Wednesday, July 31, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.49: Separation as Dropping Off, Among Ones Who Are Different

sahajena viyujyante parṇa-rāgeṇa pāda-pāḥ |
anyenānyasya viśleṣaḥ kiṁ punar-na bhaviṣyati || 6.49

Trees shed the redness

Of leaves generic to them;

How much surer is separation to come to pass

Between one individual and another one who is different.

A verse like today's verse, in my book, undermines the whole idea that the individual who is known as “the Buddha” founded a religion, or an ideology.

In the case of a religion or an ideology, the individual submits in the spirit of thy will be done.

In the Buddha's teaching as I hear Aśvaghoṣa transmitting it, both thy will be done and my will be done are subordinated to something else, something that transcends both subject and object, or something in the middle, and this subordination can only be realized on an individual basis. It cannot be imposed from above on a mass basis. 

In today's verse as in many other verses, the primacy of the individual is represented by the innocuous and yet totally subversive word anya, which means other, different, individual – in which case other might mean other than a concept, different might mean different from what was expected, and individual might mean not conforming to anybody's generic stereotype.

In the 3rd pada anyenānyasya combines the instrumental anyena, which means “by an individual” or “in the presence of an individual” or "through the agency of an individual" with the genitive anyasya which ostensibly means “from an individual” but which could also mean “in an individual" or “for an individual.”

Ostensibly anyenānyasya viśleṣaḥ means “the separation of one thing from another thing which is different from it” – in contrast with the shedding by a tree of the leaves which originally belong to it. Hence:

Since the trees are parted from the innate colour of their leaves, why should there not still more be the parting of two things which are alien to each other? (EBC)

Trees are parted from the colouring of their leaves, though it is connate with them. How much more then must there be a severance of one thing from another that is separate from it? (EHJ)

If innate leaves fall from trees as their colour turns, Why surely will not one being be severed from another? (PO)

To convey this ostensible meaning today's verse might be rendered:

Trees shed the redness of leaves generic to them; / How much more inevitable is separation of one individual from another one who is different? //

A more literal rendering of the instrumental and genitive in anyenānyasya, however, hints at the hidden meaning that I think Aśvaghoṣa had in mind:

Trees shed the redness of leaves generic to them; / How much surer is separation to come to pass through the agency of one individual  for/in another individual ? //

Read like this, today's verse might be alluding to the one-to-one transmission of that realization of separation which Dogen experienced in China as “body and mind dropping off.”

The shedding of body and mind suggests, at one and the same time, separation and union... 
"The fact to be faced is that the human self was robbed of much of its inheritance when the separation implied by the conception of the organism as 'spirit,' 'mind' and 'body' was accepted as a working principle, for it left unbridged the gap between the 'subconscious' and the conscious. I venture to assert that if the gap is to be bridged, it will be by means of a knowledge, gained through practical experience, which will enable us to inhibit our instinctive, 'subconscious' reaction to a given stimulus, and to hold it inhibited while initiating a conscious direction, guidance, and control of the use of the self that was previously unfamiliar."
"I suggest that only those who become capable of translating into practice what is involved in the procedure just described can justly claim to have experienced detachment in the basic sense."
-- F. M. Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, 1946

In this quote, similarly, Alexander is discussing a kind of union, or coming together, i.e. the bridging of a gap between unconsciousness and consciousness. At the same time, what he writes is born of practical understanding of a process of coming undone, or bringing about a loosening ( = lit. meaning of viśleṣaḥ) of the grip of unconscious habit. Alexander is talking, in other words, about the possibility of sitting in a way that is separated, or dissevered, or disjoined from from the downward pull and forward push of unconsciousness. Hence the process can be called "separation." And it can also be called "turning back" or "turning back and up." 

What it all means in practice to me, as one non-generic oddball, is that four times a day I come back to sitting in full lotus, at which time I direct my head to go forward and up, this being a one-to-one transmission from Śākyamuni Buddha and at the same time a one-to-one transmission from FM Alexander.

sahajena (inst. sg.): mfn. born or produced together or at the same time as ; congenital , innate , hereditary , original , natural
viyujyante = 3rd pers. pl. passive vi- √ yuj: to be separated from or deprived of , lose (instr.)

parṇa-rāgeṇa (inst. sg.): by the colouration of their leaves
parṇa: n. a leaf
rāga: m. the act of colouring ; colour , hue , tint , dye , (esp.) red colour , redness ; any feeling or passion , (esp.) love , affection or sympathy for , vehement desire of , interest or joy or delight in (loc. or comp.) ; loveliness , beauty (esp. of voice or song)
pāda-pāḥ (nom. pl.): m. " drinking at foot or root " , a tree , plant

anyena (inst. sg.): by one (anya anya or eka anya , the one , the other)
anyasya (gen. sg.): of another
anya: mfn. other, different, opposed ; odd, individual
viśleṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. loosening , separation , dissolution , disjunction , falling asunder ; separation (esp. of lovers)
vi- √ śliṣ: to be loosened or dissolved or relaxed ; to be divided or separated

kiṁ punar: ind. how much more? how much less? however, but
na: not
bhaviṣyati = 3rd pers. sg. future bhū: to be

譬如春生樹 漸長柯葉茂
秋霜遂零落 同體尚分離
況人暫合會 親戚豈常倶

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.48: Preaching a Dream In a Dream

yasmād-yāti ca loko 'yaṁ vipralabhya parasparam |
mamatvaṁ na kṣamaṁ tasmāt-svapna-bhūte samāgame || 6.48

And since this world slips away,

Each side leaving the other disappointed,

The sense that it belongs to me is not fitting

In a coming together that's like a dream.

