nivasan kva-cid-eva vkṣa-mūle vijane vāyatane girau vane vā |
vicarāmy-aparigraho nirāśaḥ paramārthāya yathopapanna-bhaikṣaḥ || 5.19
Dwelling anywhere – at the root of a tree,
Or in an abandoned house, or on a mountain, or in the forest,
I wander here and there, with no possessions and no expectations,
Subsisting, for the sake of ultimate riches,
on whatever scraps I chance to get from begging.”
The concluding words of the śramaṇa can be read as containing the kind of irony that Aśvaghoṣa himself favours. But is the śramaṇa himself aware of the irony in his words, or not?
I may be doing the śramaṇa a disservice, but I suspect that there is an irony of which he is aware, and an irony of which he is not aware.
The irony that the śramaṇa, like any religious striver, knows is the embracing of poverty here on earth for the sake of future riches, hopefully in heaven. Some hope!
The deeper irony may be that the śramaṇa describes himself as nirāśaḥ, that is, being without āśa (wish, desire, hope, expectation). In other words, while striving in hopeful and expectant pursuit of paramārtha, the highest object, or ultimate riches, he sees himself as being without any expectation.
The striver, I suspect, is like those Zazen practitioners and Alexander teachers who delude ourselves, who do not know who we are, when we see our Zen practice as 無所得 (MU-SHOTOKU; “not expecting anything”; see Shobogenzo chap. 87) , or think that our Alexander work might not be in the thrall of any end-gaining idea.
In Saundara-nanda Canto 17, it is true, Aśvaghoṣa describes Nanda as being nirāśah, without expectation:
Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served. Without ambition, without partiality, without expectation (nirāśah); / Without fear, sorrow, pride, or passion; while being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different. // SN17.61 //
But this description comes after Nanda has realized paramārtha – the paramount aim, the supreme truth/meaning, the highest object, ultimate value, ultimate riches, the primary task, the one great matter – not while he is striving in pursuit of it.
The compound paramārtha appears in Saundara-nanda, from a quick search, four times – twice in the words of the Buddhist striver (in Cantos 8 and 9), and twice in the words of the Buddha (in Cantos 15 and 18).
Again, to him whose thinking is not firmly fixed – in the matters of hearing, grasping, retaining and understanding the supreme truth (paramārthāya), and in the matter of mental peace -- / To him who easily changes his mind, joy in dharma is not apportioned. // SN8.24 //
For him who drags around a hurting, perishable body, there is no such thing, in the supreme sense (paramārthataḥ), as happiness; / For what he determines to be happiness, by taking counter-measures against suffering, is only a condition wherein suffering remains minimal. // SN9.40 //
Therefore disregarding what is not helpful focus on what is helpful, / Which might be valuable for you here and now and might be for the reaching of ultimate value (paramārthasya). // SN15.19 //
"As a man of action who got the job done and who knows the primary task (paramārtha-vit), none but you, O crafty man!, should express this affirmation -- / Like a great trader, having crossed a wasteland and got the goods, who affirms the work of a good guide.” // SN18.50 //
The expression in the Lotus Sutra 一大事 (Jap: ICHI-DAI-JI), “the one great matter,” which Dogen uses in Shobogenzo to refer to the practice of sitting-meditation, may originally have been, in Sanskrit, paramārtha. Like so many key Sanskrit phrases, paramārtha could be translated in any number of ways. For a start, the dictionary gives five definitions of the compound, viz: the highest or whole truth, spiritual knowledge; any excellent or important object; the best sense ; the best kind of wealth. EBC and EHJ have “the highest good” while PO goes with “the supreme goal.”
In today's verse, then, paramārthāya in the dative case could mean “with an [idealistic] view to the highest spiritual knowledge,” or it could mean “for the sake of the best kind of [material] wealth.” Either way, what it really means, to a buddha-ancestor like Aśvaghoṣa or Dogen, in the final analysis, is just to sit in full lotus without any expectation of getting anything out of it.
So the meaning of paramārthāya in today's verse depends on the intention and understanding of the person who is saying it. Hence the relevance of the prince's question in BC5.17, vada ko 'si – Say! Who are you?
If you were FM Alexander, you might say that the paramount aim had to do with that matter of primary importance which is the head-neck-back relation, or, in Alexander jargon “the primary control of the use of the self.”
This, a stern Zen drill might think, is Alexander baggage with which a bloke with his own agenda is weighing down the original pure teaching of Gautama, Aśvaghoṣa and Dogen.
But come the revolution, everybody will thank me for making these connections! (I live in hope.)
My point is that I know from Alexander work that a gap – the wrong kind of separateness – is liable to arise between what I feel to be an upward direction and what the upward direction truly is. And this gap is a sometimes shocking indicator, or a measure, of a gap between who I think am and who I really am. The more "tight and right" my sitting is, the wider is the gap.
Who was Aśvaghoṣa? I think Aśvaghoṣa was a teacher who knew that gap very well and who, in his writing, is inviting us to study that gap in painstaking detail.
For those of us who are not quick on the uptake, to go at a rate of one verse per day might be too ambitious.
nivasan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. ni- √ vas: to sojourn , pass or spend time , dwell or live or be in (loc.)
kva-cid: ind. anywhere
vṛkṣa-mūle (loc. sg.): at the root of a tree
vijane (loc. sg. n.): mfn. free from people , destitute of men , deserted , solitary , lonely; n. a deserted or solitary place
āyatane (loc. sg.): n. resting-place , support , seat , place , home , house , abode
girau (loc. sg.): m. mountain
vane (loc. sg.): n. forest
vicarāmi = 1st pers. sg. vi- √ car: to move in different directions , spread , expand , be diffused ; to rove, ramble about
aparigrahaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. destitute of possession
nirāśaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn without any hope or wish or desire , indifferent
āśa: f. wish , desire , hope , expectation , prospect
paramārthāya (dat. sg.): m. the highest or whole truth , spiritual knowledge ; any excellent or important object ; the best sense ; the best kind of wealth
parama: mfn. best, highest
artha: m. object, purpose, aim, thing
yathopapanna-bhaikṣaḥ (nom. sg. m.): living on extemporaneous offerings
yathopapanna: mfn. just as may happen to be at hand , just as happened , just as occurring , unconstrained , natural
yathā: ind. as, according to
upapanna: mfn. obtained , reached , gained; happened , fallen to one's share , produced , effected , existing , being near at hand ; fit , suited for the occasion , adequate , conformable
bhaikṣa: mfn. living on alms , subsisting by charity