Monday, October 8, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.12: Orderly Bowing

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Indravajrā)
niḥsṛtya kubjāś-ca mahā-kulebhyo vyūhāś-ca kairātaka-vāmanānām |
nāryaḥ kṛśebhyaś-ca niveśanebhyo devānuyāna-dhvajavat praṇemuḥ || 3.12

Crooked men from noble houses,

And regiments of mountain-men and dwarves,

And women from homes of no consequence,

Like hanging flags in the procession of a god,
all came out and bowed.

When Aśvaghoṣa lists three or four elements he never does so willy-nilly but always in a certain order, though it may take a bit of digging to see the order he had in mind.

One way of reading today's verse is to read it as an expression of social snobbery. In that case, the three elements which are the subjects of today's verse are listed in descending order of social rank, so that (1) aristocrats – regardless of the karma that is reflected in the alignment or misalignment of themselves – are naturally at the top of the food chain. Next come (2) dwarves naturally looked down upon for being small in stature, and those mountain-men, the Kirātas (also mentioned in SN10.12 -- Communities of golden mountain-men, the Kirātas, their limbs streaked with shining peacock gall, / Rushed out from their caves like flying tigers, as if spewed out of the unmoving mountain. // 10.12 //) who were looked down upon by civilized society because of their irreligious ways. These mountain-men, though brahmins regarded the Kirātas as heretics, at least had the virtues of being (a) male and (b) organized in military-style regiments. Therefore behind them come  women, and specifically women from “meaner houses” (EBC/EHJ) or “low-class homes” (PO).

I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention is to invite this misunderstanding, like a hunter preparing a great big elephant trap for eminent brahmins and Buddhist scholars of future generations to fall into.

A better way to read today's verse might be as an expression of Aśvaghoṣa's intention to subvert social snobbery, through the use of irony, his favourite tool. In that case, the three elements are listed in ascending order of individual merit. Thus, (1) a crooked person – regardless of class – has the lowest merit. Much higher than misaligned nobility are (2) mountain men and dwarves. But insofar as they lack individual human responsibility but are regimented like ants, these men still come below (3) normal women, each of whom is an individual human being, the fundamental unit of that practice for which social background is of no consequence.

The 4th pāda, the punchline, can be read as directly expressing that element which far transcends social hierarchies and social snobbery – namely, depending on your viewpoint, the divine, or the action of bowing.

Aśvaghoṣa's intention, in the final analysis, though I have discussed social snobbery and his intention to subvert it, might be to point to the universal merit of bowing down to the ground.

In other words, there is no intrinsic merit in being an individual odd-ball from a humble home (Jimmy Saville springs to mind). But there might be merit in realizing oneself as the individual one really is, through actions like bowing down to the ground.

Tonight I am going to give a talk to a small group of people working locally in the fields of medicine and education. In the middle way between these two fields is work, including Alexander work, that is sometimes called “developmental reeducation.”

I intend to describe the vestibular system as (in the words of Peter Blythe of INPP Chester, where I trained in 1998/99) “the foundation stone of living.”

I think I might begin by asking: what is sound? How do we sense it? 

People will doubtless say that we sense sound with the ear, which is only partially true. Because when we truly listen we listen with our whole selves. 

Again, how do we make sound? 

People will probably say by blowing air through the instrument of our larynx, which again is only partially true. Because when we hum, or chant, or speak or sing well, we use our whole selves well, and accept our whole selves well, including not only the voice which resonates in all the cavities of our body, but also using  our mind, and our ear.

Sensing sound is a good place to start because, when we stop and think about it, it is obvious that we both sense and make sound with our whole selves, and this process  of listening to sound and using the voice is relatively readily available to conscious intervention.

Sensing light, similarly, can be seen as a function not only of the eye but also of the whole brain and nervous system, and the skin, and the whole self. But how about the production of light? Is it true for light as with sound, that the better we are at sensing it, the better we are at producing it?

Similar questions can be asked for smelling and tasting.

My intention in asking these questions will be to prepare the ground for looking afresh at how we sense movement and balance, and how we either move or keep still, consciously or unconsciously.

An action like sitting upright on a round cushion, or going onto hands and knees and bowing one's head to the ground, can be a kind of laboratory for investigation of such questions.

If the vestibular system provides the foundation stone of living, then the most basic of building blocks, or the the four corner stones of living, are four vestibular reflexes upon which my talk will centre.

These vestibular reflexes, I have very gradually come to realize, as a result of forty years of searching for the cause of suffering in myself, are akin to the roots and main branches of “the mass of twining tendrils that sets [suffering] in motion” (samudaya-latā pravartikā).
"This is suffering; this is the tangled mass of causes producing it (samudaya-latā pravartikā); / This is inhibition; and here is a means." Thus, one by one, this supreme set of four, // SN3.12 // The seer set out.
After I have talked about the reflexes, people will probably ask, what should I do about it to help myself? And what should I do about it to help children who are suffering in the classroom and in the playground from immature vestibular reflexes?