At the beginning of a long footnote EHJ observes: A difficult verse.

EHJ is not wrong to see today's verse as difficult. Where he might be wrong is in seeing the preceeding verses as not so difficult. I suspect he saw today's verse as particularly difficult because of failing to notice the irony in previous verses. And that failure, in turn, might have been because of not knowing, even in a dream, the centrality of the practice of sitting-meditation in the thinking and the writing of the Zen patriarch Aśvaghoṣa.

Today's verse as I read it is exactly as difficult as yesterday's verse. The difficulty is the same difficulty. The irony is the same irony, which is to say that on the surface the prince is bemoaning the inevitable suffering that is inherent in the attachment of human beings to one other, when separation follows union; while below the surface Aśvaghoṣa is concerned not so much with the first and second of the four noble truths (the fact and cause of suffering), but rather with the third and fourth noble truths, namely the truth of cessation of suffering, and the truth of a way out of suffering – that way being, in the final analysis, a path of separation.

Read in this light, yāti loko 'yaṁ “this world slips away” on the surface points to the evanescent flimsiness of this world, or in other words, to the unreality of this world. But below the surface yāti loko 'yaṁ “this world slips away” might be intended to point, on the contrary, to reality -- and to point in particular to the truth of the instantaneous appearance and disappearance of the universe.

Again, vipralabhya parasparam “lit. having deceived / disappointed each other,” on the surface is redolent with the truth of suffering, as exemplified by the separation of lovers. But below the surface vipralabhya parasparam can be read as contrasting 1. dissonance between subject and object and 2. the samādhi of accepting and using the self – sitting in the latter being a way out of suffering which is never totally a function of me, and never totally a function of circumstances. Vipralabhya parasparam, then, can be read as an ironic negation of subjective and objective viewpoints, or of idealistic and materialistic philosophy – “subject and object leaving each other unfulfilled.”

Again, in the 3rd pada, mamatvaṁ na kṣamam “the sense of it being mine is not fitting” on the surface is the negation of a subject's sense of ownership of his or her object, and is negation especially of a lover's sense of owning his or her beloved. But below the surface Aśvaghoṣa may be echoing the discussion in comments to previous verses, of thy will be done, of my will be done, and of all coming undone.

Finally, the 4th pāda on the surface seems like a negation of the reality of union. Hence in EBC's translation, “a time of union” is equated with [the unreality of] a dream:

And since this world goes away, each one of us deceiving the other, — it is not right to think anything thine own in a time of union which is a dream. (EBC)

The translations of EHJ and PO, similarly, seem to emphasize the flimsiness of union, comparing the transitory or fleeting nature of a coming together with the transitory or fleeting nature of a dream:

And since this world is in a state of continuous separating, therefore the feeling that 'this is mine' is improper with regard to a coming together that is transitory as a dream. (EHJ)

As this world continues to roll sundering one from another, / So it's wrong to invest yourself in this coming together that's as fleeting as a dream. (PO)

Aśvaghoṣa's intention below the surface, however, might be that what is really real is neither one side nor the other, neither subject nor object, neither the attitude of thy will be done nor the attitude of my will be done. What is really real, I think Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting, is neither subject nor object but the moment of subject and object coming together. This coming together is not described as svapna-bhūta (“consisting of a dream” or “like a dream”) because it is as flimsy or as unreal as a dream. On the contrary, I think Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting that a meeting of subject and object is so real that it is a like a dream.

Finally, lest this comment sounds too abstract or philosophical, I shall cite (from recent experience, I confess) as an example of subject leaving object disappointed a garden that has become overgrown with weeds. Conversely, if I don't like what I see in the mirror as a consequence of over-indulging in food, that is an example of object having left subject disappointed. But if I take food in moderation, if I sharpen the scythe well, if the sun shines so that the grass is dry, and if I use myself well in using the scythe, then there might be moments when the scythe cuts through long grass like a dream.... (always assuming that nobody in the vicinity is using a chainsaw or a petrol-driven strimmer).

yasmāt: ind. since
yāti = 3rd pers. sg. to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey; to go away ; to pass away , elapse (said of time) ; to vanish , disappear (as wealth)
[EHJ: yāti with the gerundive implies continuous or habitual action, possibly here in a passive sense, 'is being continually separated.'
ca: and
lokaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the world ; the earth or world of human beings &c ; ayáṁ lokáḥ , " this world " ; (also pl.) the inhabitants of the world , mankind , folk , people ;
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this

vipralabhya = abs. vi-pra- √ labh: to insult , violate , to mock at , take in , cheat , deceive
[EHJ: vipralabhya is used in the sense of vipralambha, the 'parting' of lovers, an extension from 'deception', 'disappointment'.]
pra- √ labh: to lay hold of , seize ; to overreach , cheat , deceive , befool
vipralambha: m. (fr. Caus. vi-pra-√labh) deception , deceit , disappointment ; separation of lovers ; disunion , disjunction ; quarrel , disagreement
parasparam: ind. one another , each other , with or from one another , one another's , mutually , reciprocally

mamatvam (nom. sg.) n. = mamatā: f. the state of " mine " , sense of ownership , self-interest , egotism , interest in (loc.) (-tvaṁ √ kṛ to be attached to , with loc. ; to envy )
na: not
kṣamam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. fit , appropriate , becoming , suitable , proper

tasmāt: ind. therefore
svapna-bhūte (loc. sg. m.): dream-like
svapna: m. sleep, sleeping ; dreaming, a dream
bhūta: (ifc.) being or being like anything , consisting of , mixed or joined with
samāgame (loc. sg.): m. coming together ; union

