Wednesday, May 22, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.68: The Conscious Mind Must Be Quickened! (But In Haste?)

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
turagāvacaraṁ sa bodhayitvā javinaṁ chandakam-ittham-ity-uvāca |
hayam-ānaya kanthakaṁ tvarāvān amtaṁ prāptum-ito 'dya me yiyāsā || 5.68

He woke that ready runner of the fleet of foot,

The stableman Chandaka, and addressed him as follows:

“Bring me in haste the horse Kanthaka!

I wish today to flee from here,
in order to obtain the nectar of immortality.

In today's verse, Aśvaghoṣa on the face of it is continuing reverently to relate the history, following the conventions of Sanskrit epic poetry, of a kind of religious super-hero – the founder of one of the world's great faiths, namely “Buddhism” or (in the words of my own teacher) “True Buddhism.”

But below the surface of today's verse, as I read it, Aśvaghoṣa on the contrary is asking a question about (or ripping the piss out of?) the idealistic / religious attitude which thinks light of this concrete place and seeks the ultimate prize yonder, somewhere over the rainbow.

The irony identifiable below the surface of today's verse is therefore related to place – the irony of having a big desire to flee from this place in order to find the truth which (as the Buddha ultimately describes it) is wanting little and being content being here and now.

The irony, then, is also related to time.

A teaching aphorism of an irreligious, practical man named FM Alexander, who said he believed in nothing (though, it is true, he also confessed to believing in everything) was “The conscious mind must be quickened.”

A few years ago, when the first generation of teachers who Alexander trained were interviewed, a common theme that emerged was taking time. Hence, the title chosen for the booklet in which the interviews were published was “Taking Time.”

Behind this apparent contradiciton may lie the wisdom of the old English proverb “more haste, less speed.” 

Or as the Japanese say, isogaba maware (“when in a hurry, take the indirect route”).

Aśvaghoṣa in today's verse, as I read it, is playing with that apparent paradox. Hence he praises Chandaka as javinam, which means quick, ready, responsive, and he identifies Chandaka as turagāvacaram (lit. one whose sphere is those that go (ga) quickly (tura); i.e. a horseman, stableman, groom). And into the words of the prince, again, Aśvaghoṣa puts words with connotations of speed or – maybe more to the point  of haste. Hence hayam (horse) is from the root √hi (to urge or hasten on), and tvarā-vān means “with haste.”

A further irony that Aśvaghoṣa may be hinting at, then, is that the prince could come across as being in a big hurry to get his eager paws on that which is timeless and deathless – the nectar of immortality.

Against this interpretation, glancing ahead, is the prince's description in tomorrow's verse of contentment or satisfaction (tuṣṭi) having arisen in his heart. That will be a matter for study tomororw.

Coming back to today's verse, however, it speaks to me of the matter of haste and speed; and it is a matter which bears repetition. As I have mentioned before, the reason I am translating this work at the snail's pace of one verse per day is not that slow and patient progress comes naturally to me. Rather, limiting myself to one verse per day is a deliberate exercise, against the impatient habits of a lifetime, in taking time. Going deliberately slowly like this is somewhat akin to the very slow walking, called in Japanese kinhin, that is practised in between two sessions of formal sitting-meditation – something, I confess, that I haven't practised much in recent years.

The point of going extra slowly is to give myself plenty of time, so that time is on my side, not against me.

If there is any wisdom in this approach, it has been born of a lifetime of painful experience of the stress associated with taking the opposite approach. 

That stress started in earnest when I passed an entrance exam to go to what was then regarded as the posh school in Birmingham, and at the age of ten, skipped a year of primary school and entered that secondary school for high achievers. Before then I had always been ahead of the game at school – when it came to learning to read, learning times tables, et cetera, and also when it came to competing in the playground – without even trying. But when I joined King Edwards School Birmingham a lot of things changed for the worse. For one thing, people on the bus thought I was, to use the vernacular of the time, a wanker. 

In the 1970s in Birmingham the quality that most teenage boys aspired to was to be “hard” or, if you were setting your sights really high “a hard knock.” But if you went to King Edwards, as I and Lee Child (author of the Jack Reacher novels) did, you were not generally regarded by other Brummie teenagers as hard knock material. Even if you spent every lunchtime as I did in the weights room, and every Saturday playing rugby, you had no street credibility, and has Lee Child has documented, were liable to get singled out for a beating up.

This is the back story to my defensive comment of yesterday that I am as intellectual, or as clever, as I am, and if you don't like it, fuck off. If I could go back to the 1970s now, I really would be a hard knock, having gained the necessary experience to be one in karate dojos in Japan. But in those days I did not have the means. So when I got beaten up at a school disco at the age of 15, I was reduced to tears of shock and frustration. I didn't lack the guts to fight back. I certainly didn't lack the aggression. But I lacked the necessary experience of fight situations. I lacked the means of any expertise in unarmed self-defence.

