Thursday, September 19, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.29: Adaptation - an Immutable Standard?

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Māyā)
duḥkhe 'bhisaṁdhis-tv-atha puṇya-hetuḥ sukhe 'pi kāryo nanu so 'bhisaṁdhiḥ |
atha pramāṇaṁ na sukhe 'bhisaṁdhir-duḥkhe pramāṇaṁ nanu nābhisaṁdhiḥ || 7.29

But if the cause of good is the ability to handle hardship,

Then is not the same ability to be practised with regard to happiness?

Or else, if being able to handle happiness is not the standard,

Then how can ability to handle hardship be the standard?

Today's verse, as I read it, is another verse in this monologue in which the Buddha-to-be displays reasoning that is at one and the same time impeccable and ineffectual.

The reasoning is impeccable in highlighting that ascetic practice is fixated on adapting to, or accommodating, or reconciling oneself with, or coming to terms with pain, suffering, or hardship (duḥkha). But there is no basis in reason for such a focus, as opposed, say, to a focus on pleasure, happiness, or ease (sukha).

The reasoning is ineffectual because it does not prevent the Buddha-to-be in due course from devoting himself for six years to extreme ascetic hardship.

And even though the reasoning expressed in today's verse thus proves in the end to be ineffectual, the words abhisaṁdhiḥ (adaptation) and pramāṇam (the standard) might be intended as pre-saging the practical wisdom which the Buddha will later manifest in a conspicuously effectual manner.

Hence, for example, in SN Canto 13:
Some in soothing tones; some with tough talk, / Some by both these means, he the trainer trained. // SN13.3 // Just as gold born from dirt is pure, spotless, gleaming, / And while lying in the dirt is not tarnished by the dirt's impurities, // 13.4 // And just as a lotus-leaf is born in water and remains in water, / But neither above nor below is sullied by the water, // 13.5 // So the Sage, born in the world, and acting for the benefit of the world, / Because of his state of action, and spotlessness, is not tainted by worldly things. // 13.6 // Joining with others and leaving them; love and toughness; and talking, as well as meditation itself: / He used these means during his instruction for the purpose of healing, not to make a following for himself. // 13.7 // Thus did the benevolent one, out of his great compassion, take on a form / By which he might release fellow living beings from suffering. // SN13.8 //

When I went to bed last night, my understanding of today's verse was as above, and the translation stood as follows:

But if a cause of good is adaptation to suffering,

Then is not the same adaptation to be practised with regard to happiness?

Or else, if adaptation to happiness is not the standard,

Then how can adaptation to suffering be the standard?

Having slept on it, however, it struck me that today's verse relates with an observation I have mentioned on this blog before, gleaned largely from listening to Desert Island Discs – a radio programme in which successful people from various fields discuss their favourite music and their personal history. One of the things I have noticed over the years of listening to Desert Island Discs – and I remember the point was made explicitly a few years ago by one guest on the programme, namely, the DJ Chris Evans – that life generally prepares us well to deal with failure and obscurity, but not so well for success, as conventionally measured, in terms of fame and fortune. As a result, when people achieve the success they were striving for, they often seem to run into problems in their personal lives.

Seeing today's verse in this light caused me to want to translate duḥkhe 'bhisaṁdhiḥ and sukhe 'bhisaṁdhiḥ as “being able to handle hardship” and “being able to handle happiness” (or “being able to deal with going well”) – translations that are perhaps closer to daily human experience than “adaptation,” which sounds more like something out of a biology text book.

EBC, by the way, translated abhisaṁdhiḥ as “the deliberate choice”; EHJ as “the intention”; and PO as “intent,”  all of which translations are as per the dictionary. But the definition of abhisaṁdhi that seems to me to fit is “making peace or alliance” – the point being, I think, that asceticism is all about learning how to make peace with, or how to adapt to, or how to handle pain and suffering and hardship... but what about learning how to deal with happiness? You may be some kind of stoic hero who can cope however badly things are going, but how do you cope when all seems to be going well? Are you one of those people who seems unable, in a situation when all seems to be going well,  to resist the urge to throw a great big spanner in the works?

SN Canto 16 begins like this:
Thus, by methodically taking possession of the mind, getting rid of something and gathering something together, / The practitioner makes the four dhyānas his own, and duly acquires the five powers of knowing: // 16.1 // The principal transcendent power, taking many forms (ṛddhi-pravekaṃ ca bahu-prakāraṃ); then being awake to what others are thinking; / And remembering past lives from long ago; and divine lucidity of ear; and of eye. // 16.2 //
I like to weave in cross-references like this – it gives me the sense of all of Aśvaghoṣa's writings forming something like one big basket. Sadly, it is a basket with a big chunk missing. But I can deal with that hardship. No problem. Dealing with the happiness of it all weaving together beautifully, however, might be harder for me to deal with, insofar as I continue to lack the principal transcendent power (ṛddhi-pravekaṃ), which is the ability to take many forms (bahu-prakāraṃ) – or, in short, the ability to adapt, to happiness as well as to hardship.

Did I mention that my elder son has just been awarded a first class degree from Imperial College, London?  Somehow I find it easier – somehow safer, less precarious  to dwell on the fact that two weeks ago we lost our dog. 

duḥkhe (loc. sg.): n. pain, suffering, hardship
abhisaṁdhiḥ (nom. sg.): m. speaking or declaring deliberately , purpose , intention , object , meaning ; making peace or alliance
saṁdhi: m. junction , connection , combination , union with (instr.) ; m. association , intercourse with (instr.) ; m. comprehension , totality , the whole essence or scope of (comp.) ; m. alliance , league , reconciliation , peace between (gen.) or with (instr.); making a treaty of peace , negotiating alliances ; m. contrivance , management
abhi-: ind. (a prefix to verbs and nouns , expressing) to , towards , into
tu: but
atha: ind. now, then
puṇya-hetuḥ (nom. sg. m.): a cause of good

sukhe (loc. sg.): n. ease, happiness, pleasure
api: also
kāryaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. to be done
nanu: ind. not , not at all , never (interr.) not? is it not? (hence often = ) certainly , surely , indeed , no doubt (esp. in questions amounting to an affirmation)
saḥ (nom. sg. m.): that, the same
abhisaṁdhiḥ (nom. sg.): m. purpose , intention ; making peace or alliance

atha: ind. and so, now, then,
pramāṇam (nom. sg.): n. measure , scale , standard ; right measure , standard , authority; any proof or testimony or evidence ; a correct notion , right perception ; oneness, unity
na: not
sukhe (loc. sg.): n. ease, happiness, pleasure
abhisaṁdhiḥ (nom. sg.): m. purpose , intention ; making peace or alliance

duḥkhe (loc. sg.): n. pain, suffering, hardship
pramāṇam (nom. sg.): n. measure , scale , standard
nanu: ind. surely, is it not?
na: not
abhisaṁdhiḥ (nom. sg.): m. purpose , intention ; making peace or alliance

若言善心起 苦行爲福因
彼諸安樂行 何不善心起
樂非善心起 善亦非苦因 


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