世間本自乖 暫會恩愛纒
如夢中聚散 不應計我親

Monday, July 29, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.47: Breathing (in Splendid Isolation)

sametya ca yathā bhūyo vyapayānti balā-hakāḥ |
saṁyogo viprayogaś-ca tathā me prāṇināṁ mataḥ || 6.47

Just as clouds join together

And then drift apart again,

So, as I see it, is the joining and separation

Of those who breathe.

What I wrote in my comment yesterday linking separation and breathing I wrote before starting work on the translation of today's verse in which prāṇinām means “living creatures” and at the same time, originally, “breathers.”

On the surface, then, prāṇinām means all living beings, but below the surface prāṇin “one who breathes” might be intended to suggest the same as bhūta in yesterday's verse – i.e. a real human being, or a realized human being, who knows what it is truly to allow an in-breath and truly to allow an out-breath.

Yesterday evening after another thunderstorm had passed (the one on Saturday seeming to have knocked out my neighbour's phone line and therefore my connection to the internet; hence the late posting), the air smelt very fresh and the sounds of the rain-invigorated forest stream intermingling with birdsongs sounded very distinct. As I sat outside in full lotus I had a sense, stimulated by the energy of a corner of the forest where I feel I belong and at the same time by today's verse, of the importance of being able to breathe easy in one's own skin.

Thinking in terms of the hidden meaning of today's and yesterday's verses, as I read them, I can't deny how vital it has been to associate with Alexander teachers like Ron Colyer and Marjory Barlow, who taught me a lot about how NOT to breathe; and how useful it was, before that, to join with others in Japan who were sincerely devoted to “just sitting,” as they believed in it. But in the end what it means to me, and what it has meant to me for more than ten years now, to breathe easy in my own skin, is mainly to retreat to this place by the forest in France and sit by myself.

Through the centuries, I seem to hear Dogen's teacher Tendo Nyojo saying, as he is quoted saying in Shobogenzo, as if to take the piss out of a monk who praised his own solitary practice: “Let him kill himself by sitting.”

And the sanitized version of my instinctive response is: “Please be so kind as to leave me alone.”

The joy of the first dhyāna is described in SN Canto 17, and again in BC Canto 5, as “born of solitude / separateness.” And the going up beyond joy of the third dhyāna involves many separations, altogether and one after another.

Ostensibly, then, the prince in today's verse is again describing separation as the essence of suffering. But I think that below the surface Aśvaghoṣa is conscious of separation as the essence of sitting-meditation.

sametya = abs. sam- √i : to go or come together
ca: and
yathā: ind. just as
bhūyaḥ: ind. again, once more

vyapayānti = 3rd pers. pl. vy-apa- √ yā : to go away , retire , withdraw; to pass away, vanish
balā-hakāḥ (nom. pl.): m. or valāhaká a rain or thunder -cloud , any cloud

saṁyogaḥ (nom. sg.): m. conjunction , combination , connection ; union or absorption with or in ; contact
viprayogaḥ (nom. sg.): m. disjunction , dissociation , separation
ca: and

tathā: in like manner
me (gen. sg.): me
prāṇinām = gen. pl. prāṇin: m. 'breathing' a living or sentient being , living creature
mataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. thought , believed , imagined , supposed , understood ; regarded or considered as , taken or passing for (nom. or adv.)
matau [Gawronski] (nom. dual): ibid.

[EHJ notes that Aśvaghoṣa uses a single verb with a double subject several times.]

浮雲興高山 四集盈虚空
俄而復消散 人理亦復然

BUDDHACARITA 6.46: Ninety Degrees of Separation

vāsa-vkṣe samāgamya vigacchanti yathāṇḍa-jāḥ |
niyataṁ viprayogāntas-tathā bhūta-samāgamaḥ || 6.46

Just as, on a roosting-tree, birds of an egg-born feather

Flock together and then go their separate ways,

So does an association of real beings

Always have separation as its end.

The viprayoga (separation / disseverance) in the 3rd pāda of today's verse appears in two previous verses of Buddhacarita. Viprayogaḥ appears in BC5.28, in the comment to which I considered the ambiguity of the term. It appears again, in conjunction with sva-jana (one's own people), in BC6.17, in the comment to which I omitted to consider either the possible ambiguity of viprayogaḥ or the possible irony of sva-jana – which was remiss of me.
Bowing down with hollowed hands joined, he said: “Grant me, O god among men, proper assent! / I desire to go wandering, for the sake of liberation, since, for a man such as I am, the invariable rule is separation (viprayogaḥ).” //5.28//
And since separation is certain therefore my mind is directed towards liberation / In order that, somehow, one might not be repeatedly dissevered (viprayogaḥ) from one's own people (sva-janāt). // 6.17//
If Aśvaghoṣa intends any ambiguity in today's verse by viprayogaḥ, and I suspect he does, it needs to be understood in connection with bhūta in the 4th pāda. From the root √ bhū, to be, bhūta as a neuter noun means a being, a living being. This is the ostensible meaning of bhūta in bhūta-samāgamaḥ; hence “the meeting of beings” (EBC); “the union of beings” (EHJ/PO). At this level of understanding, separation of living beings who are attached to each other is a sorrowful fact, belonging to the truth of suffering.

