Monday, August 19, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.67: Worst of States, Best of States – A Study in Hopelessness

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
vilokya bhūyaś-ca ruroda sa-svaraṁ hayaṁ bhujābhyām-upaguhya kanthakam |
tato nir-āśo vilapan-muhur-muhur-yayau śarīreṇa puraṁ na cetasā || 6.67

Looking again, he bellowed in full voice

And embraced the horse Kanthaka with both arms;

Thus, devoid of hope or expectation,
and lamenting over and over,

He journeyed back to the city with his body,
not with his mind.

The realization of “the right thing doing itself” or “It doing it,” if I know anything about those near-to-enlightenment experiences, is something (or a bit of nothing) very close to uselessness, hopelessness, despair.

The seeds of enlightenment, the best of states, it might be said, are sown in mud of despair, the worst of states.

Learning the backward step of turning one's light around, therefore, has a lot to do with consciously recognizing and giving up one's hopes, expectations, and end-gaining ideas.

But when one thus gets out of the way and allows the light to shine, is that light necessarily a function of the mind? Or can that light be realized as nothing other than light – in the way that the light of the sun or the light of the moon is nothing but light?

The ostensible point of today's verse is to emphasize Chandaka's sense of emotional hopelessness and feeling sorry for himself, the worst of states, something along these lines:
Looking [at the prince] again, he wept out loud, and hugged the horse Kanthaka with both arms. / Then, hopelessly lamenting over and over again, he withdrew to the city with his body, though his heart was not in it.//
A totally different reading of today's verse, pointing to freedom from expectation, and human compassion, as the best of states, is like this:
Seeing [everything] with fresh eyes, he loudly roared [the lion's roar], having fully embraced the horse-power of Kanthaka. / On that basis, being without expectation and repeatedly sorrowing [for the clinging world], he journeyed to the city riding a wave of pure physical energy – nothing mental. //
To get a foothold on such possible hidden meaning, the best place to start might be nir-āśah, which on the face of it expresses a bad state, a state of despair or hopelessness, but which is the very word that Aśvaghoṣa uses to describe Nanda as an arhat, one who has realized the worthy state, in SN Canto 17:
Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served. Without ambition, without partiality, without expectation (nir-āśah); / Without fear, sorrow, pride, or passion; while being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different. // 17.61 //
Thus having established this foothold, let us return to the beginning of the verse, and re-examine, or look afresh, at the words vilokya bhūyaḥ. When we look again, or re-read, or look afresh at the words vilokya bhūyaḥ, they might include the meaning of “looking again,” or in other words, “re-reading” or “looking with fresh eyes, and beginner's mind.”

Also in the 1st pāda, ruroda sa-svaram, when we thus re-read it afresh, could be a description of the Buddha's preaching of dharma, aka, the lion's roar.

In the 2nd pāda, in that case, fully embracing one's Kanthaka horse-power might suggest the physical basis of a buddha's life – that physical basis being countable in such units as horse-power, or kilos of rice, or sacks of potatoes.

In the 3rd pāda, apart from the nirāśaḥ discussed already, vilapan-muhur-muhur could express not only an unconscious moaning born of feeling sorry for oneself but also a consciously practised lamenting – i.e. the kind of lamenting or sorrowing that the Buddha, in SN Canto 14, describes a compassionate man of action practising:

If, in a world that delights in duality and is at heart distracted by objects,
He roves in solitude, free of duality, a man of action, his heart at peace, /
Then he drinks the essence of wisdom as if it were the deathless nectar and his heart is filled.
Separately he sorrows (śocati) for the clinging, object-needy world. // 14.51 //

And finally going from A to B śarīreṇa na cetasā “with body not with mind” might be related – as alluded to above -- with that most difficult of Dogen's teachings which is that:
(1) there is sitting with the body as opposed to sitting with the mind;
(2) there is sitting with the mind as opposed to sitting with the body; and
(3) there is sitting as body and mind spontaneously dropping off,
as opposed to sitting as body and mind spontaneously dropping off.

For many years in Japan what I practised as “just sitting” was basically me doing it – in which practice I was perfectly happy, up to a point – wallowing in my own ignorance.

