Wednesday, August 28, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.7: Ashram-Dwellers (5): Holy Sages Versed in Vedic Mumbo Jumbo

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
kac-cid-vasūnām-ayam-aṣṭamaḥ syāt-syād-aśvinor-anyataraś-cyuto ' tra |
uccerur-uccair-iti tatra vācas-tad-darśanād-vismaya-jā munīnām || 7.7

“Could this be the eighth of the good gods (the vasus),

Or one of the two charioteers (the aśvins), alighting here?”

Calls like this went up on high,

Born of the bewilderment of the sages there, at seeing him.

Nobody was clearer than my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima when it came to clarifying that the real meaning of seeing/meeting Buddha is nothing religious, nothing spiritual, nothing ideal, nothing sacred, nothing romantic. Meeting Buddha means realizing nothing but reality as it is, including both its immaterial and its material side.

The immaterial side, again, does not mean anything religious or sacred or spiritual. The table at which I am now sitting, for example, before it existed as a table, during its construction as a table, and now as I sit at it, did exist and continues to exist in the realm of plans, designs, ideas. At the same time, it is a solid object made of wood.

To meet Buddha, philosophically thinking, is to see both these aspects of the table.

As I said, nobody in my book has ever been clearer in clarifying this point than my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima. When it actually came to reading reality, ironically, I noticed over the years that Gudo was much more prone to misread political and economic situations than was, for example, the Japanese economist in Tokyo for whom I did editing and translating work. During the years of the Japanese bubble economy which lasted till around 1990, for example, Gudo did not foresee the bursting of the bubble. He rather thought that Japan was naturally going from strength to strength, as the most civilized nation in the world. Even as he devoted his life to expounding a non-subjective dharma, Gudo remained, even by his own admission, “too subjective.”

So here is an irony with which, over the years, I have struggled to get into perspective. Gudo's teaching around meeting Buddha was spot on; he understood the principle with unrivalled clarity. But when it actually came to fulfilling his own criterion for meeting Buddha, Gudo could be spectacularly clueless.

As a concrete example of the latter failing, his tendency to cluelessness in practical matters, I always remember coming out of Gudo's office in Ichigaya one blustery winter evening and watching him struggle in vain to put up the portable umbrella he used to keep in his briefcase. He was standing with his back to the wind and so every time he began to open his umbrella out, the wind would catch it and bend the spokes back. "Open it into the wind" I suggested. So Gudo turned around, pointed the umbrella into the wind, and of course the whole thing opened out without any bother straight away. Gudo laughed out loud and said. "It is a kind of wisdom!" 

As an example of the former virtue, his clarity in expounding the principle, I will relate an episode which concluded with him telling me, with an elated expression on his face, “You are looking at Buddha!”

We were on the train on the Sobu line going from Gudo's office in Ichigaya to Asukusabashi, where Gudo's old office was, and where he gave a talk on Thursday evenings at Yanaga-bashi-kaikan. At the new office in Ichigaya, I would take dictations of his English translations of and commentaries on the koans in Shinji-shobogenzo, and then, carrying his bag to the station, I would accompany him to Asukasabashi, where he would go and eat a bento at his old office, and I would hang around either at a coffee shop, or down by the river, or sometimes I would sneak into a downstairs room of the Yanaga-bashi-kaikan and find somewhere to sit in lotus. Then I would listen to Gudo in his Japanese lecture analyse every koan according to a four-phased system of 苦 , 集 , 滅 , 道 (KU, SHU, METSU, DO; suffering, accumulation, cessation, and the path). In the following days I would type up and lightly edit what Gudo had dictated. I did that for around the first 200 of the 301 koans, then, when I decided to attack in earnest the translation of Shobogenzo itself, I passed the baton of Shinji-Shobogenzo to Michael Luetchford who finished the dictating. Several years later, MJL worked with Jeremy Pearson to turn the project into a book. By that time my role in originally initiating the project had been forgotten. When I spoke to MJL on the phone about it after the book was published, MJL remained convinced that the person who had originally done the dictating was Larry Zacchi. A few hours after this phone-call, having gone back and read the original drafts in his possession, MJL phoned me back and confirmed that, yes, in fact, he now realized they were my drafts. I heard later from Jeremy that Gudo had strongly insisted that Jeremy should put his name together with Gudo's on the front cover. That was because Gudo had got Jeremy confused with me. And that confusion was neither the result of meeting Buddha nor the result of failing to meet Buddha: that confusion was the result of senility. Neither did MJL or JMP have any intention to deceive anybody. The whole thing was an interesting study, from a certain standpoint, of history, or the truth of what really happened, diverging from people's memories and perceptions. But I digress...

While we were on the train on the way to Asukusabashi, the conversation got around to a woman who was much in my thoughts during my twenties and I mentioned to Gudo that there had been one or two recent developments which had caused me to see her in a less romantic, or idealized light. Quick as a flash, Gudo smiled broadly and said “You are looking at Buddha!”

