Sunday, March 3, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.92: Not Understanding Deception

yad-apy-ātthāntenāpi strī-jane vartyatām-iti |
an-taṁ nāvagacchāmi dākṣiṇyenāpi kiṁ-cana || 4.92

Although you say that even deception

May be used as a means to deal with women,

I have no understanding at all of deception

Even when used with tact and delicacy.

In today's verse the prince is responding to Udāyin's assertions in BC4.67 and BC4.69-70:
For women, even if the means are false/insincere/deceitful (anṛtenāpi), obedience/submission is appropriate, / To sweep away their diffidence, and purely for the purpose of enjoying oneself! //BC4.67//... Therefore, O large-eyed one, though your heart be otherwise inclined, / With tact and delicacy (dākṣiṇyena) that befit such a beautiful form, you should submit! //BC4.69// For women, tact and delicacy (dākṣiṇyam) are medicine; tact and delicacy (dākṣiṇyam) are the highest adornment; / Beautiful form without tact and delicacy (dākṣiṇya-rahitaṁ) is like a garden without flowers. //BC4.70//
On the surface the prince is responding in a somewhat self-righteous and straight-laced manner by refusing to countenance anything less than outright honesty.

The central irony that I think Aśvaghoṣa intends us to understand, however, is that dākṣiṇyena (with tact and delicacy, with skillfulness) might express the skillful means a buddha uses to guide living beings in the right direction – as the Buddha guides Nanda in Saundara-nanda Canto 10. These skillful means may indeed include an element of deception  (anṛtam), but such constructive use of deception is still beyond the ken of the idealistic young prince.

So when the prince says “I have no understanding at all of deception” (an-ṛtaṁ nāvagacchāmi), even if he means to say that he does not in any way countenance deception, he may literally be proclaiming, without realizing it himself, the truth that he has not yet attained any mature understanding of how deception works – generally for ill, but sometimes for good.

As an example from Alexander work of how deception might be used for the good, I remember reading somewhere Marjory Barlow's recommendation to think of the head as being like a ping-pong ball on top of a fountain of water. To think of one's head in that way is a kind of self-deception, since nobody has ever had a ping-pong ball for a head. But sitting in full lotus with mind, as I understand Dogen's exhortation, includes that kind of thinking. As I was arguing yesterday, that kind of thinking can change reality for the better – at least if the horrible reality to be changed is the stiff-necked practice of a Zen practitioner who is trying his damndest to be true and right and real. Striving in such a manner corresponds to what George Soros calls reflexivity, because the delusion of being right exerts a real influence on the nervous system and musculature of the person who is sitting, such that undue tension heightens the desire to feel right, and a reflexive feedback loop is formed, whereby the person who wishes to feel right goes more and more wrong. I know whereof I speak. When sitting degenerates into this kind of striving, what is required is some benevolent negative feedback – the intervention of an enlightened “Not that!” either from without or from within. Thinking of the head as being like a ping-pong ball on top of a fountain of water is a kind of self-deception, but at the same time it might be a way of administering to oneself such benevolent negative feedback.

What is much more common, however, and I have already alluded to it indirectly in the above paragraph, is working of deception for ill  – as an ingredient in positive rather than negative feedback loops. 

When I pick up the phone and hear some marketing person telling lies, my strong instinct is to wish that they and their employers could somehow not only be put out of business but also severely punished for their selfish, ignorant and deceitful pursuit of profit. It may be that in the society where I live, here in England, we have come to understand or countenance falsity, insincerity, and deception too readily – as reflected, for example, in ballooning insurance premiums.

But this kind of deception that exists out there in society has done me much less harm over the years than the deception to which I have subjected myself. In a comment to yesterday's post Jiblet used the phrase “self-serving narrative.” At the most fundamental level of sitting practice, the most typical self-serving narrative might be the fairy story that I am heroically striving in the right direction – that direction, in sitting, being primarily up – when in fact I am devoting a whole lot of energy to the task of pulling myself in the wrong direction – primarily down.

In this situation not to know anything about deception is nothing to brag about. Rather, it might be wise for the person who has no understanding at all of deception to investigate deception as a matter of urgency.

That is what I decided to do in 1994, at the end of which year I left Japan and returned to England to investigate what FM Alexander discovered about the deceit which is faulty sensory appreciation, and how it might be countered. Nearly 20 years on, I have not got very far. Alexander himself said after many more years that he had barely scratched the surface of the egg. It may be that the prince in today's verse is advertizing the fact that he has not yet even touched the surface of the egg. 

yad-api: ind. even if, although
yad: (relative pronoun)
api: also, even
āttha = 2nd pers. sg. pf. of the defect. √ah: to say , speak
an-ṛtena (inst. sg.): n. falsehood , lying , cheating
api: even

strī-jane (loc. sg.): m. woman-kind
vartyatām = 3rd pers. sg. caus. imperative passive vṛt: to act , conduct one's self , behave towards ; to act or deal with ; follow a course of conduct (also with vṛttim) , show , display , employ , use , act in any way (instr. or acc.) towards (loc. )
iti: “....,” thus

an-ṛtam (acc. sg.): n. falsehood , lying , cheating
na: not
avagacchāmi = 1st pers. sg. ava- √ gam: to hit upon , think of , conceive , learn , know , understand , anticipate , assure one's self , be convinced

dākṣiṇyena (inst. sg.): n. dexterity , skill , officiousness , gallantry , kindness , consideration , piety
api: even, though
kiṁ-cana: (originally -ca na , negative = " in no way ") , to a certain degree , a little ; (with a negation) in no way , not at all

若言假方便 隨順習近者
習則眞染著 何名爲方便

No comments: