Friday, July 19, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.37: Levels of Worrying

kiṁ hi vakṣyati māṁ rājā tvad-te nagaraṁ gatam |
vakṣyāmy-ucita-darśitvāt-kiṁ tavāntaḥ-purāṇi vā || 6.37

For what will the king say to me

When I arrive in the city without you?

Again, what shall I say, based on seeing what is expedient,

To the ones within the battlements, who belong to you?


The vision Alexander had of the possibility of individual evolution in the development of consciousness and awareness was the mainspring of his life's work. It is this aspect of his teaching that places him in the direct tradition of the great teachers of humanity. It is this side of his teaching which could so easily get lost. It is a not unreasonable supposition that many whose reported teachings have come down to us, also gave to the people of their time practical techniques for carrying out the teaching. If so, most of this has been lost and forgotten, and we are left with reports and writings which today often have little meaning for us. It is interesting -- apropos of all this -- that a pupil of mine, a doctor, once remarked that Alexander had rediscovered the secret of Zen for our time.

Another aspect of traditional teaching worth mentioning is the necessity to live in the present. It is a recurrent theme in the great mystical writings. The Now is all that we have. We cannot inhibit next week, direct ourselves tomorrow, or even control our reactions five minutes hence. All this has to be done Now. The fact that we find it so difficult to BE in the present, and to deal with the requirements of the present moment in the most appropriate way is, I might suggest somewhat fancifully, also mirrored in the way we stand. How can we BE all present and correct, if our heads are driving back into the past, our bodies rushing forward into the future and only our feet all too firmly anchored in the Here and Now?

If yesterday's verse was about pulling one's head back into the past, today's verse, as I read it, is an examination of sticking one's chest (or arching one's lower back) forward into the future.

All things being relative, it turns out that the latter kind of worrying (=thrusting one's body forward) is the inevitable corollary of the former (=pulling one's head back). Hence the logical relation indicated by the second word in today's verse, hi, “For...”

There are, however, levels of worrying, just as there are levels of leaving, and I think the ambiguity of ucita-darśitvāt (based on seeing what is expedient) in the 3rd pada and of tavāntaḥ-purāṇi (the ones within the battlements who belong to you) in the 4th pāda is designed to express worry on at least two levels.

The first, ostensible, level might be called the level of ordinary human worry, while the second level, hidden below the surface, might be the worrying of a bodhisattva, or of a Zen patriarch.

Insofar as today's verse expresses the worrying about the future of the stableman Chandaka, the first half of the verse means, in other words, “How is the king going to reproach, chastize, or punish me?”; and in the second half of the verse Chandaka is worrying about how best to convey a difficult message – like a policeman worrying about how to bring bad news to a mother whose son has had an accident, or like a German politician worrying about how to tell white lies to a thrifty Swabian housewife. In that case, ucita-darśitvāt might be translated, “as a result of finding what is acceptable” and tavāntaḥ-purāṇi might be translated “those within the female apartments who are devoted to you.”
"Again, what shall I say, having found a way that is acceptable, to those within the female apartments who are devoted to you?"
Even this ostensible meaning seemed to defeat EHJ and PO each of whom wrote footnotes discussing the difficulty of ucita-darśitvāt in the 3rd pāda but then omitted to translate tava (lit. “of you”) in the 4th pāda. EBC's original translation was closer to the mark:
“or what shall I say to thy queens by way of telling them good news?” (EBC)
“Or what shall I say to the women of the household, since I am in the habit of seeing what is proper.” (EHJ)
“What will I, because I'm used to seeing them, say to women in the seraglio?” (PO).

With respect to the deeper meaning, or one of the deeper meanings, that Aśvaghoṣa may have intended to conceal below the surface, Chandaka's first question, as the question of a man who is a master of the power of the horse, can be understood as expressing a worry about speaking truth to power. The question is, in other words, “When, after your death, I speak truth to power, how is power liable to answer back?”

This might be the worry of a Zen patriarch. And a conspicuous response to this worry was recorded by Dogen, in the famous story of the Chinese Zen master who stretched out his neck as if to receive the Emperor's sword.

Chandaka's second question, if we continue to dig in this vein, expresses a Zen patriarch's even more serious worry, about how (or whether to assume) to speak truth to devotees of the truth. In that case, ucita-darśitvāt, “on the grounds of insight into expediency” might mean “having understood the Buddha's method of teaching by skilfull/expedient means.”

A very literal translation of tavāntaḥ-purāṇi is “those who, within the battlements, are of you.” Being within the battlements, then (as in BC Canto 2 whose title is antaḥ-pura-vihāraḥ, “Exploring within the Battlements”), can be understood as meaning “being circumscribed by acceptance of the law of cause and effect.”

