Friday, March 1, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.90: Towards the Ending of What Ought to Be Ended

yad-apy-āttha mahātmānas-te 'pi kāmātmakā iti |
saṁvego 'traiva kartavyo yadā teṣām-api kṣayaḥ || 4.90

Although you say that even the greats

Are desirous by nature,

That is rather a cause for nervous agitation,

Since, for them also, ending is the rule.

Ostensibly, once again, the prince is talking about people who, though Udāyin described them as great (mahātmānaḥ; BC4.81), were not truly great.

And once again the ironic sub-text might be that the prince is unknowingly describing those who truly are great – namely, buddhas who, far from negating desire, enjoy nirvāṇa through their practice of small desire and contentment (alpecchu-saṁtuṣṭa).

In the former reading, nervous perturbation/excitement (saṁvegaḥ, as in the title of Canto 3, saṁvegotpatti) arises out of the triple terror which is aging, disease, and death – or in other words ending (kṣayaḥ) of youth, health, and life.

In the latter reading, nervous perturbation/excitement arises not only as a negative reaction to the suffering of the triple terror but also as eager anticipation at the prospect of putting an end (kṣayaḥ) to that suffering. 

Seeking evidence to support the latter reading, and remembering that the Buddha uses the word kṣaya often in Saundara-nanda Canto 16, I searched Canto 16 and found confirmation that the Buddha did indeed use the word kṣaya, and compounds thereof, many times:
From then on, through investigation of what is, he applies his mind to eradicating the polluting influences (āsrava-saṃkṣayāya), / For on this basis he fully understands suffering and the rest, the four true standpoints: // SN16.3 // This is suffering, which is constant and akin to trouble; this is the cause of suffering, akin to starting it; / This is cessation of suffering (duḥkha-kṣayaḥ), akin to walking away. And this, akin to a refuge, is a peaceable path. // 16.4 //
In whichever realms of existence a man has ended faults (doṣa-kṣayaḥ), thanks to that dispassion he is not born in those realms. / Wherever he remains susceptible to a fault, that is where he makes his appearance, whether he likes it or not. // 16.24 // So my friend, with regard to the many forms of becoming, know their causes to be [the faults] that start with thirsting / And cut out those [faults], if you wish to be freed from suffering; for ending of the effect (kārya-kṣayaḥ) follows from eradication of the cause (kāraṇa-saṃkṣayāt). // 16.25 // Again, the ending of suffering (duḥkha-kṣayaḥ) follows from the disappearance of its cause (hetu-parikṣayāt). Experience that reality for yourself as peace and well-being, / A place of rest, a cessation, an absence of the red taint of thirsting, a primeval refuge which is irremovable and noble, // 16.26 // In which there is no becoming, no aging, no dying, no illness, no being touched by unpleasantness, / No disappointment, and no separation from what is pleasant: It is an ultimate and indestructible step, in which to dwell at ease. // 16.27 //A lamp that has gone out reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky, / Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point: Because its oil is spent (sneha-kṣayāt) it reaches nothing but extinction. // 16.28 // In the same way, a man of action who has come to quiet reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky, / Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point: From the ending of his afflictions (kleśa-kṣayāt) he attains nothing but extinction. // 16.29 //
Noble insight into suffering and the other truths, along with thinking straight, and initiative: / These three, pertaining to know-how, are for dissolution (parikṣayāya), based on wisdom, of the afflictions. // 16.32 //
When a man sees a separate bodily form as decrepit (kṣayī), that insight of his is accurate; / In seeing accurately he is disenchanted, and from the ending of exuberance (nandī-kṣayāt) ends the red taint of passion (kṣayam-eti rāgaḥ). // 16.44 // By the ending (kṣayeṇa) of the duality which is exuberance and gloom, I submit, his mind is fully set free. / And when his mind is fully liberated from that duality, there is nothing further for him to do. // 16.45 // For in him who sees a separate bodily form as it is, and who sees its origin and passing away, / From the very fact of his knowing and seeing, I predict the complete eradication of the pollutants (samyak kṣayam-āsravāṇām). // 16.46 // So my friend garner your energy greatly and strive quickly to put an end to polluting influences (āsrava-saṃkṣayāya), / Examining in particular the elements -- as suffering, as impermanent and as devoid of self. // SN16.47 //

In thus specifying here what ought to be ended, the Buddha does not say that desire is a thing that ought to be ended. What ought to be ended, according to the Buddha, is influences that pollute (or bias) the mind, or the faults (including exuberance and gloom) that cause suffering. 

