Sunday, September 15, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.25: Reasoning from the Known to the Unknown

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
na khalv-ayaṁ garhita eva yatno yo hīnam-utsjya viśeṣa-gāmī |
prājñaiḥ samānena pariśrameṇa kāryaṁ tu tad-yatra punar-na kāryam || 7.25

Certainly not to blame is this effort

Which, casting aside the inferior, aims for distinction;

But the work wise men should do, exerting themselves as one,

Is that work wherein nothing further needs doing.

The 4th chapter of FM Alexander's book The Use of the Self is titled The Stutterer. In a footnote at the end of the chapter FM records:
The late Mr Joseph Rowntree after one of his lessons described my work as 'reasoning from the known to the unknown, the known being the wrong and the unknown being the right.'
Rowntree's description was a priori, before the event, from the standpoint of a pupil who Alexander was teaching how to think. Alexander, from his standpoint, ex-post, as one who already knew the score, might have said that he was using his hands to convey to his pupil a new sensory experience – the experience of the right thing doing itself, so that nothing further needs doing.

The point is that if the state of punar-na kāryam “nothing further needing doing” is read as an expression of what the Buddha experienced while just sitting under the bodhi tree, then the prince now in the ascetic ashram has not had that experience yet. So he cannot say anything about it, ex-post, on the basis of experience, and he is not saying anything about it on the basis of experience. Rather, he is using his reason in an attempt to guide himself away from doing that he sees to be wrong, and in the direction that he reasons may be right.

That the prince goes on to devote himself to six years of ascetic doing means that this attempt ultimately fails. Reliance on reason alone does not cut the mustard. Reason alone is not sufficient to get oneself actually moving in the right direction, any more than a power drill is all one needs to put up a shelf. One also needs a spirit level, a pencil, plugs, screws, and a screwdriver, not to mention brackets and the shelf itself, as well as the necessary muscle power and know-how. (This is all as described in a secret treatise, confidentially revealed to me by FM's niece Marjory Barlow, titled The Use of the Shelf.) Just because a power drill alone is insufficient, that is no reason to throw it out of the toolbox. Similarly with reason.

So in today's verse as I read it, reasoning from the known to the unknown is exactly what the Buddha-to-be is beginning to demonstrate, as a manifestation of his will to the truth. 

In the preceeding verses, he has been applying his reasoning to the known, that is, to ascetic end-gaining, which is wrong, and has been leaving unspoken that which lies unknowably ahead, going in the right direction. But in today's verse the reasoning of the Buddha-to-be seems to be leading his thoughts in the direction of the right thing, that is, the thing that does itself, leaving nothing further needing doing. Therefore the Buddha-to-be is daring to think and speak about the unknown right thing, even though he hasn't experienced it yet. 

For the past ten years or so I have been living something of a divided existence, living for a few months every year on my own by the forest in France, but coming back for most of the year to live and work in Aylesbury, where I have more of a sense of things needing to be done.

In contrasting two modes of existence, I am liable to over-egg the pudding. The truth is that I have odd moments in Aylesbury when the right thing seems to be doing itself, and certainly plenty of moments in France when I end-gain like mad.

Still, one of the ironies I have noticed while continuing this split existence is that I am generally more active in France, where I have less of a sense of things needing to be done.

Back in Aylesbury, somewhat oppressed by the sense that I ought to do this, that and the other, and by the sense of having this and that commitment to keep, I am liable to lie for too long on the sofa eating chocolate and watching TV, so that I rapidly put back on the pounds that, without even trying, I managed to shed in France.

Hedges grow by the forest in France the same as they do in Aylesbury. Cutting them is more or less the same job, even though done with different tools – electric trimmers in Aylesbury, a slasher on the edge of a length of hazel in France. But when I venture out into the garden in Aylesbury it is only a matter of time before I become irritated by low-flying aircraft or the sound of annoying people, and wish to get back inside the house; whereas sometimes in France I have a sense of having loads of space and freedom and I enjoy staying outside for hours on end, doing things in a state where things do not need doing. The point I take from this is that whether or not things need doing is not so much a function of the world as it is a function of my state, or my mind. 