Understood like this tavāntaḥ-purāṇi can be taken as a kind of definition of what it truly is to be “of the Buddha.” To be “of the Buddha” is to be “within the battlements.” And being within the battlements might mean not being unclear, here and now, about cause and effect.

Reflecting on the above, it strikes me that even theistic Jews, Christians and Muslims -- insofar as they agree that "as you sow, so shall you reap" -- might be included in the target audience of Aśvaghoṣa's writings. And those who adhere to the method of science are, by definition, included in the target audience. But Catholics who believe in miracles of the impossible variety, along with the superstitious among adherents of Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, and the like... they might be outside the battlements. 

kim: what? how? whence? wherefore? why?
hi: for
vakṣyati = 3rd pers. sg. future vac: to say ; to reproach , revile (acc.)
mām (acc. sg.): me

rājā (nom. sg.): m. the king
tvad-ṛte: without you
ṛte: ind. (according to BRD. loc. case of the p.p. of √ ṛ) under pain of , with the exclusion of , excepting , besides , without , unless
√ ṛ: to go , move , rise , tend upwards
nagaram (acc. sg.): n. the city
gatam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. gone, going ; come to , approached , arrived at

vakṣyāmi: = 1st pers. sg. future vac: to say
ucita-darśitvāt (abl. sg. n.): on the grounds of sightedness into what is proper
ucita: mfn. delightful , pleasurable , agreeable ; customary , usual ; proper , suitable , convenient ; acceptable , fit or right to be taken ; known , understood ; used to
darśin: mfn. ifc. seeing , looking at , observing , examining , finding
darśi-tva (= neuter abstract noun from darśin): n. -sightedness
dīrghá-darśi-tva: n. farsightedness , providence

kim: what?
tava (gen. sg.): your , of/for you
antaḥ-purāṇi (acc. pl.): n. the king's palace , the female apartments , gynaeceum; those who live in the female apartments ; a queen
antar: ind. within , between , amongst , in the middle or interior ( sometimes compounded with a following word like an adjective , meaning interior , internal , intermediate )
pura: n. a fortress , castle , city , town ; the female apartments , gynaeceum ; a house , abode , residence , receptacle ; an upper storey ; a brothel ; the body (cf. 3. pur)
pur: f. a rampart , wall , stronghold , fortress , castle , city , town; the body (considered as the stronghold of the puruṣa q.v.)
vā: or

今若獨還宮 白王當何言
合宮同見責 復以何辭答


Happi said...

Hi Mike -

What you wrote today and yesterday has been on my mind.

Life presents difficulties to every sentient being during the course of their lives. Both of us have had our share. Isn't the true battle actually with ourselves, with our own egos? Isn't it our own egos that get in the way of the healing that true self allows? Having compassion for and forgiving our own egos is an important step, in my view anyway.

Mike Cross said...

Ego is a Latin word that means I -- as in I cycled to the shops yesterday, which as a matter of fact I did.

In Sanskrit the word is aham. When the Buddha said aham he meant "I" -- the whole of himself.

Happi said...

What does accepting the self and using the self well feel like?

Is there a difference in accepting and using the self well when cycling and when interacting with others? Being unself-conscious with an open heart or open awareness, as opposed to looking for a way to establish ‘self’?

It’s difficult to tell in these on-line interactions which of those this comment is. Oft times when you’ve talked about your past, I’ve wanted you to be able to get free of your disappointments in life. Not only because that’s what I wish that for myself. I also wish it for you so that you are, if not happier, at least living more at ease.

Perhaps I’ve been insensitive to what you want, which in fact may be to hold onto that suffering – and that sounds like ego. If it’s ego, it’s not consistent with my sense of what Buddha meant by aham.

If you ever realize you no longer want to hold onto that suffering, it’s not that the ego disappears rather the suffering transforms into the energy of bodhicitta. It’s not instantaneous, it’s a kind of “dropping off.” I’m re-familiarizing myself with these teachings recently -- probably because I didn’t absorb the lesson thoroughly enough back in the days when I first learned it. The fact that that may have been a cause for extra harm to you is part of my motivation.

Mike Cross said...

Fucking hell, Gisela!

I'm knocking the marrow out of Aśvaghoṣa's bones with these translations and comments, and all the thanks I get from you is psycho-babble about the ego.

Talk abuot looking a gift horse in the mouth...

Why don't you enjoy Aśvaghoṣa's teaching for what it is, and leave the personal stuff out.

Happi said...

I appreciate your efforts, Mike.

Your advice is right on the money too. I think there's even a slogan for that: Don't figure others out.