Wednesday, September 11, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.21: A Redbeard Is a Foreigner

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Ārdrā)
śriyam ca bandhūn viṣayāṁś-ca hitvā ye svarga-hetor niyamaṁ caranti |
te viprayuktāḥ khalu gantu-kāmā mahattaraṁ bandhanam-eva bhūyaḥ || 7.21

Those who abandon prestige, connections, and objects,

To observe restrictions for the sake of heaven,

Evidently, when parted from there, are destined to go

Only into greater bondage.

Pain is not the way. Insofar as practice is apt to be painful, there may be some truth in the saying “no pain, no gain.” Fear of pain, or worrying about pain, might be an obstacle. But in pursuit of the truth that the Buddha realized under the bodhi tree, we need to be clear that pain itself is not the means.

Such clarity is arrived at both through inductive and deductive reasoning.

The principle of inductive reasoning was famously expressed in Chinese Zen, in the context of a Zen master receiving a slap on the face, as “Foreigners' beards are red.”

The principle of deductive reasoning, conversely, is that “A redbeard is a foreigner.”

Nanda's experience of ascetic striving for the sake of heaven, as Aśvaghoṣa describes it in SN Canto 11, followed an inductive methodology – it was akin to Nanda first becoming deeply familiar with foreigners' beards, and then hearing, under Ānanda's tutelage, the principle that foreigners' beards are red.

The Buddha-to-be, in contrast, is taking the route of deductive reasoning – akin to first figuring out in his brain that a redbeard is bound to be a foreigner and then confirming the principle with his body in six years of painful red-bearded experience.

The Sanskrit word for such reasoning – both inductive and deductive (at least judging from the Monier-Williams dictionary) – turns out to be yukti. And in BC7.32, Aśvaghoṣa does indeed characterize the Buddha-to-be's current 12-verse consideration of asceticism as the articulation of tat tad bahu-yukti-yuktam, “this and that, employing much reasoning.”

One of the definitions of yukti given in the MW dictionary is deduction from circumstances, and this seems to fit the bill as a description of the present thought process of the Buddha-to-be as he tours the ascetic ashram, being in it but not of it.

The July 27th 2013 edition of The Economist featured a piece with the following header, title, and strapline:

Buddhism v Islam in Asia
Fears of a new religious strife
Fuelled by a dangerous brew of faith, ethnicity and politics, a tit-for-tat conflict is escalating between two of Asia’s biggest religions

The article begins by discussing sectarian strife in Myanmar and ends by considering prospects in Thailand, noting that Thailand’s Buddhist structure is more hierarchical. The monarch and the political establishment keep the monks on a tight leash.

This kind of commentary on a religion called Buddhism, from where I sit, has got nothing to do with the Buddha's teaching as Aśvaghoṣa is transmitting it to us via his poetry. 

A Buddhist monk who can be kept on a tight leash by a monarch and a political establishment is a Buddhist monk who has not learned to think for himself, either deductively or inductively. Of what use to man or beast, in that case, is such a Buddhist monk?

My Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima endeavoured hugely and tirelessly to teach his students, when it came to Buddhist philosophy, not only what to think but how to think, using a system he called “the four philosophies” or “three philosophies and one reality.”

Integral to Gudo's system, as suggested by the phrase “three philosophies and one reality” was an absolute gulf on one side of which was thinking (including the three philosophies) and on the other side of which was objective reality, the reality of action, the reality of Zazen is Zazen.

Gudo's idea, then, was dialectically opposed to the truth of reflexivity that George Soros has observed operating in the financial markets, whereby human thinking and objective reality form feedback loops – which sometimes give rise, via positive feedback, to the formation of bubbles.

In the laboratory of my sitting-Zen practice, when it began to be informed (mainly inductively) by Alexander work, I also found that thinking and objective reality are not as separate in reality as they were in Gudo's brain.

But when I started to argue the toss with Gudo on this point, I elicited a response from him which shocked me to the core.

Some day somebody other than me will come along and describe the whole thing more clearly than I, suffering from the inside of it, have been able to do. But at the centre of it all is a philosophical problem which is not only a philosophical problem and not only a theoretical problem, but which is also a practical problem. It is the problem of not so much how to think about sitting-dhyāna, but how to think in sitting-dhyāna. It is the problem of how to sit as dhyāna (thinking), and how dhyai (to think) as sitting.

There is no such thing as a right position, but there is a right direction.

So if and when the history of all this comes to be written, it will not be concluded that George Soros and FM Alexander were right (and neither would such a conclusion sit well with the philosophy/teaching of either man). But I am damn sure it will be concluded that Gudo Nishijima's position was wrong.

A teacher who professes to be a teacher or an upholder of the Buddha's teaching and yet who wants to teach people what to think en masse, as opposed to how to think as an individual, is a teacher who would turn freedom into its opposite. That is no good.

I think part of my anger towards Gudo Nishijima is that he professed to be one kind of teacher when by his actions he showed himself to be the other. He taught that “true Buddhism” is a philosophical quest rather than a religion, but in the end he didn't really seem to mean what he said. That reality and thinking are cut off from each other (in Japanese kiri-hanarete-iru) was for Gudo, the object of deep belief. More than deeply believing it, he worshipped that truth, that Dharma, that true Buddhism, with a religious devotion – even though, from where I sit, it was only his own idea.

śriyam (acc. sg.): f. prosperity , welfare , good fortune , success , auspiciousness , wealth , treasure , riches (śriyā , " according to fortune or wealth ") , high rank , power , might , majesty , royal dignity
priyān (acc. pl. m.): mfn. beloved, dear; m. a friend
ca: and
bandhūn (acc. pl.): m. connection , relation , association ; kinsman
viṣayān: m. anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
ca: and
hitvā = abs. hā: to abandon, leave

ye (nom. sg. m.): [those] who
svarga-hetoḥ (gen. sg.): for the sake of heaven
niyamam (acc. sg.): m. restraining , checking , holding back , preventing , controlling ; any act of voluntary penance or meritorious piety (esp. a lesser vow or minor observance dependent on external conditions and not so obligatory as yama q.v.)
caranti = 3rd pers. pl. car: to go, move ; to undertake , set about , under go , observe , practise , do or act in general , effect , make (e.g. vratā́ni " to observe vows "

te (nom. sg. m.): they, those [who]
viprayuktāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. separated or removed or absent from , destitute of , free from , without (instr. or comp.).
khalu ind. (as a particle of asseveration) indeed , verily , certainly , truly
gantu-kāmāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. wishing to go , on the point of departure ; about to die

mahattaram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. greater or very great or mighty or strong
bandhanam (acc. sg.): n. the act of binding , tying , fastening , fettering ; n. a bond , tie (also fig.) , rope , cord , tether ; n. catching , capturing , confining , detention , custody , imprisonment or a prison ; n. (in phil.) mundane bondage (opp. to final liberation)
eva: (emphatic)
bhūyaḥ (acc. sg. n.): mfn. " becoming in a greater degree " ; ind. still more, further on

違親捨勝境 決定求天樂
雖免於小苦 終爲大苦縛

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