Wednesday, November 14, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.49: Body vs Mind -- A Peaceful Opposition

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
śrutvā nimittaṁ tu nivartanasya saṁtyaktam-ātmānam-anena mene |
mārgasya śaucādhikṛtāya caiva cukrośa ruṣṭo 'pi ca nogra-daṇḍaḥ || 3.49

On learning, then, a cause of turning back,

He felt himself being totally abandoned by him.

And though [the possessor of the earth] railed against
the overseer who was charged with clearing the road,

However annoyed he was,
he did not resort to cruelty with the cudgel.

In the 1st pāda nimitta can be understood as the cause of turning back, or as the stimulus which produces turning back as a response. It is very difficult to pin down, in the context of turning back, exactly how to translate nimitta. In Canto 16 of Saundara-nanda, in the process of telling Nanda to “know the path as a turning back” (SN16.42), the Buddha uses the word nimitta no less than 16 times. In that canto I translated nimitta sometimes as “cause,” sometimes as “stimulus,” and sometimes as “factor [for mental development]” – the last term being intended to be broad enough to cover the conventional sense of “subject of meditation.”

Understood like this, nimittaṁ nivartanasya, a cause of turning back, might mean, for example, the Buddha's final teaching of having small desire and knowing satisfaction (SHOYOKU CHISOKU), so that when one's mind is given over to greed for a big shiny new Harley Davidson motor cycle, that teaching of small desire is a calming stimulus. Alternatively, when one is feeling disillusioned, weakly motivated, and unsure of what direction to go in for the better, a cause of turning back might be some massive great translation job which one believes to be important, in which case the translation job is a garnering stimulus.

Speaking of motorbikes, mind you, I wouldn't mind having one right now, since I have already bought a ticket for a Eurostar train from Paris tonight, but now that labour unions throughout continental Europe have chosen today for a day of strike action, I am not sure if I will be able to get there.

In the 2nd pada anena ostensibly means “by the prince” – i.e., the king thought the game was already up; he felt himself to have been abandoned by the prince already. But anena literally means by this one, by the one nearest to the speaker. So the hidden meaning of the 2nd pāda is to describe the sense of being abandoned by one's former self; that is, the sense of losing everything to just sitting, dropping off body and mind.

Or should that be “body and mind dropping off.” 

The question is, in other words: is the dropping off of body and mind transitive or intransitive? Do I drop off body and mind? Or do my body and mind drop off by themselves, spontaneously, naturally, automatically, unconsciously?

The true answer, in general – as I sit here worrying about some problem or other, like a pile of damp firewood – might be neither. 

But on a good day the answer might be both, which is to say that the fire might need a bit of help (or a lot of help) to get going, but once it has got going it will tend to keep burning by itself, spontaneously, with little or no intervention. This latter sense is emphasized by Dogen in his rules of sitting-zen for everybody in which he writes;
Body and mind will drop off naturally/spontaneously
 and your original features will emerge.

The 3rd pāda as I read it thus relates to the different meanings of ni-vṛt discussed yesterday, and in particular its dual transitive meaning (stopping something / dropping off body and mind) and intransitive meaning (something stopping / body and mind dropping off). 

The transitive meaning is directed top-down, from the top two inches, in a process that FM Alexander called “thinking in activity.” The intransitive meaning arises bottom-up from the earth, and one experiences it as a possessor of the earth; that is, as somebody whose vestibular system is working naturally and well within the gravitational field of mother earth -- picture a buddha sitting immovably in full lotus, in his natural element, without any recourse to the top two inches, so that the bony skeleton and ears, eyes, and tactile sense, all coordinated at brainstem level by the cerebellar-vestibular system, don't need any help, thank you very much.

There is mental sitting as opposed to physical sitting. There is physical sitting as opposed to mental sitting. And there is sitting as body and mind dropping off, as opposed to sitting as body and mind dropping off.
This opposition is represented in the 3rd pāda of today's verse, as I read it, by the possessor of the earth (symbol of physical might) railing against the overseer (symbol of the mental function concentrated in the top two inches).

