Monday, July 29, 2013

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

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