Monday, May 20, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.66: Seeing a Hole in the Other's Thinking

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
iti tasya tad-antaraṁ viditvā niśi niścikramiṣā samudbabhūva |
avagamya manas-tato 'sya devair-bhavana-dvāram-apāvtaṁ babhūva || 5.66

When he had seen this deficiency in the other,

The desire sprang up in him to escape in the night;

Whereupon the gods, knowing this mind,

Caused the palace door to swing open.

Tad-antaram can be translated in a number of ways, depending on what in the previous verse it is understood to refer to.

Ostensibly tad-antaram (EBC: “that difference;” EHJ: “the difference”; PO: “their difference”) refers to the difference between how an infatuated man perceives women to be (sexually attractive), and how women originally are (impure and ugly).

In terms of my little problem with noisy airplanes, if tad-antaram meant “the difference,” the difference would be the difference between my notion of how an excellent sky should be (quiet and unpolluted by fumes and noise) and how the sky in this corner of Buckinghamshire often is.

But I think Aśvaghoṣa had in mind at least one other meaning of tad-antaram, whereby tad refers not to the women as objects of sexual desire but rather to the man as the smitten subject; and antaram means a gap, a weak point, a deficiency, a hole in his thinking. 

Tad-antaraṁ viditvā, then, “seeing a hole in that man's thinking,” takes on a comical connotation – the joke being that the prince recognizes how an idealistic notion of excellence causes the other to be moved to redness, while not yet recognizing how an idealistic notion of excellence might be giving rise to his own eager desire to escape.

In that case, it may be that the gods know the prince's mind – or they know the mind of this state (asya manas); i.e. they know this desire to escape – because the mind is so familiar to them from their own past of experience of fleeing from the mundane world and going instead to abide in heaven.

In an effort to preserve ambiguity, I have translated tad-antaram as “a deficiency in the other,” which remains open to the reading that “the other” means womankind. But I think that Aśvaghoṣa wanted us not to fall for this ostensible meaning, in which the prince is putting the blame on women. I think that Aśvaghoṣa wanted us to dig below the surface, and understand that the prince has only succeeded in seeing a fault as a fault in the other, and not in himself.

Last night on a BBC TV programme called Antiques Roadshow, a woman who said that she was married to a nephew of FM Alexander had brought in a painted portrait of the man himself. The gormless expert whose job it was to value the painting had some experience – very dubious experience – of Alexander work and so opined that it was all about straightening up, pulling one's tummy in, and all the rest of it. FM's niece-in-law, to her credit, intimated that the essence of the work was “head forward and up.” She then, to her considerable debit, proceeded to try to demonstrate what “head forward and up” means by very carefully and conspicuously pulling her head back and down.

Send three and fourpence. We are going to a dance.

Marjory Barlow was not only FM's blood niece  (the daughter of FM's younger sister) but was also an Alexander teacher that FM personally trained to teach his technique. I once asked Marjory what FM would have made of such misrepresentation of his teaching by people who, with the best of intentions, turn freedom into its opposite. Marjory said that FM would have roared with laughter.

I think Aśvaghoṣa's pervasive use of irony, similarly, reflects his own sense of the humour of a situation in which a teaching so easily gets turned into its opposite.

In the world of Zen, my teacher Gudo Nishijima took great pains to teach his students that true Buddhism is not idealism. And in some respects, Gudo was very good at practising what he preached – he was not one to worry overly much about good and bad, preferring always to look reality squarely in the eye. But when it came to the most fundamental matter of how to sit, Gudo's teaching was based upon the false conception of “right posture.” The result of this was that, even if Gudo succeeded in maintaining a certain freedom in his own sitting, due to his own clear understanding of Dogen's instruction not to worry about right and wrong, the people he taught tended to be smitten by a notion of excellence (guṇa-saṁkalpa-hata).

Perhaps it is more accurate to say, in the spirit of not blaming the other, that in his attempts to teach people like me, who, long before meeting Gudo, were already smitten with romantic notions of their own excellence (guṇa-saṁkalpa-hata), Gudo was strong in the area of philosophy, in the area of words. “Buddhism is not idealism!” was one of his oft-repeated mantras. But when it came to actual practice, Gudo's efforts were exactly analogous to the efforts of the clueless woman on Antiques Roadshow who knew the words but did not understand what they meant in actual practice.

When I clearly saw the deficiency in the other, in Japan circa 1994, the desire sprang up in me to get the hell out of there, and a way opened up, as if by magic, for me to come back to England and train as a teacher of the FM Alexander Technique.

But if I thought that was the end of my troubles, I was sorely mistaken. The ironic truth may be that when the desire sprang up in me to get the hell out of there, that desire sprang up through a hole in my thinking.

Though it is true that Alexander taught his students the words “head forward and up,” he did not teach this as a means to paper over holes in one's thinking. Papering over cracks, or sweeping problems under the carpet, is no real solution. The real solution, for a person in whose thinking there are holes, might depend on a real willingness, a hunger even, to see the holes in his own thinking – as opposed to blaming the other and desiring to escape.

Apopros of which one of Marjory Barlow's favourite sayings comes back to me:
“Being prepared to be wrong is the golden key!”

iti: thus
tasya (gen. sg.): in him
tad (acc. sg. n.): that, those them; ind. there , in that place , thither
antaram (acc. sg.): n. the interior ; n. a hole , opening ; n. the interior part of a thing , the contents ; n. place ; n. distance , absence ; n. difference , remainder ; n. weakness , weak side ; n. (ifc.) , different , other , another e.g. deśāntaram, another country
tad-antaram (acc. sg.): another that; the being different from that ; their otherness
viditvā = abs. vid: , to know , understand , perceive , learn , become or be acquainted with , be conscious of , have a correct notion of (with acc.)

niśi (loc. sg.): in the night
niścikramiṣā: f. (fr. Desid. of niṣ √kram) desire to escape
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:
samudbabhūva = 3rd pers. sg. perf. sam-ud- √ bhū : to spring up from , arise , be produced , exist ; to increase , augment , grow

avagamya = abs. ava- √ gam: to hit upon , think of , conceive , learn , know , understand , anticipate , assure one's self , be convinced ; to recognize
manaḥ (acc. sg.): n. mind
tataḥ: ind. from that, on that basis
asya (gen. sg. m./n.): of this one, of this person, of this state
devaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. gods

bhavana-dvāram (acc. sg.): the palace entrance ; a means of coming into existence ; a passage through / way out of coming into existence
bhavana: n. a place of abode , mansion , home , house , palace , dwelling ; n. coming into existence , birth , production ; n. the place where anything grows
dvāra: n. door , gate , passage , entrance ;  a way , means , medium  (the māheśvaras hold that there are 6 dvāras or means of obtaining religious ecstasy  Sarvad. )
apāvṛtam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. open , laid open ; covered ; unrestrained , self willed
apā- √ vṛ: to open , uncover , reveal
babhūva = 3rd pers. sg. perf. √ bhū: to be, become

爾時淨居天 來下爲開門

1 comment:

Mike Cross said...

A more literal translation, with less of a suggestion of divine intervention:

When he had seen this deficiency in the other,

The desire sprang up in him to escape in the night;

Whereupon, under the influence of gods, who were steeped in this mind,

The way out of the palace
[or the way out of coming into existence]
was seen/found to be wide open.

The hidden meaning, then, is that under the influence of the gods, the prince felt optimistic about how easy it might be get out, or to become free, to attain a way to liberation.

This contrasts with BC5.86, which touches on "knowing the difficulty" (duṣkaraṁ viditvā).