Sunday, August 18, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.66: Emoting Freely, on Seeing the Robe Whose Form is Freedom

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
tatas-tathā bhartari rājya-niḥsphe tapo-vanaṁ yāti vivarṇa-vāsasi |
bhujau samutkṣipya tataḥ sa vāji-bhd-bhśaṁ vicukrośa papāta ca kṣitau || 6.66

And so, as his master was retiring like this
into the ascetic woods,

Desiring nothing in the way of sovereignty
and wearing clothing of no distinction,

He the preserver of the war-horse,
there and then, threw up his arms,

Cried out wildly and fell upon the earth.

When I stayed for a few weeks at the San Francisco Zen Centre in 1984, a bloke who practised there had recently been stabbed and killed during a mugging. Apparently when asked for his valuables, instead of simply handing them over, he had begun some kind of a Buddhist speech on the meaning of non-violence and compassion. His weakness, it seems,  in accordance with the law of the jungle, was attacked.

A few years before that, in 1977, my father when a serving police officer had gone to America on a Winston Churchill scholarship to study US approaches to crime prevention / vandalism. While there he was approached by a couple of characters who he judged to have bad intentions. They asked him for the time. “Piss off,” he replied aggressively, and they left him alone. Those two guys may genuinely have wanted to know the time, for all we know, but I somehow doubt it. There and then, I think my non-Buddhist dad called upon the wisdom he had cultivated during nearly 20 years of police work and manifested the essence of Zen, which is an appropriate response to a situation.

The Zen practitioner who was killed had some ideas about the truth of Buddhism, but he failed to read the predicament he was in accurately; or if he did, he lacked the wisdom or experience to know how to respond appropriately. My dad, in contrast, had no ideas at all about Buddhism, but (admittedly, I am guessing) he read the situation accurately and responded appropriately enough.

This may seem off topic, except that 1) it relates to dealing with emotions like fear and anger, and 2) this work of translation and commentary, also, calls for accurate reading, of Aśvaghoṣa's mind, and an appropriate response.

Going further, the whole area of Zen practice (or yoga, as the Buddha calls it when describing it to Nanda in SN Canto 16), can be seen in essence as a matter of reading what is going on in one's own body and mind, and continuing – minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day – to respond appropriately.

Now aged 75, my father recently got into an argument, or so my mother reported, with a delivery driver. While executing a three-point turn, the driver had driven his van onto the grass verge in front of the house in Birmingham where I grew up. In the course of the ensuing discussion my dodgy-hipped old man asked the young deliveryman, “Do you want to make something of it?” In other words: Would you, an active young bloke, mind having a fight with the old codger that I am, who nowadays needs the help of an electric buggy to get round a golf course?

On the face of it, the challenge to fight sounds crazy. And I shan't argue that it was in any way an appropriate response to the situation. But I understand the logic all too well. The logic is: If you get out of your truck and fight me, I am going to get hurt. But I in my rage don't mind about that, because you, my friend, one way or the other, if you decide to fight me, are going down. Either you are going down physically, which is admittedly unlikely, or you are going down economically, because you are going to lose your job.

The essence of it is: I am not worried about getting hurt or even getting killed, but what is for sure is that if you want to fight me, you are going to get hurt in the process.

It is the hard-wired logic not of a dove but of a hawk, of a fighter, and I understand the logic all too well. Kaeru no ko wa kaeru, as they say in Japanese – the son of a frog is a frog.

That kind of righteous indignation can be a useful weapon to have in the armoury. Sometimes one needs to demonstrate to people that one is not a pushover. But if it is the only weapon one has got in one's armoury, that is not a good basis for a life lived skilfully. And the truth is that I, like my father before me, have a sadly limited emotional range, and a tendency to reach too easily for anger as weapon of choice.

Thus, while listening to the Joan Armatrading song that I linked to yesterday's post, I was caused to reflect once more on my own hypocrisy – preaching what I don't practice in the way of showing some emotion. In general, I tend to deny and suppress my emotion; I am not at all good at showing my emotion, except when it comes to anger. I, like my father before me, am an expert at showing that one.

The ultimate thing I feel obliged to confess, however, is that in many ways, when push comes to shove, I have shown myself not to be like my father in the parable of the two muggers, but more like the Zen practitioner with ideas about the truth of Buddhism who failed to manifest an appropriate response. In this, I am very much like my father in Zen, who spent a lifetime preaching reality but failing to read it accurately.

When I was a child I was precocious at reading. So also I believe was Gudo Nishijima. And so also, it is said, was Zen Master Dogen. But reading books is one thing; reading real situations and responding appropriately is a whole other thing. No one ever said that I was precocious at responding appropriately.

