Sunday, April 21, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.37: In Defence of the Pathfinding Spirit

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
atha meru-gurur-guruṁ babhāṣe yadi nāsti krama eṣa nāsmi vāryaḥ |
śaraṇāj-jvalanena dahyamānān-na hi niścikramiṣum kṣamaṁ grahītum || 5.37

Then he who had the moment of Meru 
addressed his momentous relative:

“Whether or not this turns out to be a way, 
I ought not to be held back;

For when a house is being consumed by fire

It is not right to stop a man who seeks a way out.

The title of the present Canto is abhi-niṣ-kramaṇaḥ. Therefore the abhi-niṣ-kramaṇaḥ of the canto title; the krama (“way”) [or a-krama (“unfitting”) in EHJ's reading] in yesterday's verse; the krama (“way) in the 2nd pāda of today's verse; and the niś-cikramiṣum (“a man who wants/seeks a way out”) in the 4th pāda of today's verse; are all derived from the root √kram, which the dictionary gives as: to step, walk, go; to go towards, approach; to proceed well, advance, make progress, gain a footing, succeed, have effect; to be practicable.

I think the implicit point of all these variations on the theme of √kram might be to instill in our minds the sense of getting on with it, of taking a step on a way – and in the first instance, the prince seems explicitly to be saying in today's verse, any way will do. The point, then, as in the Buddha's famous parable of the raft, might be not to attach to any particular means of redeeming oneself but rather to step without any hesitation onto any way to safety. Any way out will do. 

When Buddhist scholars, in contrast, write an article about Aśvaghoṣa, they seem to be of the view that their first duty, following the example of the likes of EH Johnston, is to identify what school of Buddhism Aśvaghoṣa belonged to.

If I could be bothered to do a google search or to read again through EHJ's Introduction, I could quote some evidence to corroborate my argument. But today's verse does not inspire me to do that so much as it inspires me to google an old T-Rex song that has got stuck in my auditory system like an ear-worm stimulated by the meru-guruḥ in the 1st pādaMeru-Guru Is It You?

I mention this for no particular reason, other than to demonstrate that, in my own unprofessional, oddball manner  – unlike a Buddhist scholar    I don't purport to give a fuck about Buddhism. I do, however, sincerely hope that the price of gold will resume its uptrend before too long.  

Having thus, I confess, wandered away from the wasteland, I sit for an hour and my errant mind naturally comes back to the matter at hand, at the nub of which, as I see it, is the king's negation of idealism, and the prince's defence of it – both of which, though they are mutually contradictory, can be understood as pointing the reader in the right direction, which is the direction the Buddha points to in SN Canto 16. During the course of this instruction, having guided Nanda already to abandon ideas, the Buddha nonetheless encourages Nanda to show initiative and clear his own path (viśodhaya mārgam; SN16.85)   and again to cut his own path (bhajasva mārgam; SN16.86):
In order to make the noble truths your own, first clear a path according to this plan of action (viśodhayānena nayena mārgam), / Like a king going on campaign to subdue his foes, wishing to conquer unconquered dominions. // SN16.85 // These salubrious wastelands that surround us (etāny-araṇyāny-abhitaḥ śivāni)  are suited to practice and not thronged with people. / Furnishing the body with ample solitude, cut a path for abandoning the afflictions (kleśa-prahāṇāya bhajasva mārgam). // SN16.86 //

So in this way today's verse relates to the irony that is at the heart of non-doing practice – as described yesterday, the idea of doing something in order to get somewhere is the original cause that brings afflictions like greed and anger into play; and yet to deny that pathfinding impulse is like asking the tendrils of a vine, or the dendrite of a neuron, not to reach out in the hope of making a new connection.

Originally the truth is all around, Dogen proclaims at the very start of his instructions for sitting-meditation, so where is the need to exert ourselves, to strive, to make effort? This is the fundamental principle of non-doing practice. If we stop triggering the wrong thing by the striving that stems from an idea, then the right thing naturally does itself. 

But then Dogen proceeds to give detailed instructions of the kind of persistent effort that non-doing practice entails... breaking down what chemists call "activation energy barriers" so that the right thing might indeed do itself, not as a nice idea but as the reality of spontaneous flow of one energy, body and mind having dropped off.

A friend reminded me yesterday of a saying that the Alexander Teacher Marjory Barlow used to guide her in her own practice of non-doing – “I think of doing nothing. And then I ask myself: What kind of nothing am I doing?

Here there is both the idea of doing nothing and the negation of that troublesome idea.

Coming back to abhi-niṣkramaṇaḥ, which is the title of the present Canto, kramaṇa is a neuter -na action noun from the root √kram, and it means stepping, walking, or going. The prefix nis- can be understood as meaning “out” or as having a strengthening function. And the prefix abhi- means “over.”

In light of all the above, then, abhi-niṣkramaṇaḥ might be understood as “Taking a Transcendent Way Out.”

In the practice of non-doing, as Marjory Barlow took pains to teach it to me, there is the stimulus of the idea of doing something, and there is the negation of this idea. But that is not all. There must also be a step, a going into movement, a kramaṇa.