It is for a reason along these lines, I suspect, that the Buddha tells Nanda:
By the ending of the duality which is exuberance and gloom, I submit, his mind is fully set free. / And when his mind is fully liberated from that duality, there is nothing further for him to do (na cāsya bhūyaḥ karaṇīyam-asti)// SN16.45 //
And hence Nanda tells the Buddha:
Rebirth is over, O Refuter of Rebirth! I am dwelling as one with observance of true dharma. / What was for me to do, O Doer of the Necessary! is totally done (kṛtsnaṃ kṛtaṃ me kṛta-kārya kāryaṃ). I am present in the world without being of the world. // SN18.10 //
In these quotations from Aśvaghoṣa's other mahā-kāvya, his epic tale of Saundara-nanda, Beautiful Happiness, the Buddha and Nanda are describing, ex-post, on the basis of their enlightenment, the state of nothing needing doing. In today's verse the prince is not yet able to speak on that basis. But somehow, I think Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting, the prince's reason, or his will to the truth, his bodhi-mind, is pointing him in the right direction, as he reasons from the known which is wrong to the unknown which is right.

Ascetic practice aimed at advancement up to heaven, the prince can see, has the merit of being directed effort. It might be higher up the food chain than, let's say, seeking instant happiness by anaesthetizing oneself with alcohol or other recreational drugs. But since heaven is also subject to the law of impermanence, the heaven aimed at by ascetic doing cannot be that unknown pari-nirvāṇa that the prince, on the basis of verbal reasoning, has set his mind upon:
Then, he of battle-cry like roaring thunder-cloud, listened to this cry of woe, and experienced a calmness most profound; / For as he heard the words “perfectly contented,” he set his mind on the matter of pari-nirvāṇa – the happiness of complete extinction.” //BC5.25 //
Speaking a priori, on the basis of reason, the Buddha-to-be has figured out that ascetic doing is not the way – and yet soon he is going to engage in six years of ascetic doing, done to the nth degree. He is going to starve himself. And starving oneself – though in a sense it is negative doing (not eating)  is very different from non-doing.

Speaking ex-post, on the basis of many years of practice and experience, the Chinese Zen Master known in Japanese as Isan Reiyu, or Reiyu of Isan mountain, said that he had spent many years eating Isan meals and shitting Isan shit, but had never studied Isan Zen. That was a famous expression in China of a life of non-doing, or na punar-kāryam, nothing further needing doing.

na: not
khalu: ind. (as a particle of asseveration) indeed , verily , certainly , truly
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this
garhitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. blamed ; contemned , despised , contemptible , forbidden , vile
eva: (emphatic)
yatnaḥ (nom. sg.): m. activity of will ; effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care , endeavour

yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): which
hīnam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. left , abandoned , forsaken ; left behind , excluded or shut out from , lower or weaker than , inferior to ; deficient , defective , faulty , insufficient , short , incomplete , poor , little , low , vile , bad , base , mean ; n. deficiency , want , absence ;
utsṛjya = abs. ut- √ sṛj: to let loose , let off or go ; to set free ; to sling , throw , cast forth or away; to lay aside ; to quit , leave , abandon , avoid , eschew
viśeṣa-gāmī (nom. sg. m.): being directed towards excellence
viśeṣa: m. distinction , peculiar merit , excellence , superiority
gāmin: mfn. going or moving on or in or towards or in any peculiar manner ; directed towards

prājñaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. a wise or learned man
samānena (inst. sg. m.): mfn. same , identical, uniform , one; alike , similar , equal ; holding the middle between two extremes , middling ; common , general , universal , all ; whole (as a number , opp. to " a fraction "); ind. like , equally with (instr.)
pariśrameṇa (inst. sg.): m. fatigue , exertion , labour , fatiguing occupation , trouble , pain
pari- √ śram: to fatigue or exert one's self

kāryam (nom. sg.): n. work or business to be done , duty , affair ; n. motive , object , aim , purpose (e.g. kiṁ kāryam , for what purpose? wherefore?) ; mfn. (fut. p.p. √1. kṛ) , to be made or done or practised or performed
tu: but
tad (acc. sg. n.): that
yatra: ind. in or to which place , where , wherein ;
punar: ind. again, further
na: not
kāryam (nom. sg.): n. work or business to be done , duty , affair ; mfn. (fut. p.p. √1. kṛ) , to be made or done or practised or performed

求樂心下劣 倶墮於非義
方於極鄙劣 精勤則爲勝
未若修智慧 兩捨永無爲 

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