Thursday, March 21, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.6: Extreme Compassion

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
kṣataḥ puruṣāṁś-ca vīkṣamāṇaḥ pavanārkāṁśu-rajo-vibhinna-varṇān |
vahana-klama-viklavāṁś-ca dhuryān paramāryaḥ paramāṁ kpāṁ cakāra || 5.6

Again, seeing the men ploughing,

Their complexions riven by the wind, the sun's rays and the dust,

And seeing the oxen unsteady from the exhaustion of drawing,

The most noble one felt extreme compassion.

In today's verse the prince is desribed as having (lit. doing) paramāṁ kṛpāṁ, extreme/supreme/best/great/highest compassion, or deepest pity. Both EBC and EHJ translated paramāṁ kṛpāṁ as "extreme compassion." Possibly recognizing, with justification, that in the Buddha's teaching extreme behaviour generally carries a negative connotation, PO translated paramāṁ kṛpāṁ as "great compassion." But, in light of how I read yesterday's verse, I think a somewhat negative connotation may have been hinted at, at least below the surface.

Again, it may be instructive to compare this description of the unenlightened prince's compassion with the description in Saundara-nanda of the compassion of the enlightened Buddha.
Awake to the one great ageless purpose, and universal in his compassion (anukampayā vibhuḥ), / He proceeded, in order to display the eternal deathless nectar, to the city sustained by the waters of the Varaṇā and the Asī – to Vārāṇasī. // SN3.10 //
Though I translated anukampayā (inst. f.) vibhuḥ (nom. sg. m.) as “universal in his compassion," the phrase might have been better and more literally translated as "firm with compassion," or "mighty with compassion" or "effective, with compassion." Vibhu is given in the dictionary as 1. being everywhere, far-extending, all-pervading, omnipresent, eternal; 2 abundant, plentiful 3. mighty, powerful, excellent, great, strong, effective, able to or capable of; 4 firm, solid, hard.

The recognition that Aśvaghoṣa has in the back of his mind, then, might be that extreme compassion, though it played its part in nobly motivating the noble prince, is generally likely to be ineffective and not to make for firmness or solidity but rather to make for undue nervous excitement, associated with fragility. Whereas the compassion of the Buddha was associated not with extremity and fragility but rather with 1. breadth, 2. abundance, 3. effectiveness, and 4. firmness.

Having slept on the above translation and comment, I woke up at 2.30 this morning (1.30 UK time) and spent several hours staring into darkness and listening to the BBC World Service, before finally switching off the radio and digging for what it was incumbent on me to dig for.

It finally occurred to me that what I ought to focus the attention of self and others towards is neither the extreme compassion of the young idealist nor the supreme compassion which the Buddha demonstrates in Aśvaghoṣa's idealized portrayal of him.

In several places in Shobogenzo Dogen speaks in summary of four stages – 発心 (Jap: HOSSHIN), establishment/awakening of the mind; 修行( Jap: SHUGYO), training, practice, cultivation, work on the self; 菩提 (Jap: BODAI), bodhi, enlightenment; 涅槃 (Jap: NEHAN), nirvāna, extinction, peace, happiness.

The compassion that Aśvaghoṣa is now describing arising in the prince belongs to the first of these four stages. It is something noble and at the same time, as I see it, something dangerous and fragile, associated with undue nervous excitement. As such it is a compassion to be treated with a certain degree of wariness or scepticism. The stout compassion of the enlightened Buddha, at the other extreme, belongs to the third and fourth of Dogen's four stages: it might be something for those of us who are not enlightened to believe in, if we are inclined to believe.

But my sense as the birds started to chirrup this morning was that something in the way Aśvaghoṣa is telling the prince's story, with its emphasis on the earth and cultivation thereof, is indirectly orienting my mind back to the second stage, causing me to ask afresh, and dig deeper, for the meaning of what the Buddha called bhāvana – i.e., meditation, or mental development, or cultivation.

At the second stage of 修行, at the hyper-practical stage of training, or working on the self, what might be the meaning of paramāṁ kṛpāṁ, the best or most practical kind of compassion?

