Friday, April 12, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.28: Inevitable Separation

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
praṇipatya ca sāñjalir-babhāṣe diśa mahyaṁ nara-deva sādhv-anujñām |
parivivrajiṣāmi mokṣa-hetor-niyato hy-asya janasya viprayogaḥ || 5.28

Bowing down with hollowed hands joined, he said:

“Grant me, O god among men, proper assent!

I desire to go wandering, for the sake of liberation,

Since, for a man such as I am, the invariable rule is separation.”

The ostensible gist of what the prince means by vipra-yogaḥ, separation or disjunction, is clarified in BC5.38, in which he again speaks of the inevitability of separation (vi-yogaḥ). On the basis of physical and mental separateness (viveka), the prince has recognized the inevitability of separation (viprayoga / viyoga), whether one willingly opts for separateness or whether one suffers separation reluctantly – through death, for example.

Asya janasya, lit. “this person here,” means me; at the same time, it means me as a human being. Insofar as asya janasya means “me as a human being,” the phrase accords with the ostensible gist that all human beings are subject to separation – so that even when couples stay together like bar-headed geese, or swans, for fifty or sixty years, even they are eventually separated by death. Insofar as asya janasya specifically means “me,” it might suggest something other than the ostensible meaning. It might suggest that there are certain rare individuals for whom separation is not only an inevitability but a positive, definite option.

Vipra-yoga in today's verse is the antonym of yoga. Both vipra-yoga and yoga are from the root √yuj which means to yoke together or to join. So vipra-yoga expresses disjunction or separation, and yoga expression union or yoking together. Mokṣa in the 3rd pāda is from the root √muc, whose many meanings include to undo or come undone and to set free or get free. Before the time of the Buddha's enlightenment – to which time the prince's present thoughts and efforts belong – yoga and mokṣa were fundamental concepts in the theory and ascetic practice of Brahmanism.

In responding to terms in today's verse like mokṣa and vipra-yoga, therefore, we need to engage our top two inches, lest we come to the kind of conclusion that Patrick Olivelle comes to in the introduction to his translation of Buddha-carita, that “Aśvaghoṣa sought to present Buddhism as an integral part of Brahmanism.”

The truth may be that, for men such as the prince was not, clubbing together with like-minded Buddhist scholars and engaging in scholarly group-think is the invariable rule.

It is not only academic Buddhist scholars who are susceptible to group-think. Theravada Buddhists, Mahāyāna Buddhists, Tibetan Buddhists, Zen Buddhists – we are all susceptible to our own particular brand of group-think. People regard Dogen as the founder of the Soto Sect in Japan, but Dogen never affirmed the existence of such a group. On the contrary, in a chapter of Shobogenzo titled Butsu-do, “The Buddha's Truth/Way/Enlightenment,” Dogen negated the whole conception upon which schools and sects are based.

The hidden meaning of today's verse, as I read it, is related with this principle.

There is a strong consensus among Buddhist scholars, I think it is fair to say, that there is a religion called Buddhism. But I beg to differ.

When Margaret Thatcher said in an interview that there was no such thing as society, but only individuals, families, and so on, her words were taken out of context by people who had it in for her. But Margaret Thatcher, love her or loathe her, was not stupid. Neither was she your average politician. Before she entered politics she was a research chemist, concerned not with making ineffectual speeches but with investigating and managing real change.

So in the same way that Margaret Thatcher said that there was no such thing as society, I say that there is no such thing as Buddhism. The Buddha's teaching is the abandonment of all views on an individual basis. It was total dissociation, with the Buddha's whole body and mind, from Brahmanism. It is total dissociation, with all a person's energy, from every kind of -ism.

The truth may be that nobody is interested in what I say. That is one of many differences between me and Maggie Thatcher. Other big ones are our respective work rates and average hours of sleep per day.