I have spent the best part of 30 years expressing anger, one way or another, towards Gudo Nishijima. But on the one occasion when it really would have been appropriate to make a clear show of righteous indignation, around the events of 1997, I was doing my damndest to practise Alexandrian "inhibition" as I then conceived it. As a result, the great reader of reality, Gudo, totally failed to read my mind. He did not realize how deeply he had upset me by breaking the fundamental rule of our translation partnership, the mutual veto. 

Any way up, the content of today's verse does re-assure me that I was at least on the right track yesterday by translating chandaṁ visṛjya as “setting Chanda free,” rather than for example “dismissing Chanda” (as per EBC, EHJ and PO). The point is that Chanda, as Aśvaghoṣa is describing him, is expressing his emotion very freely – as Sundarī also is described as emoting very freely in SN Canto 6.
She thought and thought about her husband's good points, sighing long and hard and gasping / As out she flung the arms that bore her gleaming jewels and hennaed hands, with reddened fingertips. // SN6.27 //
In his book of 1906, The Integrative Action of the Nervous System Sir Charles Sherrington wrote of the convenient fiction of the simple reflex. The Moro reflex, or baby panic reflex, is an example of one such convenient fiction. Because the human body-mind works as an indivisible whole, there is no such thing as a Moro reflex. Nevertheless, when a child is exhibiting the symptoms of so-called ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), discussion of an immature Moro reflex may be very enlightening to child, parents, and teachers alike.

When Chandaka in today's verse or Sundarī in for example SN6.27, are described as throwing their arms up and out, they are expressing their grief, distress or shock as a baby should express its distress if it is suddenly dropped – by throwing up the arms, gasping air in, and crying loudly out. We call this the infantile expression of "the Moro reflex."

The striver in SN Cantos 8 & 9, as I read them, is also manifesting a reaction which is bound up with the Moro reflex – except that his denying intellect prevents him from emoting as freely as a baby, or as freely as the likes of Sundarī and Chandaka.

So here are two contrasting approaches to strong emotion. The striver tries to deny his emotion. Sundarī and Chandaka are undeniably in the grip of full-blown emotion. The striver's approach can be understood to be the idealistic thesis – don't have emotion. The uninhibited emotional reactions of red-faced drama queens like Sundarī and Chandaka can be understood to be the colourful anti-thesis – show some emotion, put expression in your eye, light up, light up if you're feeling happy, but if you're sad just let those tears roll down.

One way of understanding Māra, the archetypal bad guy, the king of demons who will be the protagonist of BC Canto 12 titled “Defeat of Mara,” is as the embodiment of totally affirming, or really owning, one's negative or destructive emotions. This can be understood as the kind of synthesis that great actors demonstrate when called upon to show emotion in the mirror they hold up to nature – don't be a slave to it, and don't try to suppress it; own it, be it. In a somewhat similar way, Nanda in SN Canto 10 and 11, stops dithering about and totally takes ownership of his own strong emotion, when he devotes himself unabashedly to the pursuit of ultimate sensual pleasure, through ascetic practice.

Then ultimately of course, beyond these three archetypes of striver, drama queen, and bad guy (or fall guy), there is the one who has totally defeated Māra and crossed the fathomless sea of faults – the archetypal Buddha... who, when we meet him face-to-face might turn out to be a non-archetypal non-buddha.

That is enough of a pre-amble. The main thing I wanted to discuss in today's verse is the two enigmatic compounds rājya-niḥspṛhe and vivarṇa-vāsasi.

Rājya-niḥspṛha is a variation on theme of nair-guṇyam, “the being-without virtue” i.e. “the virtue of being without.” Ostensibly rājya-niḥspṛha means being without (niḥ) desire (spṛha) for his kingdom / sovereignty (rājya). Hence “regardless of his kingdom” (EBC); “free from desire for rule” (EHJ); “with no longing for kingdom” (PO). The ironic hidden meaning of rājya-niḥspṛha might be to describe the prince as eagerly desirous (spṛha) of that bit of nothing, or that freedom, (niḥ) which is sovereignty over oneself (rājya).

Vivarṇa-vāsa is ostensibly a pejorative description of the kaṣāya as a drab garment. Hence “in mean garments” (EBC); “in his discoloured clothes” (EHJ); “wearing dirty clothes” (PO). But in today's verse as I read it, the vi- of vi-varṇa is the nair- of nairguṇya and the niḥ of niḥ-spṛha. It is in other words, the (MU) of 無仏性(MU-BUSSHO), “being without the Buddha-nature,” also called 空 (KU), “emptiness.” Because the vi- of vi-varṇa is the (MU) of 無仏性 (MU-BUSSHO), the kaṣāya is called in Chinese 無相衣 (MU-SO-E), “the robe of being-without form," i.e., "the robe which is the concrete manifestation of being without." 

