Sunday, June 9, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 5.86: A Miracle of Nature

¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−    Puṣpitāgrā
huta-vaha-vapuṣo divaukaso 'nye vyavasitam-asya ca duṣkaraṁ viditvā |
akuruta tuhine pathi prakāśaṁ ghana-vivara-praṣtā ivendu-pādāḥ || 5.86

Again, sky-dwellers of a different ilk, with fiery forms,

Knowing how difficult his resolution was to do,

Produced on his dewy path a brightness

Like moon-beams issuing through chinks in the clouds.

Sky-dwellers of a different ilk (divaukasa 'nye) suggests to me a number of these little critters:

“Of a different ilk” in that case means being in the nature of a real living being that actually flies in the sky here on the earth, as opposed to the nature of a god imagined to live in heaven.

When gods in heaven intervene to interfere with the normal workings of cause and effect, that is a religious miracle, also known as an illusion or a delusion.

When fireflies produce green light from their abdomens via the process of bioluminescence, that is a miracle of nature, not an illusion but a miraculous fact. 

How on earth did fireflykind manage to evolve the ability to produce light? A firefly really is an amazing thing, in more ways than one. I see them often on summer nights in France. I may see them in a different light, from now on, on the basis of today's verse. 

In the 2nd pāda vyavasitam-asya means “the resolution of him” and at the same time it might mean “a resolution of the here and now” or “a resolution as it relates to this earth here and now” – as opposed to a resolution whose accomplishment is expected by gods at some indeterminate point in the future.

The resolution in question has to do with realizing or seeing the far shore of birth and death. 

In what sense, then, do fireflies know the difficulty of this resolution?

Is the suggestion that the task has to do with shining light where there was darkness, and that fireflies know how difficult this is, having mastered the task over the millions of years of their evolution?

Understood in this firefly's light, and reflected upon in light of Dogen's instruction to learn the backward step of turning one's light and letting it shine, Aśvaghoṣa below the surface of today's verse might be giving us a hint about the nature of enlightenment, apropos of which a couple of further points can be noted:

First, Aśvaghoṣa does not tell us that the fireflies knew how to produce light; he does not suggest that glow worms know how to glow. Rather he tells us those sky-dwellers knew that the business of seeing a resolution through, or of shining light into darkness, is something which is duṣkaram, difficult to achieve, or difficult to do.

Second, the simile of moon-beams (inda-pādāḥ; lit. the feet of the drop [of light which is the moon]) peeping through chinks in clouds brings to mind the teaching of the one person in my life that I have met who understood better than anybody else that consciousness is something which is very difficult – or totally impossible – to do. To stop doing, however, may be to give consciousness the chance to shine through:
“We discover consciousness by inhibiting unconscious behaviour. It arises in the gap. It’s something that is there waiting, not something we create. And the nature of consciousness becomes very clear. Consciousness is certainly not something that you do.” 
- Marjory Barlow; An Examined Life (p. 43) 

Speaking of consciousness, as symbolized by light, I revere Marjory Barlow not so much as a shining example of consciousness who I should strive to emulate. By Marjory's own admission she was an inveterate worrier, and was going around the whole time trying to be right. Rather, I revere Marjory as somebody who knew from a lifetime of experience how difficult it is to inhibit unconscious behaviour.

The aspiration that Marjory inspired in me, then, (though  some may think, as I sometimes think, that I did not allow her to do a thorough enough job) was not to be as she was, but rather to see what she saw, and to know what she knew. And in so seeing and so knowing, to be nobody but myself. 

The Alexander Technique has been described, including by two eminent teachers that taught me, as "A Way of Being." Twenty-five or thirty years ago Channel 4 did a documentary on AT whose title was A Way of Being. The two teachers I refer to each told me, independently of each other, that the producers got the title from them! 

If it is a way of being, the way as Marjory taught it is a very indirect way. 

What attracted the 16-year-old Marjory in the first instance to the writings and the work of her uncle, FM Alexander, was the miraculous possibility of consciousness. Nearly 70 years later, whatever Marjory managed to transmit to me in the way of the gist of her uncle's teaching, she transmitted on the basis of really knowing the difficulty (duṣkaraṁ viditvā).

