Saturday, November 10, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.45: Weak Compassion

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Haṁsī)
iti śrutārthaḥ sa viṣaṇṇa-cetāḥ prāvepatāmbūrmi-gataḥ śaśīva |
idaṁ ca vākyaṁ karuṇāyamānaḥ provāca kiṁ-cin-mṛdunā svareṇa || 3.45

Mentally dejected to listen to this truth,

He trembled like the moon reflected in ripples of water;

And, emoting with compassion,

He uttered these words, in a somewhat feeble voice:

The 1st pāda expresses a truth of suffering, which is a downwardly oriented state.

The 2nd pāda illustrates the meaning of the mental state of dejected trembling with an analogy from the real world, wherein the moon is reflected in ponds, puddles, dewdrops and so on.

The 3rd pāda expresses compassion not as a feeling but as an action, or as a happening.

The 4th pāda contains the punchline, which subverts those unexamined Buddhist thoughts in which any old compassion tends invariably to be seen as a virtue in itself, regardless of what good, or harm, it might do anybody.

With today's verse Aśvaghoṣa seems to me to alert us to the distinction between the compassion that the Buddha would later manifest by means of a lion's roar, and the softer, more tender, weaker compassion that the prince is exhibiting in today's verse. The latter kind of compassion, delivered in a weak voice, is the kind of compassion Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer, is forever endeavouring to persuade dog lovers NOT to show to their neurotic pooches.

A contrast may be drawn between the prince's somewhat fragile voice in today's verse and the Buddha's use of his voice when he addressed the prostrate form of the enlightened Nanda:
Then, after listening to him who had emerged already out of heedlessness, after hearing his firmness and his testimony / And a clarity consistent with the gist of dharma, the Sage boomed at him like a thundercloud: //SN18.21// "You who stands firm in the dharma which is loved by those who study it, stand up! Why are you fallen with your head at my feet? / The prostration does not honour me so much as this surefootedness in the dharma. // SN18.22 //

Towards the end of the 19th century in Australia, before the days of movie theatres and radio, FM Alexander earned a crust as a reciter in Australian theatres, wherein he desired to project to the back of the auditorium a big, resonant voice. 

Ironically, because of the faultiness in him, which is the very same faultiness that is here in me (eṣa doṣaḥ), the desire to have a big voice caused him actually to lose his voice – a condition that was sometimes known in the past as “clergyman's throat.” This difficulty motivated FM Alexander to evolve a method, which came to be known as the Alexander Technique, for circumventing faulty sensory appreciation and gaining ends like reciting with a booming voice; or sitting still as a dynamic balancing act. 

FM found that in order to be able to recite as he wished, with a big, resonant voice, he had to give up the idea of reciting, because the idea of reciting triggered in him stiffening of the neck, pulling back of the head, shortening of the spine, arching and narrowing of the back, gasping in of air, and various other evils. The technique he evolved required him, while continuing to give up, or “inhibit” the idea of reciting, to project preventive directions such as “neck to be free, head forward and up, spine to lengthen and back to widen,” and while thus continuing to give up the idea of reciting, to go ahead and recite, loudly and resonantly.

Thus was FM said to have re-discovered, more than 100 years ago, the secret of Zen for our time.

The flag counter on the right indicates that interest in my translation and commentary on Aśvaghoṣa resides primarily in the US, where interest in Zen is certainly greater than it is in the UK, thanks to the efforts of teachers like Shunryu Suzuki, who endeavoured to transmit the lifeblood of the Buddha's teachings which is the practice of just sitting. I haven't had any direct experience of American Zen since I stayed at San Francisco Zen Center in 1984, so I am not really qualified to express an opinion, but I won't let that stop me. Because it seems to me, from where I sit, that in Japanese/American Zen something superfluous has been added on and something essential has got lost.

The superfluous stuff, expressed by a friend of mine in the representative phrase “sesshin/samu-e,” includes job descriptions like “doshi,” the wearing of black robes, participation in “service” with accompanying ringing of bells and blowing of whistles, and so on and so forth. The thing that I suspect is missing is the aforementioned secret of Zen, as re-discovered for our time by FM Alexander. 

Even in Alexander work itself, after only one or two generations, FM's niece Marjory Barlow worried, the essence was always in danger of getting lost, as teachers and pupils were increasingly attracted by the therapeutic power of good Alexander hands. How much more has the secret of Zen been liable to get lost, after more than ninety generations? When people gather together in so-called "sesshins" to sit intensively in silence, a powerful energy is created. But so what? A minute's silence observed by a big crowd before a football match was a very powerful thing in my youthful experience (in the days before people couldn't resist clapping instead). But that didn't mean that anybody in the crowd was in possession of the real essence of the Buddha's teaching. 

In this situation, my desire is to step out into the public arena and, in a voice that is booming like a thunderclap...

But the reality is that I woke up at 2.00 am this morning and couldn't get back to sleep for three hours or so. Then I got up late with a bit of a headache and as I sat just now I was frankly very glad to be here by the forest on my own, with nobody around to listen to the croaky voice of a groggy practitioner. So for the time being, notwithstanding a lingering desire to be able to wander around booming out the true Buddha-dharma like a massive thundercloud, I shall continue to inhibit that desire, and be content instead to plough a lonely furrow.

iti: thus
śrutārthaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who has heard anything
śruta: mfn. heard, listened
artha: m. matter, aim, meaning
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
viṣaṇṇa-cetāḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. dejected in mind , low-spirited , downcast
viṣaṇṇa: mfn. dejected , sad , desponding , sorrowful , downcast , out of spirits or temper
vi-ṣad (vi + √sad, to sit) to be exhausted or dejected , despond , despair ; to sink down

prāvepata = 3rd pers. sg. imperf. pra- √ vep: to tremble , shiver , quake
ambūrmi-gataḥ (nom. sg. m.): in ripples of water
ambu: n. water
ūrmi: m. wave
gata: mfn. gone to, situated in
śaśī (nom. sg.): m. " containing a hare " , the moon
iva: like

idam (acc. sg. n.): this
ca: and
vākyam (acc. sg.): n. speech , saying , assertion , statement , command , words
karuṇāyamānaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part karuṇāya: to be compassionate , pity

provāca = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra- √ vac: to proclaim , announce ; to speak , say , tell
kiṁ cid: ind. somewhat, a little
mṛdunā (inst. sg. m.): mfn. soft , delicate , tender , pliant , mild , gentle; weak, feeble
svareṇa (inst. sg.): m. sound; voice; tone in recitation

太子聞其説 即生大恐怖
身心悉戰動 譬如揚波月 

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