The hidden meaning of vivarṇa-vāsa, then, might be clothing (vāsa) which is the external manifestation (varṇa) of freedom (vi-). This, in any event, is how I would explain the hidden meaning of 無相衣 (MU-SO-E); and 無相衣 (MU-SO-E) is how I would have translated vivarṇa-vāsasi in Chinese if I had been the Chinese translator. In fact the Chinese translator went with either 愛著袈裟衣 or 受著袈裟衣 – there are two versions, but in each version the kaṣāya is referred to simply as 袈裟衣 "the kaṣāya-robe" (袈裟 = phonetic rendering [Jap: KESA] +   = robe / clothing).

A further connotation exists in Sanskrit which does not exist in Chinese, however, given that varṇa was commonly used in ancient India to express a man's colour or caste, so that vi-varṇa was used to mean “being without a caste,” and hence it is given in the dictionary as “belonging to a mixed caste.” So another meaning of vivarṇa-vāsa, which might not have been lost on Aśvaghoṣa's Sanskrit-speaking audience, is “clothing of a man who has no caste.”

To bring some of the strands of this unduly long comment together, my conclusion is that the ability to read Aśvaghoṣa's mind requires years of detective work, trying and failing to read the body-mind of Zen patriarchs, through their words and through their actions, trying and failing to read one's own body and mind, and trying and failing to read the real situations one finds oneself in. And this kind of real effort – as opposed to the purely intellectual effort of the clever bloke who has this and that idea about Buddhism – cannot fail to sharpen a person's sense of irony. Endeavouring to translate Aśvaghoṣa with an under-developed sense of irony is like going digging for gold armed only with a feather-duster.

Wearing dirty clothes”? I don't think so.

tataḥ: ind. then
tathā: ind. in that manner
bhartari (loc. sg.): m. one who bears; a preserver , protector , maintainer , chief , lord , master
rājya-niḥspṛhe (loc. sg. m.): not being desirous of his kingdom ; being desirous of that freedom which is sovereignty
rājya: n. royalty , kingship , sovereignty , empire; kingdom, realm
niḥspṛha: mfn. free from desire , not longing for (loc. or comp.)
spṛhā: f. eager desire , desire , covetousness , envy , longing for , pleasure or delight in (dat. , gen. loc. , or comp.
spṛh: to be eager , desire eagerly , long for ; to envy , be jealous of (dat. gen. , or acc.)

tapo-vanam (acc. sg. n.): the ascetic forest
yāti (loc. sg. m.) = loc. sg. m. pres. part. yā: to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey ; to go away , withdraw , retire
vivarṇa-vāsasi (loc. sg. m.): in drab garb ; in a robe which is the outward appearance of being without; in clothes of no caste
vi-varṇa: mfn. colourless , bad-coloured , pale , wan ; low , vile; belonging to a mixed caste
varṇa: m. covering , cloak , mantle ; a cover , lid ; outward appearance , exterior , form , figure , shape , colour ; colour of the face , (esp.) good colour or complexion , lustre , beauty ; colour = race , species , kind , sort , character , nature , quality , property (applied to persons and things) ; colour = race , species , kind , sort , character , nature , quality , property (applied to persons and things)
vāsas: n. cloth , clothes , dress , a garment

bhujau (acc. dual): his two arms
samutkṣipya = abs. sam-ut- √ kṣip: to throw or raise or lift up
tataḥ: ind. then ; in that place , there ; from that
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
vāji-bhṛt (nom. sg.): 'bearer/sustainer of the hero / the horse ; m. a groom, Bcar.
vājin: mfn. swift , spirited , impetuous , heroic , warlike; m. a warrior , hero , man ; the steed of a war-chariot; m. a horse , stallion
bhṛt: mfn. bearing , carrying , bringing , procuring , possessing , wearing , having , nourishing , supporting , maintaining (only ifc. )

bhṛśam: ind. strongly , violently , vehemently , excessively , greatly , very much
vicukrośa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vi- √ kruś: to cry out ; to raise or utter (a cry)
papāta = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pat: to fall
ca: and
kṣitau (loc. sg.): f. the earth , soil of the earth

車匿自隨矚 漸隱不復見 
太子捨父王 眷屬及我身
愛著袈裟衣 入於苦行林


Harry said...

Dear Mike,

Hope you and yours are well.

I'm taking your good name in vain again:

Feel free to come over and put us Rightists straight on how to get wrong right.



