Monday, January 7, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.37: Goading the Self-Assured

madhuraṁ gītam-anv-arthaṁ kā-cit-sābhinayaṁ jagau |
taṁ svasthaṁ codayantīva vañcito 'sīty-avekṣitaiḥ || 4.37


A sweet song whose meaning was clear,

One girl sang, with actions that suited the words,

As if she were goading the one who was self-assured

With glimpses whose gist was, “You are cheating yourself!”

The ostensible meaning of today's verse is that a girl sang to the prince a song of seductive intent which she illustrated with seductive gestures, while giving him suggestive and stimulating looks that seemed to say, “You are denying yourself sexual pleasure for no good reason.”

But I am sure Aśvaghoṣa secretly has in mind, also, his own work, both as a practitioner and as the composer and singer of the song he himself is now singing, in the śloka metre of eight syllables per pāda.

In the 1st phase, that is, he would like the meaning of his words to be clear.

The 2nd pāda relates not so much to verbal communication of meaning as to concrete actions. In the 2nd phase, Aśvaghoṣa would like to practise what he preaches, and to preach what he practises –  suit the action to the word, the word to the action.

In the 3rd pāda, if we understand tam to mean "him" or "the other," the point is to get others squarely onto their backsides – off the sofa, or the office chair, that is, and onto a round black cushion. But I also understand tam to mean something in me; namely, that in me which sits comfortably in its old nest, feeling lazy, smug, and too easily satisfied with superficial or intellectual understanding. 

In that case, the 4th pāda points in the direction of that enlightenment which Dogen called the realization of delusion. "Cheating oneself" in that case might have to do with what FM Alexander called "faulty sensory appreciation," which causes me to feel that I am doing my best to direct myself up when in fact all I am doing is pulling my head back and down. 

The divergence between the ostensible meaning and the hidden meaning thus centres on two possible meanings of sva-stha, which expresses (1) ease, composure, and well-being; and (2) [smug] self-assurance, and a multitude of accompanying sins, like inertia. In other words, sva-stha describes (1) the kind of balance or self-composure which is the aim of yogic practice, and (2) the self-assured blissfulness of unsuspecting ignorance, in a person who has not recently experienced the arising of that nervous excitement which is associated with awakening of the bodhi-mind.

Thus at the end of his epic story of Beautiful Joy, Aśvaghoṣa describes Nanda's composure [sva-stha, (1)] in these terms:
With consciousness that was calmed and contained, he came back to himself (svasthas-tatobhūd) and was not concerned about ends. SN17.6.
Then, at ease in himself (svasthaḥ), his heart at peace, his task ended, he left the Sage's side like an elephant free of rut. When the occasion arose he entered the town for begging and attracted the citizens' gaze; being impartial towards gain, loss, comfort, discomfort, and the like and with his senses composed (svasthendriyaḥ), he was free of longing; (SN18.61-62)
But in the canto before this one in his epic story of Awakened Action, Aśvaghoṣa causes the prince to remark with surprise at the smug self-assurance [sva-stha, (2)]  of men who rest easy without awakening the will to pursue the truth through yoga-practice:
“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 (svasthās-tathā) remain on such a path.”//BC3.61//

The Chinese characters that express the principle of non-doing are 無為 (Ch: WU-WEI; Jap: MU-I). If one looks in a Japanese-English dictionary 無為 is given as "idleness, inactivity."

So here then is another aspect of the irony which is at the centre of pursuit of the truth of the Buddha's teaching.

It is necessary 
専一功夫 (Jap: SENITSU [ni] KUFU [su]) 
single-mindedly to work out, 
in order to realize the truth which is 
無為 (Jap: MU-I), 
free of doing.

To put it another way, in order to be truly sva-stha (at ease in oneself, composed, self-contained, comfortable), one may need to be goaded out of, or to shake oneself out of, one's habitual comfort zone  and maybe not only once, but many times a day. 

madhuram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. sweet
gītam (acc. sg.): n. singing , song
anv-artham (acc. sg. n.): mfn. conformable to the meaning , agreeing with the true meaning; having the meaning obvious , intelligible , clear.

kā-cit (nom. sg. f.): somebody; one of the women
sābhinayam: ind. with dramatic gesture or gesticulations , pantomimically
sa-: (possessive prefix)
abhinaya: m. (indication of a passion or purpose by look , gesture , &c ) acting , dramatic action (expressive of sentiment)
abhi- √nī: to conduct towards , bring near ; to represent dramatically , act
jagau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. gai: to sing , speak or recite in a singing manner

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
svastham (acc. sg. 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 (in body and mind) , comfortable , at ease ; relying upon one's self , confident , resolute , composed
codayantī = nom. sg. f. pres. part. causative cud: to impel , incite , cause to move quickly , accelerate ; to inspire , excite , animate ; to request , petition , ask , urge on , press or importune with a request
iva: like, as if

vañcitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. deceived , tricked
vañc: to move to and fro , go crookedly , totter , stagger , waver; [causative: to cause to go astray , deceive , cheat , defraud]
asi = 2nd pers. sg. as: to be
iti: “....,” thus
avekṣitaiḥ = inst. pl. past part. ava √īkṣ: to look towards , look at , behold

[No corresponding Chinese]

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