Wednesday, May 1, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.47: Forces of Darkness Prevail

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
atha tatra surais-tapo-variṣṭhair-akaniṣṭhair-vyavasāyam-asya buddhvā |
yugapat-pramadā-janasya nidrā vihitāsīd-viktāś-ca gātra-ceṣṭāḥ || 5.47

At that juncture, the a-kaniṣṭha gods,
the doyens of asceticism 'of whom none is youngest,'

Being acquainted with his fixity of purpose,

Visited, upon all the young women at once, deep sleep,

And upon their bodies and limbs, grotesque postures and gestures.

According to a footnote by EHJ, “The Akaniṣṭhas are the supreme deities of the Rūpadhātu, the highest of the five Śuddhāvāsa classes.”

What Aśvaghoṣa tells us about them is that they were tapo-variṣṭha, the doyens or champions of asceticism, and that they knew the prince's intention or were familiar with his fixity of purpose.

Was their familiarity the familiarity of one who has recognized his mistake, as the prince is described in SN Canto 3?
Of the different traditions in the world, he asked himself, which one was the best? / Not obtaining certainty elsewhere, he entered after all into ascetic practice that was most severe. // SN3.4 // Then, having seen that it was not the path, he also abandoned that extreme asceticism. / Understanding the realm of meditation to be supreme, he ate good food in readiness to realise the deathless. // SN3.5 //
Or was their familiarity the familiarity of one who is blindly continuing to make the ascetic's mistake of “stifling restraint” (lit. the tranquillity [śānta] of being suppressed [saṁvṛta]), like Nanda at the beginning of SN Canto 8?
And so, having gazed upon those women who wander in the Gladdening Gardens of Nandana, / Nanda tethered the fickle and unruly mind to a tethering post of restraint. // SN11.1 // Failing to relish the taste of freedom from care, sapless as a wilting lotus, / He went through the motions of dharma-practice, having installed the apsarases already in his heart. // 11.2 // Thus did one whose sense-power had been restless, whose senses had grazed on the pasture of his wife, / Come, by the very power of sense-objects, to have his sense-power reined in. // 11.3 // Adept in the practices of love, confused about the practices of a beggar, / Set firm by the best of practice guides, Nanda did the devout practice of abstinence. // 11.4 // Stifling restraint (saṁvṛtena śāntena) and ardent love, / Like water and fire in tandem, smothered him and burned him dry. // 11.5 // Though naturally good-looking, he became extremely ugly, / Both from agonizing about the apsarases and from protracted restraint. // 11.6 //
The Buddha by himself demonstrates the mental flexibility that is required to make the difficult decision, once one has committed oneself to the ascetic path, to abandon that commitment. Nanda, in contrast, requires a bit of help from Ānanda, who tells him: 
"You are practising dharma, so they say, for celestial nymphs as wages. / Is that so? Is it true? such a thing would be a joke! // SN11.19 // If this really is true, I will tell you a medicine for it; / Or if it is the impertinence of chatterers, then that dust I shall expose." // 11.20 // Then -- though it was tenderly done -- Nanda was stricken in his heart. / After reflecting, he drew in a long breath, and his face inclined slightly downward. // SN11.21 //

Perhaps it is true to say that a certain mental rigidity, which manifests itself as fixity of purpose (vyavasāya; MW: "strenuous effort"; "settled determination"), has been hard-wired into all human beings by hundreds of millions of years of evolution. But some of us seem to suffer from it more than others. Being first-born, and having to watch one's mother's attentions shift to a new arrival, probably doesn't help. Nor does the need to compensate for immature vestibular reflexes.

For whatever reason, from an early age it seemed that I stood out, even among the mentally rigid, as being particularly mentally rigid. I was, for example, a notably bad loser as a child. And in that respect, self-reflection confirms, following recent steep declines in the price of gold, the leopard has not changed its spots.

Reflecting on the relation between the first and second halves of today's verse in this light, I see tapas (asceticism) in the 1st pāda, vyavasāya (fixity of purpose) in the 2nd pāda, nidrā (sleep) in the 3rd pāda, and vikṛtāḥ gātra-ceṣṭāḥ (grotesquely deformed body postures) in the 4th pāda, as all being connected by belonging to what we are all up against, but some of us more than others, which is the force of darkness, or the force of blind unconscious reaction.

Since the coming series of 14 verses from BC5.48 to BC5.61 is devoted to detailed descriptions of inelegant body postures, we will have ample opportunity to reflect further on the connection between deformed body postures and these forces of darkness, or blind unconscious doing.

