Tuesday, November 13, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.48: No Zen Please, We're Buddhist

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
tato nivṛttaḥ sa nivṛtta-harṣaḥ pradhyāna-yuktaḥ praviveśa veśma |
taṁ dvis-tathā prekṣya ca saṁnivṛttaṁ paryeṣaṇaṁ bhūmi-patiś-cakāra || 3.48

Then, having turned back, and having turned back exuberance,

He deeply entered the royal abode, absorbed in deep reflection.

And, seeing him thus twice turned back,

A possessor of the earth made an investigation.

A comedy that enjoyed a long run in London's west end in the 1970s and 80s went by the name of “No Sex Please, We're British,” the title reflecting the traditional reticence of Brits to be open about... well, you know what. As long as such coyness has persisted, British humourists from Geoffery Chaucher through to Julian Clary have mined the sexual double-entendre as a vein of comedy gold.

When “No Sex Please, We're British,” transferred to Broadway in 1973, so Wikipedia informs me, the play bombed before American audiences, running for only 16 performances before it was pulled.

As sex is to the British psyche, so too does sitting-mediation appear to be to Aśvaghoṣa. He sometimes seems reticent to discuss it too directly or explicitly, but it is always there in the back of his mind, or below the surface – sous terre as they say here in France. The French, it turns out, with typical gallic contrariness, do not call a double-entendre a double-entendre, but speak instead of sous-entendu, literally "under meaning.”

Today's verse is full of such sous-entendu. On the surface it is not really saying anything – the prince came back disappointed, and the king, seeing the prince returned a second time, made enquiries about what had happened. Yawn. But below the surface each of the four lines is about the lifeblood of the Buddha's teaching, which is sitting-zen.

The first pāda picks up and plays with the intransitive and transitive meanings of ni-√vṛt, to turn back or stop, which appeared in yesterday's verse in the passive imperative nivartyatām, “Let [the chariot/joy] be turned back.”

The two ni-vṛtta in the 1st pāda of today's verse are derived from the past participle of ni-√vṛt, as also is saṁ-ni-vṛtta in the 3rd pāda. In the compound nivṛtta-harṣaḥ, nivṛtta is most naturally understood as “having stopped (intransitive)” or “having gone away.” Hence EBC: “with all joy departed”; EHJ “all feeling of joy gone”; PO: “his joy disappeared.” But I prefer to understand the ni-√vṛt in nivṛtta-harṣaḥ as transitive rather than intransitive. Ostensibly nivṛtta-harṣaḥ just means that the prince was disappointed, so his exuberance had vanished. But insofar as nivṛtta-harṣaḥ points below the surface to the practice of sitting-zen, nivṛtta-harṣaḥ should describe not only the natural abatement of undue excitement but also the sitting practitioner's conscious effort to give up, or inhibit, any thought, desire, or idea that triggers such excitement. (This might be a case of “Do as I say, not as I do.” Did I ever claim to be anything other than a lazy, stinking hypocrite?)

For Aśvaghoṣa's own description of a process of consciously deciding to turn back from exuberant joy, see the series of verses from SN17.42: 
Distanced from desires and tainted things, containing ideas and containing thoughts, / Born of solitude and possessed of joy and ease, is the first stage of meditation, which he then entered. // 17.42 //Released from the burning of the bonfire of desires, he derived great gladness from ease in the act of meditating -- /Ease like a heat-exhausted man diving into water. Or like a pauper coming into great wealth. // 17.43 //Even in that, he realised, ideas about aforesaid things, and thoughts about what is or is not good, /Are something not quieted, causing disturbance in the mind, and so he decided to cut them out. // 17.44 //For, just as waves produce disturbance in a river bearing a steady flow of tranquil water, / So ideas, like waves of thought, disturb the water of the one-pointed mind. // 17.45 //And just as noises are a source of bother to one who is weary, and fallen fast asleep, / So do ideas become bothersome to one who is indulging in his original state of unitary awareness. // 17.46 //And so gradually bereft of idea and thought, his mind tranquil from one-pointedness, /He realised the joy and ease born of balanced stillness -- that inner wellbeing which is the second stage of meditation. // 17.47 //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, just as he had in ideas. // 17.48 //For when a man finds intense joy in anything, paradoxically, suffering for him is right there. /Hence, seeing the faults there in joy, he kept going up, into practice that goes beyond joy.// 17.49 //....
In the 2nd pāda the double use of the emphatic prefix pra- (pay attention at the back there jiblet; you might learn something) before the roots √dhyai, to think/meditate, and √viś, to enter into or be absorbed in, alerts us to Aśvaghoṣa's hidden intention, for which he wishes us to dig deep. Also in the 2nd pāda, paralleling the ambiguous sadman (seat/palace, from the root √sad, to sit) in yesterday's verse, today's verse describes the prince returning to a similarly ambiguous veśman (abode/palace, from the root √viś, to enter). The sense of being where he ought to be, or sitting where he ought to sit, is underlined by the use of the verb pra-viveśa (like veśman, also from the root √viś) which means “he deeply entered into.”

