Wednesday, June 19, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.7: A Rare Combination & The Pons Asinorum

a-snigdho 'pi samartho 'sti niḥ-sāmarthyo 'pi bhaktimān |
bhaktimāṁs-caiva śaktaś-ca durlabhas-tvad-vidho bhuvi || 6.7

Some, while uncongenial, are capable;

Some, though ineffectual, are devoted;

One of your ilk, both devoted and able,

Is hard to find on this earth.

Once again in today's verse master is praising in servant the co-existence of something submissive and something potent, something passive and something active – in the same way that something passive and something active co-exist in that samādhi of accepting and using the self which has been the criterion, through many generations, for transmission of the Buddha's dharma.

Speaking of using the self, in 1932 FM Alexander published a book titled The Use of the Self. A better title, for my purposes, would have been The Acceptance and Use of the Self. In any event, in the first chapter of this book Alexander outlines how he evolved the technique which bears his name. The essence of the thing, as I outlined in this article, is to use preventive directions as a means to take the mind off doing something to gain an end, while at the same time going ahead and doing it (or letting It do it).

FM writes:
The process I have just described is an example of what Professor John Dewey has called 'thinking in activity', and anyone who carries it out faithfully while trying to gain an end will find that he is acquiring a new experience in what he calls 'thinking.' My daily teaching experience shews me that in working for a given end, we can all project one direction, but to continue to give this direction as we project the second, and to continue to give these two while we add a third, and to continue to keep the three directions going as we proceed to gain the end, has proved to be the pons asinorum of every pupil I have so far known.  

In today's verse on the surface bhaktimān (having devotion/loyalty) describes some kind of emotional bond between servant and master. Hence EBC translated bhaktimān as “affection.” (“One can be able without affection, and affectionate though unable; but one like thee, at once affectionate and able, is hard to find in the world.”)

But that kind of affection, or emotional devotion, in actual practice, can easily become a fetter. What we want to cultivate, and what the bhaktimān in today's verse as I read it is really about, is devotion not so much to a person as to the teaching of not doing wrong. Devotion, in other words, to the inhibitory principle.

This is the primary thing: to be devoted to the inhibitory principle. If the primary thing were devotion to a person, the Buddha might have affirmed the value of building Buddha statues for pigeons to crap upon. The truth appears to be that the Buddha actually forbade the building of such statues. Why? I think because he saw that the primary thing as being not devotion to any person but rather devotion to the inhibitory principle.

Hence the first words of instruction the enlightened Buddha is said to have delivered to those who had committed to follow him were, as recorded in Pali:

sabba papassa akaranam
sabba = skt sarva, all)
papassa = skt pāpman, evil)
akaranam = skt a-karaṇa: not doing)
To refrain from all evil.
Not to do wrong.

This is all very well, but the objection is justifiably raised in the context of Marjory Barlow's game of moving a leg, that this devotion to the inhibitory principle, while it may be very congenial, is not actually effectual in terms of getting the leg moved.

The big difficulty – what Alexander called the pons asinorum – is maintaining one's devotion to the inhibitory principle (i.e. continuing to project at least four directions), while going ahead and gaining the end of doing something good (e.g. moving a leg).

kusalassa upasampada
kusalassa = skt kuśala: right, proper, suitable, good
upasampada = skt upasaṁpanna: arriving at, realizing
To practise good.

sacitta paryodapanam
sa = skt tad: that, one's own
citta = skt citta: mind
pari = skt pari: fully
odapanam = skt ut-√pū: to cleanse, purify
To purify one's own mind.

etam buddhanusasanam
etam = skt. etad: this
buddha = skt. buddha, enlightened one
anusasana = skt. anuśāsana: instruction, direction, command, precept
This is the instruction of the buddhas.

sabba papassa akaranam
kusalassa upasampada
sacitta paryodapanam
etam buddhanusasanam

Not to do wrong.
To practise good.
To purify one's own mind.
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

I am tempted to finish here. But something else, I can't help feeling, needs to be said.

When I googled sabba papassa akaranam, I was led to watch this you-tube clip and found the images and music too religious for my taste, too redolent of ineffectual religious devotion.

I feel the need to insert a few swear words.

So I will conclude instead by honestly relaying what I was reflecting this morning as I sat, which is that my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima was very attached to a piss-poor reductionist explanation of  自受用三昧 (JI-JU-YO-ZANMAI), the samādhi of accepting and using the self, which he attempted to reduce to balance between the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for accepting the self) and the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for using the self).

As an ex-rugby player and martial artist I always knew on some level that Gudo's explanation was crap. If I broke away from a maul in a rugby match and drove towards the opposition fly-half, when I used myself like that something other than my sympathetic nervous system was evidently being called into play – for example, my legs, my lungs, my head, my heart, et cetera. On some level, I knew there was something deeply wrong about Gudo and his teaching.  And yet on another level, some emotional devotion that had developed in me towards Gudo rendered me unable to pinpoint what the problem was. I could not see exactly where my teacher's explanation was faulty, and therefore why he was wrong to be so proud of it.

Because of such stupidity, compounded by intellectual arrogance, despite his undeniably deep devotion to the teaching of Dogen and others, I consider Gudo to have been in many ways a very bad teacher, one who was devoted but ineffectual.

From where Gudo sat, on the other side of the table in his office, he may well have thought that I was capable but uncongenial. Come to think of it, I do remember him once exclaiming in exasperation, "Very rude man!" 

I also remember him intimating that in seeking to clarify to others what Dogen taught, we need to maintain a balance between effectiveness and purity.

So mixed in with his utterly crap and wrong explanation of the gold standard for the transmission of the Buddha's dharma, Gudo also had this kind of real understanding, on an intuitive level, of what the gold standard was. Intuitively he saw the need for both effectiveness in going ahead and gaining an end, and at the same time purity in terms of not being unduly tainted by attachment to results. When it came to translating his deeper intuitive understanding into words, however, Gudo time and time again missed the target with spectacular inaccuracy. 

Any way up, from where I sit now, Gudo and I, between the two of us, fucked everything up – primarily by failing to be sufficiently devoted to the inhibitory principle.

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

a-snigdhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. not smooth , harsh , hard
snigdha: mfn. sticky , viscous or viscid , glutinous , unctuous , slippery , smooth ; adhesive , attached , affectionate , tender , friendly , attached to or fond of (loc.) ; soft , mild , bland , gentle ; lovely , agreeable , charming ; m. a friend
api: though
samarthaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having a similar or suitable aim or object , having proper aim or force , very forcible or adequate , well answering or corresponding to , suitable or fit for ; very strong or powerful , competent , capable of , able to , a match for ; n. ability , competence
asti = 3rd pers sg. as: to be

niḥ-sāmarthyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. unfit , unsuitable
api: though
bhakti-mān (nom. sg. m.): mfn. accompanied by devotion or loyalty

bhaktimān (nom. sg. m.): mfn. accompanied by devotion or loyalty
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
śaktaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. able , competent for , equal to , capable of
ca: and

dur-labhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfm. hard to find ; rare
tvad-vidhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): someone like you ; one of your kind
vidhā: form , manner , kind , sort
bhuvi (loc. sg.): f. the act of becoming or arising ; f. the place of being , space , world or universe ; f. the earth (as constituting one of the 3 worlds , and therefore a symbolical N. for the number " one ")

人有心至誠 身力無所堪
力堪心不至 汝今二倶備

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