Tuesday, November 27, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 3.62: Loser's Nirvāṇa

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bhadrā)
tasmād-rathaḥ sūta nivartyatāṁ no vihāra-bhūmer na hi deśa-kālaḥ |
jānan-vināśaṁ katham-ārti-kāle sacetanaḥ syād-iha hi pramattaḥ || 3.62

Therefore, O master of the horses, let our chariot of joy be turned back,

For this is not the time or the place for roaming around:

Knowing utter loss, in the hour of pain,

How could anybody possessed of consciousness 
be negligent in this area?”

The tendency to veer unconsciously from one extreme to the other has been impeccably demonstrated in recent weeks by the BBC, whose Newsnight programme miserably failed to broadcast an expose of a paedophile, and then over-compensated for this mistake by acting on the basis of baseless allegations about an ex-politician who was not a paedophile.

Awake, as a result of his own independent non-Buddhist investigations, to this human tendency to veer from side to side, FM Alexander wrote of “the great, broad mid-way path.”

Walking this broad path between extremes, generally known in Buddhist circles as “the middle way,” sometimes, it is true, does seem like walking along a razor's edge. But the impression of a narrow path that is incredibly painful and difficult to walk along probably says more about the lack of skill of the would-be walker of the path than the path itself.

The old saying goes that "The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard."

But this saying does not originate with the Buddha. Rather, it is contained in the Katha-Upanishad, 3.14.

In any event, today's verse, which as I have translated it touches both on enjoyment and on pain, causes me to reflect that after three weeks' retreat in France, eating whatever I like whenever I like, I invariably come back thinner than before I went, and able once again to get into my old chinos. Plus, when I am in France, I am spending a fair few of my waking hours experiencing, or sitting waiting to experience, pain in the legs. So some people might see those three weeks as devoted to ascetic practice. But other people, like my wife and the head of the Alexander training school that I regularly visit, tend to see my trips to France as me indulging myself by going off on holiday, again, as opposed to remaining in Aylesbury and making myself available for Alexander teaching and other gainful employment.

The point is that an hour of sitting practice can be an hour of enjoyment and at the same time an hour of pain – while at the same time being completely beyond hedonism or asceticism.

As further corroboration of this point, I remember Gudo Nishijima about 30 years ago advizing me and other foreigners who were not used to sitting cross-legged and therefore suffering inordinately painful legs during sitting retreats, “Don't worry about the pain in your legs. Enjoy the pain in your legs!”

The ostensible meaning of today's verse, then, is that the prince is telling the charioteer to turn back because, in view of the terrible suffering which death represented for sentient creatures, roaming around that beautiful parkland on a pleasure excursion was not appropriate.

But what today's verse really is, as I read it, is Aśvaghoṣa's characteristically indirect exhortation to us, to seek joy not by moving around outside but rather by 
(1) turning our attention inwards, 
(2) sitting still, 
(3) dropping off body and mind in the hour of painful legs, and 
(4) being attentive to “this certain conclusion” (iyaṁ niṣtā niyatā) described in yesterday's verse, and equally to “the utter loss” (vināśaṁ) described in today's verse.
The real meaning of iha in the 4th pāda, then, is not a geographical area but rather the area of utter loss.

It may be, on reflection, that my willingness to accept the old cliché about a razor's edge has been a kind of negligence. If I were more truly attentive, I might never have agreed to go through life carrying around the superfluous baggage of the concept of a narrow path. In unwittingly accepting the ancient Indian spiritual teaching of walking along a razor's edge, ever since seeing the 1984 film called The Razor's Edge, I have doubtless continued being negligent in the area of utter loss.

In conclusion, what is expressed in today's verse, as I read it, is loser's nirvāṇa. Being negligent in the area of utter loss is failing to know loser's nirvāṇa. And failing to know utter loss is being negligent in the area of practising loser's nirvāṇa. Practising loser's nirvāṇa does not mean practising as a loser, or as a winner; it might mean, in the hour of pain, without any self-consciousness of a winner or a loser, somehow enjoying the pain. But do not call it asceticism!

tasmād: ind. from that; therefore
rathaḥ (nom. sg.): m. " goer " , a chariot; joy, delight
sūta (voc.): a charioteer , driver , groom , equerry , master of the horse (esp. an attendant on a king
nivartyatām = 3rd pers. sg. causative passive imperative ni- √ vṛt: to turn back , stop (trans. and intrans.)
naḥ (gen. pl. m.): our

vihāra-bhūmeḥ (gen. sg.): f. (1) = vihāra-deśa m. a place of recreation , pleasure-ground; (2) a grazing-ground , pasturage
vihāra: walking for pleasure or amusement , wandering , roaming ; sport , play , pastime , diversion , enjoyment , pleasure
bhūmi: f. ground; area ; a place , situation; position , posture , attitude ; the part or personification (played by an actor) ; (metaph.) a step , degree , stage ; (ifc.) a matter , subject , object , receptacle i.e. fit object or person for
na: not
hi: for
deśa-kālaḥ (nom. sg.): m. (sg.) place and time for (gen.)
jānan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. √jnā: to know
vināśam: (acc. sg.): m. utter loss , annihilation , perdition , destruction , decay , death , removal
katham: ind. how?
ārti-kāle (loc. sg.): at a time of painful occurrence ; at a proper time for pain
ārti: f. painful occurrence , pain , injury , mischief; sickness
kāla: m. a fixed or right point of time , a space of time , time (in general); the proper time or season for (gen. dat. loc. , in comp); occasion , circumstance ; hour ; the end ; time (as destroying all things) , death , time of death (often personified)

sa-cetanaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having reason or consciousness or feeling , sentient , sensible , animate , rational
syāt = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be
iha: ind. in this place , here; to this place ; in this world ; in this case
hi: for
pramattaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. excited , wanton , lascivious , rutting ; mad, insane ; drunken , intoxicated; inattentive , careless , heedless , negligent , forgetful

即勅迴車還 非復遊戲時
命絶死無期 如何縱心遊 

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