Friday, September 20, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.30: Not Believing in Holy Water

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (ddhi)
tathaiva ye karma-viśuddhi-hetoḥ spśanty-apas-tīrtham-iti pravttāḥ |
tatrāpi toṣo hdi kevalo 'yaṁ na pāvayiṣyanti hi pāpam-āpaḥ || 7.30

Those again who, with a view to purifying their karma,

Zealously sprinkle on themselves water which they feel to be sacred,

Are only, in so doing, pleasing their own heart,

For wrong will never be washed away by waters.

To know the Buddha's teaching is to know sitting in lotus. I went to Japan and stayed in Japan for 13 years, shedding blood, sweat and tears, to get that point. So that point, in my book at least, is not up for discussion.

Buddhist scholars who know all about Buddhism, without necessarily knowing the Buddha's teaching at all (at least not as I see it), have opined that Aśvaghoṣa was very interested in the matter of religious conversion. But I who think I know the Buddha's teaching a bit, even if I do not know it as well as I ought to know it, say was he fuck interested in religious conversion.

How does a human being, for himself or herself, realize his or her own Buddha-nature? That is what Aśvaghoṣa was mainly interested in. That is what the metaphor of mining and refining gold is all about. That is also what my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijma was mainly interested in.

So how does a human being realize his or her own Buddha-nature? The answer according to Gudo is beautifully simple: to realize one's Buddha-nature is to realize one's original, natural state of balance of the autonomic nervous system; and the means to accomplish this aim is simply to sit keeping the spine straight vertically.

It is a crude and gross approximation of the truth of the kind in which Gudo specialized.

Aśvaghoṣa's poetry, it seems to me, is a refined and beautiful expression of the truth which Gudo approximated so crudely and grossly. But it is the same truth. And so it ought to be, considering that Aśvaghoṣa and Gudo were Zen patriarchs of the same lineage.

So how does a human being realize his or her own Buddha-nature? In Saundara-nanda, his epic tale of Beautiful Happiness, Aśvaghoṣa answers that question with reference to Nanda, who realizes the meaning of Nanda, Happiness, under the guiding influence of the Buddha himself. In Buddha-carita, Aśvaghoṣa's epic tale of Awakened Action, Aśvaghoṣa answers the question with reference to the Buddha, who realizes the meaning of Buddha, Being Awakened, under the guiding influence of.... what?

Under the influence, for a start of good karma. So we see in today's verse that the Buddha-to-be, even before he knew what he knew under the bodhi tree, knew something about karma, and he expressed it with a certain confidence: the karmic influence of wrong we have done in the past, stemming from greed, anger, and delusion, will never be washed away by holy waters. And this confidence, or this knowing, as I see it, is not so much belief in karma as it is a refusal to go down the path of religious belief. It is a refusal to believe in the merit of sprinkling 'holy water.'

So today's verse, as I read it, relates mainly to the guiding influence of śraddhā, real confidence – as opposed to the kind of andha-śraddhā, blind faith, that caused my Irish ancestors to wish to be sprinkled with holy water – and to wish to go around the world as missionaries, converting others to their own whacky religious beliefs about virgin birth, resurrection, and other such palpable nonsense.

