Monday, May 13, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.59: Contrarian Helplessness

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
aparās-tv-avaśā hriyā viyuktā dhti-matyo 'pi vapur-guṇair-upetāḥ |
viniśaśvasur-ulbaṇaṁ śayānā viktāḥ kṣipta-bhujā jajṁbhire ca || 5.59

Contrary ones, meanwhile, helplessly and shamelessly,

– Possessed though they were 
of self-command and personal graces –

Exhaled, in their repose, 
in a manner that was extra-ordinary and unreasonable;

And, in irregular fashion, their arms moving impulsively, 
they stretched out.

The irony in today's verse, as I read it, stems from Aśvaghoṣa's recognition that involuntary movement can be the hallmark of an ignorant person who is a slave to unconsciousness; and at the same time it can be the hallmark of an enlightened person who has totally gone beyond trying to be right.

Ostensibly, then, today's verse is a description of women who are operating far below the plane that FM Alexander called “constructive conscious control of the individual” (which was the title of his second book). In that case in the 3rd pāda viniśaśvasur-ulbaṇaṁ śayānāḥ means “breathed violently as they lay” (EBC); or “lay in immodest attitudes, snoring” (EHJ); or “were snoring..., sleeping in immodest pose” (PO). Again, in the 4th pāda vikṛtāḥ kṣipta-bhujā means “with their arms distorted and tossed about” (EBC); or “all distorted and tossing their arms about” (EHJ). Following this track, jajṛṁbhire could mean 1. that they yawned or kept their mouths open; hence “they yawned” (EBC) and “with their mouths agape” (PO); or 2. that they stretched out in a sprawling, unattractive manner; hence “they stretched their limbs” (EHJ).

Aśvaghoṣa's hidden agenda, as I see it, is totally contrary to the above reading. What he is really out to do is to suggest via metaphor how buddhas in a meditation hall might really be, not in theory but in practice.

In that case, the helplessness expressed in the 1st pāda by avaśāḥ is not the infantile state of an immature person with no sense of individual responsibility; on the contrary, it is a way of being that has been learned, in the spirit of “Thy will be done.” And being devoid of shame (hriyā viyuktāḥ) is not the shameless state of one who fails to feel shame when shame is due; it might rather be the state of one who – being possessed of self-command and personal graces – is not in the habit of doing things to be ashamed of.

In that case  śayānāḥ in the 3rd pāda once again means not “lying down” but “in a state of repose” or “in a state of having dropped off body and mind.” And viniśaśvasur-ulbaṇam might suggest the kind of extra-ordinary and unreasonably deep breathing manifested by those Tibetan chanters who are able to hit the low notes with such incredible resonance.

Dogen's instructions for sitting include the phrase “make one full exhalation” (KANKI-ISSOKU). How to respond to this stimulus is a matter for ongoing investigation. On one side of the spectrum, the person who is hell bent on being right and following the master's instructions to the letter, is liable to turn the act of deliberately breathing out into a big performance, in which doing features to the nth degree, so that, without any repose at all, the doer makes a big muscular effort to squeeze all the air out of himself. On the other side of the spectrum, a true contrarian like Richard Feynman (a documentary on whom I watched last night) is liable to spend all day in a local dive sketching pole-dancers while working on physics problems. Somewhere in the middle between these two contrasting approaches, there is investigation of what it is to breathe out fully and deeply, as a deliberate act and/or as the kind of involuntary movement which we cannot do (and in this sense are helpless) but which we can learn to allow.

As an example of practice which is thus aimed somewhere in the middle, as an exercise in allowing, sometimes when I am sitting on my own I very gently hum, and keep on gently humming as a way of breathing out fully. And sometimes in the middle of gently humming like this I open my mouth and loudly imitate the sound of a didgery-doo in a manner of which I am sure Richard Feynman would have approved – in a spirit of play. 

