Thursday, November 1, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.36: The Diminishment (by Indirect Developmental Means) of the Elephant, the Poser & the Bulldozer

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Māyā)
evaṁ jarā hanti ca nirviśeṣaṁ smṛtiṁ ca rūpaṁ ca parā-kramaṁ ca |
na caiva saṁvegam-upaiti lokaḥ praty-akṣato 'pīdṛśam-īkṣamāṇaḥ || 3.36

"Growing old like this demolishes without discrimination

Memory, beautiful appearance, and forcefulness;

And yet the world is not stirred,

Even as it witnesses such before its very eyes.

The ostensible meaning of today's verse does not require much comment – jarā, “old age,” is a terror that destroys memory (smṛtim), beauty (rūpam), and valour/initiative (parā-kramam), a terror that should rightly cause the world to become perturbed or flustered (saṁvegam upaiti) on seeing such a pathetic sight as a decrepit old man.

The alternative reading is that evaṁ jarā, “growing old like this” means developing into a true human being who (a) lives in the moment of the present, having forgotten all irksome memories, (b) is no longer fooled by surface appearances, and (c) achieves what he or she wishes to achieve not by aggressive end-gaining but by indirect, skillful means.

Parā-krama is cited by the Buddha in Saundara-nanda Canto 16 as one of the branches of the eightfold path:
Noble insight into suffering and the other truths, along with thinking straight, and initiative (parā-kramaḥ): /  These three, pertaining to know-how, are for dissolution, based on wisdom, of the afflictions. // SN16.32 //
But the dictionary gives parā-krama in the first instance as “bold advance, attack,” and so parā-krama may have some overlap of meaning with the English word “aggression” -- when “aggression” is used to express assertiveness of forcefulness as opposed to outright violence.

If Aśvaghoṣa, as I strongly suspect, was being deliberately ambiguous as usual, then parā-krama (“forcefulness”) would have been an ideal virtue/vice to cite, along with smṛti (“remembering”) and rūpa (“beautiful outward appearance”).

In the alternate reading of today's verse, then, the world need not be emotionally perturbed, but we ought to be stirred into action, when we see before our eyes a mature human being demonstrating to us the possibility of realizing a better way to be. We ought to be stirred, but in general we are not. Because of our weak powers of observation, even when we are looking at such, we are liable not to see anything. Conversely, because of our weak powers of observation, and our gullibility, sometimes when we are not looking at such, we are liable to believe that we are seeing such. I know whereof I speak.

To personalize my comment further, at various times in the past I have been called an elephant (because of having an exceptionally good memory, when it comes to remembering things that might better be forgotten like being wronged, slighted or otherwise hurt), a poser (because of being concerned with presenting to the world a beautiful outward appearance), and a bulldozer (because of a certain lack of guile and directness of approach). I am not writing this for comic effect; it is all too tragically true.

This being so, the positive message to take from today's verse might be that growing truly old, by such developmental means as alluded to in BC3.31 -- namely, having a nutritious diet, going on hands and knees, and sitting and standing upright like a mature human being – gradually causes such vindictive, vain and aggressive tendencies to wane. (But let nobody hold their breath.)

In that case, the point of nirviśeṣam, “indiscriminately,” might be to flag up the fact that such developmental means bring about movement in the right direction INDIRECTLY. The developmental approach, in other words, is not one that necessarily requires specific faults to be targeted.

Hence the wisdom of Marjory Barlow's advice: “If you feel you are wrong, say No, give your directions, and go into movement without a care in the world. Let it come out in the wash.”

If, on this basis, I personalize this comment still further, having been top of the class at primary school and quite athletic to boot, I skipped a year, left all my good friends, and became the youngest boy at a secondary school which had very lofty pretensions. I remember in my first hour at that school becoming bewildered by everybody barging about in all directions and I burst into tears. A few weeks later in a music lesson in which I was supposed to follow a classical musical score, never having studied music in my life, I again burst into tears. The combination of an extremely bad music teacher and my own under-developed sense of cynicism thus earned me the reputation of being a bit of a cry baby. In subsequent years, through physical training, I became good enough at rugby to be a regular member of the school XV, and from rugby I graduated from karate and thence to Zen – but all the time deep inside something immature remained, and it still remains. Something feels wrong. If I have learned the means-whereby to get over this feeling, I have learned it not from rugby or from karate or from Zen. I learned it primarily from Marjory Barlow.

At the same time, I learned from Ray Evans what is really at the root of this feeling wrong and being wrong in myself, and it is namely an immature Moro reflex.

So much for me. When I look around at others, like my brother, my wife, my Alexander pupils, student-teachers on the Alexander teacher-training course where we assist, et cetera, et cetera, I see more and more clearly that everybody is suffering to a greater or less degree from the effects of an aberrant Moro reflex.

We are all riding in the same chariot. And who aspires to be a chariot-driver? Sometimes it is the most forceful person in the chariot -- in which chariot there is liable to be irony, comedy and tragedy all rolled into one.

My own tentative conclusion, following the example of somebody like Marjory Barlow, who I know as an old person in her eighties, is to wish as far as possible, while still riding in the same chariot as everybody else, to drive my own chariot. 

evam: ind. thus
jarā (nom. sg.): f. old age
hanti = 3rd pers. sg. han: to smite , slay , hit , kill , mar , destroy
ca: and
nirviśeṣam (acc. sg. n.): showing or making no difference , undiscriminating , without distinction

smṛtim (acc. sg.): f. remembering; memory
ca: and
rūpam (acc. sg.): n. outward appearance, handsome form, beauty
ca: and
parā-kramam (acc. sg.): m. bold advance , attack , heroism , courage , power , strength , energy , exertion , enterprise
parā: f. any chief matter or paramount object (ifc. having as the chief object , given up to , occupied with , engrossed in , intent upon , resting on , consisting of , serving for , synonymous with &c )
krama: m. step ; going , proceeding , course
ca: and |

na: not
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
saṁvegam (acc. sg.): m. violent agitation , excitement , flurry
upaiti = 3rd pers. sg. upa- √i: to go to, meet with, suffer
lokaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the world, mankind

praty-akṣataḥ: ind. before the eyes , visibly , perceptibly
api: even, though
īdṛśam = acc. sg. īdṛś: f. such a condition , such occasion
īkṣamāṇaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. īkṣ: to see , look , view , behold , look at , gaze at

念此衰老苦 世人何愛樂 
老相之所壞 觸類無所擇
雖有壯色力 無一不遷變
目前見證相 如何不厭離 

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