To be given this kind of affirmation was at the same time surprising and deflating. What was being affirmed wasn't any kind of achievement, or anything that I could feel. There was no cause for punching the air. What in fact was being affirmed? Nothing. Certainly nothing religious, or spiritual, or sacred.

In today's verse, tad-darśanād, “because of looking at him,” as I read it, is a kind of ironic suggestion of failing to meet Buddha. Those holy sages who were versed in Vedic knowledge of mythical gods, when they set eyes on the human being who was the Buddha-to-be, were bewildered. Instead of seeing the Buddha-to-be as the human being he was, they put something sacred on him and marvelled at him. They beheld him with wonder as if he were divine. They saw him through religion-tinted glasses. That kind of religious or romantic or idealized view, as Gudo well knew, was the essence of failing to meet Buddha.

Gudo clearly knew what it was to fail to meet Buddha, and Gudo demonstrated with outstanding clarity what it was to fail to meet Buddha – not because his memory began to fail him in old age but rather because of the very attachment to romantic ideas that he maintained through his life, even while criticizing so mercilessly any such romantic or idealistic tendency in others. Chief among his romantic ideas was his own ability as a translator into English, which was by no means his mother tongue. One day I may thank him unreservedly for teaching me, above all, the meaning of irony, and for manifesting at the same time the mirror principle. But the day has not come yet.

My conclusion, then, is that tad-darśana, “seeing/meeting him,” in general in Aśvaghoṣa's writings corresponds to 見仏 (KEN-BUTSU), “meeting Buddha,” in Dogen's writings. And meeting Buddha in Dogen's writings, in the final analysis, cannot be realized only with the top two inches, however excellent those top two inches may be. What Dogen meant by meeting Buddha is a realization done and not done with the whole self responding to the gravitational pull of the whole earth.

In today's verse, however, the meaning of tad-darśana is different. The holy sages saw the prince, a normal human being shining with natural health and vitality, and instead of meeting Buddha they put on their Vedic spectacles and interpreted reality on the basis of a Vedic narrative – a narrative, that is to say, that is filled with idealistic, religious, romantic and superstitious mumbo jumbo.

kaś-cid: ind. anyone, one
kac-cid: (interrogative pronoun [EHJ])
vasūnām (gen. pl.): m. excellent , good , beneficent ; N. of the gods (as the " good or bright ones " , esp. of the ādityas , maruts , aśvins , indra , uṣas , rudra , vāyu , viṣṇu , śiva , and kubera) ; N. of a partic. class of gods (whose number is usually eight , and whose chief is indra , later agni and viṣṇu ; they form one of the nine gaṇas or classes enumerated under gaṇa-devatā q.v. ; the eight vasus were originally personifications , like other Vedic deities , of natural phenomena , and are usually mentioned with the other gaṇas common in the veda , viz. the eleven rudras and the twelve ādityas , constituting with them and with dyaus , " Heaven " , and pṛthivī , " Earth ")
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this one
aṣṭamaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. the eighth
syāt = 3rd pers. sg. op. as: to be

syāt = 3rd pers. sg. op. as: to be
aśvinoḥ = gen. dual. aśvin: m. du. " the two charioteers " , N. of two divinities (who appear in the sky before the dawn in a golden carriage drawn by horses or birds ; they bring treasures to men and avert misfortune and sickness ; they are considered as the physicians of heaven)
anyataraḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. either of two
cyutaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. moved , shaken; dropped, fallen
atra: ind. in this place , here at this time
vā: or

uccerur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. uc- √ car: to go upwards
uccaiḥ: ind. aloft , high , above , upwards , from above ; loud , accentuated ; intensely , much , powerfully
iti: “...,” thus
tatra: ind. there / then
vācas (nom. pl.): f. speech , voice , talk , language (also of animals) , sound (also of inanimate objects as of the stones used for pressing , of a drum &c ) RV. &c (vācam- √ṛ , īr , or iṣ , to raise the voice , utter a sound , cry , call) ; a word , saying , phrase , sentence , statement , asseveration

tad-darśanāt (abl. sg.): because of seeing him/it/that
darśana: n. seeing , observing , looking , noticing ; n. audience , meeting ; n. experiencing
vismaya-jā (nom. pl. f.) born of wonder / surprise
vismaya: m. wonder , surprise , amazement , bewilderment , perplexity
munīnām (gen. pl.): m. (prob.) any one who is moved by inward impulse , an inspired or ecstatic person , enthusiast ; a saint , sage , seer , ascetic , monk , devotee , hermit (esp. one who has taken the vow of silence)

彼諸梵志等 驚喜傳相告
爲八婆藪天 爲二阿濕波
爲第六魔王 爲梵迦夷天

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