But bhūta also carries the connotation of what is real, or of what has actually been, as opposed to what is assumed or imagined or expected. Hence as an adjective bhūta is given in the dictionary as actually happened, true, real; existent, present. For this reason, on one level in today's verse I would like to take bhūta as “real beings” or "realized individuals" in the sense of beings who are really living in the world, as opposed to the proverbial birds of a feather who, so the saying goes, flock together.

To add a further layer of ambiguity, bhūta as a masculine noun is also given in the dictionary as a great devotee or ascetic. Is there a sense in which the association of great devotees of hard practice must have separation as its ultimate end?

If we look to Saundarananda for evidence to support that proposition, the best evidence might come at the end of SN Canto 18, where in SN18.60 the mind of a realized man is described as vivikte (“detached and distinct”; lit. “separated”) and in SN18.61 the newly realized being who was Nanda is described as separating himself from the original realized being who was the Buddha:
"For, with you showing constancy of the highest order, as you get to the bottom of what is, she surely will not enjoy life in the palace, / Just as the mind of an enlightened man does not enjoy sensual pleasures when his mental state is tranquil and controlled, and his thinking is detached and distinct (vivikte)." // SN18.60 //
Thus spoke the Worthy One, the instructor whose compassion was of the highest order, whose words and equally whose feet Nanda had accepted, using his head; / Then, at ease in himself, his heart at peace, his task ended, he left the Sage's side like an elephant free of rut. // SN18.61 //

Or, to bring the discussion back down to a more directly accessible level, insofar as mental pollutants manifest themselves in interference with breathing, the end of eradicating those pollutants might be identified with that separation of bone from bone which allows the breathing to be as free and full as nature intended. In this sense, also, the end is separation, and at the same time (since separation is not something but rather a kind of gap) the end is a bit of niṣ- or a bit of nair- i.e., a bit of nothing.

What FM Alexander discovered for himself with remarkable clarity, considering that he did not have the Buddha's four noble truths to guide him but was starting more or less from scratch, is that the kind of separation that is wanted, such that every bone tends apart from its nearest neighbours, is not something that can be striven for by direct means. Even a prayerful and innocent “Thy will be done” is liable to be insufficient on its own. Having spent years getting or turning back (nivartanaḥ) to the real root of the problem, which resides originally not so much in the bones themselves as in the mind, that is to say, mainly in the brain and nervous system, Alexander developed a means-whereby for sitting more or less upright (at 90 degrees to the surface of the earth) in such a way that more rather than less separation is allowed. Alexander's means-whereby was far ahead of anything I had come across in 13 years of studying Zen in Japan, and it blew me away when I first encountered it around 1994.

I had a comical dream last night (Saturday night) in which I was lying on the floor demonstrating to a large number of people, in a clown-like manner, the opposite of separation – so that I was shortening my neck, putting a pained expression on my face, pulling my limbs in by tightening my hips and shoulders, tightening my wrists and fingers, tightening my rib-cage, and so on. Think of a puppet whose internal strings all become shortened at once: this is the opposite of separation. Since it is a doing, it can be done; it can be demonstrated directly in a way that true separation – being an undoing, or a bit of nothing – cannot be so easily demonstrated.

Be it thy will or my will, let all come undone.

A final point to note is that in the original Sanskrit there may be a philosophical progression of four elements, the order of which I have not been able to preserve in translation, viz:

(1) proverbial flocking together (samāgamya),
(2) being egg-born, being born from material stuff (andha-jāḥ),
(3) having separation as a practical end to work towards (viprayogāntaḥ),
(4) association of beings who are real (bhūta-samāgamaḥ).

P.S. Apologies for the late posting. I was not able to post this on Sunday due to lightning taking out a phone-line; so Monday will be a day of double punishment. 

vāsa-vṛkṣe (loc. sg.): m. roosting-tree
samāgamya = abs. sam-ā- √ gam : to come together

vigacchanti = 3rd pers. pl. vi- √ gam : to go asunder , sever , separate ; to go away , depart , disappear , cease , die
yathā: ind. just as
aṇḍa-jāḥ (nom. pl.): m. 'egg-born' ; a bird

niyatam: ind. always , constantly , decidedly , inevitably , surely
viprayogāntaḥ (nom. sg. m.): having disjunction as its end
viprayoga: m. disjunction , dissociation , separation from
anta: m. end

tathā (ind.): ind. in like manner
bhūta-samāgamaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the coming together of living beings
bhūta: mfn. actually happened , true , real (n. an actual occurrence , fact , matter of fact , reality) ; existing , present ; m. a son , child ; m. a great devotee or ascetic
n. that which is or exists , any living being (divine , human , animal , and even vegetable) ; n. an element , one of the 5 elements (esp. a gross element = mahā-bh° q.v. ; but also a subtle element = tan-mātra q.v. ; with Buddhists there are only 4 element)
samāgama: m. coming together (either in a hostile or friendly manner) , union (also sexual) , junction , encounter or meeting with ; association , assembly of (comp.)

曠野茂高樹 衆鳥群聚栖
暮集晨必散 世間離亦然

Saturday, July 27, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.45: Towards a Bit of Nothing

mahatyā tṣṇayā duḥkhair-garbheṇāsmi yayā dhtaḥ |
tasyā niphala-yatnāyāḥ kvāhaṁ mātuḥ kva sā mama || 6.45

With a great desire, and attendant sufferings,

She bore me in her womb:

When her effort's fruit is naught,

Where will I be, for my mother? Where she, for me?

Extra motivation to find hidden meaning is provided in today's verse by the difficulty in understanding the ostensible gist of the verse, and especially of the 3rd pāda.

She, my mother, by whom I was borne in the womb with great thirst and pains, — where am I now with regard to her, all her efforts fruitless, and where is she with regard to me? (EBC)

My mother bore me in her womb with pains and great longing. Her efforts have been fruitless. What am I to her now or she to me? (EHJ)

She bore me in her womb with great yearning and pain; Yet her efforts are vain: What am I to my mother? What is she to me? (PO)

The three professors thus each took the 3rd pāda, whose elements are genitive, as a straight description of the vain or fruitless efforts of the genitive mātuḥ (mother) in the 4th pāda.

But those translations do not seem to me to make any sense, even at the ostensible level. Why would the prince say that his mother's efforts to date had been fruitless? After all, the prince had got as far as he had got, had he not? – he had awakened the will to the truth and arrived where he wanted to be in the forest.

In my book, even at the ostensible level the 3rd pāda is better read as the genitive absolute, or something akin to the genitive absolute, so that the prince, following on from the discussion of death in yesterday's verse, is ostensibly saying “When her effort has ceased to bear fruit (i.e. when I am or we are dead), what use will I be to my mother, and she to me?”

So much for the surface meaning. What lies today below the surface?

The first thing to note might be the antagonistic interplay between mumukṣayā (retaining the desire to be free) in yesterday's verse and mahatyā tṛṣṇayā (with a great thirst/desire) in the 1st pāda of today's verse. 

If yesterday's thesis is the need for a practitioner to keep nurturing the flame of his desire for liberation, today's antithesis is the noble truth that great desire is invariably attended by sufferings – even if the desire in question is something so natural and noble as a woman's longing or yearning to have a baby. The unspoken synthesis might be the teaching that to have small desire (Skt: alpecchu) is already to have nirvāṇa.

But the main key that unlocks the hidden meaning of today's verse might be in the 3rd pāda in the niṣ- of niṣphala. The niṣ- of niṣphala, I venture to submit, is the nair- of nair-guṇyam. Just as the hidden meaning of nair-guṇyam is “having the virtue of being without,” the hidden meaning of niṣ-phala is “the fruit which is to be without” or “the effect which is emptiness.” Tasya niṣphala-yatnāyāḥ, then, might literally mean (if we take the phrase as genitive absolute) “while her effort is being directed towards the fruit which is emptiness....”

The prince's question, in that case, might be about the practical consequences  (whether the agent of realization is understood to be the mother or her son, or both) of an individual's realization of emptiness. The practical consquences of realizing emptiness.... Hmmm. Food for thought. 

Any way up, as evidence in support of the above reading of the hidden meaning of niṣ-phala, I would like to refer to SN Canto 17 in which Aśvaghoṣa describes Nanda successively attaining four fruits of dharma, viz:

- he attained the first fruit of dharma
(dharmasya pūrvāṃ phala-bhūmim-āpa; SN17.27)

- he obtained the second fruit in the noble dharma
(prāpa dvitīyaṃ phalam-ārya-dharme; SN17.37)

- So that he attained, because of practice, the fruit of not returning, and stood as if at the gateway to the citadel of nirvāṇa
(yogād-anāgāmi-phalaṃ prapadya dvārīva nirvāṇa-purasya tasthau ; SN17.41)

The fourth of these four fruits is the worthy state of the arhat, known in Chinese and Japanese as 四果 (Jap: SHIKA), “the fourth fruit” or “the fourth effect.”

And the fourth effect as Aśvaghoṣa describes it is very much a matter of nir- and niṣ- and vi- and vita-, all of which prefixes mean “being without":-
Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served. Without ambition (nir-utsuko), without partiality (niṣ-praṇayo), without expectation (nir-āśaḥ); / Without fear (vi-bhīr), without sorrow (vi-śug), without pride (vīta-mado), and without the red taint of passion (vi-rāgaḥ); while being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different. // SN17.61 //
arhattvam-āsādya sa sat-kriyārho nirutsuko niṣpraṇayo nirāśaḥ /
vibhīr-viśug-vītamado virāgaḥ sa eva dhṛtyānya ivābabhāse // 17.61 //

Speaking of being without, eight or nine years ago while practising alone by the forest in France as I am doing now, I came up, on the basis of sitting-dhyāna, with the following attempt to express in my own words that empty fruit (niṣ-phalam) which is endowed with the virtue of being without (nair-guṇyam).

Without fear or greed,
From dawn until dusk,
Sits Buddha's mind-seed,
Untainted by husk.

Since then events seem to have conspired to test how real or constant the realization was that I was presuming to express then. For example, when the current financial crisis first hit the news in 2007, how amenable were my fear reflexes to being excited? Again, when in response to the financial crisis I turned to gold, and the strategy proved successful, how capable was my fear of turning into greed?

The answer to those question might be: 1. Very amenable, and 2. Very capable.

Small desire is not no desire, but neither is it greed.

The Buddha's ultimate teaching, the teaching of small desire, is too simple for words. A child of three could understand it, and yet...

mahatyā (inst. sg. f.): mfn. great
tṛṣṇayā (inst. sg.): f. thirst ; desire , avidity (chiefly ifc.)
duḥkhaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. pain, sorrow, suffering

garbheṇa (inst. sg.): m. the womb
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be
yayā (inst. sg. f.): by whom
dhṛtaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. held, borne, maintained

tasyāḥ (gen. sg. f.): her
niṣphala-yatnāyāḥ (gen. sg. f.): efforts being fruitless ; effort bearing the fruit of nothingness
niṣphala: bearing no fruit , fruitless , barren , resultless , successless , useless , vain
yatna: m. (also pl.) effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care

kva: ind. where? (with √bhū , √as) how is it with? what has become of? i.e. it is done with ; or kva alone may have the same meaning (e. g. kva sukham , where is happiness? i.e. there is no such thing as happiness ; kva - kva or kutra-kva (implying excessive incongruity) where is this? where is that? how distant is this from that? how little does this agree with that?
aham (nom. sg. m.): I
mātuḥ (gen. sg. f.): of mother
kva: ind. where?
sā (nom. sg. f.): she
mama (gen. sg.): of me

慈母懷妊我 深愛常抱苦
生已即命終 竟不蒙子養
存亡各異路 今爲何處求 

Friday, July 26, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.44: Stony Death and Worried Me, Work Together in Perfect Harmony, Side by Side on My Round Black Cushion...

sva-janaṁ yady-api snehān-na tyajeyaṁ mumukṣayā |
¦⏑⏑⏑−¦¦−−−−¦⏑−⏑−   navipulā
mtyur-anyonyam-avaśān-asmān saṁtyājayiṣyati || 6.44

Even if, while retaining the desire to be free,

I, through attachment, fail to abandon my own people,

Death, perforce, will cause us

Totally to abandon one another.

EHJ made a big change to the text of today's verse: at the end of the 2nd pāda he changed mumukṣayā (EBC: “in my desire for liberation”) to ahaṁ svayam (“of myself”). EHJ thus translated “Should affection lead me not to quit my kinsfolk of myself, still death would part us one from the other against our wills.”

EHJ made this textual intervention partly on the very dubious grounds that mumukṣayā is omitted from the Chinese translation, and partly on the grounds that the Tibetan text (according to which, in EHJ's version, svayam in the 2nd pāda and avaśān in the 3rd pāda are opposed) is stronger than the old Nepalese manuscript's text.

In my judgement, the contrast that the Tibetan translator must have highlighted is already there in the two ablatives which seem to mirror each other in the 1st pāda (snehāt, through affection/attachment) and in the 3rd pāda (avaśāt, perforce, through a force not submissive to another's will).

Retaining the text of the original Sanskrit manuscripts, then, what is its ostensible meaning and, assuming there is a hidden meaning, what is the hidden meaning?

On the surface today's verse is like leading with a trump card, the ace of spades, in opposing human sentiment with objective reality. On the surface, it is another case (as also for example in BC5.38) of using death as the ultimate conversation stopper, the weapon of choice in putting an end to post-modernist “narratives.”

A key to unlock hidden meaning might be the compound sva-janaṁ (“my own people” or “my own kith and kin”) which is the very concept that the Buddha exhorts Nanda to abandon at the end of the passage quoted yesterday from SN Canto 15.
With thoughts about close relatives, therefore, you should not enshroud the mind. /There is no abiding difference, in the flux of saṁsāra, between one's own people (sva-janasya) and people in general (janasya). // SN15.41 //
If we understand the prince's words in today's verse as thus presaging (or echoing) the teaching of the enlightened Buddha, then death is the means, or the ultimate cause, of abandonment of concepts like "my own people." 

Death, in that case, might be synonymous with that spontaneous happening that Dogen called body and mind dropping off and one's original features emerging – in which happening, today's verse as I read it is suggesting, I abandon concepts and concepts abandon me.

Ostensibly, then, the prince in today's verse is thinking ahead to what would happen if he left the forest and went back to his family – he is saying that if, because of his affection for his kith and kin, he went back to rejoin his family in the palace in Kapilavastu, and remained there harbouring the frustrated desire to be free, then he and his people would inevitably be separated anyway in the end by death.

But below the surface Aśvaghoṣa as I hear him is describing what does happen when a practitioner goes to the forest to practise alone – he is describing a real situation in which a practitioner has gone to the forest with the desire to be free, and in the forest he is maintaining the desire to be free, and yet, because of deep-rooted attachments, unhelpful ideas like “my own people” continue to prove difficult to shake off...
If, though they are being shaken off, a trace persists of unhelpful thoughts, / One should resort to different tasks, such as study or physical work, as a means of consigning those thoughts to oblivion. // SN16.77 // A clear-sighted person should even sleep or resort to physical exhaustion, / But should never dwell on a bad stimulus, pending on which might be an adverse reaction. // SN16.78 //
When the practitioner persists by such means  so that something else eventually takes over (an experience akin to death), the practitioner and unhelpful thoughts like “my own people” are, in that instant, abandoning each other.

From my side, by practising what is called in Alexander work conscious inhibition, or saying No to an idea, I abandon ideas and I thereby facilitate death (or “body and mind dropping off”). From the forest's side, by taking away my ears by birdsongs, by ripping away my views with the moon, and by other means too mysterious to mention, nature enforces balance on me so that something dies and ideas evaporate by themselves.