On the subject of ending what ought to be ended, a late and great star in the Alexander teaching firmament, named Patrick Macdonald wrote as follows:
Do not forget that right and wrong change, and should change as your body and co-ordination change. What is right for you today should be wrong for you tomorrow. Do not, therefore, try and fix a picture of a specific co-ordination in your brain as the right one; it will have to be modified, perhaps many times, over a long period. You must learn to think in trends and tendencies, and not in fixed positions. Everything (so they say) is relative, not least the proper relationship of the neck to the head, the neck and head to the back and neck, and the head and back to the rest of the body. If you can learn to think in tendencies (which is the way I teach you) you may continue to teach yourself. Remember, you are slowly eliminating the wrong. Finality, for most of us, and that includes me, is not in sight. 
Gudo Nishijima used to say, nicely demonstrating the ending of what ought to be ended "What we desire, we should have." Gudo clearly understood that the traditional interpretation of the four noble truths in which desire is what should be ended, was itself a bias that ought to be ended. 

What Gudo thought we should put an end to was thinking in Zazen. But I say that this view is also a view that ought to be ended. 

If we apply Alexander's principles to the practice of upright sitting, the wrong tendency we are slowly eliminating is the tendency to pull down and in. And at the centre of Alexander's means-whereby for eliminating the wrong tendency is what Alexander called thinking – thinking UP, instead of pulling down.  

Gudo only understood that thinking is a disturbing factor in Zazen, and so he only saw that thinking in Zazen ought to be ended. Gudo did not clearly see that how a buddha sits is inevitably a function of how that buddha thinks. Gudo had a prejudice against thinking, which he transmitted to his students and encouraged us to reinforce by the way we sat, blindly pulling our heads down onto our spines, and unduly tensing the muscles of the lower back. Our bias against thinking, and the way we actually sat, reinforced each other as part of what George Soros describes as a reflexive process. 

In this situation the way that Alexander teachers helped me was to provide me – to use some jargon from systems theory – with negative feedback. 

Self-regulating systems, the typical example of which is a thermostat that switches itself on and off according to how cold or hot a room is, work on the principle of negative feedback. Negative feedback is what happens in nature, when the conditions are right, to bring us back into balance. Gudo understood that thinking can disturb that process of coming back to balance via negative feedback. He didn't understand how we can learn to do consciously what happens in nature when the conditions are right, by learning how to think

yad-api: ind. even if, although
yad: (relative pronoun)
api: also, even
āttha = 2nd pers. sg. pf. of the defect. √ah: to say , speak
mahātmānaḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. " high-souled " , magnanimous , having a great or noble nature , high-minded , noble ; eminent , mighty , powerful , distinguished

te (gen. sg.): of you
api: also, even
kāmātmakāḥ (nom. pl. m.): being of libidinous nature
kāma: m. desire, love
ātmaka: having or consisting of the nature or character of (in comp.)
iti: “...,” thus

saṁvegaḥ (nom. sg.): m. violent agitation , excitement , flurry ; desire of emancipation [nervous excitement; see Canto 3]
atra: ind. in this matter
eva: (emphatic)
kartavyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (fut. passive part. of √kṛ) to be done or made

yadā: ind. when
teṣām (gen. pl. m.): of/in them
api: also
kṣayaḥ (nom. sg.): m. loss , waste , wane , diminution , destruction , decay ; end , termination
kṣi: to destroy , corrupt , ruin , make an end of (acc.) , kill , injure ; to be diminished , decrease , wane (as the moon) , waste away , perish ; to pass (said of the night)

汝所引諸仙 習著五欲者
彼即可厭患 習欲故磨滅 

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