In the 3rd pāda dvis saṁnivṛttam ostensibly means “returned twice,” i.e. once having seen an old man and now again having seen a sick man. Hence EBC: “having seen him thus return a second time”; EHJ: “seeing him thus returned a second time”; PO: “seeing him return twice in this fashion.” But the real intention is to draw attention to the hidden meaning of the two nivṛtta in the 1st pāda, and to emphasize that meaning. Why? Because the whole bloody point is to comprehend that suffering is doing; to witness the faults impelling it forward; to realise its stopping as non-doing; and to know the path as a turning back (SN16.42).

The real meaning of dvis saṁnivṛttam, then, is “twice turned back” – (1) turned back, and (2) turned back again. That might mean, for example, (1) stopping what you are doing in order to go and sit on a round black cushion, and then (2) noticing that you are still in the grip of some end-gaining idea and stopping again. It might mean (1) making an effort to turn your light and let it shine and (2) redoubling that effort. It might mean (1) turning back from the joy of the 1st dhyāna, and (2) also turning back from the deeper joy of the 2nd dhyāna. It might mean (1) turning away physically from some progressive job like sitting at a computer and translating, and turning instead to the regressive practice of just sitting; and then (2) going further and turning back mentally, so that the abatement of excitement in the nervous system is not only an unconcious process, but also a conscious one – a process that involves what FM Alexander called “thinking” (Sanskrit: √dhyai or √dhyā) but not what people ordinarily understand by the word thinking.

"When an investigation comes to be made it will be found that every single thing we do in the work is exactly what is done in Nature, where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously."
Alexander's words, sadly, are liable only to make sense to somebody who has got hands-on experience of Alexander work. And the real meaning of Aśvaghoṣa's words, similarly, is only liable to be apparent to somebody with his or her own real experience of being in possession of the earth, while sitting on the same seat that Aśvaghoṣa sat on, and while dwelling in the abode in which he dwelt. Trying to appreciate Aśvaghoṣa without experience of sitting-zen is like listening to the double entendres of a smutty English comic without ever having heard of... well, you know what.

tataḥ: ind. then
nivṛttaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. turned back , returned to (acc.) ; averted from , indifferent to , having renounced or given up (abl. or comp.); retreated ; passed away , gone , ceased , disappeared , vanished
ni- √ vṛt: to turn back, stop (trans. and intrans.)
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
nivṛtta-harṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): exuberance having stopped / been stopped / having gone away
harṣa: m. bristling , erection (esp. of the hair in a thrill of rapture or delight); joy , pleasure , happiness (also personified as a son of dharma)

pradhyāna-yuktaḥ (nom. sg. m.): absorbed in deep meditation / reflection / thinking
pra-dhyāna: n. meditating upon , reflection , thinking , deep thought , subtle speculation
pra- √ dhyai: to meditate upon , think of; to reflect, consider
yukta: mfn. yoked ; set to work , made use of , employed , occupied with , engaged in , intent upon (instr. loc. or comp.)
praviveśa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra- √ viś: to enter , go into , resort to ; to enter upon , undertake , commence , begin , devote one's self to (acc.) ; to enter into i.e. be absorbed or thrown into the shade by (acc.)
√ viś: to enter , enter in or settle down on , go into (acc. loc. , or antar with gen.) , pervade ; (with punar or bhūyas , to re-enter , return , come back) ; to be absorbed into (acc.) ; to enter (a house &c ) ; to go home or to rest ; to sit down upon (acc. or loc.) ; to resort or betake one's self to (agratas , agre , or acc.)
veśma = acc. sg. veśman: n. a house , dwelling , mansion , abode , apartment ; a palace
tam (acc. sg. m.): him
dvis: ind. twice
tathā: ind. in such a manner, thus
prekṣya = abs. pra- √īkṣ: to look at , view , behold , observe ; to look on (without interfering) , suffer , say nothing
ca: and
saṁnivṛttam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. turned or come back , returned

paryeṣaṇam (acc. sg.) n. search , inquiry , investigation
pari- √iṣ: to seek or search about for
√iṣ: to endeavour to obtain , strive , seek for
bhūmi-patiḥ (nom. sg. m.): " earth-lord " , a king
pati: m. owner, possessor, master, lord
cakāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kṛ: to do, make

王復聞子還 勅問何因縁

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