Thursday, August 1, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.50: Swings & Roundabouts

tad-evaṁ sati saṁtāpaṁ mā kārṣīḥ saumya gamyatām |
lambate yadi tu sneho gatvāpi punar-āvraja || 6.50

It being so, O mellow man of soma,

Do not agonize! Let there be movement!

And if attachment lingers on,

Having gone away, then come again.

Among the meanings given in the dictionary for the word snehaḥ, which appears in the 3rd pāda of today's verse, are love / affection and attachment.

Ostensibly the prince is telling Chandaka how to respond if, after Chandaka has returned to Kapilavastu, his love for the prince continues unabated. Hence:

Therefore, since it is so, grieve not, my good friend, but go; or if thy love lingers, then go and afterwards return. (EBC)

Since such is the case then, my good friend, be not afflicted; go your way. But if your affection tarries, still go and then return again. (EHJ)

So, that being the case, my dear man, do not grieve! Be on your way! If, however, your love endures, leave now, but return again. (PO)

If this ostensible meaning was the only point of today's verse, it somehow wouldn't add up. Why would the prince think, and how might Chandaka think, that it would be OK for the prince to suspend his practice in the forest for a while in order to respond to the re-appearance in the ascetic woods of Chandaka, with his undiminished cargo of love and affection? No, that doesn't quite add up. And when the surface meaning does not quite add up, that is generally a pointer to some  hidden meaning which might add up.

Below the surface the prince as I hear him is really conveying how, in knowing the path as a turning back, to persist in the war against sleep -- how to persist in what was described yesterday as "practice of detachment." That being so, the real meaning that snehaḥ is intended to convey may be wider than “love” or “affection”: snehaḥ might rather be intended to express the whole gamut of false conceptions, unreliable feelings, and burdensome habits which are embraced by the term “attachment.”

As a metaphorical expression of the practice of detachment, “the war against sleep”  has the virtue of suggesting the permissibility of losing the odd battle, and the need for persistence in spite of such losses. The fault is that talk of war tends to be associated with grim determination. And possibly as an antidote to this tendency, in the India of the day of Aśvaghoṣa and the Buddha, the theatre of action was known as a vihāra, whose meanings include a place of recreation, a playground, a place for walking for pleasure or enjoying a variety of amusements – not only swings and not only roundabouts....
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 // Just as a deep splinter, by means of the point of another sharp object, is removed by a man skilled in that task, / Likewise an unpromising stimulus may be dispensed with through deployment of a different stimulus.// 16.72 // There again, because of your personal inexperience, a bad idea might not give way. / You should abandon it by observing the fault in it, as a traveller abandons a path on which there is a wild beast. // 16.73 // A man who wishes to live, even when starving, declines to eat poisoned food. / Likewise, observing that it brings with it a fault, a wise person leaves alone an unpleasant stimulus.// 16.74 // When a man does not see a fault as a fault, who is able to restrain him from it? / But when a man sees the good in what is good, he goes towards it despite being restrained. // 16.75 // For those brought up well are ashamed of unpleasant occurrences going on in the mind, /  As one who is bright, young and good-looking is ashamed of unsightly, ill-arranged objects hanging around his neck. // 16.76 // 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. // 16.77 // 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. // 16.78 //
Read in this light, today's verse is about how, and how not, to work on the self in the direction of freeing oneself from attachment, in which case tad-evaṁ sati, “It being like this,” might mean “Separation / detachment being realized like this, on an individual basis” -- as I suggested yesterday with reference to the teaching of FM Alexander. 

The most problematic attachments, as Alexander saw it, are not attachments to people or to possessions but attachments to what does not exist – i.e. attachment to unhelpful thoughts / ideas.

As I sat this morning, somewhat stiffly in spite of the fact that it looks like being a very fine day and later there will be test-match cricket to listen to on the radio, after about 40 minutes I got around to asking myself what I needed to inhibit. What, in other words, was the source of undue muscular tension in my neck? 

And the answer, it turned out, was the old idea that I need to be or become or prove something. Gudo Nishijima is not to blame for instilling that idea in me, with his talk of me becoming “the most excellent Buddhist master in the world.” The truth is that I had a strong belief before I met Gudo Nishijima that I was destined for great things, and attachment to the old idea has continued to be a source of agony. The agony, logically thinking, can be eradicated either by me totally giving up the old idea or by me actually becoming some sort of VIP.... On either count, it may not be wise for anybody to hold their breath.

So, enough agonizing! Gamyatām. Let there be movement! Let there be coming undone. Let there be going of the head, forward and up. Where there was agony, let there be release. Let the tips of the fingers be directed so that the fingers stay in contact with each other, while each knuckle moves apart from its neighbour! Let there be one complete exhalation, and swaying from side to side, my will being done. Let there be mindfulness of breathing, thy will being done, such that the mountain does not appear to move.

And if, despite these experiments in inhibition, direction, and movement, agonizing attachment lingers on, then do not get stuck in a rut of grimly determined sitting. If things are not flowing, go for a walk or a cup of tea or a nap or something, and come back to sitting again later with a fresh mind and renewed enthusiasm. A few minutes of scything while listening to the cricket, perhaps? 
"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."
It being like this, if attachment is stubbornly lingering on, say No to trying to be right, think head forward and up and back to lengthen and widen, and go into movement without a care in the world – take your thumb-stick for a wander up and down the garden path and enjoy the feeling of the earth pushing up under your feet.... and then come back and give it another go.

In conclusion, then, unlike the three professors, I see today's verse as all about how to practise sitting-meditation and at the same time all about what FM Alexander called the practice of detachment. And in making this connection between Zen and Alexander, I must admit, I am not free from attachment to the troublesome old idea that I am here to do something earth-shakingly important. Does a comment like today's comment qualify? I can't help somehow hoping so. And I can't help somehow doubting it.

tad: ind. so, therefore
evam: ind. thus
sati (loc. sg.): being
saṁtāpam (acc. sg.): m. becoming very hot , great or burning heat , glow , fire ; affliction , pain , sorrow , anguish , distress

mā: a particle of prohibition or negation
kārṣīḥ = 2nd pers. sg. injunctive kṛ: to do, make
saumya (voc.): O moon-like man of soma
gamyatām = 3rd pers. sg. passive imperative (or causative passive imperative) gam: to go

lambate = 3rd pers. sg. lamb: to hang down , depend , dangle ; to fall or stay behind , be retarded ; to tag , loiter , delay , tarry
yadi: if
tu: but
snehaḥ (nom. sg.): m. tenderness, love, affection, attachment

gatvā = abs. gam: to go , move , go away , set out , come
api: and, also
punar: ind. back, again, once more

āvraja = 2nd pers. sg. imperative ā- √ vraj: to come near, come back here, return

汝且息憂苦 順我教而歸
歸意猶存我 且歸後更還

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