Monday, November 26, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.61: Stiffened Minds

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Chāyā)
iyaṁ ca niṣṭhā niyatā prajānāṁ pramādyati tyakta-bhayaś-ca lokaḥ |
manāṁsi śaṅke kaṭhināni nṇāṁ svasthās-tathā hy-adhvani vartamānāḥ || 3.61

“This, for sentient creatures, is a certain conclusion,

And yet the world barges heedlessly about, disregarding danger.

Stiffened, I venture, are the mental sinews of men,

Who so self-assuredly remain on such a path.

The window of my bedroom in Aylesbury faces south over the Chiltern Hills in the distance, so that when the sun is shining on a cold November morning (Aylesbury being in the northern hemisphere) the bedroom is the warmest room in the house, and so sometimes I practise my second sitting of the day with my backside on a round cushion placed in the middle of a low futon bed which is firm enough to support the knees well. I am thus able to observe the clouds slowly make their way from right to left.

Since I am facing south, right to left means from west to east, following the wind blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean. Sitting like this, I wish to allow my neck to stop stiffening so that the head is allowed to release, in the first instance, not northward but southward. I wish to allow the head to release southward and upward, so that the back is allowed to widen, east to west, and west to east.

If I turned to face the wall instead of looking out the window, I would wish my head to release northward and up.

Again, if I lay on the bed with my knees bent, as I often do, I would wish my head to release up and north, and my knees to release up towards the ceiling.

So, as words, these directions that I am always going on about are changeable. The words change depending on what direction I am facing in, and whether I am sitting or lying down. But the wrong inner patterns that the words are designed to help prevent do not change. Something within, beginning with a tendency to stiffen the mind/neck, remains unchanging and certain. 

And at the same time, as long as I am sitting or lying down on mother earth, in the company of the force of 1g, something outside does not change either. Up is constantly up. And down is always down.

That up is always up is the kind of thing that Aśvaghoṣa, as I hear him, has in mind when he uses the words niṣṭhā niyatā prajānām, “a certain conclusion for sentient creatures” – although what he is ostensibly referring to, of course, is the inevitability of popping one's clogs, kicking the bucket, snuffing it.

Thinking on further, following on from how I understood yesterday's verse, iyam niṣṭhā niyatā, “this certain conclusion” might be an ironic way of referring to a starting point – the attitude expressed by the Buddha as “starting afresh from here,” the attitude which is symbolized by putting a shoulder to the tip of a pole of a yoke of a chariot and which is expressed by speech that is sonorous, being free of any pretense or any agenda.

Seeing further possible readings like this, that I fail to spot on first and second readings of Aśvaghoṣa's words, alerts me to the fact that I really do not know what Aśvaghoṣa's real intention was, any more than I can feel where up is. All I can say with confidence is that the ostensible meaning of Aśvaghoṣa's words is not the only one.

So if some commentator asserts that the definitive meaning of Aśvaghoṣa's words is this or that, all I can say with confidence is "No, you are wrong" -- even if the commentator in question is yours truly. Similarly, even though I cannot feel where up is, years of going wrong have afforded me some insight into where down is. If I have learned anything, I have learned  how easily I am liable to orient myself in that downward direction, primarily by failing to nip in the bud the endgaining-stiffened mind.

To arrive at the aforestated conclusion that up is up and down is down has not been so easy for the sentient creature who is writing this blog. Due to a congenitally dodgy vestibular system, I am liable to feel that to pull myself down by lifting my chest and arching my back, is to direct myself up; whereas in fact to pull myself down is not to direct myself up but only to pull myself down. This is the problem that FM Alexander termed “faulty sensory appreciation.” It turns out, however, that I am not the only damn fool who can't feel where up is, but who nevertheless deludedly believes that he can know where up is relying on feeling. Faulty sensory appreciation is a universal human problem.

Meeting a Zen master, far from leading me smoothly to the conclusion that up is up and down is down, on the contrary proved for 13 years to be a big stumbling block. But it is against the background of 13 years spent stiffening my neck and adhering to the path of sitting in full lotus and assiduously pulling myself down, that I think I understand what Aśvaghoṣa might be alluding to when in today's verse he writes of stiffening the mind and self-assuredly remaining on a path.

