Saturday, June 1, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.78: Quickly & Boldly, Please (But Without Toxic Side-Effects)

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑−−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Aupacchandasaka
tad-idaṁ parigamya dharma-yuktaṁ mama niryāṇam-ato jagadd-hitāya |
turagottama vega-vikramābhyāṁ prayatasv-ātma-hite jagadd-hite ca || 5.78

Fully appreciate, then, this act of mine, 
yoked to dharma, of getting out,

Proceeding from here, for the welfare of the world;

And exert yourself, O best of horses, 
with quick and bold steps,

For your own good and the good of the world.”

I cannot get out of the nest of my habitual doing by doing this and that, however quickly and boldly I go about doing it. The real way out – not that I always, or often, take it – is practice of non-doing.

Thus, when we apply ourselves to fully appreciating today's verse, not only by using our top two inches but by proceeding from here, on what Dogen called 出身之活路 (SHUSSHIN NO KATSU-RO), "the vigorous road of getting the body out," there is much more to today's verse than initially meets the eye. 

There is more to today's verse than initially met my eye when I provisionally translated it in commenting on BC4.83. (So realize well that my departure from here is yoked to dharma for the welfare of the world / And exert yourself, O best of horses, with speed and prowess, for your own good and the good of the world //BC5.78//)

As I already observed yesterday, the closing words of today's verse, which are the closing words of encouragement that the prince says to his horse, represent a synthesis of the gist of BC5.76 (which suggests that turning to dharma is a solitary undertaking) and of BC5.77 (in which the prince reflects that we are all in the same boat).

This much is readily apparent. At the same time, since the prince is addressing a horse, and Aśvaghoṣa, whose name means “Horse Whisperer,” might see himself as a servant of the Buddha akin to a willing horse, the hidden sub-text of today's verse might be the author encouraging himself, along with any other horse-like servants of the Buddha who might be listening in, in the direction of 
(1) full appreciation of the act of getting out, starting from here; and 
(2) exerting oneself with quick and bold steps for the good of self and world – as opposed, for example, to reacting to one's own good intentions with impatient haste and blundering stupidity and thereby making a general mess (I know whereof I speak).

It has become the norm in England for the children of moneyed parents to take a gap year in in between school and university and do something for the good of the world (while possiblly enhancing their CV in the process), for example, by flying off to scrub the floors of some distant orphanage. But does any good ever really come of it? An old friend of mine spent some years working for Greenpeace, but he found the organization to be full of petty in-fighting. So what might it really mean to act for the benefit of the world? Signing up to some apparently worthy organization has never seemed to me to be the answer – ever since I studied “Organizational Effectiveness” at university. The organization, in my book, is not the basic unit of acting for the welfare of the world.

But neither does a robust individual necessarily have all the answers. 

I remember an episode from about 25 years ago, when I had finished asking my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima questions on Shobogenzo and was about to leave his office, at which point he said, in English, “Please take care of yourself.” The context was that I was at a low ebb energetically. Ever the awkward customer, I replied very directly to his innocent “Please take care of yourself” with a stern “What do you mean?” Gudo said, “In Japan, we usually say o-karada o daijin ni. “Yes” I persisted, “but what does that really mean?”

My intention was: You are supposed to be a bloody Zen master. I am here struggling. You ought to be able to give me some practical guidance as to how to get myself going in the right direction.

A couple of days later I received a parcel in the post from Isetan department store, containing a fleece blanket and a box containing a selection of cheeses. The gift was appreciated, and there was wisdom in it, inasfar as sleeping well and eating well are always a help.

But what I was really crying out for, like a fish in a dwindling pond, was more practical instruction on how to sit well. And for all that was good and generous about Gudo, that was the one thing his teaching lacked – the most important thing.

That is why, five years later, when I finally encountered the teaching of FM Alexander, I embraced it (or maybe more accurately, I grabbed for it) with such great enthusiasm.

Sitting well, I venture to submit, on the basis of Alexander work, is a not so much a matter of learning what to do, but rather a matter of learning what NOT to do, and to that end what not to think, but what to allow. This requires a quickening of consciousness and the right kind of vikrama (whose meanings include boldness and initiative as well as capability, skill, prowess), in the absence of which I easily fall back into my habitual patterns of doing.

