Wednesday, June 5, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.82: A Miracle of Spontaneous Opening (Got in Movement)

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−    Puṣpitāgrā
guru-parigha-kapāṭa-saṁvtā yā na sukham-api dvi-radair-apāvriyante |
vrajati npa-sute gata-svanās-tāḥ svayam-abhavan vivtāḥ puraḥ pratolyaḥ || 5.82

Primary pathways were blocked by gates with heavy bars
[or by gates whose bars were gurus],

– Gates not easily opened, even by elephants 

But as the prince went into movement,

Those major arteries, noiselessly and spontaneously, became open.

The challenge in a verse like today's verse, as I read it, is to see the real, practical meaning that Aśvaghoṣa hid beneath words which seem at first glance to describe a miracle of the kind which defies the laws of nature.

Thus, the ostensible meaning of today's verse is to describe something as miraculous as those so-called miracles that can't be explained except by divine interference with the ordinary working of cause and effect – miracles like Jesus walking on water, or turning water into wine, or rising from the dead, or showing his face in people's cheese on toast. What today's verse ostensibly describes is a religious miracle of that ilk – heavy iron bars lifting themselves up and out of their mighty latches and then floating noiselessly onto the ground.

If that were the only meaning that Aśvaghoṣa intended to convey in today's verse, however, that would render every single word that he wrote – at least for the purposes of a post-post-modernist follower of the Buddha who understands the Buddha's teaching to be the abandonment of religious views – a total waste of time. If that was what Aśvaghoṣa really meant, we might just as well revert to Christianity, or some other God-fearing religion, pray to God “Thy will be done,” and be done with it. 

No. The real miracle behind today's verse might be the miracle of non-doing, the miracle of the right thing doing itself, or in other words, the miracle of spontaneous flow.

That is where the 2nd law of thermodynamics comes in, shedding real (not spiritual) light on the meaning of the words svayam in the 4th pāda, which means "by themselves" or "naturally" or "automatically" or "spontaneously." Long after God and all his miracles have been consigned to the dustbin of human history, I dare to think, the 2nd law of thermodynamics and all its miracles will still be going strong. 

Miracles of spontaneous opening, unlike religious miracles like ash turning into firewood or a dead person coming back to life, invariably proceed in the direction of time's arrow. They do not go against the 2nd law of thermodynamics. On the contrary, they provide conspicuous manifestations of the 2nd law in action.

When today's verse is read in this light, gates that block roads might be a metaphor for what blocks spontaneous flow of human energy – as a damn temporarily prevents water from flowing; or as what chemists call “activation energy barriers” temporarily prevents the carbon in wood from combining with oxygen; or as a person's relationship with his father or other guru can constitute a psychological barrier to the spontaneous flow of his vital energy.

Insofar as such blocks are physical, their removal is liable to involve a certain amount of noise – the sound of ice cracking, for example, or of weights being lifted and dropped, or of feet pounding a running track. But insofar as those blocks are mental, their evaporation tends to happen noiselessly  just at the moment, for example, when a practitioner goes mindfully into movement.

The dictionary gives pratolī as “a broad way, a principal road through a town or village,” but EHJ, endeavoring to clarify the ostensible meaning, adds in a footnote that the Tibetan translation renders pratolī 'gatehouse,' obviously right here and adequately authenticated. In the Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya the word is used of constructions along the wall between towers for providing access from inside to the wall. Hence EHJ translates puraḥ pratolyaḥ as “the city gatehouses.”

If we give primacy to the hidden meaning, however, pratolī is better understood not as a gatehouse but as per the dictionary as a broad way, or principal route; and pur can be understood as meaning the body (considered to be the stronghold of the puruṣa, the personal and animating principle in men), in which case the hidden meaning of puraḥ pratolyaḥ is “the principle pathways (meridians?) of the body.”

My translation of today's verse, I must admit, thus owes a lot to the discoveries of FM Alexander who used to say of it – whatever it is (spontaneous energy flow?) – that “We get it in movement.”

I have quoted on this blog many times the good advice that FM's niece Marjory Barlow gave to me, which was: 
When you think you are wrong, say No [primarily to the idea of doing anything with a view to being right]; give your directions; and go into movement, without a care in the world. Let it come out in the wash!
Experience shows that I am quite capable of ostensibly saying No while, below the surface, not really meaning it.

This, I think, is primarily why Marjory cautioned further “It has to be real.”

My conclusion, then, might be to remind myself, as per yesterday's conclusion:

“Try again, with meaning.”

In other words, keep working to principle – then eventually it will all open out, naturally, like a great big cabbage.

guru-parigha-kapāṭa-saṁvṛtāḥ (nom. pl. f.): closed by doors with heavy iron bars ; blocked by those doors in which a guru is the obstacle
guru: mfn. heavy ; m. any venerable or respectable person (father , mother , or any relative older than one's self) ; m. a spiritual parent or preceptor
parigha: m. ( √ han) an iron bar or beam used for locking or shutting a gate ; (fig.) a bar , obstacle , hindrance ; (once n.) an iron bludgeon or club studded with iron ; the gate of a palace , any gate
kapāṭa: mn. a door , the leaf or panel of a door
saṁvṛta: mfn. covered , shut up , enclosed or enveloped in (loc.) , surrounded or accompanied or protected by (instr. with or without saha , or comp.) , well furnished or provided or occupied or filled with , full of (instr. or comp.)
yā (nom. pl. f.): [those] which

na: not
sukham: ind. easily
api: even
dvi-radaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. 'two-tusked'; an elephant
apāvriyante = 3rd pers. pl. passive apā- √ vṛ: to open, uncover, reveal

vrajati = loc. sg. m. pres. part. vraj: to go , walk , proceed , travel , wander , move
nṛpa-sute (loc. sg. m.): the son of a protector of men; the prince
gata-svanāḥ (nom. pl. f.): without noise
gata: mfn. gone, being absent
svana: m. sound , noise
tāḥ (nom. pl. f.): they

svayam: ind. by themselves, spontaneously
abhavan = 3rd pers. pl. imperfect bhū: to be, become
vivṛtāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. uncovered , unconcealed , exposed , naked , bare ; unclosed, open
puraḥ = gen. sg. pur: f. a rampart , wall , stronghold , fortress , castle , city , town; the body (considered as the stronghold of the puruṣa q.v.); the intellect (= mahat)
puruṣa: the primaeval man as the soul and original source of the universe (described in the puruṣa-sūkta q.v.) ; the personal and animating principle in men and other beings , the soul or spirit
pratolyaḥ = nom. pl. pratolī: f. a broad way , principal road through a town or village ; a kind of bandage applied to the neck or to the penis

重門固關鑰 天神令自開 

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