Saturday, June 29, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.17: Directing the Mind Towards How

dhruvo yasmāc-ca viśleṣas-tasmān-mokṣāya me matiḥ |
viprayogakathaṁ na syād-bhūyo 'pi sva-janād iti || 6.17

And since separation is certain

Therefore my mind is directed towards liberation

In order that, somehow, one might not be

Repeatedly dissevered from one's own people.

I have translated, or at least punctuated, today's verse in such a way that particular emphasis is given to the katham (how?) in the 3rd pāda.

One can woffle on for ages and ages, as I have done, arguing that Saundarananda is not a story of religious conversion, though it might be a blueprint for individual transformation; again, one can sit dumbly on a round black cushion for X hours every day, as I have also done; but without some real means, some how, that actually bloody works, it might all have been wasted time and wasted effort.

Has it all been a waste of time and effort?

I don't know. I fear it has, due primarily to successive failures of inhibition on my part.

"This is suffering;" the Buddha said, "this is the tangled mass of causes producing it; this is inhibition; and here is a means." (iti duḥkham-etad-iyam-asya samudaya-latā pravartikā / śāntir-iyam-ayam-upāya iti; SN3.12)

The means to which the Buddha refers, Dogen's teaching leaves a reader of Shobogenzo in no doubt, is essentially just to sit in full lotus. 

Simple as that. What could go wrong?

When something goes wrong, FM Alexander observed, it is always down to a failure of inhibition.

When the Buddha said ayam-upāya, “here is a means,” in my mind he was indicating sitting in lotus as the inhibition of those ideas, desires and tendencies which act as triggers for habitual patterns of doing which are all tangled up with four primitive vestibular reflexes. Such inhibition was described by FM Alexander as
1. letting the neck be free (inhibition of primitive fear reactions centred on the Moro reflex);
2. to let the head go forward (inhibition of TLR in extension) and up (inhibition of TLR in flexion); 
3. to let the back lengthen and widen (inhibition of twists associated with the ATNR);
4. to let the knees go forwards and away (inhibition of STNR).

Here, as I see it, is the essential means, the Buddha's original how, the expression of which in this form, with Alexander's four primary directions related to four vestibular reflexes, I sort of worked out for myself, primarily for my own satisfaction, after many years of directing my mind towards liberation.

And yet I don't feel satisfied and I don't feel that I have been successful. On the contrary, I am acutely conscious of repeated failures of inhibition, the karmic retribution for which, working as it does in three times, might be catching up with me right now, like many pigeons coming home to roost. 

So, I ask myself, this morning, what would I count as success?

What would cause me to think that I had succeeded in demonstrating that ayam upāya, this means, as I have described it, actually works?

On Monday my elder son will sit the final exam in a four-years master's degree course at Imperial College London, but he is already pretty well assured of gaining either a 2:1 degree or a first. So I can't help feeling, as a proud father, that this result is some measure of success of our efforts for the past 22 years as parents. My elder son, I might add, spent a year on a developmental movement programme aimed at inhibiting or preventing the problems with immature vestibular reflexes that run in my side of his family. Furthermore, my son is not only a boffin but is also the kind of bloke who can look somebody in the eye with the kind of self-assured confidence that I didn't quite have when I was 22.

And yet I, for my own part, despite such a vicarious triumph, can't help feeling that my life thus far has been more or less a failure.

What I have been endeavouring to do for the past five years, I suppose, is to demonstrate not only by this translation itself but also in my manner of doing and commenting on it, that I am in possession here – combining the wisdom of Zen ancestors with the wisdom of FM Alexander who rediscovered the secret of Zen for our time – of a means that really works.

Have I succeeded? No I have not.

I have received some encouraging feedback along the way, from people who know Sanskrit better than I do. But what would really count as success is if somebody, anybody, was able to show that this translation of Aśvaghoṣa's writings had helped them really, demonstrably, to understand what the Buddha meant by ayam-upāya.

It is not enough to know that inhibition is the key, academically or scientifically, in the realm of knowledge; we have to demonstrate what inhibition is, in practice, in the realm of action. 

In this matter, anybody can see, I have set the bar pathetically low.

My hope is that people who come after me in the field of inhibitory practice might be enabled, as my sons seem to have been enabled in the area of educational achievement, to jump with relative ease over a bar which I have set so low – and yet which I continue to send repeatedly tumbling to the ground.

dhruvaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. certain, inevitable, assured
yasmāt: ind. since
ca: and
vi-śleṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. loosening , separation , dissolution , disjunction , falling asunder ; separation (esp. of lovers)

tasmāt: ind. (correlative of yasmāt) therefore
mokṣāya (dat. sg.): m. emancipation , liberation , release
me (gen. sg.): my
matiḥ (nom. sg.): f. thought , design , intention , resolution , determination , inclination , wish , desire ; the mind

viprayogaḥ (nom. sg.): m. disjunction , dissociation , separation
vi-pra- √ yuj: to separate from , deprive of
katham: ind. how?
na: not
syāt = 3rd pers. sg. opt. as: to be

bhūyaḥ: ind. more ; still more , moreover , besides , further on ; once more , again , anew
api: even (emphatic)
sva-janāt (abl. sg.): from one's own people
iti: “....,” [thinking] thus

若得解脱者 永無離親期 


Happi said...

Carry on Mike, after all as Marjory used to say, "It all comes out in the wash." Or the path is the goal. Or turn all mishaps into the path. Because especially out here on the Internet "Nobody's driving the bus!"

Mike Cross said...

In considering the meaning of viprayogaḥ in BC6.46, and of sva-jana in BC6.44, I realized that I failed to notice the possible irony that Aśvaghoṣa may have intended in this verse -- whereby disseverance from [the concept] "my own people" might be a most desirable separation.