In teaching Nanda in SN Canto 12 the Buddha describes the confidence he called śraddhā as follows:
And this indeed befits a soul whose essence is simplicity: / That you should have confidence in a better way which is ultimate and subtle. // SN12.30 // This wish for dharma, therefore, you should nurture; / For all dharmas, O knower of dharma, invariably have wishing as their cause. // SN12.31 // As long as the intention of moving is there, one mobilizes for the act of moving; / And with the intention of staying at rest there is an act of staying at rest; with the intention of standing, likewise, there is standing up. // 12.32 // When a man has confidence that there is water under the ground / And has need of water, then, with an effort of will, here the earth he digs. // SN12.33 //If a man had no need of fire, nor confidence that fire was in a firestick, / He would never twirl the stick. Those conditions being met, he does twirl the stick. // 12.34 // Without the confidence that corn will grow in the soil he tills, / Or without the need for corn, the farmer would not sow seeds in the earth. // 12.35 // And so I call this confidence the Hand, because it is this confidence, above all, / That grasps true dharma, as a hand naturally takes a gift. // 12.36 // From its primacy I describe it as Sensory Power; from its constancy, as Strength; / And because it relieves poverty of virtue I describe it as Wealth. // 12.37 // For its protection of dharma, I call it the Arrow, / And from the difficulty of finding it in this world I call it the Jewel. // 12.38 // Again, I call it the Seed since it is the cause of betterment; / And for its cleansing action, in the washing away of wrong (pāvanārthena pāpasya), again, I call it the River. // 12.39 // Since in the arising of dharma confidence is the primary cause, / Therefore I have named it after its effects in this case like this, in that case like that. // 12.40 // This shoot of confidence, therefore, you should nurture; / When it grows dharma grows, as a tree grows with the growth of its root. // 12.41 // When a person's seeing is disordered, when a person's sense of purpose is weak: / The confidence of that person is unsteady, for he is not veering in the direction he should. // 12.42 // So long as the real truth is not seen or heard, confidence does not become strong or firm; /But when, through restraint, the power of the senses is subjugated and the real truth is realised, the tree of confidence bears fruit and weight.// SN12.43 //

I wrote yesterday of those interweaving strands that give the big basket of Aśvaghoṣa's teaching its integrity, and so here is one such strand connecting the 4th pāda of today's verse and SN12.39, in which the Buddha praises the cleansing action of confidence in the washing away of wrong. In both today's verse and SN12.39, wrong is pāpam, and washing away is a word from the root √pū, to cleanse or wash away.

So in today's verse, as I read it, especially when today's verse is read in conjunction with SN12.39, Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting something about the difference between that real confidence (śraddhā) which is a function of the will to the truth (or the wish for dharma; dharma-cchandam [SN12.31]) and the kind of blind faith (andha-śraddhā) which, since ancient times, in societies all the way from Japan in the far east to Ireland in the far west, has caused religious/superstitious types to go around sprinkling 'holy water' all over the place.

What causes wrong to be washed away is confidence in a means that is known to be the cause of a desired effect. Wrong is washed away, in short, by confidence. Wrong is not washed away by waters.

Wishing to express it with this emphasis, and seeing that prime position at the end of today's verse is occupied by the word āpaḥ, waters, I have translated the 4th pāda in the passive voice:

For wrong will never be washed away by waters.

As an afterthought, it is true that there is a tradition of sprinkling water with a sprig of pine in preparation to conduct certain ceremonies, like the ceremony in which somebody receives the bodhisattva-precepts. But in maintaining that tradition, what might be important is the action of sprinkling, and certainly not belief in holy water. 

tathā: ind. likewise
eva: (emphatic)
ye (nom. pl. m.): [those] who
karma-viśuddhi-hetoḥ (gen. sg.): for the sake of purifying their karma

spṛśanti = 3rd pers. pl. spṛśa: to touch ; (with apáḥ , udakam , jalam ; or adbhis &c ) to touch or sip water , wash or sprinkle certain parts of the body with water
apaḥ = acc. pl. ap: f. (in Ved. used in sing. and pl. , but in the classical language only in pl. , ā́pas) water
tīrtham (nom. sg.) n. ford , stairs for landing or for descent into a river , bathing-place , place of pilgrimage on the banks of sacred streams , piece of water ; certain lines or parts of the hand sacred to the deities ; an object of veneration , sacred object
iti: “.....,” thus
pravṛttāḥ (nom. pl m.): mfn. purposing or going to , bent upon; acting

tatra: ind. there, in that, in that case
api: also
toṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. satisfaction , contentment , pleasure , joy
hṛdi (loc. sg.): n. heart
kevalaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. solely, exclusively
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this , this here , referring to something near the speaker ; known, present

na: not
pāvayiṣyanti = 3rd pers. pl. future pū: to make clean or clear or pure or bright , cleanse , purify , purge , clarify
hi: for
pāpam (acc. sg.): n. evil , misfortune , ill-luck , trouble , mischief , harm ; sin , vice , crime , guilt
āpaḥ = nom. pl. ap. f. water

若彼諸外道 以水爲淨者
樂水居衆生 惡業能常淨 

1 comment:

Jayarava Attwood said...

Sprinkling holy water is specifically a Vedic practice. Other forms of magic are often more acceptable in Buddhist texts.