Sunday, March 24, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.9: The Most Mental Thing There Is

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
niṣasāda sa yatra śaucavatyāṁ bhuvi vaidūrya-nikāśa-śādvalāyām |
jagataḥ prabhava-vyayau vicinvan manasaś-ca sthiti-mārgam-ālalambe || 5.9

There he sat upon the honest, verdant earth

Whose horizons shimmered like emeralds;

And, while reflecting how the living world arises and perishes,

He dangled on the path of standing firmly upright, 
which is of the mind.

Today's verse is both the conclusion of something and the start of something.

The conclusion is that the prince sat upon the earth, or sat upright within the embrace of mother Earth. 

In the 1st pāda, niṣasāda sa means “he sat,” and in the 2nd pāda, bhuvi (locative) means “in/on/upon the earth.”

What the prince sat in or on Aśvaghoṣa has hitherto called by an elegant variety of names: In BC4.100 in the compound mahī-dharam, “Earth-container” (i.e. mountain), mahī means “the great (feminine) one” or mother Earth. In BC4.102 the word for “dwelling,” dhiṣṇyam, originally means an earthen hearth; and the prince is referred to as kṣiti-pālakātmajaḥ, “the one begotten from a guardian of the earth,” in which compound kṣiti (again feminine) means soil of the earth, or the earth. In BC5.4 when Aśvaghoṣa refers to the merit inherent in the earth (mahī-guṇa), the earth is again “the great (feminine) one”; and in the same verse he describes the bountiful soil/land/earth as vasu-dhā “giver of wealth” (again feminine). BC5.5 describes rasā, the earth/ground/soil (also feminine) being tilled. And in BC5.7 when the prince is described as moving slowly over the ground, the ground is go, which originallly means cow, and hence the earth, as the milk-cow of kings. But in the 1st and 2nd pādas of today's verse Aśvaghoṣa expresses, as a kind of conclusion, niṣasāda sa bhuvi, he sat upon the earth. He thus uses in conclusion what is probably the most everyday general term for the earth, namely, bhū – which is again, feminine.

Having listed these terms like this, each of which is somehow suggestive of Mother Earth's feminine embrace; and having sat this morning not directly on the earth but on a wooden platform under which is thin air, but which is nevertheless very much within the earth's gravitational field, I think it would be more accurate to translate niṣasāda sa bhuvi “he sat within the earth.” The truth of the matter might be that when buddha sits, buddha is lifted up in the earth's embrace, and so the truest translation of niṣasāda sa bhuvi might be “he sat up within the earth.” But what sounds more natural to our English ears is “he sat down on the ground.” Hence EBC, EHJ, and PO all have “he sat down on the ground.” I suppose that none of those guys had come across the principle that in order to sit on or in the earth, it is not always necessary to sit down. A better way might be to keep thinking up while bending one's knees.

In the 3rd pāda, jagataḥ prabhava-vyayau vicinvan (lit. “discerning the arising and passing of the world”) echoes jagato janana-vyayaṁ vicinvan in BC5.7. The point that Aśvaghoṣa might want us not to miss is that recognition of impermanence is an antidote to afflictions like greed and anger, and as such can be practised as a precursor to the first stage of sitting-meditation  the stage which the prince  himself is now going accidentally to enter.

Because recognition of impermanence works in this way as antidote and precursor, the Buddha tells Nanda:
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. // SN16.46 // 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 //
And because recognition of impermanence works in this way as antidote and precursor, Nanda faithfully follows the Buddha's instruction:
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. // SN17.16 // 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. // SN17.17 //

In the 4th pāda, I think ā-√lamb, to hang from, relates to that spontaneously flowing response to the earth which Chinese Zen masters called body and mind dropping off, and which FM Alexander called letting the right thing do itself, or going up.

The sense of going up that I described in my comment yesterday cannot be experienced by sitting down and making a physical effort to sit upright. It is rather, on a good day, a symptom of having come undone in sitting-meditation. And an undoing is nothing that anybody can do. “You cannot do an undoing,” observed FM Alexander, whose work is often conceived to be a kind of physical therapy that helps a person to sit or stand in a good physical posture. Alexander himself, however, described his work as “the most mental thing there is.” It is work manasaḥ, of the mind. 

Finally, I notice that the Chinese translator, who generally has a tendency to veer off at his own tangent and to paraphrase rather than translate, came up with a very interesting line inspired by today's verse, namely 端坐正思惟, which means “sitting upright and thinking straight” or “making one's thinking straight by sitting upright.”

端坐正思惟, I venture to submit, is the essence of what Bodhidharma went to China to transmit – the most physical thing there is, the most mental thing there is, and the most droppiest-off of body and mind thing there is.

niṣasāda = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ni-√sad: to sit or lie down or rest upon (loc.)
ni-: ind. down , back , in , into , within
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
yatra: ind. wherein
koravatyām = loc. sg. f. kora-vat: mfn. ( √kur, to utter a sound) a movable joint (as of the fingers , the knee , &c ); a bud
śaucavatyām = loc. sg. f. śauca-vat: mfn. clean , pure (lit. and fig.)
śauca: n. cleanness , purity , purification (esp. from defilement caused by the death of a relation ; n. purity of mind , integrity , honesty (esp. in money-matters)

bhuvi (loc. sg.): f. the earth ; a place , spot , piece of ground
vaidūrya-nikāśa-śādvalāyām (loc. sg. f.): mfn. verdant like beryl, green like emeralds
vaiḍūrya: n. a cat's-eye gem
nikāśa: mfn. ifc. having the appearance of. similar , like; m. ( √ kāś, to appear) horizon , range of sight , proximity
śādvala: mfn. abounding in fresh or green grass , grassy , verdant , green
śāda: m. (fr. √2 śad cf. śāta) falling off , dropping; young grass
√2 śad: to fall off or out
śāta: m. (fr. √2. śad) falling out or decaying (of nails , hair &c )

jagataḥ (gen. sg.): n. n. that which moves or is alive ; the world ;
prabhava-vyayau (acc. dual): origin and passing
prabhava: m. production , source , origin , cause of existence
pra- √ bhū: to come forth , spring up , arise or originate from (abl.) , appear , become visible , happen , occur
vyaya: m. disappearance , decay , ruin , loss ; mfn (fr. 3. vi + √5. i) passing away
vicinvan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. vi- √ ci : 1. (not always separable from 2.) to segregate , select , pick out , cull ; to divide , part (hair) ; 2. to discern , distinguish ; to make anything discernible or clear , cause to appear , illumine ; to search through , investigate , inspect , examine ; to look for , long for , strive after

manasaḥ (gen. sg.): n. mind
ca: and
sthiti-mārgam (acc. sg. m.): path of upright standing
sthiti: f. standing upright or firmly , not falling ; standing , staying , remaining , abiding ; constancy , perseverance ; standing still , stopping , halting
mārga: m. path, road, way
ālalambe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ā- √ lamb: to hang from ; to lay hold of , seize , cling to; to rest or lean upon ; to take up ; to bring near ; to get ; to give one's self up to

觀察諸生死 起滅無常變

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