A couple of weeks ago I attended a family get-together to celebrate my father's 75th birthday, where three generations sat along two sides of one long table. My brother positioned himself on one corner, such that his right ear was opening out into relative silence. He took the view that having to resort to this strategy was symptomatic of remaining on that subconscious level of being that FM called the level of the "subconsciously controlled swine." I said that on the contrary it struck me as a good example of a kind of conscious control  – the kind that is based on  knowing the difficulty (duṣkaraṁ viditvā).

Read in this light, today's verse is more than poetry and more than philosophy. It is akin to a needle for work on the self, or akin to a spur, straight from the horse whisperer's mouth.

huta-vaha-vapuṣaḥ (nom. pl. m.): with fiery forms ; having bodies that carry what is offered in fire ; having the wonderful appearance of fire
huta: mfn. offered in fire , poured out (as clarified butter) , burnt (as an oblation) , sacrificed
huta-vaha: m. "oblation-bearer " , agni or fire
vapus: n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty ; the body
divaukasaḥ (nom. pl.): m. " sky-dweller " , a deity
anye (nom. pl. m.): others, different ones

vyavasitam (acc. sg.): n. resolution , determination ; n. an artifice , contrivance ; mfn. finished , ended , done ; decided , determined , resolved ; settled , ascertained , known (n. impers.) , convinced or sure of anything (with samyak , " one who has ascertained what is right " ; with acc. , " one who has acknowledged anything as true "); energetic , persevering , making effort or exertion ; n. resolution , determination
vy-ava- √ so: to settle down or dwell separately ; to determine , resolve , decide
asya = gen. sg. ayam: this , this here , referring to something near the speaker ; known , present ; (opposed to adas e.g. ayaṁ lokaḥ or idaṁ viśvam or idaṁ sarvam , this earthly world , this universe ; ayam agniḥ , this fire which burns on the earth ; but asāv agniḥ , that fire in the sky , i.e. the lightning: so also idam or iyam alone sometimes signifies " this earth ")
ca: and, again, but
duṣkaram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. hard to be done or borne , difficult , arduous
su-duṣkaram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. very difficult to be done , most arduous
viditvā = abs. vid: to know , understand , perceive , learn , become or be acquainted with , be conscious of , have a correct notion of ; to know or regard or consider as , take for , declare to be , call ; to mind , notice , observe , remember (with gen. or acc.) ; to experience , feel (acc. or gen.)

akuruta = 3rd pers. pl. imperf. kṛ: to do, make
akṛṣata [EHJ] = 3rd pers. pl. aorist kṛ: to do, make
(or 3rd pers. pl. imperf. kṛṣ: to draw or make furrows , plough) 
tuhine (loc. sg.): n. frost , cold , mist , dew , snow ; moonlight
pathi (loc. sg.): m. path, way
prakāśam (acc. sg.): m. clearness , brightness , splendour , lustre , light

ghana-vivara-praṣṛtāḥ (nom. pl. m.) issuing from a cleft between clouds
ghana: m. any compact mass or substance (generally ifc.); m. a collection , multitude , mass , quantity ; m. a cloud
vivara: m. n. a fissure , hole , chasm , slit , cleft , hollow , vacuity ; intermediate space ; a breach
praṣṛta: mfn. come forth , issued from (abl. or comp.)
pra- √ sṛ : to move forwards , advance (" for " or " against " acc.) , proceed (lit. and fig.) , spring up , come forth , issue from (abl.) , appear , rise , spread , extend ; to break out (as fire , a disease  &c )  
iva: like
indu-pādāḥ (non. pl. m.): moon-beams
indu: m. a drop (especially of soma); a bright drop , a spark ; the moon ;
pāda: m. the foot ; a ray or beam of light (considered as the foot of a heavenly body)
indu-pada: m. a moon-ray

諸天龍神衆 慶得難得心
各以自力光 引導助其明 

No comments: