Friday, September 13, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.23: Drowning in Fear

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
trāsaś-ca nityaṁ maraṇāt-prajānāṁ yatnena cecchanti punaḥ-prasūtim |
satyāṁ pravttau niyataś-ca mtyus-tatraiva magnā yata eva bhītāḥ || 7.23

Though people are ever afraid of dying,

Still actively they strive for re-birth,

And just in their doing, their death is assured –

Right there, where they are drowning, in fear itself.

We are pursuing it, or what?, i.e., something ineffable, by means which are ineffable. 

Pain itself is never the means, although discovery and application of the means is apt to be painful, even under the best of teachers – as has been demonstrated by Nanda's example. 

Similarly, verbal reasoning itself is never the means, although working out of the means is apt to involve some verbal reasoning along the way – as is being demonstrated to us now by the Buddha-to-be.

In his current monologue, it seems to me, the Buddha-to-be is demonstrating the kind of verbal reasoning by which we can know intellectually what the way is NOT. His biography indicates, as discussed already, that this kind of intellectual knowing did not satisfy the Buddha-to-be, and so, even after reasoning out intellectually that asceticism was NOT the way, he neverthless went on to spend six years experiencing with his skin, flesh, bones and marrow that the way of asceticism was not the way he was seeking. 

Even though the Buddha-to-be ultimately did not fully believe in, or rely upon, his own reasoning, the fact remains that such reasoning was a factor in his establishment of the bodhi-mind, but not as a faculty which enabled the Buddha-to-be to work out by verbal reasoning what an effective means might be. Rather, the Buddha-to-be is working out by verbal reasoning what such a means CANNOT be.

Thus, in today's verse as in yesterday's verse, the impeccable a priori reasoning of the prince presages realization that cannot be reasoned out a priori, because it is a function of practice and experience.

Yesterday the unenlightened prince's consideration of using pain and suffering, as a means to no end other than pain and suffering, presaged the Buddha's teaching of using attention, or mindfulness, or consciousness, as a means of dispelling the unconsciousness of saṁsāra. The prince was not capable of figuring out, a priori, that the means-whereby unconsciousness is dispelled is consciousness itself. But he was capable of observing that the unconscious behaviour of ascetics (who failed to attend to the faults that fuel saṁsāra) was never going to be an effective means of eradicating those suffering-causing faults. 

So the unspoken contrast in yesterday's verse was between saṁsāra-doṣān-aparīkṣamāṇaḥ (failing to attend to the faults that fuel saṁsāra), which the prince could see was not the way, and saṁsāra-doṣān-parīkṣamāṇaḥ (consciously attending to the faults that fuel saṁsāra), which the Buddha will later advocate as a vital element of the way.

Today the unspoken contrast is between the pravṛtti (forward movement, active life, doing), which is mentioned in the 3rd pāda, and nivṛtti (non-doing).

The contrast which in today's verse is thus left unspoken by the Buddha-to-be, in SN Canto 16 is spelled out by the enlightened Buddha in the most explicit terms possible:
Comprehend, therefore, that suffering is doing (pravṛttiṃ); witness the faults impelling it forward (pravartakān); / Realise its stopping as non-doing (nivṛttim); and know the path as a turning back (nivartakaṃ)// SN16.42 //
tasmāt pravṛttiṃ-parigaccha duḥkhaṃ pravartakān-apy-avagaccha doṣān /
nivṛttim-āgaccha ca tan-nirodhaṃ nivartakaṃ cāpy-avagaccha mārgam // SN16.42 //

The metaphor in the 4th pāda of drowning in one's fearful doing, is a good one in light of the fact that when a non-swimmer gets into difficulty in still water, like the still water of a pond, it is not so much the water that drowns him as his own fear.

This being so, water turns out to be a very effective medium for learning the central principle of Alexander work, which is namely that If you stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing does itself. The principle in the water of a swimming pool, roughly translated, is that if you stop splashing fearfully around, the water will support you. 

Realization of this truth awaits the Buddha-to-be under the bodhi tree. It might be a realization that strikes him rather than something he has been able to reason out for himself. What the Buddha-to-be is able to deduce from circumstances, as early as his first visit to an ashram, is that unconscious striving after desired result A sometimes produces result Z, the extreme opposite of desired result A.

