Thursday, October 25, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.29: Same Old, Same Old

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Vāṇī)
ity-evam-uktaḥ sa ratha-praṇetā nivedayām-āsa nṛpātmajāya |
saṁrakṣyam-apy-artham-adoṣa-darśī tair-eva devaiḥ kṛta-buddhi-mohaḥ || 3.29

Addressed thus, the driver of the carriage

Divulged to the son begotten by the ruler of men

The very information he was supposed to protect;
failing to see the fault in this,

Under the influence of those same old gods,
he was confounded via his own resolve.

The description in today's verse of the charioteer's blindness, under the influence of the gods, brings to mind the following words of Marjory Barlow:
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.
“Those same old gods” (tair eva devaih), as discussed in BC3.26, can be seen as the personification or embodiment – or maybe that should be the deification or disembodiment – of this wry sense of humour that Marjory imagines to be lurking somewhere in the background of the Universe.

One of the things that seems to amuse these gods is making a person's faults obvious to everybody except the person himself. This kind of failure to see a fault is expressed by the Sanskrit adoṣa-darśin (which the dictionary gives as “seeing no harm”). Twice in Saundara-nanda Aśvaghoṣa uses the compound doṣa-darśin, once in the words of the striver:
But that joy is certainly known to one who sees the faults in objects of the senses (viṣayeṣu tu doṣa-darśinaḥ), who is contented, pure, and unassuming, / Whose mind is versed in the religious acts that generate peace and whose understanding therein is formed. // SN8.25 //
and once in Aśvaghoṣa's own description of Nanda's practice of sitting-meditation:
And on reaching that stage, in which the mind is silent, he experienced an intense joy that he had never experienced before. / But here too he found a fault, in joy (prītau tu tatrāpi sa doṣa-darśī), just as he had in ideas. // SN17.48 //
The Buddha is also quoted on the subject of not seeing a fault as a fault –
When a man does not see a fault as a fault (na doṣataḥ paśyati yo hi doṣaṃ), who is able to restrain him from it? / But when a man sees the good in what is good, he goes towards it despite being restrained. // SN16.75 //
In the story of the prince's procession, as Aśvaghoṣa is telling it, just such a failure to see a fault as a fault is implicated in the charioteer doing the very opposite of what he was charged with doing and what he therefore intended to do.

So here again is the working of cosmic irony, behind which a person with a sense of humour (but not necessarily with any religious or superstitious leaning) intuits the clandestine doings of gods.

A further point to note in connection with the 4th pāda is that one of the dictionary definitions of kṛta-buddhi is “one who knows how religious rites ought to be conducted.” So Aśvaghoṣa may have had in mind a tendency that seems to be particularly pronounced in religious circles for people, under the influence of their gods, to do exactly the opposite of what they intend or purport to do. Devout Catholic Jimmy Saville might be a case in point. And for an institutional example of failing to do what one purports to do, we need look no further than Saville's long-term employer, that august institution called the British Broadcasting Corporation. 

But finally I would like to make a point about the role that aberrant primitive reflexes can play in causing an individual person to be confounded, via his or her own resolve.

Having spent a good part of yesterday allowing my legs to release out of my hips (thinking “knees forwards and away”), it struck me after a while that the place from where the legs release out of the body is the same place from where the head releases out of the body, whereupon the two sides of the body are as if stretched apart in a lengthening and widening manner, whereupon a fear reaction like the Moro reflex does not get much of a look in, and neither does an aberrant STNR (symmetrical tonic neck reflex). In this state, even if the state is only momentary, it is impossible for a person to do the opposite of what he intends to do. In states other than this, I am always liable to do the opposite of what I intend to do.

People reading this might be sceptical of my efforts to connect Aśvaghoṣa's teaching with what I know of FM Alexander's teaching and of the role played by primitive vestibular reflexes in what Alexander called “faulty sensory appreciation.” To counter such scepticism I call upon my first witness for the defence, a baby named Ethan who appears in this video to be intending to crawl forwards towards his mum and dad.

Just to allay any suspicion that this kind of contrary behaviour is a specifically American trait, here is a Chinese baby doing much the same thing.

Such ironic acts may be due to the intervention of wryly smiling gods. What is more sure, in my book, is the role of the STNR (symmetrical tonic neck reflex), in which neck and arms tends to extend together, so that when baby Ethan's neck extends in the direction of mum and dad, his extending arms push him in the direction which is exactly opposite to the direction he has resolved to go in.

ity-evam-uktaḥ (nom. sg. m.): addressed thus
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
ratha-praṇetā (nom. sg. m.): charioteer
ratha: chariot
pranetṛ: m. a leader , guide

nivedayām-āsa = 3rd pers. sg. periphrastic causative perfect ni- √ vid: , to tell , communicate , proclaim , report , relate
nṛpātmajāya (dat. sg. m.): to the son begotten of the protector of men
nṛpa: m. ruler/protector of men, king
ātmaja: m. “self-begotten”, son

saṁrakṣyam (acc. sg.): mfn. to be guarded or protected
api: even
artham (acc. sg.): mn. aim, purpose ; point, sense, meaning
adoṣa-darśī (nom. sg. m.): mfn. seeing or thinking no harm
a-doṣa: mfn. faultless, guiltless
darśin: mfn. ifc. seeing

taiḥ eva (inst. pl. m.): by those very
devaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. gods
kṛta-buddhi-mohaḥ (nom. sg. m.): being errant in carrying out what he had resolved to do; being derelict in the duty of which he had been informed; being errant in the duty transmitted to him
kṛta-buddhi: mfn. of formed mind , learned , wise ; one who has made a resolution , resolved ; informed of one's duty ; one who knows how religious rites ought to be conducted
moha: m. loss of consciousness , bewilderment , perplexity, distraction , infatuation , delusion , error , folly

御者心躊躇 不敢以實答
淨居加神力 令其表眞言 

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