Sitting well, in short, is non-doing. Sitting badly, according to the lowly-evolved end-gaining principle, brings into play faulty sensory appreciation, so that even if the end is consistently gained (e.g. sitting in full lotus for five hours a day, or sitting in lotus for three hours a day and translating Shobogenzo for five hours a day), that effort of doing is liable over the long run to produce undesirable side effects – side effects that are detrimental to the welfare of the practitioner and detrimental to the welfare of the world.

Thus, what has been foremost in my mind for the past five years has been NOT to repeat the mistakes that I made, in my attitude to sitting and in my attitude to translating, during the Shobogenzo translation process. Those efforts were characterized not by quickness of consciousness (at least not on my part), but rather by impetuous haste, and (in spite of a fondness for Dogen's phrase 出身之活路) by very limited appreciation of what it really means to get the body out.

If, in my eagerness not to repeat the mistake of impetuous haste, I am failing to manifest sufficient quickness or boldness of step, is that not what human beings always do in our unenlightened unconsciousness – veering from one side of the great broad mid-way path to the other? 

If we take a wide overview of what it might mean to work for the good of the world, it is hard to think of any way in which this blue planet could be made to seem, to a spaceman, any more beautiful than it is. But it might be within our power as human beings to make planet earth seem less beautiful than it presently it, for example, by accidentally turning the earth – through the side-effects of our unconscious end-gaining – into another red planet.

tad: ind. therefore
idam (acc. sg. n.) this
parigamya = abs. pari- √ gam: to go round or about or through ; to come to any state or condition , get , attain (acc.)
dharma-yuktam (acc. sg. n.): connected with dharma
yukta: mfn. yoked to ; set to work , made use of , employed , occupied with , engaged in , intent upon (instr. loc. or comp.) ; furnished or endowed or filled or supplied or provided with , accompanied by , possessed of (instr. or comp.); (ifc.) connected with , concerning

mama (gen. sg.): my
niryāṇam (acc. sg.): n. going forth or out ; departure
ataḥ: ind. from this
jagadd-hitāya (dat. sg.): for the welfare of the world
hita: n. (sg. or pl.) anything useful or salutary or suitable or proper , benefit , advantage , profit , service , good , welfare , good advice

turagottama (voc. sg.): O best of horses
turaga: m. " going quickly " , a horse
uttama: mfn. uppermost, highest, best
vega-vikramābhyām (abl./inst. dual): with speed and prowess
vega: m. impetuosity , vehemence , haste , speed , rapidity , quickness , velocity
vikrama: m. a step , stride , pace ; going , proceeding , walking , motion , gait ; valour , courage , heroism , power , strength (vikramaṁ- √kṛ , to display prowess , use one's strength)

prayatasva = 2nd pers. sg. imperative pra- √ yat: to be active or effective ; to strive , endeavour , exert one's self , devote or apply one's self to (loc.
ātma-hite (loc. sg.): for your own good/welfare
jagadd-hite (loc. sg.): for the welfare/good of the world
ca: and

吾今欲出遊 爲度苦衆生
汝今欲自利 兼濟諸群萌
宜當竭其力 長驅勿疲惓 


jiblet said...


I read tad-idaṁ parigamya dharma-yuktaṁ mama niryāṇam-ato jagadd-hitāya as "So now (tad idam) that I have become intent on the dharma, my leaving here is for the good of the world." Or similar.

Would you please clarify how you arrive at your translation. In particular, where do you hear the exhortation "Fully appreciate..."?


jiblet said...

On reflection...

I'm supposing that you hear parigamya dharma-yuktaṁ as a desription of the condition of the motivated horse while I'm hearing parigamya dharma-yuktaṁ as a description the Buddha's condition.

If I've understood what you're hearing correctly I can see how you arrived at your translation.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Malcolm,

Yes, that's how I heard parigamya, following EHJ who translated parigamya as the imperative "Understand" (the imperative being permissible since the absolutive parigamya is followed up by the imperative prayatasva).