But more and more people are bound to become interested in what Aśvaghoṣa has to say, when people start to realize how different, odd, individual (anya) Aśvaghoṣa's teaching really is – how very well suited to a post-post-modernist world.

So that is how I understand the sub-text of today's verse. On the surface the prince is simply saying that separation from the world or from each other, for example through death, is inevitable for all human beings. But the hidden meaning Aśvaghoṣa wishes us to dig for, as I dig it, is a statement about the true Buddha-nature, which is disjoined from many tendencies of ordinary human beings, one of which is group-think.

Angela Merkel, like Margaret Thatcher, comes from a background as a chemist. It may be that, because of this, she is able to think more flexibly and less ideologically than the average politician. But how flexible in their thinking are the electorate upon which Angela Merkel depends for her power? Never having lived in Germany, I can only guess. What I know from living in Japan is that even though the totalitarian regimes of Germany and Japan were defeated in WWII, the Japanese tendency to prejudiced group-think which was evidenced during the War remained very much in tact after the War.

Maybe Brits who live in glass houses should not throw stones towards Japan and Germany, but my impression is that British society is certainly less totalitarian in its tendencies than Japanese society. 

George Soros sees, as the main obstacle to resolution of the financial crisis in the Euro zone, a mass German prejudice, rooted in fear, which equates debt with guilt. Soros sees the preferred solution  to the crisis as issuance of Eurobonds or, failing that, a German exit from the euro. George Soros's analysis, rooted in the principle of human fallibility, makes sense to me.

Ironically, though I have thus framed Soros's solution in terms of separation (i.e. in independent thinking of individuals who are disjoined from the group-thinking herd), I received an email from yesterday whose theme was European solidarity

praṇipatya = abs. pra-ṇi- √ pat : to throw one's self down before , bow respectfully to (acc.);
ca: and
sāñjaliḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. with hands hollowed and joined (in supplication)
babhāṣe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. bhāṣ: to speak , talk , say , tell ; announce

diśa = 2nd pers. sg. imperative diś: to point out , show , exhibit; to assign , grant , bestow upon (dat)
mahyam (dat. sg.): me
nara-deva (voc. sg.): m. " man-god " , a king
sādhu: ind. straight , aright , regularly ; well , rightly , skilfully , properly , agreeably
anu-jñām (acc. sg.): f. assent , assenting , permission ; leave to depart

parivivrajiṣāmi = 1st pers. sg. desid. pari- √ vraj: to go or wander about , walk round ; to wander about as a religious mendicant (desid. to wish to wander about as a mendicant)
mokṣa-hetoḥ (gen. sg.): for liberation
mokṣa: emancipation , liberation , release
hetu: m. " impulse " , motive , cause , cause of , reason for (hetoḥ " for a cause or reason " , " by reason of " , " on account of ")

niyataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. fastened; fixed , established , settled , sure , regular , invariable , positive , definite
hi: for
asya janasya (gen. sg. m.): this person, me
viprayogaḥ (nom. sg.): m. disjunction , dissociation , separation ; absence , want
vi-pra- √ yuj: to separate from , deprive of
pra- √ yuj: to yoke or join or harness to (loc.) ; to unite with (instr.) ;
viyoga: m. disjunction , separation (esp. of lovers) , loss or absence

并啓生死畏 哀請求出家
一切諸世間 合會要別離
是故願出家 欲求眞解脱 


Happi said...

Hi Mike –

In case you haven’t gotten wind of it, I wanted to personally let you know I recently apologized to you over on my blog. I apologize not only for my outburst, but also for my difficult to resist tendency of trying to help, which, since I really don’t know much, these days seems more like meddling where I don’t belong.

Anyhow, for whatever it's worth, thanks for your efforts.

Mike Cross said...

Thank you for the apology, but whatever it was for, I have already completely forgotten. Every day I memorize four lines of Sanskrit and three days later I couldn't remember them to save my life. Advantages and disadvantages of getting old!

Happi said...