Friday, March 29, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.14: Seeing (Vipaśyata/Vipassanā) vs Thinking (Dhyāna)

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
iti tasya vipaśyato yathāvaj-jagato vyādhi-jarā-vipatti-doṣān |
bala-yauvana-jīvita-pravtto vijagāmātma-gato madaḥ kṣaṇena || 5.14

As thus he saw accurately into faults of the living

Associated with sickness, aging, and death,

The high spirits that had once intoxicated him,
arising from his strength, youth and life,

Instantly evaporated.

In the 1st pāda vipaśyataḥ (seeing) is from vi-√paś, as is vipaśyana (seeing/insight), whose Pali equivalent is vipassana, as in vipassana meditation or insight meditation as practised in Theravada countries like Thailand.

The objects of the prince's seeing in today's verse are faults (doṣān). The objects of Nanda's seeing when he passes through the four stages of sitting-meditation in Canto 17 of Aśvaghoṣa's epic story of Beautiful Joy, also, are faults.

In Nanda's progress, he enters the first dhyāna having distanced or separated himself from those end-gaining desires which trigger gross faults; he enters the second dhyāna having recognized the fault in entertaining disturbing thoughts; he enters the third dhyāna having recognized the fault in attaching to joy; and he enters the fourth dhyāna having recognized the subtlest of faults in enjoyment of ease. Nanda's progress through four dhyānas thus involves seeing faults at progressively subtler levels. So it is a process of seeing. But at the same time, as I shall argue later, it is a progressive process, in which, implicitly, the seeing is guided by directional thinking.

In today's verse, the prince sees faults, but in a more reflective way. If the seeing causes intoxication to lift, it is by accident rather than by design. 

What faults does the prince see? 

EBC, EHJ and PO each understood that the prince saw sickness, aging, and death themselves as faults (EBC) or as evils (EHJ/PO).

But what faults in fact has the prince just accurately seen?

The prince has seen that human beings tend in our ignorance to disavow “the other,” who is afflicted by old age, or who is diseased or dying (BC5.12). This fault is the way of the world (singular; loka-gatim; BC5.11).

Behind this general fault in the singular, it may be inferred that the prince saw three faults that have to do with how we conceive or react to aging, sickness, and death. Those three faults – corresponding to the three traditonal objects of vipaśyana/vipassana – might be 1. denying aging, sickness and death as an unconscious strategy to avoid facing up to suffering; 2. failing to recognize aging, sickness and death as manifestatons of all-pervasive impermanence; and 3. fearing aging, sickness and death as looming personal tragedies, rather than accepting them as impersonal, objective facts of life.

There is no doubt that Aśvaghoṣa in his writings in general affirmed the practice of seeing in detail (vipaśyataḥ yathāvat) that the world is full of suffering, impermanent, and devoid of self. Hence he has the Buddha tell Nanda:
So my friend garner your energy greatly and strive quickly to put an end to polluting influences, / Examining in particular the elements -- as suffering, as impermanent and as devoid of self. // SN16.47 //
At the same time, there is also no doubt that in Saundara-nanda Canto 17 Aśvaghoṣa described shaking of the tree of afflictions by the means of this vipaśyana insight as a process separate from sitting-dhyāna.

In the present Canto, however, as I was getting at yesterday, the prince's awakening of the bodhi-mind seems to involve various elements getting tangled up in no particular order – so that insight concerning aging, sickness and death proceeds, follows and is mixed in with the prince's experience of the first stage of sitting-meditation.

In any event, today's verse as I read it is an illustration of the principle that seeing things as they are is the fundamental method of shaking the tree of afflictions, including undue exuberance or high spirits.
On the grounds of their being held together, their causality, and their inherent nature, on the grounds of their flavour and their concrete imperfection, / And on the grounds of their tendency to spread out, he who was now contained in himself, carried out a methodical investigation into things. // SN17.15 // Desiring to examine its total material and immaterial substance, he investigated the body, / And he perceived the body to be impure, full of suffering, impermanent, without an owner, and again, devoid of self. // 17.16 // For, on those grounds, on the grounds of impermanence and emptiness, on the grounds of absence of self, and of suffering, / He, by the most excellent among mundane paths, caused the tree of afflictions to shake. // 17.17 // Since everything, after not existing, now exists, and after existing it never exists again; / And since the world is causal, and has disappearance as a cause, therefore he understood that the world is impermanent. // 17.18 // Insofar as a creature's industry, motivated by bond-making or bond-breaking impulse, / Is dependent on a prescription, named "pleasure," for counteracting pain, he saw, on that account, that existence is suffering. // 17.19 // And insofar as separateness is a construct, there being no-one who creates or who is made known, / But doing arises out of a totality, he realised, on that account, that this world is empty. // 17.20 // Since the throng of humanity is passive, not autonomous, and no one exercises direct control over the workings of the body, / But states of being arise dependent on this and that, he found, in that sense, that the world is devoid of self. // 17.21 // Then, like air in the hot season, got from fanning; like fire latent in wood, got from rubbing; / And like water under the ground, got from digging, that supra-mundane path which is hard to reach, he reached: // SN17.22 //
In Canto 17 of his epic story of Beautiful Joy, it seems to me, Aśvaghoṣa thus follows the convenient fiction or fertile fallacy of an orderly progression through various stages, according to which the tree of afflictions is first shaken by the mundane (laukikena) path of vipaśyana practice, and then sitting-dhyāna comes later on the supra-mundane (lokottaram) path. In the present Canto of his epic story of Awakened Action, in contrast, the prince goes right ahead and experiences the first dhyāna, albeit by accident, without stopping to worry whether he is on the mundane or supra-mundane path.