For an example of an overseer charged with clearing the road (mārgasya śaucādhikṛta) we need look no further than Nanda, who the Buddha charged with clearing the road like this:
So, in order to make the noble truths your own, first clear a path according to this plan of action (pūrvaṃ viśodhayānena nayena mārgam),/ Like a king going on campaign to subdue his foes, wishing to conquer unconquered dominions. // SN16.85 //
When there is mental sitting as opposed to physical sitting, and physical sitting as opposed to mental sitting, what kind of annoyance might there be?

Aśvaghoṣa has answered that question in the 17th canto of Saundara-nanda, in his description of Nanda's passage through four stages of sitting-zen:
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 //
The 4th pāda, then, as I read it, is not denying that coming at balance from the physical side is different from coming at balance from the mental side. But it is saying, in conclusion, that there is no need to come to blows about it.

Why would anybody come to blows, even metaphorically, over something like that? 

I think if Dharma-holder A was very attached to coming at balance from the physical side, and then some other bright spark, iconoclastic person B, came along and said, “there is another way of coming at balance, from the mental side, which you have been overlooking,” it is not inconceivable that Dharma-holder A might feel his view to be threatened and reach for the cudgel.

In the unlikely event that such a hypothetical scenario actually came to pass in reality, it would serve as a conspicuous concrete antithesis to Nāgārjuna's thesis that the Buddha-dharma is the abandonment of all views.

The Wikipedia entry on Nāgārjuna begins by asserting that “Nāgārjuna is widely considered the most important Buddhist philosopher after the historical Buddha.” Maybe so, but I doubt whether Nāgārjuna himself would have agreed with this ranking. I strongly suspect that Nāgārjuna might have considered his writings to have been so many explanatory footnotes to the teaching of Aśvaghoṣa, whose philosophy is no less excellent for being hidden below the surface.

Between what is widely considered to the the case, and what is actually the case, there is liable to be a gap. 

śrutvā = abs. śru: to hear , listen or attend to anything (acc.) , give ear to any one (acc. or gen.) , hear or learn anything about (acc.) or from (abl. gen. instr. , mukhāt or śakāśāt) , or that anything is (two acc.) ; to hear (from a teacher) , study , learn
nimittam (acc. sg.): n. cause , motive , ground , reason
tu: ind. pray! I beg , do , now , then; but ,; sometimes used as a mere expletive
nivartanasya (gen. sg.): n. turning back , returning

saṁtyaktam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. entirely relinquished or abandoned , left ; deprived or destitute of , wanting , lacking (instr. or comp.)
ātmānam (acc. sg.): m. the self
anena = inst. sg. m. ayam: this , this here , referring to something near the speaker ; known, present
mene = 3rd pers. sg. perf. man: to think , believe , imagine , suppose , conjecture; to regard or consider any one or anything (acc.) as (acc. with or without iva )
mārgasya (gen. sg.): road, path
śaucādhikṛtāya (dat. sg. m.): towards the man placed at the head of cleaning
śauca: n. cleanness , purity , purification (esp. from defilement caused by the death of a relation)
adhi: ind. , as a prefix to verbs and nouns , expresses above , over and above ,
adhi-kṛta: mfn. placed at the head of , appointed ; m. a superintendent (especially a comptroller of public accounts)
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
cukrośa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kruś: to cry out , shriek , yell , bawl , call out , halloo ; to exclaim ; to lament , weep

ruṣṭaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. injured , offended , irritated , furious , angry
to hurt , injure , kill ; to be hurt or offended by , take offence; to displease , be disagreeable to (gen.) ; to be vexed or cross , be angry with (gen.) ; to vex , annoy , displease , irritate , exasperate; to be furious or angry
api: even
ca: and
nogra-daṇḍaḥ (nom. sg. m.): not being of savage rod ; not being cruel in his punishment
na: not
ugra: mfn. powerful , violent , mighty , impetuous , strong , huge , formidable , terrible ; cruel , fierce , ferocious , savage ; angry , passionate , wrathful
daṇḍa: m. a stick , staff , rod , pole , cudgel , club ; a staff or sceptre as a symbol of power and sovereignty ; the rod as a symbol of judicial authority and punishment , punishment

對曰見病人 王怖猶失身
深責治路者 心結口不言 

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