Thursday, January 24, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.54: Keeping Calm and Carrying On

evam-ākṣipyamāṇo 'pi sa tu dhairyāvṛtendriyaḥ |
martavyam-iti sodvego na jaharṣa na sismiye || 4.54

And even while, in such a manner, he was being put to shame,

Keeping his senses contained by constancy,

And still excited, by the prospect of dying,

He neither bristled nor blushed.

When a Zen master, who has given the bodhisattva precepts to a student, belittles or derides or teases that student for any intellectual conceit the student shows, that is one meaning of ā-√kṣip, which literally means to throw or put someone down. In that case, there are two possibilities. In the best case scenario, the master's mind has become unbridled, on the basis of love (manmathoddāma; 4.53), on which basis when he puts the student down he is acting consciously and out of love – like a loving father who calls his young sons a pair of scumbags. In the worst case scenario, the alleged Zen master is acting unconsciously, according to the mirror principle, emotionally criticizing his student for a tendency he has failed to give up in himself. In the latter case, the criticism is liable to cause the student the kind of emotional distress out of which good does not come.

The one who is primarily to blame in the worst-case scenario is not the student; it is the alleged master who put a student down for his intellectual conceit, not on the basis of love, and not with a liberated mind, but in accordance with the mirror principle.

Gudo Nishijma once quietly said to me, in a voice like he was transmitting some deep secret for my own good, “Don't blame me!” He said it like that because in his mind he was a Buddhist Patriarch, and any spit that I directed up at him would come down and land on my own face. But here and now, I do blame him. Because although Gudo never fucked any of his students literally, I dare say that he fucked a few of us up emotionally. One of the ways he did this was by putting us down for our conceit as part of the worst-case scenario – at the centre of which was his own central conceit that “I know the right posture.”

I think Aśvaghoṣa was well aware of both the above scenarios, and that awareness is manifested, albeit obliquely, in today's and yesterday's verses.

Thus, in the 1st pāda, ākṣipyamāṇaḥ, which could be translated more neutrally as “being challenged,” could also be translated more literally as “being put down” – i.e. being belittled or derided or teased as the prince was teased in 4.52, when the girl asked rhetorically: “Can spring deliver exuberant joy, to those that fly the skies, But not the mind of a thinking man who thinks that he is wise?” Still another meaning of ā-√kṣip, however, is “to excel so as to put to shame,” which is what a Zen master might be described as doing as part of the best-case scenario, and this is how I have understood ākṣipyamāṇaḥ in today's verse – because the teaching of the girls in the park, when we understand the hidden meaning of their words, was not only based on love but was also so excellent that it put to shame the idealistic understanding of the prince, whose mind was set on asceticism. 

Aside from his habit of putting the other down in an unconstructive way for his intellectual conceit, Gudo Nishijima was in many ways a very excellent teacher. That I am able, for what it is worth, to analyze Aśvaghoṣa's verses into four phases, comes from Gudo's excellence as a teacher. He taught me how to read Dogen's words in this way. Gudo was excellent in a way that strikes me as similar to the excellence of those German generals who were the allies of the army for which Gudo fought in WWII, or to the excellence of the southern generals like Robert E. Lee who fought during the American civil war. Militarily those generals were excellent, but the cause for which they were fighting was a losing cause. That being so, seen from the wider historical context, their excellence was not part of the solution; their excellence was part of the problem.

A few years ago I saw an interview that stuck in my mind with the son of a prominent Nazi who had decided that he did not wish to have children because he did not wish to carry on his father's line. I know that feeling well.

Returning to the best-case scenario that Aśvaghoṣa as I hear him is describing, the 2nd and 3rd pāda on first reading appear mutually contradictory. They describe the prince as exhibiting firmness/constancy/calmness (dhairya) and at the same time agitation or nervous excitement (udvega).

I think the resolution to this apparent paradox lies in the ambiguity of martavyam-iti sodvegaḥ. On the surface this means the prince was anxious or perturbed about the inevitability of biological death, hence: “thinking anxiously, ‘One must die’” (EBC); “in his perturbation over the inevitability of death” (EHJ); “perturbed at the thought “One must die” (PO).

PO adds a footnote: The Sanskrit is impersonal: martavyam. It can mean generally “one must die” or more specifically “I must die.” In any case, the reference is to the inevitability of death.