Mike Cross said...

Hi Harry,

It took me far too long to realize, during this blogging process, that when people leave annoying comments and I react by calling them this and that, I am invariably using the other as a mirror and telling everybody what I really think, or fear, about myself.

If I looked back on things I wrote in light of this "mirror principle" (on the whole I try not to), it is extremely embarrassing. But if I could get over the hurdle of wanting to look and sound good, it might be enlightening.

All the best,

Harry said...

Hi Mike,

I agree with you... to an extent... but can't help feeling that there is more going on that may a bit more objective: i.e. that someone being an a-hole may actually just be being an a-hole and maybe should be called out on their lack of basic etiquette; or other things noticeable such as what their intentions may be (as will be evident in their use of language).

Now, that can certainly get messy (with all sorts of emotions/intentions/actions arising from tweeked nerves and habitual responses etc) but just doing nothing in response doesn't seem quite correct either.

Maybe an unremarkable practicing Rightist like me could do with just keeping schtum however. Sounds like a plan.



Mike Cross said...

In the 2nd pāda of tomorrow's verse, Aśvaghoṣa writes: "Sometimes he stumibled and sometimes he fell." In my comment I pose the question of who he was talking about. On the surface, no question, he was talking about Kanthaka the stableman.

Harry said...

... and to apply the idea that it is sometimes 'valid to criticise' to your own situation: I think it is quite acceptable for you to raise objections to how your very considerable work (the Shobogenzo translation) was used against your wishes, or without your blessing at least (and I think you do this in a fairly reasonable way these days, especially where you state it as being 'from your perspective').

Obviously I can't speak for Gudo Nishijima, but as someone who has availed of the work as it is now available I suppose it could be argued that the work is much bigger than both you and Nishijima, and it's good that it is now so widely available to people everywhere, and a lot of people are very grateful for all the effort. But I accept that this may be cold comfort to you as creator. I know I was pretty pissed when some of my music was used in ways that I didn't permit (and in ways that I didn't like). The mirror principle may be a valid viewpoint there, but I think there are other viewpoints that may be just as valid and that cover other operant conditions of the situation.



Happi said...

Hi Mike –
Your exchange with Harry today sparked my thinking and I’m now wondering whether our difficulties over the years are attributable to my Shobogenzo posts. You might recall our original email exchange in December of 2009 in which I asked for your permission. In your emailed reply you graciously granted permission, essentially gave carte blanche approval and commented on my post the following day in recognition. You’re welcome to publish the email exchange if you feel that would help clear things up.
I admit, since so many people in the blogosphere include quotes and material from the works of other writers, I emailed you the morning after I posted the first haiku post and offered to retract the post if you were uncomfortable. Technically, I cited the work and the sidebar of my blog includes a recognition of the source along with the admission that I’m not an expert on the Shobogenzo.
If I offended you when I returned from Antaiji by writing more than my humble haiku, I apologize. It’s true I’ve had little formal instruction. My interpretations of Dogen aren’t meant to be definitive, rather they’re appreciative of Dogen poetic sensibility and intended as encouragement and motivation for folks to read the Shobogenzo for themselves since some appear to be intimidated by it. Personally I thought it worthwhile to read Dogen (unencumbered by centuries of historical interpretation) because the Chapters were the Teishos he gave to his students.

Say if I can do anything else to help,


Mike Cross said...

At one level what Aśvaghoṣa is describing in this part of the story is letting go of Chanda (which means "liking" or "emotional wishing") and fully embracing Kanthaka, the war-horse or the work-horse.

If we understand vi-sṛjya as "sending away" or "dismissing" as per the translations of the three professors, that would suggest a less detached and more proactive response.

Happi said...

Your being proactive in this case would be greatly appreciated. 

I admit I'm dim these days having tried to assimilate the views of an untold number of individuals and not knowing if those views represent knowledge, reflection or rumor. I've resigned from work primarily due to an increasing difficulty in concentrating (not something I'm especially proud of or blaming you for, but nonetheless partially due to your own inability to be clear which you've duely recognized). And my sitting and practice are shot. It shouldn't be a surprise to you that I'm unsure of your point of reference for much of what you say. I have to rely on my own sense of what's appropriate and right. 

There was a time in my life when it didn't matter. These days it matters very much. 

Am I using my frustration and reactivity in order to motivate you to be proactive? Yes.

Mike Cross said...

My reading of visṛjya is like this:

There is no question of the prince complying with Chanda's chanda (his emotional wish).

At the same time, the prince's attitude towards Chanda is not actively dismissive either.

So I would like to translate visṛjya not so much "dismissing" as "leaving him free to go on his way."