As ever, Aśvaghoṣa's allusion is an indirect one, camoflauged behind an ironic expression that could be read as affirmative -- manāṁsi kaṭhināni "with mental sinews stiffened," on the face of it, sounds like a virtue. 

When we consider the Buddha's example, as described in canto 3 of Aśvaghoṣa epic story of Beautiful Joy, the Buddha demonstrated what the bodhi mind really was not by stiffening his mind and sticking on the particular path of asceticism, but precisely by not doing that. Hence:
For ascetic practice, then, he left Kapilavāstu -- a teeming mass of horses, elephants and chariots, /Majestic, safe, and loved by its citizens. Leaving the city, he started resolutely for the forest. // SN3.1 // In the approach to ascetic practice of the various traditions, and in the attachment of sages to various restraints, / He observed the miseries of thirsting after an object. Seeing asceticism to be unreliable, he turned away from it. // 3.2 // Then Ārāḍa, who spoke of freedom, and likewise Uḍraka, who inclined towards quietness, / He served, his heart set on truth, and he left. He who intuited the path intuited: "This also is not it." // 3.3 // Of the different traditions in the world, he asked himself, which one was the best? / Not obtaining certainty elsewhere, he entered after all into ascetic practice that was most severe. // 3.4 // Then, having seen that it was not the path, he also abandoned that extreme asceticism. / Understanding the realm of meditation to be supreme, he ate good food in readiness to realise the deathless. // 3.5 // With golden arms fully expanded and as if in a yoke, with lengthened eyes, and bull-like gait, / He came to a fig tree, growing up from the earth, with the will to awakening that belongs to the supreme method of investigation. // 3.6 // Sitting there, mind made up, as unmovingly stable as the king of mountains, / He overcame the grim army of Māra and awoke to the step which is happy, irremovable, and irreducible. // SN3.7 //

Conclusively to have stopped barging heedlessly about, is a claim that this sentient creature, for one, is so far unable to make. But even while I am barging heedlessly about, 1g still equals 1g, and up is still up. That is as sure as eggs is eggs.

iyam (nom sg. f.): this, this here
ca: and
niṣṭhā (nom. sg.): f. state , condition , position ; firmness , steadiness ; completion , perfection , culminating or extreme point ; conclusion , end , termination , death
niyatā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. fixed , established , settled , sure , regular , invariable , positive , definite
prajānām (gen. pl. f.): creatures, living beings

pramādyati = 3rd pers. sg. pra- √ mad : to enjoy one's self , be joyous , sport , play ; to be careless or negligent , to be indifferent to or heedless about (abl. or loc.)
tyakta-bhayaḥ (nom. sg. m.): disregarding fear
tyakta: mfn. left, abandoned
tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit ; to leave a place , go away from ; to give up , surrender , resign , part from , renounce ; to shun , avoid , get rid of , free one's self from (any passion &c ); to set aside , leave unnoticed , disregard
bhaya: n.fear; sg. and pl. terror , dismay , danger , peril , distress
ca: and
lokaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the world, people

manāṁsi = acc. pl. manas: n. mind (in its widest sense as applied to all the mental powers) 
śaṅke = 1st pers. sg. śaṅk: to be anxious or apprehensive , be afraid of (abl.) , fear , dread , suspect , distrust (acc.); to be in doubt or uncertain about (acc.) ; to think probable , assume , believe , regard is (with two acc.) , suppose to be (śaṅke , " l think " , " I suppose " , " it seems to me ")
kaṭhināni (acc. pl.): n. hard , firm , stiff (opposed to mṛdu); harsh , inflexible , cruel
nṇām (gen. pl.): m. man

svasthāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. self-abiding , being in one's self (or " in the self " Sarvad. ), being in one's natural state , being one's self uninjured , unmolested , contented , doing well , sound well , healthy , comfortable , at ease ; relying upon one's self , confident , resolute , composed
tathā: ind. in such a manner
hi: for
adhvani = loc. sg. adhvan: m. a road , way , orbit ; journey
vartamānāḥ = nom. pl. m. pres. part. vṛt: to turn, roll ; to move or go on , get along , advance , proceed ; to be , live , exist , be found , remain , stay , abide , dwell ; to act or deal with , follow a course of conduct

公見身磨滅 猶尚放逸生
心非枯木石 曾不慮無常 

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