Unconscious striving is the essence of pravṛtti, doing. But the real gist of today's verse, as I read it, is to leave a gap for the 8-letter antonym of doing – a gap that Aśvaghoṣa is inviting each reader to fill in for himself or herself (and not only by verbal reasoning).

The rational and perceptive Buddha-to-be speaks, like a scientist, of people drowning in the very thing we fear, or more literally drowning (magnāḥ) precisely because (yata eva) we are afraid (bhitāḥ), or drowning (magnāḥ) exactly where (yata eva) we are afraid (bhitāḥ) – in which circumstance our death (mṛtyu) is dependent on, or tied to (niyataḥ), doing happening (satyāṁ pravṛttau [loc.]).

The as-yet unspoken practical truth – familiar to swimming teachers like my wife and my brother (at least when they are in the water) – is that we needn't drown in what we fear, if only we are able to stop our fearful doing.

If there is any merit in this translation, which is to say, if it serves any useful purpose in helping man or beast to cross the fathomless sea of faults, that merit derives not so much from me perservering on with the doing of it as from me knowing the path as a turning back. Not well enough, some would say, and I wouldn't argue with them. But sitting-dhyāna as Dogen transmitted that practice and experience from China to Japan, is a turning back – a backward step, that can be learned, of turning the light and letting it shine. And Alexander work as demonstrated by FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow, and others, is rooted in turning back – through inhibition of the thirsting (or “end-gaining”) that stimulates unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions.

Starting 30 years ago I strove very actively to become a leading proponent of the former, and for the past 20 years have striven, gradually less actively, to be a proponent of the latter. In however many years I have got left, I firmly intend, by degrees, to do less and less. Just watch me not go!

trāsaḥ (nom. sg.): m. fear , terror , anxiety
ca: and (ca-ca: though-yet)
nityam: ind. constantly, always
maraṇāt (abl. sg.): death, dying
prajānām (gen. pl.): f. procreation , propagation , birth ; a creature , animal , man , mankind ; people , subjects (of a prince)

yatnena (inst. sg.): m. activity of will , volition , aspiring after ; (also pl.) effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care , endeavour after ; (yatnena " with effort " , " carefully " , " eagerly " , " strenuously ")
ca: and (ca-ca: though-yet)
icchanti = 3rd pers. pl. iṣ: to endeavour to obtain , strive , seek for ; to desire , wish , long for , request ;
punaḥ: ind. again
prasūtim (acc. sg.): f. procreation , generation , bringing forth (children or young) , laying (eggs) , parturition , birth; coming forth , appearance ,

satyām = loc. sg. f. sat (pres. part. of √as, to be) being , existing , occurring , happening , being present
pravṛttau (loc. sg.): f. forward movement, active life, doing
niyataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. mfn. (ní-) held back or in , fastened , tied to (loc.); connected with , dependent on (loc.) ; contained or joined in (loc.) ; fixed , established , settled , sure , regular , invariable , positive , definite
ca: and
mṛtyuḥ (nom. sg.): m. death, dying

tatraiva: right there
tatra: ind. there, in that state ; in that , therein , in that case , on that occasion , under those circumstances , then , therefore
eva: (emphatic)
magnāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. sunk , plunged , immersed in (loc. or comp.)
magnaḥ [EBC]: (nom. pl. m.): mfn. sunk , plunged , immersed in (loc. or comp.)
majj: to sink (into) , (acc. or loc.) , go down , go to hell , perish , become ruined ; to sink (in water) , dive , plunge or throw one's self into (loc.) , bathe , be submerged or drowned
yataṣ: ind. (fr. 3. ya , correlative of tátas , and often used as abl. or instr. of the relative pron.) from which or what ; where, in what place ; wherefore , for which reason , in consequence where of
eva: (emphatic)
bhītaḥ [EBC/Old Nepalese manuscript] (nom. sg. m.): mfn. frightened , alarmed , terrified , timid , afraid of or imperilled by (abl. or comp.)
bhītāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. frightened , alarmed , terrified , timid , afraid of or imperilled by (abl. or comp.)

自枯槁其形 修行諸苦行
而求於受生 増長五欲因
不觀生死故 以苦而求苦

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