iti dhyāna-paraṁ dṣṭvā viṣayebhyo gata-spham |
udāyī nīti-śāstra-jñas-tam-uvāca suhttayā || 4.62
Seeing the prince thus absorbed in thinking
And without desire for objects,
Udāyin, knowing the rules of how to handle people,
Said to him, in a spirit of friendship:
In the 1st pāda dhyāna is from the root √dhyā or √dhyai, which means to think, visualize, contemplate, meditate; or to be thoughtful, meditative, reflective.
So on the surface dhyāna means thinking of the kind that the prince has been engrossed in for the past six verses – the kind of thinking, that is, that might be called intellectual or philosophical thinking.
But dhyāna also means meditation, Zen meditation; in other words “thinking in activity” – the kind of thinking that is more in evidence in the sporting arena or the Alexander teaching room than it is in the classroom or lecture hall.
The first stage of this latter kind of thinking, as Aśvaghoṣa describes it, is characterized by freedom from the taint of desire for objects, and is characterized at the same time by the presence of ideas and thoughts. Hence:
Distanced from desires and tainted things, containing ideas and containing thoughts, / Born of solitude and possessed of joy and ease, is the first stage of meditation, which he then entered. // SN17.42 // Released from the burning of the bonfire of desires, he derived great gladness from ease in the act of meditating -- / Ease like a heat-exhausted man diving into water. Or like a pauper coming into great wealth. // SN17.43 //
So we could understand that dhyāna expresses two kinds of thinking, both of which are present in the first stage of sitting-meditation, but only one of which is a factor in latter stages of sitting-meditation.
Or we could understand, more simply, that dhyāna means thinking, an activity centred in a person's top two inches (or frontal cortex?), absorption in which tends to be associated with absence of desires for objects.
In the end what is sitting-meditation? Is it thinking? Is it not thinking anything? Is it doing? Is it not doing anything?
The intention behind a verse like today's might be to encourage us to ask such questions, but not to try and come up with an answer in the form of a view or a theory.
It might seem like I have a strong view on this subject of thinking but what I am expressing – at least on a good day – is not a view. I am expressing strong antipathy to the espousing of views and theories as if they were the Buddha's teaching.
A view on how to sit, as a follower of the Buddha's teaching, is a priori false. Understanding of how NOT to sit, however, might be a different matter.
So yes, when it comes to how to sit, I know nothing. But when it comes to knowing how NOT to sit, I've paid my dues and I know what I know. So if you want to step into the ring with me armed only with your Zen views and opinions, you, my friend, are going down.
I think that Aśvaghoṣa also felt the aforementioned antipathy to peddlers of views and adherents of theories, which is why he provided us with the character he called Hurry-Up Udāyin, a kind of punch bag to be painlessly abused by the reader.
Thus when he describes Udāyin in today's verse as nīti-śāstra-jñaḥ, “knowing the rules of polity,” I think Aśvaghoṣa had in mind the kind of knowledge that today we might associate with a grinning salesman who was versed in books like Dale Carnegie's famous How to Win Friends & Influence People, with sections including Fundamental Techniques in Handling People, and Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking.
I note with wry amusement that way no. 2 in Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking is:
Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say "You're Wrong."
Rule number one in handling comments for this blog is never show any respect for anybody's view or opinion, but always remember that all views and opinions are a priori wrong.
The truth is that, if we follow the Buddha's teaching as transmitted by Aśvaghoṣa, we are all in the business of being gradually less wrong. In which case, the whole point might be that you are wrong and I am wrong. Moreover, until such time as we really begin to understand the 3rd noble truth, it might be impossible for us not to make ourselves even wronger than we already are, by trying to be right.
"You stand accused of the sin of trying to be right. How do you plead?"
"Guilty mi'lud. And in sentencing I would like 84,000 previous offences to be taken into consideration."
One way to win friends and influence people is to get hold, by hook or by crook, of a certificate of Dharma-transmission, set yourself up as a Zen master, conscientiously follow DC's rules, and encourage your new friends to try to sit still in the right posture. There might be no surer way to fuck up their lives.
My teacher Gudo Nishijima fucked up many people's lives. In 1997 Mike Luetchford staged a kind of coup against me, knocking me out of a translation partnership that had grown up over 15 years, and thereafter stepping into my shoes as Gudo's translation partner for the translation of Nāgārjuna's MMK – a project that ended in tears for both sides. Even now it is hard, or impossible, for me not to blame Mike Luetchford for what happened at that time. Equally it is hard not for me to blame myself. But ultimate blame lies with the teacher, or with the master – which is what Gudo was trying to be, a true Zen master. I venture that what Gudo should have done is learn first how NOT to sit. Then he might have been a true Zen master without having to try. As it was, with the best of intentions, and in a sincere spirit of friendship (suhṛttayā), peoples lives he did fuck up.
Most of those people seem to keep quiet about it, in some cases maybe for fear of spitting upwards, in some cases maybe because that is what the abused generally tend to do.
When I was young I was extremely ambitious. Nowadays I hope I am less so, though I wouldn't claim to be totally free of fish to fry – because my unconscious reactions often show me that I have fish to fry. With the Shobogenzo translation, I wanted to make my mark. Sadly it turned out to be a dirty mark. Maybe things would have turned out different if I had attended to Dale Carnegie's rules for how to win friends and influence people. In any event, spring is on the way and I will soon be off to France for a few weeks to live alone and influence nobody.
dhyāna-param (acc. sg. m.): mfn. engaged in meditation , thoughtful
dhyāna: n. meditation , thought , reflection
parā: f. any chief matter or paramount object (ifc. having as the chief object , given up to , occupied with , engrossed in , intent upon , resting on , consisting of , serving for , synonymous with &c)
dṛṣṭvā = abs. dṛś: to see
viṣayebhyaḥ (abl./dat. pl.): m. objects
gata-spṛham (acc. sg. m.): mfn. having no desire , not finding any pleasure in (loc. or gen.); disinterested
gata: mfn. gone, absent
spṛh: to be eager , desire eagerly , long for
udāyī (nom. sg.): m. 'Hastening Up,' Udāyin
nīti-śāstra-jñaḥ (nom. sg. m.): knowing the rules of management/diplomacy/political science
nīti: f. leading or bringing , guidance , management ; conduct , (esp.) right or wise or moral conduct or behaviour , prudence , policy (also personified) , political wisdom or science , moral philosophy or precept (also pl.)
nīti-jña: mfn. conversant with political science or policy; m. a statesman , politician
śāstra: n. an order , command , precept , rule ; teaching , instruction , direction , advice , good counsel ; any instrument of teaching , any manual or compendium of rules , any bock or treatise , (esp.) any religious or scientific treatise , any sacred book or composition of divine authority ; a body of teaching (in general) , scripture , science
śāstra-jña: mfn. acquainted with the śāstras , learned , a specialist ; a mere theorist
tam (acc. sg. m.): him
uvāca = 3rd pers. sg. vac: to speak
suhṛttayā (inst. sg.): f. friendship , friendliness , affection