I beg – you guessed it – to differ. Hard and fast statements about what Aśvaghoṣa is referring to are always liable to leave us with egg on our face. Martavyam ostensibly points to the inevitability of death but it might also point, below the surface, to the possibility of losing one's own body and life – as discussed in connection with the ineffable person, Who, described in BC3.54 – 3.57:
Consequently, as the son of the king thus went into movement, those same old gods conjured up one who had breathed his last; / And as he, being dead, was borne along the road, nobody saw him but the charioteer and the prince. //BC3.54// Then the son of the king said to the master of the horses: “This is Who, who is being carried by four people, / Who is being followed by afflicted human beings, Who is beautifully adorned, and yet, as one who does not breathe, inspires tears.” //BC3.55// Then, while his mind was overpowered by the gods whose essence is purity itself, by the gods who sit upon pure perches, / He, in a voice full of meaning, as the tamer of the horses, conveyed to the prince the unspeakable meaning in question. //BC3.56// “Dissevered from the strings of sense power and breathing, inactive and insensible, akin to straw and wood, / Having been nurtured and cherished, he is deliberately left alone by his dearest friends – this, indeed, is Who.” //BC3.54//
The hidden meaning of martavyam-iti sodvegaḥ, then, might be “Remaining inspired by the prospect of dying,” in which case na jaharṣa na sismiye, “He neither bristled nor blushed,” makes sense – insofar as when we are really well motivated we are not liable to waste energy on superfluous emotional reactions. The doctor in A & E, even if he is shy around girls in polite social situations, is not liable to blush in the presence of the pretty nurse who is handing him the defibrillator. 

EHJ notes with reference to the final word of the verse that the old Nepalese manuscript's sismiye (smiled/blushed/was conceited) seems impossible, whereas vivyathe (quavered/was distressed) covers both the Tibetan translation's ḥjigs-pa, 'was afraid,' and the Chinese translation's  'grieved.'

EHJ then cites the following verse from Saundara-nanda whose last line is na jaharṣa na cukṣubhe:
Even when mention was made of his wife, he who had been so devoted to his wife / Stood by, seemingly bereft of passion; he neither bristled nor quavered. // SN11.7 //
I think EHJ was wrong to discount sismiye (smiled/blushed/was self-conscious/conceited) in favour of vivyathe (was distressed), especially considering that the verse in Saundara-nanda that he cites to support his amendment has not vivyathe but cukṣubhe.

While reserving judgement on the Tibetan translation, I think EHJ was also wrong to place any credence in the Chinese translation's 不憂亦不喜, “was neither anxious nor joyful.” We have garnered evidence enough by now that the Chinese translator was content more or less to do his own thing, thereby mainly mining Aśvaghoṣa's dust.

The point of the 4th line, as I read it, is that in the best-case scenario of working on the self under the guidance of a true teacher, one is not unduly bothered by emotional reactions. Even when the teacher lets one know that one is wrong, sensing that the teacher truly has one's best interests at heart, one is able to keep calm and carry on.

Relations between Zen teacher and Zen student being as complicated as they inevitably are, Dogen said that meeting a true teacher was the most difficult thing. Meeting a teacher does not mean corresponding over the internet; it means meeting face-to-face. It certainly is a difficult problem. For the time being I cannot see myself as being part of the solution. I hope I might be useful, however, by means of this translation and by means of this blog, at least in helping to identify and clarify the problem. 

evam: ind. thus
ākṣipyamāṇaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. passive ā- √ kṣip: to throw down upon (loc.) or towards (dat.); to strike with a bolt; to convulse , cause to tremble ; to point to , refer to , hint , indicate ; to insult , deride ; to excel so as to put to shame ; to challenge , call to a dispute &c
api: even, though

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
tu: but
dhairyāvṛtendriyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the power of his senses circumscribed by constancy
dhairya: n. firmness , constancy , calmness , patience , gravity , fortitude , courage
āvṛta: mfn. covered , concealed , hid; screened; enclosed , encompassed , surrounded (by a ditch , wall , &c ); spread , overspread , overcast ; filled with, abounding with
indriya: n. bodily power , power of the senses

martavyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. (future passive participle mṛ: to die) " to be died " , liable to die ; n. impers. " it must be died " ; martavye sati , death being inevitable ; martavye kṛta-niścaya mfn. determined to die)
iti: “...,” thus
sodvegaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. agitated , disturbed , anxious , fearful
sa-: possessive prefix
udvega: m. trembling , waving , shaking ; m. agitation , anxiety ; m. regret , fear , distress (occasioned by separation from a beloved object) ; m. the being offended
ud- √ vij: to gush or spring upwards ; to be agitated , grieved or afflicted

na: not
jaharṣa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. hṛṣ: to be excited or impatient , rejoice in the prospect of , be anxious or impatient for (dat.) ; to thrill with rapture , rejoice , exult , be glad or pleased ; to become sexually excited ; to become erect or stiff or rigid , bristle (said of the hairs of the body &c ) , become on edge (like the teeth)
na: not
sismiye = 3rd pers. sg. perf. smi: to smile , blush , become red or radiant , shine ; to smile , laugh ; to expand , bloom (as a flower) ; to be proud or arrogant
vivyathe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vyath: to tremble , waver , go astray , come to naught , fail ; to be agitated or disturbed in mind , be restless or sorrowful or unhappy

菩薩心清淨 堅固難可轉
聞諸婇女説 不憂亦不喜

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