Except that I sensed there was more to what Dogen was writing about than I was able to understand or was ever going to understand if I carried on as I was doing.

So I came back to England where awaited me the kind of Alexander experience I shall briefly endeavour to describe below:

After I have completed my three years of Alexander teacher-training, and after my wife has completed her three years, we are working together at the house of an Alexander teacher of forty-odd years experience named Nelly Ben-Or. I am bringing all my years of Zen practice and all my accumulated Alexander experience to bear on the matter of putting hands on my wife and directing her up, while she stands in front of a chair. My aim is to allow my wife to keep lengthening and widening even as she bends her knees, so that when she arrives in the chair she will, even more than before, be releasing up and out.

“No. Not that,” says Nelly, in so many words.

Vilokya bhūyaḥ, re-assessing the situation, I think to myself “Don't end-gain. Stick to principle. Say no to trying to be right. Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up....”

“No. Not that,” says Nelly again, in so many words. (In practice, Nelly would be more likely to convey this negation non-verbally with a fluttering movement of her concert pianist's fingers on my hands.)

And so it would go on.... until I would get to a point where I would think something along the lines of “Oh, fuck this for a game of cards. I wished I'd stayed in Japan.”

“Yes!” Nelly would say. “That's it. Now she's free to bend her knees.”

Devotees of Zen Master Dogen, as I was and am, all sit under the banner of “just sitting.” But the banner of “just sitting” covers a multitude of sins. The main distinction to be made, I have argued, is between me physically doing it (“doing”), and it physically doing itself (“non-doing”).

Proceeding sharireṇa na cetasā, “physically not mentally,” can be understood as pointing to a situation in which – since activation energy barriers have been broken down already and the right thing has begun to do itself, like a burning fire or a flowing stream – the distinction-making / light-allowing mind has already become obsolete.

Maybe in the constant search for such hidden meaning below the surface, my comments are getting too far-fetched. But I think Aśvaghoṣa – like Hegel and Marx many centuries later – was writing on the basis of seeing how easily things turn into their opposite, not only in philosophy but also in reality.

Thus, in Chinese Zen it was said that the blue lotus opens in fire.

And thus, those who study the financial markets observe that bull markets begin at just the moment when bear market pessimism could not get any stronger. Trying to identify that moment, however, in the real world, can be as humbling and painful as all direct encounters with reality are apt to be.

Apologies for another late posting.

As a PS,while sitting outside after a lunchtime nap, investigating the meaning of just sitting with nothing to live for and nothing to gain – but really all the time waiting expectantly for the three bars to show up at the bottom of the screen – I reflected that Alexander work is all about learning what it means to allow, to let. But what Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting at the end of today's verse, as I read it, is it shining.  And whereas my letting it shine is limited to the odd fleeting moment (if it exists at all outside of my own wishful thinking or delusory feelings), it shining might be for keeps. 

vilokya = abs. vi- √ lok: to look at or upon
bhūyaḥ: ind. once more , again , anew
ca: and
ruroda = 3rd pers. sg. perf. rud: to weep , cry , howl , roar , lament , wail
sa-svaram: ind. loudly

hayam (acc. sg.): m (fr. √1. hi, to impel) a horse
bhujābhyām (inst. dual): with his two arms
upaguhya = abs. upa- √ guh: to clasp , embrace , press to the bosom
kanthakam (acc. sg.): m. Kanthaka

tataḥ: ind. then ; from that place , thence
nir-āśaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. without any hope or wish or desire , indifferent ; despairing, despondent
vilapan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. vi- √ lap: to utter moaning sounds , wail , lament , bewail
muhur-muhur: ind. now and again , at one moment and at another , again and again

yayau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. yā: to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey ; to go away , withdraw , retire
śarīreṇa (inst. sg.): n. the body ; bodily strength
puram (acc. sg.): n. a fortress , castle , city , town ; a house , abode , residence , receptacle
na: not
cetasā (inst. sg.): n. consciousness , intelligence , thinking soul , heart , mind

擧首仰呼天 迷悶而躃地
起抱白馬頸 望絶隨路歸

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