Thursday, August 22, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.1: Dismissing Emotion & Realizing All Things

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Ārdrā)
tato visjyāśru-mukhaṁ rudantaṁ chandaṁ vana-cchandatayā nir-āsthaḥ |
sarvārthasiddho vapuṣābhibhūya tam-āśramaṁ siddha iva prapede || 7.1

Then, having sent on his way the weeping tear-faced Chanda,

And being interested in nothing, through [another] chanda
– partiality towards the forest –

Sarvārtha-siddha, All Things Realized,
overpowering the place by his physical presence,

Entered that ashram like a siddha, a realized man.

To begin this comment with its conclusion, just as it came to me at the end of sitting this morning, everything seems to be realized just in that moment when we no longer give a fuck about realizing anything.

I shall try to outline how today's verse led me to that conclusion.

The title of Canto 7 is tapo-vana-praveśaḥ, “Entering the Ascetic Woods” or “Entering into the Woods of Asceticism.” And the verse that begins the Canto contains an explicit play on chanda (liking, emotional wishing) in the horseman's name Chandaka and siddha (realizing, achieving) in the prince's name Sarvārtha-siddha.

What might be worthy of comment, first up – and it is a point I seem to remember making before – is that with these more obvious plays on words contained in the two proper nouns, Aśvaghoṣa as I picture him is setting out his stall. He is alerting us, in other words, to be on the look out for multiple layers of meaning even in those verses where more than one meaning is not immediately apparent. He is reminding us not to take anything he says at face value. He is goading us not to be satisfied with what we see on the surface but instead to spit on our hands and prepare to pick up our spades.

As we discovered in digging out the meaning of nair-guṇyam (the being-without virtue) in Canto 7, any compound beginning with nair- or nih- or niṣ- is a good place to start digging. Come to think of it, nir-āśa in BC6.67 could be read not only as “devoid of expectation” but also as “with hope in regard to nothingness.” Somebody is going to come along in a few years time and make a much better job of this translation than I have been able to do.

Getting back to today's verse, nir-āstha is given in the dictionary as “not interested in anything” (EBC: indifferent to all things; EHJ: freed from all attachments; PO: being detached), but remembering that our ultimate aim might be a bit of nothing, we can also understand nir-āsthaḥ to be describing the prince as “being interested in nothing” or “being oriented towards nothingness.”

Either way, Aśvaghoṣa is once more drawing our attention to the paradox whereby all-consuming partiality towards one thing – whether that thing be the forest, or a bit of nothingness – causes us to know what indifference or detachment is. Hence in Alexander work it is said that direction is the truest form of inhibition.

By his use of the word bhakti (devotion/attachment) at the end of Canto 7, as discussed yesterday, Aśvaghoṣa lightly touched upon the same paradox. The paradox is that the means-whereby we become free from miscellaneous attachments, in the Buddha's teaching, is by devoting ourselves – by totally attaching – to Sitting.

Hence Dogen wrote 仏法は打坐なり, 打坐は 仏法なり . (BUPPO WA TAZA NARI, TAZA WA BUPPO NARI), “the Buddha-dharma is Sitting; Sitting is the Buddha-dharma.”

The nub of it in Sanskrit might be:
buddha-dharmaḥ kāñcanam-āsanam bhavati.

Because devotion is attachment and attachment is the root of suffering, our devotion to that Sitting which is the Buddha-dharma inevitably brings with it pain and grief. At the same time, that Sitting is our salvation, our way out of pain and grief.

In principle, then, just to sit is everything. 

In actual practice, however, speaking for myself, I have found that not only Sitting itself but also this translation, this effort to explicate a buddha's dharma of Sitting, has been for me over the past five years, demonstrably better medicine than any medicine. So devoting myself to this work is no more difficult for me than it is difficult for a compulsive drinker to attach himself to the bottle.

And yet, insofar as it ties me to a wifi connection close to where cockerels are crowing, and insofar as that wifi connection is liable to go down so that I can't carry on with the work that I am attached to doing, this translation effort is liable to become the essence of suffering. Sweet melons become bitter guords, as Dogen rightly observed.

This paradox, which was touched upon at the end of the previous Canto is picked up again in the phrase vana-cchandatayā nir-āsthaḥ, “he was indifferent (nir-āsthaḥ) because of the state of emotional wishing (chanda-tā) for the forest.”

Another rich vein of buried meaning is to be dug for in the interplay between chandam visṛjya (“letting Chanda/chanda go on his/its way”) in the 1st pāda and sarvārtha-siddha (“All Things Being Realized”) in the 3rd pāda.

We have discussed already how, on the surface, chandam visṛjya “dismissing Chanda,” might suggest a dismissive attitude – either towards Chanda the person or towards chanda the emotion. We have discussed how, below the surface, Aśvaghoṣa may have wished to allow another possible reading, suggesting a non-dismissive attitude of letting be or letting go or setting free, considering that vi-√sṛj is also given in the dictionary as let go and set free.

Once or twice after entering into a conversation with Marjory Barlow after she had given me an Alexander lesson, I remember her saying something like, “Now, Mike, I am going to send you away.” Her way of making it clear that it was time to go struck me as being as clear as a golden bell. It was an example of how to perform the action of dismissing, without any dismissiveness. Marjory was never dismissive. Her concern was to help others set themselves free, or to allow them to go their own way – but not in the indignant / dismissive sense that Lindsey Buckingham clearly meant it.

Either way, whether we thus see a disconnect or a connection between visṛjya (“letting  go / sending away”) and sarvārtha-siddha (“realizing all things / fulfilling everything”), today's verse as I read it poses a question of the relation between the two.

The fundamental teaching that Aśvaghoṣa may have in mind is, as per the Lotus Sutra, 諸法実相 (Jap: SHOHO-JISSO), “all things are real form.”

“All things are real form” means, for example, Chandaka is real; Chanda's chanda is real; the urge to dismiss Chanda is real; the urge to dismiss chanda is real; inhibiting those urges and letting Chanda/chanda be, is real; failing to inhibit those urges and stumbling and falling, is real; the prince is real; the prince's state of chanda for the forest is real; the forest is real; and every footstep that the prince takes upon the indifferent earth on his way to entering the ashram, is also real.

The best of states, realization of all things, might be like this. And the worst of states, unfulfilled emotional wishing, might also be like this. To devote ourselves to the former and dismiss the latter, trying to be buddha, might be to miss the point and stumble and fall  just like a realized master of the horse. 

A few weeks ago I watched a documentary on Fleetwood Mac in which Stevie Nicks said how objectionable and disrespectful to her she had found the lyrics to Go Your Own Way – especially the line about shacking up being all you want to do. And her objection seemed totally fair and reasonable. But beyond right and wrong, notwithstanding his lack of chivalry, hats off to Lindsey Buckingham for expressing so originally that dismissiveness that all blokes instinctively wish to express – primarily, if truth be told, to our own chandas, to the troublesome emotions we struggle to cope with. 

tataḥ: ind. then
visṛjya = abs. vi- √ sṛj: to send or pour forth , let go or run or flow , discharge , emit , shoot , cast , hurl (lit. and fig.); to shed (tears) ; to set free , release ; to send away , dismiss , repudiate , reject , throw or cast off
√sṛj: to go or fly , discharge , throw , cast , hurl at; to cast or let go (a measuring line) ; to let loose , cause (horses) to go quickly ;
aśru-mukham (acc. sg. .m.): tear-faced
rudantam = acc. sg. m. pres. part. rud: to weep , cry , howl , roar , lament , wail

chandam (acc. sg.): m. Chanda, Chandaka
vana-cchandatayā (inst. sg. f.): because of a state of desire for the forest
chanda: mfn. pleasing , alluring , inviting ; m. pleasure , delight , appetite , liking , predilection , desire , will
-tā: (fem. abstract noun suffix)
nir-āsthaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. not interested in anything ; interested in nothing
āsthaḥ: f. consideration , regard , care , care for ; confidence, hope

sarvārthasiddhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): m. 'one who has accomplished all aims'; N. of gautama buddha (so called , according to some , because his parents' wishes were all fulfilled by his birth); see BC2.17
vapuṣā (inst. sg.): n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty; the body
abhibhūya = abs. abhi- √ bhū : to overcome , overpower , predominate , conquer , surpass , overspread

tam (acc. sg.): that
āśramam (acc. sg.): mn. a hermitage , the abode of ascetics , the cell of a hermit or of retired saints or sages
siddhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. accomplished , fulfilled , effected , gained , acquired ; one who has attained his object , successful ; perfected , become perfect , beatified , endowed with supernatural faculties ; m. a siddha or semidivine being of great purity and perfection and said to possess the eight supernatural faculties (» 2. siddhi ; accord. to some , the siddhas inhabit , together with the munis &c , the bhuvar-loka or atmosphere between the earth and heaven ; accord. to VP. eighty-eight thousand of them occupy the regions of the sky north of the sun and south of the seven ṛṣis ; they are regarded as immortal , but only as living to the end of a kalpa ; m. any inspired sage or prophet or seer (e.g. vyāsa , kapila &c ) ; m. any holy personage or great saint (esp. one who has attained to one of the states of beatitude ; m. any great adept in magic or one who has acquired supernatural powers
sidh (weak form of √ sādh): to be accomplished or fulfilled or effected or settled , be successful , succeed ; to attain one's aim or object , have success ; to attain the highest object , become perfect , attain beatitude R
siddham [EBC] (acc. sg.): ibid.
iva: like, as if
prapede = 3rd pers. sg. perf. pra- √ pad : to go forwards set out for , resort to , arrive at , attain , enter (with acc. , rarely loc.)

太子遣車匿 將入仙人處
端嚴身光曜 普照苦行林
具足一切義 隨義而之彼


Harry said...

Thanks, Mike.

Maybe we sorely need that bit of room to struggle.



Mike Cross said...

Fuck off, Harry, and leave me alone!

(Only kidding)

Harry said...


You old silver tongued divil you!

'The Buddhist sense of humour is no laughing matter', to misquote somebody.

All the best,