Having prepared the above comment and then slept on it, this morning as usual I sat in lotus for an hour, during which, I think, I practised both vipaṣyana and dhyāna in a manner in which two kinds of thinking were not clearly separated, but more jumbled up.

Having done some wood-cutting yesterday, my body is a bit stiff this morning; partly also as a result of sleeping in a cold room, I woke with a bit of a headache. In response to the headache, before I got out of bed, I thought the direction that Alexander called “knees forward and away.” In other words, I thought my legs out of my back. I know from experience that just to think this direction, without doing anything, helps energy to become more concentrated in the pelvis and lower back, which is antithetical to having a headache. Then when I sat, partly as a response to today's verse, I saw that the headache was full of suffering, impermanent, and nothing that I need to take personally. From time to time, I came back to seeing like this. I also intermittently thought my legs out of my pelvis, and at least once ran through all Alexander's directions “to let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while sending the knees forwards and away – all together, and one after the other.” A whole lot of other random thoughts were present too, including the thought or feeling that I could do with a cup of coffee (which I am now drinking as I write).

Vipaśyana and dhyāna are both neuter -na verbal action nouns. Vipaśyana is from the root √paś, to see; and dhyāna is from the root √dhyai or √dhyā, to think.

Both vipaśyana, as described in today's verse, and dhyāna, as described in Saundara-nanda Canto 17, involve seeing faults. And both involve thinking.

But a clear separation can be made – at least in theory, if not always in practice – between the seeing of faults in each case, and the kind of thinking involved in each case.

The kind of thinking employed in vipaśyana is reflective or passive. The kind of thinking expressed by dhyāna, I submit, is active or goal-oriented. When FM Alexander described his work as an exercise in finding out what thinking is, he was referring to the latter kind of thinking, aka “thinking in activity.” Thinking the legs out of the back is one example of it.

Thinking like this is the original meaning of Zen, i.e. dhyāna. But in Zen as it is taught in Japanese lineages today, people only know that thinking is something to let pass, like a floating cloud; or something to cut out, like a disturbing current.

Zen masters in the world today do not have a clue what Zen originally means. And vipassana teachers do not see the fault in it. How is that for irony?

iti: thus
tasya (gen. sg.): of him
vipaśyataḥ = gen. sg. m. pres. part. vi- √ paś : to see in different places or in detail , discern , distinguish; to observe , perceive , learn , know
yathāvat: ind. duly , properly , rightly , suitably , exactly

jagataḥ (gen. sg.): n. that which moves or is alive , men and animals; the world
vyādhi-jarā-vipatti-doṣān (acc. pl. m.): the evils of sickness, aging and death ; faults associated with sickness, growing old, and going wrong
vipatti: f. going wrongly , adversity , misfortune , failure , disaster (opp. to sam-pattí); ruin , destruction , death ; cessation , end
doṣa: m. fault , vice , deficiency , want , inconvenience , disadvantage ; badness , wickedness , sinfulness ; offence , transgression , guilt , crime ; damage , harm , bad consequence , detrimental effect

bala-yauvana-jīvita-pravttaḥ (nom. sg. m.): resulting from his strength, youth, and life
bala: n. power , strength , might , vigour
yauvana: n. (fr. yuvan) youth , youthfulness
jīvita: n. life, duration of life
pravṛtta: mfn. set out from; issued from (abl.) , come forth , resulted , arisen , produced , brought about , happened , occurred ; purposing or going to , bent upon (dat. loc. , or comp.); engaged in , occupied with , devoted to (loc. or comp.);

vijagāma = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vi- √ gam : to go asunder , sever , separate ; to go away , depart , disappear , cease , die
ātma-gataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. being on itself
madaḥ (nom. sg.): m. hilarity , rapture , excitement , inspiration , intoxication ;
kṣaṇena: ind. (inst.) instantly

如是眞實觀 少壯色力壽
新新不暫停 終歸磨滅法 


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

Continuing to lobby for formal recognition of the genetive absolute as described by Coulson (p171, you'll recall) a pretext for saying 'Hi. Nice to see the numbers going up!'

iti tasya vipaśyato yathāvat: "As thus he saw accurately (into faults...high spirits...Instantly evaporated.)"

Coulson says: "A typical example would be paśyatas tasya 'while he looked on', the implication usually being 'looked on powerless and disregarded'."

So: "the prince goes right ahead and experiences the first dhyāna, albeit by accident, without stopping to worry whether he is on the mundane or supra-mundane path... in a manner in which two kinds of thinking [are] not clearly separated, but more jumbled up" - - via the genetive absolute!

I rest content :)


Jayarava said...

The vi- in vipaśyata is cognate with Greek dia-. It was originally dvi-. Thus, I like to think, that vipaśyana does not mean 'insight' but 'through-sight' or 'seeing through'. The Greek based English would be something like diaphany (on the model of epiphany).

Mike Cross said...

Thank you for these two comments.

Taking them both into account, the first line might be better translated something like:

"While he, for his part, was properly seeing through the faults of the living..."

That would bring out even more strongly the sense that the prince did not go directly for the end of sobering up, but the sobering up did itself while the prince's energy was focused where it ought to be focused, on the work of seeing through.