In one of the most encouraging passages that Aśvaghoṣa wrote, he has the Buddha tell Nanda:
It may not be possible, following a single method, to kill off bad ideas that habit has so deeply entrenched; / In that case, one should commit to a second course but never give up the good work. // SN16.70 // Because of the instinct-led accumulation, from time without beginning, of the powerful mass of afflictions, / And because true practice is so difficult to do, the faults cannot be cut off all at once. // SN16.71 //

When we read today's verse in light of this teaching, we might conclude that the really vital point in today's verse is conveyed at the end of the 2nd pāda by mumukṣayā, which means having or maintaining or utilizing the desire to be free.

Without this desire to be free, there might be plentiful gainful employment for professors of Sanskrit in the field of Buddhist studies, but there is no thirst that is quenched by drinking in a forest stream while sitting, and there is no hidden meaning in a verse like today's verse.

I should add that I am much obliged to EH Johnston for his truly gargantuan efforts in Aśvaghoṣa's service – almost as much as I am obliged to Gudo Nishijima for his gargantuan efforts, in which he emphasized, in a somewhat one-sided and reductionist manner in my book, how balance of the autonomic nervous system causes thoughts to "evaporate" (Gudo's word). How balance, conversely, might be a function of thinking was, for Gudo, strictly off limits. 

And so this is how I repay great workhorses of the past, by highlighting their faults and complaining about the gaps in their thinking. A hundred years from now, it is to be hoped, somebody who I helped along the way will be doing the same in regard to my faults and the gaps in my thinking.

sva-janam (acc. sg. m.): one's own people ; kith and kin
yady-api: even if , although
snehāt (abl. sg.): unctuousness; affection, attachment
na: not
tyajeyam = 1st pers. sg. optative tyaj: to leave, abandon
mumukṣayā (inst. sg.): f. (fr. Desid, muc) desire of liberation from (abl.) or of final emancipation
muc: to loose , let loose , free , let go , slacken , release , liberate (" from " , abl.)
aham (nom. sg. m.): I
svayam: ind. of or by myself, spontaneously , voluntarily , of my own accord

mṛtyuḥ (nom. sg.): m. death
anyonyam: ind. each other, one another
avaśāt (abl. sg.): mfn. unsubmissive to another's will , independent , unrestrained , free ; not having one's own free will , doing something against one's desire or unwillingly [“helplessly” EBC; “against our wills” EHJ; “even against our will” PO]
vaśa: m. will , wish , desire ; authority , power , control , dominion (vaśāt " by command of , by force of , on account of , by means of , according to ")

asmān (acc. pl.): us
saṁtyājayiṣyati = 3rd pers. sg. causative future saṁ- √ tyaj : to cause to abandon 

縱令我今日 不捨諸親族
死至形神乖 當復云何留

Thursday, July 25, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.43: Rules for Owners of a Body

mad-viyogaṁ prati chanda saṁtāpas-tyajyatām-ayam |
¦⏑⏑⏑−¦¦⏑−−⏑¦⏑−⏑−   navipulā
nānā-bhāvo hi niyataḥ pthag-jātiṣu dehiṣu || 6.43

“Let this distress at separation from me, Chanda,

Be abandoned.

Disparate existence is the rule

Among singly-born beings who own a body.

Again, should there be anxiety about whether or not your family is prospering, / Investigate the nature of the world of the living in order to put a stop to it. // SN15.30 // Among beings dragged by our own doing through the cycle of saṁsāra / Who are our own people, and who are other people? It is through ignorance that people attach to people. // 15.31 // For one who turned on a bygone road into a relative, is a stranger to you; / And a stranger, on a road to come, will become your relative. // 15.32 // Just as birds in the evening flock together at separate locations, / So is the mingling over many generations of one's own and other people. // 15.33 // Just as, under any old roof, travellers shelter together /And then go again their separate ways, so are relatives joined. // 15.34 // In this originally shattered world nobody is the beloved of anybody. / Held together by cause and effect, humankind is like sand in a clenched fist. // 15.35 // For mother cherishes son thinking "He will keep me," / And son honours mother thinking "She bore me in her womb." // 15.36 // As long as relatives act agreeably towards each other, /They engender affection; but otherwise it is enmity. // 15.37 // A close relation is demonstrably unfriendly; a stranger proves to be a friend. / By the different things they do, folk break and make affection. // 15.38 // Just as an artist, all by himself, might fall in love with a woman he painted, / So, each generating attachment by himself, do people become attached to one another. // 15.39 // That relation who, in another life, was so dear to you: / What use to you is he? What use to him are you? // 15.40 // With thoughts about close relatives, therefore, you should not enshroud the mind. /There is no abiding difference, in the flux of saṁsāra, between one's own people and people in general. // SN15.41 //

A monk asked Joshu: What was Bodhidharma's intention in coming from India?
Joshu answered: The cedar trees in the garden.
Monk: Don't teach me with objective things!
Joshu: I'm not teaching you with objective things!
Monk: What was Bodhidharma's intention in coming from India?
Joshu: The cedar trees in the garden.

On one level of understanding, the prince in today's verse, as also the Buddha in the above passage from SN Canto 15, is counterposing objective reality against the subjective ideas of the suffering subject.

The compound mad-viyogam (separation from me) can indeed be taken as a hidden pointer to objective reality, to the reality which is not of the self, which is separate from me.