EHJ added a footnote citing precedents for understanding parigam as "understand" (viz. SN5.32, SN16.42, and SN18.43)

I accepted EHJ's reading of the Sanskrit, but reflecting on it, felt there might be some sense in which a horse or a dog, without filtering everything through a human intellect, is in some sense more liable to be fully appreciative of a transcendent human act -- not understanding it intellectually but fully appreciating it nonetheless. As when horses, dogs, or even wild elephants respond to the intentions of horse-, dog- and elephant-whisperers.

For that reason I wanted to translate parigam with words that sound less intellectual than EHJ's "understand" or PO's "knowing..".

In hearing parigamya dharma-yuktaṁ as a description the Buddha's condition, you seem to be with EBC who translated "Since then, when I attain this righteous end, my escape from hence will be for the good of the world,"

Since EBC's "righteous end" didn't make sense to me, I discounted the possibility that parigamya could express the prince's "having come to a state or condition."

The reading you suggest strikes me as deserving more consideration than I gave it.

At the same time, on a good day, I spend all day looking for meaning in each verse that lifts my sitting. That is a large part of how I arrive at all my translations. And what struck me in the process of translating this verse is that I think Aśvaghoṣa is encourage his reader or listener (including himself) to be fully appreciative of what it means to get out -- in which case appreciating means more than understanding intellectually, and going out means more than going from human dwelling A to forest B.

I think what Aśvaghoṣa wants us to fully appreciate is the difficulty of getting the hell out of our habitual manner of being, out of the nest of all our old attachments and views.

Where do we start in what might be such a dauntingly difficult undertaking?


from here
proceeding from this place

jiblet said...

Thanks Mike.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Malcolm.

Then I'll consider this reading as yet unfalsified and accept it on a provisional basis!

I notice incidentally that you described "Fully appreciate" as an exhortation. Looking ahead to tomorrow's verse, Aśvaghoṣa seems to confirm there that an exhortation is indeed what he attended these words of the prince to be -- an exhortation to a horse. And I think the particular horse Aśvaghoṣa had in mind was an aśva of the ghoṣa variety!

So what we might be doing here is eavesdropping on a non-preachy Zen ancestor secretly exhorting himself to exert himself.

jiblet said...

My reading still seems more likely to me. But I'm in no position to falsify yours. So I'm happy to leave open the question of whether the exhortation to whoever's listening includes parigamaya/'fully appreciate' or is merely prayatasva/'make an effort!'

Mike Cross said...

niryāṇam is an -na verbal action noun, and so it means "the act/action of getting out."

The main point of today's verse, as I read it, is (1) fully to appreciate that, and on that basis, (2) to make effort.

This is how Aśvaghoṣa generally uses an absolutive like parigamya, to suggest that one thing follows from another.

If parigamya and prayatasva had different agents, as per your reading, the whole gist of the verse would be weakened. Plus, in general, I don't think Aśvaghoṣa uses the absolutive as per your reading, in a manner akin to use of the dangling participle in slipshod English writing, without a follow-up verb being specified...

"As a mother of five, with another on the way, my ironing board is always up."

jiblet said...

I can’t comment on the main point or gist of today’s verse, Mike – except to say that you might be right.

I do take your point that Ashvaghosha usually, correctly, uses an absolutive prior to a main verb - relating to the same agent - and we don't have one here other than the imperative prayatasva. But from my limited reading, the hanging absolutive isn’t unknown in classical Sanskrit. I don’t know enough to call this example one way or the other.

An admittedly weaker consideration is the influence the metre has on the way I hear the first two padas – weaker because I can’t properly express it (something to do with reading mama across the caesaura), and weaker because I can’t pretend I yet have a finely attuned ear for Sanskrit prosody. And now I'm starting to hear it your way...

Well, I've got EBC on my side, while you’ve got P.O. and EBH on yours. Three against two. Make that three against one and a half. Like I say, I’m in no position...

Mike Cross said...

Sometimes you come over as more Jewish than Buddhist, Malcolm, in your tendency to keep wrangling rather than quietly acquiesce.

Well if you are more Jewish than Buddhist, that makes two of us -- and I am not even circumcised!

I do have an ancestor named River Jordan, however, so there may be hope for me yet.

jiblet said...

I thought I've been saying 'I just don't know,' at least in the last couple of posts. But - on reflection - I've been trying to justify what may well be a mistake. I don't know that I'll ever be friends with being wrong, but I live in hope.