This method of practising non-doing is not a way out of anything but one's old bad habits and misconceptions. So when the MW dictionary defines abhi-niṣ-kramaṇa as 1. going forth; 2. leaving the house in order to become an anchorite, that is the ostensible meaning of abhi-niṣ-kramaṇa. But the above investigation of the meaning in today's verse of krama and of niścikramiṣum is a step towards understanding what Aśvaghoṣa really meant when he titled the present Canto abhi-niṣkramaṇaḥ, or “Stepping the Hell Out, in a Transcendent Manner.”

atha: ind. and, then, and so
meru-guruḥ (nom. sg. m.): he who was momentous as Mt. Meru
meru: m. N. of a fabulous mountain (regarded as the Olympus of Hindu mythology and said to form the central point of jambu-dvīpa)
guru: mfn. heavy , weighty ; great ; high in degree , vehement , violent , excessive , difficult , hard; important , serious , momentous
gurum (acc. sg.): m. any venerable or respectable person (father , mother , or any relative older than one's self)
babhāṣe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. bhāṣ: to speak , talk , say , tell

yadi: if ; or it may = " whether " (followed by Pres. or Pot. or no verb e.g. yadi-na vā , " whether-or not " , and sometimes kim is added); or it may = " if perchance " , " perhaps " (with Pot. with or without iti , or with fut. or pres.)
nāsti: is not, there is not
na: not
as: to be , live , exist , be present ; to take place , happen ; to turn out , tend towards any result , prove (with dat.) ;
kramaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a step ; going , proceeding , course ; uninterrupted or regular progress , order , series , regular arrangement , succession
√kram: to step , walk , go , go towards , approach ; to proceed well , advance , make progress , gain a footing , succeed , have effect ; to be appliable or practicable
eṣa (nom. sg. m.): this , this here , here (especially as pointing to what is nearest to the speaker e.g. eṣa bāṇaḥ , this arrow here in my hand ; eṣa yāti panthāḥ , here passes the way ; eṣa kālaḥ , here i.e. now , is the time ; etad , this here i.e. this world here below); etad generally refers to what precedes , esp. when connected with idam , the latter then referring to what follows (e.g. eṣa vai prathamaḥ kalpaḥ anukalpas tv ayaṁ jñeyaḥ , this before-mentioned is the principal rule , but this following may be considered a secondary rule )
na: not
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be
vāryaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. to be warded off or prevented or checked or impeded

śaraṇāt (abl. sg.): n. shelter , place of shelter or refuge or rest , hut , house , habitation , abode , lair (of an animal) , home , asylum
jvalanena (inst. sg.): m. fire ; mfn. inflammable , combustible , flaming
dahyamānāt = abl. sg. n. pres. part. passive dah: to burn ; be in flames ; to be consumed by fire or destroyed
na: not

hi: for
niścikramiṣum (acc. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. Desid. of niṣ √kram) wishing to escape or leave (esp. worldly life)
niścikramiṣuḥ [EHJ] (nom. sg. m.): mfn. wishing to escape or leave (esp. worldly life)
niṣ- √ kram: to go out , come forth , go or come from (abl. , rarely gen.) , depart ; to leave worldly life; (in dram.) to make an exit:
nis: ind. out , forth , away &c, used mostly as a prefix to verbs and their derivatives or to nouns not immediately connected with verbs , in which case it has the sense , " out of " , " away from ", or that of a privative or negative adverb " without " , " destitute of " , " free from " , " un- ", or that of a strengthening particle " thoroughly ".
kṣamam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. fit , appropriate , becoming , suitable , proper for (gen. dat. , loc. inf.)
grahītum = inf. grah: to seize , take (by the hand ); to arrest , stop

太子復啓王 四願不可保
應聽子出家 願不爲留難
子在被燒舍 如何不聽出

1 comment:

Happi said...

Hi Mike –

Today it seems like you’ve considered that the way you’ve stated your view that Ashvaghosa was not “presenting Buddhism as an integral part of Brahmanism” in the past was falling prey to an –ism of your own. For whatever it’s worth I find that encouraging. It’s my view that buddhas and bodhisattvas existed prior to Guatama Buddha both within and outside of Brahmanism and, for that matter, any religion. On the other hand, to expect academic scholars to support the observation that “one true Buddhism doesn’t exist” or to expect academic arguments regarding what school of Buddhism any of the Buddha ancestors belonged to to cease might be expecting a miracle considering that that’s how academia survives. That doesn’t mean that message isn’t worthwhile.

By way of further apology and because it’s been an issue for us I also want to mention, that I personally reject the use of violence or anger even for teaching purposes. It’s not idealism, it’s who I am – for whatever reason, I find I’m personally not suited for it even when making an effort to be detached. I view what I see of anger and violence in the teachings as a remanent of the feudal tradition in Japan. I respect that the use of force may sometimes be necessary, but much less frequently than it is and in most instances anger and violence are the wrong message. In fact, I think teaching children effective communication and negotiating skills, as well as strengthening their ability to think independently to counter the dangers of ‘group think,’ probably would be more effective than background checks at ending violence.

Thank you for your efforts.