Understood at this level, the 3rd and 4th pādas of today's verse are an expression of the truth of suffering as objective fact, as the unavoidable truth of what is hard for us to swallow, hard cheese, tough cheddar. At this level, nānā-bhavaḥ expresses expresses something painful -- “parting from each other” or “separation.” Hence:

"Separation is the fixed law among coporeal beings, in that they are subject to different births” (EHJ).

“Embodied beings in diverse births are bound to part from each other” (PO).

When Aśvaghoṣa uses a compound as ambiguous as nānā-bhavaḥ, however, he invariably has more than one reading in mind.

How are we to dig for those deeper meanings, if not by placing our sitting bones on the centre of a round cushion, crossing our legs, and thereby owning our own body?

For a singly-born (pṛthag-jāta) individual who sits like this, owning his own body (dehin), Aśvaghoṣa may secretly be suggesting, real existence goes far beyond negation of subjectivism, in the same way that Joshu did not denigrate the cedar trees as "objective things." For an individual who owns his own body, the suggestion might be, nānā-bhāvaḥ expresses real existence as multifarious, multidimensional, variegated, distinct, and in this sense disparate.

Not so much hard cheese, then. More life's rich tapestry

What was Bodhidharma's intention in coming from India to China and silently facing the wall? Multifarious existence.

What was Aśvaghoṣa's intention in staying in India and producing thousands of verses of Sanskrit poetry? Disparate, multidimensional reality.

Speaking of multidimensional reality...

A couple of interviews with Israelis I have heard on different radio programmes during the last 24 hours stand out in my mind, contrasting with each other. One was in a documentary called The Story of the Talmud, in which a student from a Jerusalem yeshiva was heard to justify his parasitic existence by saying that devoting all his time to studying the Talmud, as opposed to engaging in gainful employment, was what God (conveniently) wanted him to do. He seemed to suggest further that God might repay such devotion to the purely spiritual realm by intervening with miracles to cause the nation of Israel to prosper.

The second interview, which I heard in the middle of the night on the BBC World Service, was with an Israeli doctor dealing with injured Syrian refugees arriving at the border, the youngest of these patients being a nine-year old boy who had lost his eyes due to shrapnel injuries.

No prizes for guessing for which of these two Isrealis I felt admiration, and for which one I felt disdain. And no prizes also for guessing which one did me the favour of holding up the mirror to me – the self-indulgent parasite who spends all day studying an ancient text which is not so much, as one rabbi put it, about answering questions, as about questioning answers.

I shall conclude this idle ramble by making the connection with turning back (nivartanaḥ) from greed and fear and owning a body (dehin). But I shan't claim, like the religious bloke in the Jerusalem yeshiva, that my intermittent turning back and temporary owning of a body are for the greater good, and that therefore everybody owes me a living.

“A day without work,” as an old Chinese owner of his own body once said, “is a day without food.” 

This particular singly-born owner of a body was not talking here about cultivating the empty field. He was talking about digging the multifarious earth. 

I would have liked to translate nānā-bhāvaḥ as "multifarious existence," but I think "disparate existence" works better as a translation that retains the ambiguity Aśvaghoṣa may have intended. 

mad-viyogam (acc. sg.): separation from me
viyoga: m. disjunction , separation (esp. of lovers) , loss or absence or want of
prati: towards, at
chanda (voc. sg.): O Chanda!

saṁtāpaḥ (nom. sg.): m. becoming very hot; affliction , pain , sorrow , anguish , distress
tyajyatām (3rd pers. sg. passive imperative tyaj): let it be abandoned!
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this

nānā-bhāvaḥ (nom. sg. m.) different states of being ; multifarious / disparate existence; becoming/being different/separate/manifold (EBC: change; EHJ: separation)
mfn. various , manifold
nānā: ind. differently , variously , distinctly , separately
nānāśraya: mfn. wearing different forms (or, "resorting to various means") BC8.18
nā́nā-karaṇa: n. variation
nā́nā-kāma: m. pl. many desires or wishes
nā́nā-gati: m. " moving in different ways " , the wind
nā́nā-jana: m. pl. different people or tribes
nā́nā-tva: n. difference , variety , manifoldness
nā́nā-deśa: m. sg. different regions or countries
bhāva: m. becoming , being , existing , occurring , appearance ; turning or transition into (loc. or comp.)
hi: for
niyatam: ind. always , constantly , decidedly , inevitably , surely
niyataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. fixed , established , settled , sure , regular , invariable , positive , definite ; customary , usual

pṛthag-jātiṣu (loc. pl. m.) born separately
pṛthak: ind. widely apart , separately , differently , singly , severally , one by one
pṛthag-ātman; m. individualized spirit , the individual soul (as distinct from universal spirit or the soul of the universe)
pṛthag—ātmikā: f. separate or individual existence , individuality
pṛthag-bhūta: mfn. become separate , separated , different
pṛthaṅ—niṣṭha: mfn. existing by itself , being something different or distinct in each case
jāta: mfn. born , brought into existence by (loc.) , engendered by (instr. or abl.); grown , produced , arisen , caused , appeared ; happened , become , present , apparent , manifest
dehiṣu (loc. pl.): m. a living creature , man
dehin: mfn. having a body , corporeal

汝今爲我故 而生別離苦
當捨此悲念 且自慰其心 
衆生各異趣 乖離理自常