Thursday, June 13, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.1: Back to the Origin, Amen

¦−⏑⏑−¦¦⏑−−⏑¦⏑−⏑−   bhavipulā
tato muhūrtābhyudite jagac-cakṣuṣi bhās-kare |
¦⏑⏑⏑−¦¦⏑⏑−⏑¦⏑−⏑−   navipulā
bhārgavasyāśrama-padaṁ sa dadarśa nṛṇāṁ varaḥ || 6.1

Then at the instant of the rising

Of the light-producing eye of the world,

The ashram of a son of Bhṛgu

He the best of men did see.

In this Canto we return to the 8-syllable śloka metre which, though it makes for short verses of only 32 syllables, is generally flexible enough in its rules to allow the elements of each verse to be arranged following a certain four-phased logic.

I endeavour to maintain this four-phased arrangement in translation as far as possible, as far as the normal conventions of English grammar allow.

Thus in today's verse the real punch is carried in the 4th pāda by the verb dadarśa, which expresses the action of seeing, or realizing.

The 3rd pāda expresses the concrete object seen, the hermitage.

The 2nd pāda seems to invite investigation of the kind of truths that are investigated in biology and physics.

And the 1st pāda speaks of rising, or of mustering up of energy, of getting psyched to do battle.

The four phases, then, roughly follow the scheme of (1) mind/motivation, (2) material world, (3) practical/concrete object, and (4) realization. 

Still, today's verse at first glance does not have much to do with that one great matter, or that one great purpose (Sanskrit: paramārtham; Chinese: 一大事 / 一大事因縁) which Dogen identified with sitting-meditation. But every verse Aśvaghoṣa wrote, after I memorize it, sleep on it, and then sit for an hour in the morning, eventually shows itself to be totally tangled up with sitting-meditation. And today's verse is no exception. 

First thing yesterday morning, however, before sleeping on it and sitting on it, the first thing today's verse stimulated me to do was to ask myself: How is light produced? How does the sun manage to produce so much light?

I don't know, and neither evidently does JP, the heroic contributor to this discussion that I stumbled on by googling "How is light produced?"

In answer to the question of how light is produced from an atom, JP begins by answering as follows:
It's because an electron gives off an electric field.  As the electron moves, it drags this field about with it, creating ripples that propagate away.  These ripples are the light given off.  An analogy would be to think of a duck in a pond.  A duck sitting still doesn't make waves.  But if the duck moves, it creates ripples in the water that travel away as waves. 
By starting with this analogy, in a manner reminiscent of Richard Feynman, JP helps me form some kind of bridge between my crude understanding of the 2nd law of thermodynamics operating in the everyday world as I experience it, and the altogether wierder world of quantum-electro-dynamics. Which is to say, I have no appreciation at all of what an electron is, or how all those zillions of electrons in the sun are moving about, but I do at least have some appreciation of how when the sun causes wheat to grow and a man uses that wheat to make bread with which to feed the ducks, the energy in that bread is converted by the duck into manifestations of energy as diverse as quacks and ripples in the water. And, once initiated, these ripples – in a conspicuous manifestation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics – tend to keep on spreading out as waves.

A long series of questions and answers follows, in the course of which JP asserts that
physics never explains a root cause of everything and (probably) never will.  So if you drill down deep enough, you'll always hit a point where we don't have a deeper theory.
In the final analysis, then, JP seems to admit that even the best of physicists arrive at a point of not knowing how the sun produces light.

But JP's not knowing, in the area of light-production, might be on a level of not knowing that I have never peeped even in a dream.

If somebody like JP had questions on how to sit, conversely, I would aspire to give answers as clear and considered as JP's answers, written not on the basis of knowing how to sit, but on the basis of NOT knowing how to sit and, perhaps more pertinently – in my capacity as a teacher of the FM Alexander Technique – on the basis of knowing how NOT to sit.

Apropos of which the title of this new Canto is chandaka-nivartanaḥ, “The Turning Back of Chandaka.” And this ostensibly describes the prince sending Chandaka back to the city of Kapilavastu (hence EHJ: The Dismissal of Chandaka; PO: Chandaka is Sent Back). But, a priori, not yet having translated anything beyond today's verse, I would bet my rapidly approaching bottom dollar that what Aśvaghoṣa is going to do below the surface is hold up Chandaka as a paragon of the practice of turning back. So not “The Dismisal of Chandaka [by the Prince]” and not “Chandaka is Sent Back [by the Prince]” but The Turning Back of Chandaka [by nobody but Chandaka].

The difficulty referred to in the duṣkaram viditvā (knowing the difficulty) of BC5.86 is not the difficulty but the outright impossibility of doing anything to realize one's original features – because to engage in any such doing is already to have fled from this place and strayed into the dusty borders of foreign lands. So the real difficulty is in the not doing. The thing which can be learned – albeit with difficulty – is, in other words, desisting from one's habitual doing, turning back from it, and coming back to oneself.

So sit in lotus with the body, Dogen exhorted, and sit in lotus with the mind. Sit in lotus as the dropping off of body and mind.

Learn the backward step of turning light around and letting it shine. Body and mind fall away, naturally, automatically, spontaneously, and your original features re-assert themselves.

Such were Dogen's exhortations, which I have been thinking about, on and off, for the past 30 years. So here's my own two-pennyworth: 

To sit with the body is NOT a matter of knowing anything; it is purely a matter of doing.

To sit with the mind is a matter of knowing what NOT to do.

Body and mind spontaneously dropping off and one's original features emerging is a matter of knowing that It knows what to do.

But please, for fuck's sake, do not call It Jehovah or God or Allah. If we call it anything, let us call it nature, whose eye is something so conspicuously energetic as a sun.

Thy will be done. 


tataḥ: ind. then, from that
muhūrtābhyudite (loc. sg.): in the moment of its rising
muhūrta: m. n. a moment , instant , any short space of time RV. &c (ibc. , in a moment
abhyudita: mfn. risen (as the sun or luminaries) ; one over whom (while sleeping) the sun has risen ; n. (said of the sun or the moon) rising (during some other occurrence)
abhy-ud- √ i : (said of the sun) to rise over (acc.) , rise ; to engage in combat with (acc.)

jagac-cakṣuṣi (loc. sg.): n. " eye of the universe” , the sun
bhās-kare (loc. sg. n.): mfn. light-producing; m. " making light ", the sun

bhārgavasya (gen. sg.): 'relating to or coming from bhṛgu ' ; name of various men
bhṛgu: m. N. of one of the chief Brahmanical families ; m. sg. N. of a ṛṣi regarded as the ancestor of the bhṛgus
āśrama-padam (acc. sg.): n. a hermitage ; a period in the life of a Brahman
āśrama: mn. ( √śram) , a hermitage , the abode of ascetics ; a stage in the life of a Brahman
pada: n. step ; position , rank , station , site , abode , home
√śram: to be weary ; to make effort , exert one's self (esp. in performing acts of austerity)

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
dadarśa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. dṛś: to see, behold
nṛṇām (gen. sg.): m. men

varaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. “select " , choicest , valuable , precious , best , most excellent or eminent among (gen. loc. abl. , or comp.) or for (gen.)

須臾夜已過 衆生眼光出
顧見林樹間  跋伽仙人處

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