For the present, the main point to be clear about might be how the Buddha equated sleep (nidrā) with darkness (tamas); hence:
Having passed the day self-possessed, through maintenance of the mind, / You may be able, shaking off sleep, to spend the night-time too in a state of practice. // SN14.20 // Since even when you are conscious sleep might be holding out in your heart, / Consciousness properly revealing itself is nothing to be sure about. // 14.21 // Initiative, constancy, inner strength and courage / Are the elements always to bear in mind while you are being oppressed by sleep. // 14.22 // Recite clearly those dharma-teachings that you have learnt; / Point others in their direction, and think them out for yourself. // 14.23 //  Wet the face with water, look around in all directions, / And glance at the stars, wanting always to be awake. // 14.24 // By the means of inner senses that are not impetuous but in a state of subjection, / By the means of a mind that is not scattered, walk up and down at night or else sit. // 14.25 // In fear, in joy and in grief, one does not succumb to sleep; / Therefore against the onslaughts of sleep resort to these three: // 14.26 // Feel fear from death's approach, joy from grasping a teaching of dharma, / And from the boundless suffering inherent in a birth, feel the grief. // 14.27 // Such a step may need to be taken, my friend, in the direction of being awake; / For what wise man, out of sleep, makes a wasted life? // 14.28 // To neglect the reptilian faults, as if ignoring snakes in the house, / And thus to slumber on, does not befit a man of wisdom who wishes to overcome the great terror. // 14.29 // For while the world of the living burns with the fires of death, disease and aging, / Who could lie down insensibly, any more than in a burning house? // 14.30 // Therefore, knowing it to be darkness (tamaḥ), you should not let sleep (nidrām) enshroud you / While the faults remain unquieted, like sword-wielding enemies. // 14.31 // But having spent the first of the three night-watches actively engaged in practice, / You should, as one who is pulling his own strings, go to bed to rest the body. // 14.32 // On your right side, then, remaining conscious of light, / Thinking in your heart of wakefulness, you might with peace of mind fall asleep. // 14.33 // Again, by getting up in the third watch and going into movement, or indeed just sitting, / You might renew your practice, with mind refreshed, and power of the senses curbed. // 14.34 // And so, upon acts like sitting, moving, standing, looking, and speaking -- / Being fully aware of every action -- you should bring mindfulness to bear. // 14.35 // When a man, like a gatekeeper at his gate, is cocooned in vigilance,/ The faults do not venture to attack him, any more than enemies would attack a guarded city. // SN14.36 //
One of the truths that emerges from this passage on sleep, when one reflects on it, and sleeps on it, is that while on the one hand sleep belongs to the forces of darkness which mindfulness opposes, on the other hand sleep has the vital virtue of refreshing the mind.

That being so, the Buddha, as I hear him, eschews ascetic sleep-deprivation and affirms the importance of getting a good night's sleep. 

Does the Buddha have anything to say to a person who habitually suffers from insomnia, however, and who, as a cause and effect of insomnia, worries about getting a good night's sleep? 

I think the Buddha's advice to such a person might be to lie down on your right side, and do not try to entrust yourself to darkness and fall asleep. On the contrary, do your best to remain conscious of light, and keep thinking of being awake. 

As a strategy for falling asleep, it might be one of those teachings that doesn't work in theory but sometimes works in practice. 

atha: ind. now, then, but
tatra: ind. there
suraiḥ (inst. pl.): m. (prob. fr. asura as if fr. a-sura) a god , divinity , deity
tapo-variṣṭhaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): most excellent in ascetic practice
tapas: n. ascetic practice
variṣṭha: mfn. the most excellent or best , most preferable among (gen. or comp.)

akaniṣṭhaiḥ (inst.): m. pl. of whom none is the youngest (i.e. younger than the others) ; a class of Buddhist deities
kaniṣṭha: mfn. the youngest , younger born ; the smallest , lowest , least
vy-avasāyam (acc. sg.): m. strenuous effort or exertion ; settled determination , resolve , purpose , intention
asya (gen. sg.): his
buddhvā = abs. budh: to wake , wake up , be awake ; to perceive , notice , learn , understand , become or be aware of or acquainted with

yugapad: ind. " being in the same yoke or by the side of each other " , together , at the same time , simultaneously
pramadā-janasya (gen. sg.): m. womankind , the female sex
pramadā: f. a young and wanton woman , any woman
nidrā (nom. sg.): f. sleep , slumber , sleepiness , sloth

vihitā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. (fr. , vi- √dhā) distributed , divided , apportioned , bestowed , supplied &c
āsīt = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect as: to be
vikṛtāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. transformed , altered , changed &c ; (esp.) deformed , disfigured , mutilated , maimed , unnatural , strange , extraordinary
ca: and
gātra-ceṣṭāḥ (nom. pl. f.): movements of their limbs
gātra: n. " instrument of moving " , a limb or member of the body; the body
ceṣṭā: f. moving any limb , gesture

時淨居天子 知太子時至
決定應出家 忽然化來下
厭諸伎女衆 悉皆令睡眠 

1 comment:

Mike Cross said...

In view of the content of the 14 verses which follow, "grotesque postures and gestures" evidently needs to be changed. As a translation of vikṛtāḥ, "irregular" may be closer to Aśvaghoṣa's intention -- irregular in the sense of not conforming to people's immature conceptions of regularity.

"And upon their bodies and limbs, irregular poses." ?