Tuesday, May 21, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.67: Descending Into Doubtlessness

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
atha so 'vatatāra harmya-pṣṭhād-yuvatīs-tāḥ śayitā vigarhamāṇaḥ |
avatīrya tataś-ca nirviśaṅko gha-kakṣyāṁ prathamaṁ vinirjagāma || 5.67

Then he descended from the palace heights

Scorning those women who were asleep,

And thus, having descended, being quite without doubt,

He went directly into the outer courtyard.

On the face of it today's verse has not got much in the way of philosophical content, apart from praising the hero of the narrative for having that decisiveness of a man of action which is represented by the word nir-viśaṅkaḥ, which means being absolutely fearless, confident, free of doubt.

On the face of it, then, the main inspiration that a Zen practitioner can take from today's verse is the certainty – as if we didn't know it already – that being fearless, confident, and doubt-free is the way to go.

An alternative reading, which is suggested to me by the repetition of verbs from the root ava-√tṛṛ (avatatāra, “he descended,” and avatīrya, “having descended”), is that the prince's descent from the heights of the palace is a metaphor for a descent from a higher state of relative uncertainty, in which there are more options, to a lowly-evolved state of certainty in which there is only one way to go.

The former, higher state involves greater consciousness of more possibilities, akin to being awake. The latter, lower state is a less conscious state, akin to being asleep. 

All energy in the universe, according to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, is tending to go from the former state to the latter state (like water flowing down stream) – unless by some means it is temporarily prevented from doing so (as when water in a Yellowstone geyser is caused by deeply hidden forces to spurt upwards). 

If we follow the ostensible reading, then, “scorning those women who were asleep” is a simple description of a fact; it is the repetition of an important element in the narrative of the prince's escape from the palace. 

But if we permit ourselves to consider – at least as an alternative – the contrarian reading, then the prince's contempt for the sleeping women might be another comic playing out of the mirror principle, since in seeing the women as being given over to the dark unconsciousness of sleep, the unenlightened prince is looking at objects who unconsciously remind him of his unconscious self. 

 And, being unconsciously reminded of his unconscious self, the prince is by no means yet on the way out, at least not in the deeper meaning of the canto title abhi-niṣ-kramaṇaḥ ("Getting the Hell Out"), whose real intention may be as per Dogen's phrase in his original instructions for everybody for sitting-zen, in which he writes of "the road of getting the body out" (出身路). 

This phrase 出身路  (SHUSSHIN NO RO), "the road of getting the body out," Dogen later revised up to  出身活路  (SHUSSHIN NO KATSU-RO), which means “the vigorous road of getting the body out” or “the escape route for getting the body out.” 

Getting the body out means, as I understand it, moving or sitting in such a way that one is freed from the grip of habits and other unconscious attachments.

Again, if we follow the ostensible reading, EHJ's amendment of prathamaṁ (at once, forthwith, directly) to prathamāṁ (the first) produces a reasonable result, even if the amendment itself is inexplicable  – why on earth did EHJ feel the need to intervene? But make the amendment EHJ did, from prathamaṁ (directly)  to prathamāṁ  (the first); hence EHJ translated: “he went out unhesitatingly to the first courtyard." 

If we take account of the contrarian reading of today's verse – at least as an option – then prathamaṁ, as per the old Nepalese manuscript, and as per EBC's text, should certainly not be amended. If we allow at least the possibility that the real philosophical content of today's verse is concentrated in its hidden meaning, then prathamaṁ ("directly") might be intended to convey the sense of going directly for the target relying on unconscious means – in other words, end-gaining.

In the final analysis, there might be truth in both the ostensible reading and the contrarian reading of today's verse. And there might be truth in the negation of each. 

Apropos of which, incidentally, and speaking of roads, the personal motto of my teacher Gudo Nishijima was 愚直一路 (GUCHOKU-ICHIRO).
愚直: simple honesty; tactless frankness;
一路: one road; one way; straight; sincere.

The Chinese characters I chose for my own personal motto, of which Gudo approved with a nod and a smile, were 理性禅 (RISEI-ZEN): intellectual Zen.

From where I sat, Gudo for whatever reason departed from the simple, sincere and straight road we had been on.

And I, from where Gudo sat, probably saw me acting irrationally – reacting emotionally, from an injured heart, despite the intention to respond on the basis of reason.

“Western people have brains like computers,” Gudo used to observe.

The anti-thesis to Gudo's thesis is provided by my wife, who counters. "He did not know you at all." 

The truth may be somewhere in between. I am as intellectual as I am. (If you don't like it, fuck off.) And at the same time I have got a brain and a heart that are liable to be governed, when the stimulus is strong, or when I am weak (as I generally am in the auditory channel), by an imperfectly integrated Moro (or baby panic) reflex.

So what?

So things are seldom what they appear to be on the surface.

So please don't believe a single word I write.

atha: ind. then, and so
saḥ (nom. sg. m.): he
avatatāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ava-√ tṛṛ: to descend into (loc. or acc.) , alight from , alight (abl.)
harmya-pṛṣṭhāt (abl. sg.): from the flat roof of the palace
harmya: n. a large house , palace , mansion , any house or large building or residence of a wealthy person
pṛṣṭha: n. the upper side , surface , top , height ; the flat roof of a house

yuvatīḥ (acc. pl.): f. girl, young woman
tāḥ (acc. pl. f.): those
śayitāḥ (acc. pl. f.): mfn. lying, sleeping
vigarhamāṇaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. vi- √ garh: to blame , abuse , revile , reproach , despise , contemn : Caus. -garhayati , to revile , rail at , vituperate

avatīrya = abs. ava-√ tṛṛ: to descend
tataḥ: ind. then, from that, on that basis
ca: and
nirviśaṅkaḥ (nom. sg.): mfn. fearless , confident
nir-: ind. out , forth , away &c, 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 " , " entirely " , " very " [cf. nih-śūnya , niṣ-kevala , nir-muṇḍa].
viśaṅka: mfn. fearless , not afraid of (ifc.)
śaṅka: m. (for 2. » below) fear , doubt

gṛha-kakṣyām (acc. sg. f.): the house-girth; outer courtyard
gṛha: m. house, habitation
kakṣyā: f. girth ; f. the enclosure of an edifice (either the wall &c so enclosing it , or the court or chamber constituting the enclosure , the inner apartment of a palace)
prathamam: ind. firstly , at first , for the first time ; just , newly , at once , forthwith (prathamam-anantaram or paścāt , first--afterwards ; prathamam-tatas , first—next)
prathamām (acc. sg. f.): mfn. foremost , first (in time or in a series or in rank)
vinirjagāma = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vi-nir- √ gam: to go out or away , depart or escape from (abl.)

太子時徐起 出諸婇女間

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