If Lee Child is to believed, he in contrast had all the necessary means at his disposal. He knew how effective it was to drop your forehead in a person's face, to elbow a villain in the throat, to knee him in the testicles, to go for his eyes with your thumb, to sweep him onto the floor and in one flowing movement land on his chest with your knee so as to break several of his ribs. Lee Child, however, is a teller of stories. So I have my doubts as to how many arms Lee actually broke in reality, as opposed to in his imagination. Certainly, if Lee is up for a challenge at this late stage to find out who is a harder knock, me or him, I am backing me.

I digress, sort of. The point I am getting round, in my own sweet time, to making, is that when you are in possession of a means, then time is on your side, and there is no need to panic, even in a situation as urgent as a fight. But if you are not in possession of a means, there is nothing for it but to fall back on instinctive end-gaining.

During my schooldays I did not have a means. During my years in Japan, also, I lacked a proper means. Now, albeit rather late in the day, I am in possession of a means. What I have in mind in particular is not a means for defending myself so much as a means for being myself. I am thinking of the means-whereby that Marjory Barlow, above anybody else, imparted to me for being myself.

As I sat reflecting this morning on Marjory's gift, I looked to the side and saw myself in the mirror, and smiled at myself, liking what I saw. If others continue to see me as an intellectual wanker, let them. I don't want to waste the whole of my life trying to prove them wrong. At the same time, if they want to have a go, then let them come and have a go, if they think they are hard enough.

So this was my experience this morning, stimulated by today's verse. It struck me that Marjory gave me the means of being myself. The means is rooted in inhibition of the desire to go directly or hurriedly for any end... wherein lies the connection with time.

Not allowing oneself to lose pace with time – for example because some little end-gaining bastard of a Zen master (mirror principle alert) is in one hell of a hurry to save the world from the conflict between idealism and materialism, thereby securing his own exalted place in world history – is the secret of being yourself.

When I used to visit Marjory in London every couple of weeks in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I had the sense of being one of two male pupils, youngsters in our 40s and 50s, who Marjory, then in her 80s, sort of regarded as her boyfriends. My romantic rival was Trevor Allan Davies with whom Marjory wrote her book An Examined Life. The frontispiece of that book contains these words addressed, alas, not to me but to Trevor:

My goal, and my only one,
is to help you adjust your inner tempo,
so that you do not lose pace with time.

turagāvacaram (acc. sg. m.): a horseman
tura-ga: m. " going quickly " , a horse
avacara: m. the dominion or sphere or department of (in comp.)
ava- √ car: to come down from
ava-caraka: m. a footman, runner
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
bodhayitvā = abs. caus. budh: to wake up , arouse ; to cause to observe or attend , admonish

javinam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. quick
javin: mfn. quick , fleet; m. a horse; a camel
java: mfn. ( √ ju , or jū) swift
√ jū: to press forwards , hurry on , be quick ; to impel quickly , urge or drive on , incite ; to scare ; to excite , promote , animate , inspire

chandakam (acc. sg.): m. N. of śākya-muni's charioteer
ittham: ind. thus , in this manner
iti: thus
uvāca = 3rd pers. sg. perf vac: to say, speak

hayam (acc. sg.): m. (fr. √hi) a horse
√hi: to send forth , set in motion , impel , urge on , hasten on
ānaya = 2nd pers. sg. imperative ā- √ nī : to lead near, bring
kanthakam (acc. sg.): m. (= kaṇṭhaka 'an ornament for the neck') buddha's horse
tvarā-vān (nom. sg. m.): mfn. expeditious
tvara: only (-eṇa) instr. ind. hastily

amṛtam (acc. sg.): n. immortality ; the nectar (conferring immortality , produced at the churning of the ocean) , ambrosia
prāptum = inf. pra- √āp: to attain to ; reach , arrive at , meet with , find ; to obtain
itaḥ: ind. from hence , from this place , from this world
adya: ind. today ; now
me (gen. sg.): in/of me
yiyāsā: f. (fr. Desid. yā) desire of going
yā: to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey ; to go away , withdraw , retire ; to flee , escape

閣 而告車匿言
吾今心渇仰 欲飮甘露泉
被馬速牽來 欲至不死郷

1 comment:

Mike Cross said...

Note to self:

The presence of fear always means a condition of conflict. The man who is inwardly afraid puts on an outward show of bravery by an assumed manner.

-- FM Alexnder, CCCI pp.46 fn.