Sunday, July 21, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.39: The Shame in Mentioning Emptiness

hdayena sa-lajjena jihvayā sajjamānayā |
ahaṁ yady-api vā brūyāṁ kas-tac-chrad-dhātum-arhati || 6.39

Or, even if, with shame-tinged heart

And cleaving tongue,

I were to speak the word,

Who is going to give credence to that?

suit the action to the word, the word to the action

“Let the head come out,” Marjory Barlow said as I was lying on her teaching table, “That's where it wants to go.”

So in the beginning there was a non-verbal reality, something natural waiting or wanting to happen – the head wordlessly wanting to be released out of the grip of the neck and the rest of the body. And then there were words, used – albeit indequately – as a means not only to describe verbally what happens naturally but actually to facilitate that happening. Those words were, in this instance, “Let the head come out.” More conventionally in Alexander work, the teacher says, and thereby teaches a pupil (aided also by the teacher's hands) to think for himself, “Let the head go forward and up.”

Alexander work invariably works like this, with words like these and otherwise. Some teachers think relatively light of words and place more emphasis on the otherwise, the non-verbal means, which mainly means the teacher's use of the hands to convey a new experience. The armouries of the two Marjories, however, definitely contained both verbal and non-verbal means, each means suited to the other.

Hence Marjory Barlow often quoted the above line from Shakespeare's Hamlet. And hence in the aphorisms of Marjorie Barstow that I quoted from yesterday, Marjorie  is quoted as saying, I don’t believe in giving lessons in silence because I want to know what my pupils are thinking. Our voices are talking to your thinking apparatus; our hands are talking to your sense of feeling."

All this discussion of word and action at first glance might seem irrelevant to today's verse.

On the surface today's verse simply means “Even if did tell such a lie, about your lack of virtue, who would believe me anyway?” In this case, the cause for shame, and the cause for the tongue getting tied, is the telling of a lie.

Below the surface in today's verse, as I read it, however, Aśvaghoṣa's dry sense of humour is operating, so that, below the surface, the shame is having recourse to words. The shame is that words are always an inadequate means of conveying the message of nair-gunyam, the virtue of being without, the quality of emptiness. 

Thus, with the self-doubt or self-deprecation of a Zen patriarch who knows that just sitting is higher up the food chain than waxing lyrical about emptiness, and yet who continues anyway to spend a lot of time writing poetry, Aśvaghoṣa as I hear him is harking back to evam-ādi in BC6.23 – “with words like these and otherwise.”

In the transmission of the Buddha's teachings, as in Alexander work, both verbal and non-verbal means are utilized. This is amply demonstrated in Saundarananda, much of which is given over to words that the Buddha spoke to Nanda, but at the same time which includes, particularly in Canto 17, Aśvaghoṣa's description of Nanda going to the forest and working the teaching out for himself, going beyond words.

The implicit point in today's verse, as I read it, is to remind us that in the final analysis the non-verbal means of action itself is of a higher order than any words.

It is easy for people who fancy themselves as stern old Zen drills, however, to misunderstand this point and think too light of words. Dogen criticized this tendency in connection with the Chinese fallacy of “a separate transmission outside of the teaching” (KYOGE-BETSU-DEN). 

It is evident from the writings of the likes of Dogen and Aśvaghoṣa that Zen patriarchs valued both the non-verbal and the verbal teaching of the Buddha. And yet, my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima used to say, Master Dogen, who had been precocious as a child at reading Chinese poetry, felt that writing of poetry (as opposed, for example, to breaking round cushions with one's sitting bones)  was not necessarily a suitable activity for a Zen monk. This, Gudo thought, was why Dogen would sometimes break out into poetic flourishes in Shobogenzo – as if Dogen's suppressed desire to write poetry was bursting forth.

So I read today's verse in that light. I think yesterday's verse considers the transmission, or communication by non-verbal means, of what words cannot adequately transmit. And the (“Or..”) in the 3rd pāda of today's verse indicates that today's verse is considering the use of verbal means.

In BC6.37 I translated kiṁ vakṣyati as “what will he say?” and kiṁ vakṣyāmi as “what shall I say?” But on reflection I think I should change these translations to “what will he express?” and “what shall I express?” I would thus like to take vac in BC6.37 as broadly including both verbal and non-verbal means (to express), and vac in BC6.38 as more of a suggestion of non-verbal means (to communicate). The verb used in today's verse, brū, I take as suggesting verbal means (to speak words).

hṛdayena (inst. sg.): n. heart
sa-lajjena (inst. sg. n.): mfn. feeling shame or modesty , bashful , embarrassed

jihvayā (inst. sg.): f. a tongue; a flame ; the tongue or tongues of agni i.e. various forms of flame
sajjamānayā = inst. sg. f. pres. part. caus. passive sajj: to cling , adhere , fasten or fix or attach to (loc.)

aham (nom. sg.): I
yady-api: even if, although
vā: or
brūyām = 1st pers. sg. optative brū: to speak, say, tell

kaḥ: ind. who?
tat (acc. sg. n.): that
śraddhātum = inf. śrad- √ dhā: to have faith or faithfulness , have belief or confidence , believe , be true or trustful ; to credit , think anything true (two acc.)
arhati = 3rd pers. sg. arh: to ought

我深慚愧故 舌亦不能言
設使有所説 天下誰復信 

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