Richard Feynman, I would like to add, is a hero of mine. I wrote the first paragraph of this comment yesterday before watching The Fantastic Mr. Feynman. So I did not have Feynman in mind when I wrote of “an enlightened person who has totally gone beyond trying to be right” – but if the cap fits, wear it.

Sometimes I notice on the flag counter that I have had a visitor from Massachusetts and I always secretly hope that it might be some free-thinking person like Feynman from MITI – as opposed, say, to the kind of unthinking creationist red-neck from the Bible belt who still seems to form such an incredibly and frighteningly large section of the US population. If anybody is going to save our planet from the worst excesses of human end-gaining, the former variety of American is surely our best hope. 

Returning to the metaphorical sub-text of today's verse, I think that in the 4th pāda, vikṛtāḥ (as in BC5.47) means not “distorted” but “strange” or “odd” or “irregular” – irregular in the sense of not conforming to the conceptions and expectations of those who have yet to walk the walk in their own experience.

And finally, in this vein, kṣipta-bhujā jajṛṁbhire “they stretched out, with impulsive arms,” seems to suggest the latitude which allows a contrary person to allow an involuntary stretch of the arms in a situation, like sitting in a meditation hall, in which the hands are “supposed to” remain in contact with each other on top of the upturned soles of the feet.

If Aśvaghoṣa's aim, as Buddhist scholars claim, is to tell stories of “religious conversion,” then it might not be appropriate in writing these comments to use words like fuck. But I say Fuck that. I say: Was Aśvaghoṣa fuck interested in promoting religious conversion. And I hope that my hero Richard Feynman would approve of such a contrary style of expression. But if he wouldn't he can fuck off as well.

What, in the final analysis, was Aśvaghoṣa really interested in? I think he was interested in how, on an individual basis, a person might actually learn to stretch out. 

Truly stretching out, as a contrarian named FM Alexander discovered, through experimentation, is not something that can be done purely by muscular effort. Truly stretching out involves an undoing, and we cannot do an undoing. In this sense, even those who are possessed of self-command and personal graces, when it comes to stretching themselves out, cannot do it. In this sense, I think Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting, even buddhas are utterly helpless. Nobody, not even buddhas, can do an undoing. 

aparāḥ (nom. pl. f.): others, other women
tu: but
avaśāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. helpless ; not having one's own free will , doing something against one's desire or unwillingly
hriyā (inst. sg.). f. shame, modesty
viyuktāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. disjoined , detached , separated or delivered from , deprived or destitute of. deserted by (instr. or comp.)

dhṛti-matyaḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. steadfast , calm , resolute ; satisfied , content
dhṛti: f. holding , seizing , keeping , supporting , firmness , constancy , resolution , will , command ; satisfaction , content , joy
api: though
vapur-guṇaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. personal beauty
vapus: n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty ; n. the body
upetāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. accompanied by , endowed with , furnished with , having , possessing

viniśaśvasur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. vi-ni- √ śvas: to breathe hard , snort , hiss ; to sigh deeply
ulbaṇam mfn. anything laid over in addition , superfluous , abundant , excessive , much , immense , strong , powerful ; mfn. singular , strange ; mfn. manifest , evident
ulba: n. a cover , envelope , esp. the membrane surrounding the embryo
śayānāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. lying down , resting , sleeping

vikṛtāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. transformed , altered , changed &c ; (esp.) deformed , disfigured , mutilated , maimed , unnatural , strange , extraordinary ; ugly (as a face)
kṣipta-bhujāḥ (nom. pl. f.): with arms thrown
kṣipta: mfn. thrown , cast , sent , despatched , dismissed
kṣip: to throw , cast , send , despatch ; to move hastily (the arms or legs) ;
jajṛṁbhire = 3rd pers. pl. perf. jṛmbh: to open the mouth , yawn ; to gape open ; to gape open , open (as a flower) ; to fly back or recoil (as a bow when unstrung) ; to unfold , spread (as a flood &c ) , expand , occupy a larger circuit ; to spread (as sound) ; to feel at ease
ca: and

或顰蹙皺眉 或合眼開口

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