dīpta: mfn. blazing , flaming , hot , shining , bright , brilliant , splendid ; (in augury) exposed to the sun
-tā: (feminine noun suffix)
tathā: ind. likewise
anye (nom. pl. m.): others, different ones

saumukhyataḥ: ind. because of his cheerful-facedness
saumukhya: n. (fr. su-mukha) cheerfulness
su-mukha: n. a good or beautiful mouth ; a bright face; mfn. having a good or beautiful mouth , fair-faced , handsome ; bright-faced , cheerful , glad
-taḥ: (ablative suffix)
tu: but
śriyam (acc. sg.): f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory , beauty , grace , loveliness ; prosperity , welfare , good fortune , success , auspiciousness , wealth , treasure , riches , high rank , power , might , majesty , royal dignity
asya (gen. sg.): his
ke-cid (nom. pl. m.): some

vaipulyam (acc. sg.): n. largeness
āśaṁsiṣur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. ā- √ śaṁs: to hope for , expect ; to wish to attain , desire ; to ask ; to praise , extol
āyuṣaḥ (gen. sg.): n. life , vital power , vigour , health , duration of life , long life ; active power , efficacy
ca: and

臣民悉扈從 如星隨宿王
異口同聲歎 稱慶世希有

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