Saturday, July 6, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.24: The Virtue of Being Without (& The Sin of Hypocrisy)

api nairguṇyam-asmākaṁ vācyaṁ nara-patau tvayā |
nairguṇyāt-tyajyate snehaḥ sneha-tyāgān-na śocyate || 6.24

Indeed, speak to the king

Of our being-without virtue.

Because of the being-without virtue,
attachment is abandoned.

Because of abandoning attachment,
one does not suffer grief."

I prepared for the translation of this verse 25 years ago by translating a chapter of Shobogenzo titled 仏性 (BUSSHO), The Buddha-Nature. The chapter contains the phrase 無仏性 (MU-BUSSHO) in which, I remember Gudo Nishijima telling me, (MU) and 仏性 (BUSSHO) are two nouns in apposition. So 無仏性 (MU-BUSSHO) ostensibly means “being without the Buddha-nature” or “not having the Buddha-nature,” but its real or hidden meaning is “being without / the Buddha-nature” – which is to say that the Buddha-nature is really not so much something as a state of being without, or an original state of emptiness.

In today's verse as I read it nairguṇyam is a word like 無仏性 (MU-BUSSHO), so that ostensibly nairguṇyam means “being without virtue” but the real or hidden meaning of nair-guṇyam is “having the virtue (guṇya) of being without (naiḥ)” or “having the being-without virtue.”

Ostensibly, then, the prince (using the royal “we”) is telling Chandaka to tell King Śuddodhana in words that he the prince lacks virtue. Ostensibly, again, the snehaḥ (love / attachment) in question is that of the king. Hence PO:

Even tell the king that I lack virtue;
  he will stop loving me
Because I lack virtue;
  when he stops loving me,
  his grief will surely cease.

But the real message as I hear it is being delivered from Aśvaghoṣa to us his readers and servants. We are being challenged to express to the king of dharma, and not in words, our own Buddha-nature, which is everybody's Buddha-nature. The clue to this hidden meaning is there in asmākam (our), which ostensibly is an example of the royal “we” but which originally is plural.

Following this hidden meaning, “Because of the being-without virtue, attachment is abandoned” is not an expression of an expectation about King Śuddodhana; it is rather a universal teaching about the Buddha-nature. “Because of the being-without virtue, attachment is abandoned” means, in other words, “On the grounds of being without / the Buddha-nature, the path is known as a turning back.”

Hence the title of the present Canto – chandaka-nivartanaḥ, Chandaka / Turning Back.

And hence the Buddha tells Nanda in SN Canto 16:
Comprehend, therefore, that suffering is doing; witness the faults impelling it forward; / Realise its stopping as non-doing; and know the path as a turning back. // SN16.42 //

I hope thus to have demonstrated that, when it comes to catching hidden ironies, I am sometimes cleverer than the three professors on whose shoulders I am standing.

But going further, in order to maintain some kind of congruence between who I think I am (a servant of Aśvaghoṣa?) and who I really am, I need to say something not only on the basis of words like these but also otherwise.

The 3rd and 4th pādas, in their hidden meaning as words, express a principle reminiscent of the Buddha's teaching of the four noble truths:

On the grounds of the Buddha-nature, attachment is abandoned;
And when a practitioner abandons attachment, he is not subject to suffering.

Otherwise, however, deeper still than than their meaning as words is their function in practice, which is to hold up to the bloke who sits a mirror in which to see a mismatch between how he purports to practise, as an expression of the Buddha-nature, and how he actually is. 

Working backwards, when a practitioner is suffering grief, it must be because of not having abandoned attachment. And when a practitioner fails to abandon attachment it must be because of practising not on the grounds of the Buddha-nature but on some other grounds – on the grounds, for example, of thirsting for something gross like loads of money, or on the grounds of thirsting for something more subtle like others' recognition of one's success in having expressed the Buddha-nature.

In pleading guilty, Your Honour, I would like to ask for 84,000 previous offences to be taken into consideration in sentencing – all of them aggravated by empty pontificating about “turning back.”

In conclusion, then, today's verse is really all about, in communing with a king of dharma, how to express one's own Buddha-nature, which is everybody's Buddha-nature. And how one does it, don't ask me. I don't know. Probably the best I can say is by studying words like the words of Dogen and Aśvaghoṣa, and by otherwise cracking on  during which time, just when one least expects it, the Buddha-nature, in a moment of private satisfaction with some small thing, is liable to express itself. 

api: even (emphatic) ; and , also , moreover , besides , assuredly , surely
nairguṇyam (nom. sg.): n. absence of qualities or properties
naiḥ = nis: ind. out , forth , away &c (rarely used as an independent word but mostly as a prefix to verbs and their derivatives , or to nouns not immediately connected with verbs , in which case it has the sense , " out of " , " away from " [cf. nirvana , niṣ-kauśāmbi &c ] or that of a privative or negative adverb " without " , " destitute of " , " free from " , " un- " , or that of a strengthening particle " thoroughly " , " entirely " , " very)
guṇya: mfn. endowed with good qualities or virtues
asmākam (gen. pl.): our

vācyam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. to be spoken or said or told
nara-patau (loc. sg.): m. " man-lord " , a king
tvayā (inst. sg.): by you

nairguṇyāt (abl. sg.): because of absence of qualities
tyajyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit ; let go ; to give up , surrender , resign , part from , renounce
snehaḥ (nom. sg.): m. blandness , tenderness , love , attachment to , fondness or affection

sneha-tyāgān (abl. sg.): because of abandoning affection
tyāga: leaving , abandoning , forsaking ; giving up
na: not
śocyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive causative śuc: to suffer violent heat or pain , be sorrowful or afflicted , grieve , mourn

若以形毀我 令王割愛者
汝愼勿惜言 使王念不絶

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