I shall answer, as honestly as I can, that there are no quick fixes. The solution lies in the kind of constant direction of energy which yesterday I preached but, to be honest, subsequently fell short in practising. 

The first kind of effort to make, before rushing in and trying to grasp a solution, might be effort to understand the problem. 

At the same time, I can honestly say, on the basis of my own experience, that for adults sitting-meditation can be an inhibitory means, providing it is practised to the means-whereby principle (that is the principle of G. Buddha and F.M. Alexander). And for adults and children alike, going on hands and knees and bowing the head to the ground, along with other developmental movements, can also be an inhibitory means.

"Time," however, as FM Alexander wrote, "is the essence of the contract." 

At the first hint of an end-gaining idea, facilitated by the vestibular reflexes and guided by a faulty vestibular/proprioceptive sense, energy flows very rapidly along habitual pathways and the result is suffering. To inhibit this suffering is to stop the energy flowing down habitual unconscious pathways. This inhibition is only truly achieved by directing energy, consciously, to flow up non-habitual pathways -- in the context of simple actions, like sitting upright, or like bowing, or like lying down with one's knees bent and moving a leg. 

For the next half an hour or so, at least, I am going to practise what I preach. If the telephone rings, I won't be answering it.

niḥsṛtya = abs. niḥ- √ sṛ: to go out , come forth , depart , withdraw
kubjāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. hump-backed , crooked
ca: and
mahā-kulebhyaḥ (abl. pl.): n. a great or noble family
mahat: mfn. great
kula: n. family; the residence of a family ; a house , abode ; a noble or eminent family or race

vyūhāḥ (nom. pl.): m. placing apart , distribution , arrangement ; orderly arrangement of the parts of a whole ; military array , an army , host , squadron ; an aggregate , flock , multitude
ca: and
kairātaka-vāmanānām (gen. pl. m.): of mountain-men and dwarves
kairātaka: mfn. belonging to the kirātas;
kirāta: m. pl. N. of a degraded mountain-tribe (inhabiting woods and mountains and living by hunting , having become śūdras by their neglect of all prescribed religious rites ;)
vāmana: mfn. dwarfish , small or short in stature , a dwarf

nāryaḥ (nom. pl.): f. a woman, a wife; a female or any object regarded as feminine
kṛśebhyaḥ (abl. pl. n.): mfn. lean , emaciated , thin , spare , weak , feeble ; small , little , minute , insignificant
ca: and
niveśanebhyaḥ (abl. pl.): n. entering; hiding or dwelling-place of any kind , nest , lair , camp , house , home

devānuyāna-dhvajavat: ind. like the streamers of the followers of a god
devānuyāna = devānucara: m. a follower or attendant of a god
anuyāna: n. going after , following
dhvaja: m. a banner , flag , standard
-vat: (an affix added to words to imply likeness or resemblance)
praṇemuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perfect pra-√nam: to bend or bow down before, to make obeisance to

貴賤及貧富 長幼及中年
悉皆恭敬禮 唯願令吉祥


Jayarava Attwood said...

kubja (hunchback), kirāta (small-bodied = alpatanu) and vāmana (dwarf) are part of a literary list of servants of the king, in for example Kautilya's Arthaśāstra, where the list is expanded to include mūka (dumb), badhira (deaf), jaḍa (mentally deficient) and andha (blind).

See also Pali English Dictionary sv khujja; and PED sv kirāta.

These are all classes of people who would naturally bow to the king or his son. Thus there is no "intention to subvert social snobbery" here. Merely conventional respect shown to a master. Even the servants and low caste women who are usually invisible, and who might not usually have cause to love their ruler, came out to worship the prince. It's building up the value of what he eventually goes forth from (which is where the social subversion comes in).

Your reference to Jimmy Saville seems out of place given the news of the last year or so.

Mike Cross said...

I know what it is like to serve a master, true or false, both with and without the showing of conventional respect.

Showing of conventional respect, in my book, has a tendency to be a lot of bullshit. In that I sing from the same hymn sheet as Richard Feynman.

British society conferred on Jimmy Saville not only respect but honour, with the honorific title "Sir."

The point of my reference to Saville is that being unconventional is not in itself of any merit. The unconventional Saville is evidence of that. Saville was an oddball. So, in her own description of herself, was FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow an oddball.

The point is that there is no necessary correlation with being an oddball and having merit.

Whatever causes you to write "even the servants and the low caste women," I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention is to subvert that.

Knowing stuff about ancient Indian society, based on reading books, is very different from knowing Aśvaghoṣa's teaching -- which demands us to drop off every form of snobbery.

Good luck with that. I am still working on it too.