In Saundara-nanda Canto 15, the Buddha tells Nanda:
If hatred or cruelty should stir up your mind, / Let it be charmed by their opposite, as turbid water is by a jewel. // SN15.12 // Know their opposite to be kindness and compassion (maitrī kāruṇyam); / For this opposition is forever like brightness and darkness. // 15.13 // He in whom wrongdoing has been given up and yet hatred carries on, / Hits himself with dust like an elephant after a good bath. // 15.14 // Upon mortal beings who are pained by sickness, dying, aging, and the rest, / What noble person with human warmth (sa-ghṛṇah) would lay the utmost pain? // 15.15 // Again, a tainted mind here and now may or may not trouble the other; / But instantly burned up in this moment is the mind of the man of tainted consciousness himself. // 15.16 // On this basis, towards all beings, it is kindness and compassion (maitrīṃ kāruṇyam-eva ca), / Not hatred or cruelty, that you should opt for. // 15.17 // For whatever a human being continually thinks, / In that direction, through habit, the mind of this person veers. // SN15.18 //
When I reflect on my own habits of thought in light of this teaching, I cannot help but be aware of a tendency to blame both self and others, but primarily myself.

To inhibit that tendency to blame, which might mean digging deep for whatever idea or delusory desire lies beneath the tendency, certainly falls within the boundary of what FM Alexander called "working on the self." It might also be what Dogen meant by 修行 (SHUGYO). 

The online dictionary gives 修行 as 1: (Buddhist term) ascetic practices; 2: training; practice; discipline; study. It may well be that, being ineffably slow on the uptake, I have continued to harbour a misconception of 修行 that was biased towards the former sense of hard physical practice. I have been in Alexander work for nearly 20 years now. But for more than 20 years before that, in rugby training, karate training, and Zen training, I relied on a conception of training that was much more physical than mental. And I think this is why I have struggled to make a connection between 修行 (SHUGYO), which I have conceived of as primarily physical training,  and bhāvana which seems to mean something along the lines of meditation in the sense of mental development or cultivation of one's mind. 

My tentative conclusion, then, is that what the Buddha called bhāvana, what Dogen called 修行 (SHUGYO), and what FM Alexander called working on the self, must be in essence one and the same thing – though so far, with truly blameworthy slowness on the uptake, I have failed to realize it as such. 

Speaking in my own mother tongue, FM Alexander called this work "the most mental thing there is" – which was quite something coming from someone who claimed that his work was based entirely on the principle of psycho-physical unity.

kṛṣataḥ = acc. pl. m. pres. part. kṛ: to plough
puruṣān (acc. pl.): m. men
ca: and
vīkṣamāṇaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. vi- √īkṣ: to look at , see , behold ; to consider , observe

pavanārkāṁśu-rajo-vibhinna-varṇān (acc. pl. m.): complexion made craggy by wind, the sun's rays and dust
pavana: m. " purifier " , wind or the god of wind , breeze , air
arka: m. the sun
aṁśu: m. a filament (especially of the soma plant); a ray , sunbeam
rajas: n. impurity , dirt , dust
vibhinna: mfn. split or broken in two &c; cleft (said of the temples of an elephant which exude during rut) ; broken, destroyed
varṇa: m. outward appearance , exterior , form , figure , shape , colour ; colour of the face , (esp.) good colour or complexion

vahana-klama-viklavān (acc. pl. m.): bewildered by exhaustion from traction
vahana: n. the act of bearing , carrying , conveying , bringing
klama: m. fatigue , exhaustion , languor , weariness
viklava: mfn. overcome with fear or agitation , confused , perplexed , bewildered , alarmed , distressed ; (ifc.) disgusted with , averse from ; unsteady (as gait) ; exhausted
vi- √klav: to become agitated or confused
ca: and
dhuryān (acc. pl.): m. 'fit to be harnessed'; beast of burden , horse , bullock &c

paramāryaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the most excellent of noble ones
parama: mfn. chief, highest ; best , most excellent , worst (°meṇa cetasā , with all the heart ; °ma-kaṇṭhena , " with all the throat " , roaring , speaking aloud)
ārya: behaving like an Aryan , worthy of one , honourable , respectable , noble; excellent
kṛpām (acc. sg.): f. pity , tenderness , compassion
kṛp: to mourn , long for ; to lament ; to pity
cakāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kṛ: to do, make

又見彼農夫 勤苦形枯悴
蓬髮而流汗 塵土坌其身
耕牛亦疲困 吐舌而急喘
太子性慈悲 極生憐愍心


Rich said...

Mike, thank you for continuing this work and I'm sorry if I offended or insulted you.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Rich. Views and opinions are cheap, but I admire persistence.