Sunday, September 22, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.32: Brilliance and Non-Brilliance

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Upendravajrā)
iti sma tat-tad-bahu-yukti-yuktaṁ jagāda cāstaṁ ca yayau vivasvān |
tato havir-dhūma-vivarṇa-vkṣaṁ tapaḥ-praśāntaṁ sa vanaṁ viveśa || 7.32

Thus, employing many and various forms of reasoning, did he speak,

As the Brilliant One set behind the Western Mountain.

Then he went where the trees,
veiled by smoke from burnt offerings, were turning gray;

The practising of pain there having ceased, he went into the forest –

The four phases of today's verse, as I read it, are as follows:

(1) The 1st pāda makes explicit what we have observed already – that the Buddha-to-be at this stage of his process is exercising his faculties of reasoning, deducing this and that about asceticism, without yet having actually experienced for himself the pain of ascetic practice. We have seen how these deductions of the prince are all valid, and yet we know, in light of BC Canto 12, that all those valid deductions will later be ignored. Reasoning turns out not to be enough.

(2) Richard Feynman, in my book, had a brilliant mind. Karel von Wolferen, similarly, in his book The Enigma of Japanese Power, wrote in the 1980s a brilliant expose of how the Japanese System works. Men like these, whose intellectual or reasoning faculties are conspicuously excellent, we naturally tend to call “brilliant.” But the brilliance of the Sun, the 2nd pāda reminds us, is of a different order. It is not metaphorical brilliance, but eye-blindingly real brilliance in the material world. The 2nd pāda of today's verse, as I read it, is thus anti-thetical to the  1st pāda.

The reference to the Sun, in other words, is somewhat ironic. Unlike the Zen reason-negators who Dogen said had formed themselves into a solid block in Sung China, Aśvaghoṣa and Dogen affirmed reason – but not overly much.

Even though I have been studying Sanskrit every day for five years now, I still find myself reciting at the end of my morning sitting a verse which is recited in Japan in imitation of the sound of Chinese reciters imitating the sound of what must originally have been a Sanskrit gātha.

The verse is:

The meaning in English / Sanskrit is:
Ten directions, three times, all buddhas (FU)
All venerable bodhisattvas (BU-SA) and maha-sattvas (MO-KO-SA)
Mahā-prajñā-pāramita (MO-KO-HO-JA-HO-RO-MI)

So the Japanese FU represents the Sanskrit buddha; the Japanese BU-SA represents the Sanskrit bodhi-sattva; the Japanese MO-KO-SA represents the Sanskrit mahā-sattva; and the Japanese MO-KO-HO-JA-HO-RO-MI represents the Sanskrit mahā-prajñā-pāramita, i.e. the real or intuitive wisdom which is a great transcendent power.

Reciting the verse as I do, to transfer any merit that there was in the practice, in some sense is a bit rubbish – the Japanese MO-KO-HO-JA-HO-RO-MI being such a weak imitation of the original mahā-prajñā-pāramita. At the same time, the recitation in Japanese serves as a kind of reminder of how, through the ages, successive generations have wanted as far as possible to preserve the original tradition, in which the ultimate object of veneration was mahā-prajñā-pāramita. And mahā-prajñā-pāramita includes reason, but it is very much more than reason.

So when on Friday night I put petrol in my wife's diesel-engined car, the fault stemmed not from a lack in the reasoning department; the fault stemmed rather from a lack in the department of mahā-prajñā-pāramita. (Other mistakes are also available.)

And so when Aśvaghoṣa compares the Buddha-to-be, and compares the Buddha, to the sun, as he often does, it is not because the powers of reasoning of the sage of the Śākyas were so brilliant. It might rather be because the desire of the Buddha-to-be to know the truth, and the desire of the Buddha to let the truth be known, burned so strongly and constantly. Or, again, it might be because of the power, as an antidote to the darkness of unconscious reaction, of the intuitive wisdom of prajñā.

(3) The everyday reality of life down here on earth is not so brilliant. If it was all intellectual brilliance, or if all was as brilliant as the sun, we would not be able to stand it, even if we sought refuge behind alcohol and Ray-Bans. But fortunately, even without resort to such artificial means, everyday reality tends not to be so brilliant, but more gray, more drab, more vi-varṇa. Hence the Buddha's robe is traditionally described as vi-varṇa, which means “colourless” or (ironically) “low, vile, without distinction” (see for example BC6.66).

For those who like to notice, as I like to notice, horizontal strands running through Aśvaghoṣa's writing, colourlessness (vi-rāga) featured in a verse quoted yesterday (as also did the word, tāntava, which means woven strands):

In various colourless hues (vi-rāgāṇi), or else white; beautifully illuminated with golden (su-varṇa) dividing lines; / Beyond the weaving together of strands (a-tāntavāni), being nothing but a unity; are the exquisite robes that trees there bear as fruit. // SN10.22 //

(4) In general, the fourth phase points, directly or indirectly, to the realization of reality, or to the reality realized, by, in, or as, sitting-meditation.

This realization of reality, or the reality thus realized, is a function of the practice of sitting-meditation transmitted in one line from the Buddha. Equally, it is a function of the Buddha's teaching of the four noble truths.

So in today's verse tapaḥ-praśāntam suggests to me pain (tapaḥ) having ceased (praśānta), as described by the Buddha in his explication of his four noble truths – and, equally, as experienced by the Buddha when he sat under the bodhi tree and turned his back on six years of ascetic striving.

EBC also understood tapaḥ-praśāntam like that, hence: he entered the grove where penances had now ceased (EBC). EHJ and PO read it differently, as if ascetic practice itself, rather than its temporary cessation, had caused the tranquillity: Then he entered the grove, where was the holy quiet of austerities (EHJ); and then, he entered that forest – a forest rendered tranquil by ascetic toil (PO).

Diplomatically thinking, one might say that both readings are in some sense correct – that EHJ and PO went with the meaning that Aśvaghoṣa intended to be the ostensible reading, whereas EBC and I have gone with what Aśvaghoṣa intended to be a hidden meaning. But frankly speaking, I think EHJ and PO have never understood how subversive Aśvaghoṣa's writing really is towards Brahmanist traditions, and EBC didn't catch the real point of the 4th pāda either.

Thinking as above in four phases is something I have been doing now for more than 30 years, since my first meeting with Gudo Nishijima in the summer of 1982 when, about five minutes after greeting me at Asakusabashi Station, he was sitting opposite me in his office (sitting on a chair, that is), on automatic pilot, delivering his well-practised lecture on “the four philosophies.”

Is there any merit in being well practised in thinking this way?

There is not as much merit in it as, thirty years ago, I expected there might be. That is for damn sure.

Being able to think quickly in four phases provides no protection whatsoever against making mistakes. Quad Erat Demonstrandum. Yesterday I paid a bill for £207 for fuel decontamination, as evidence of that. (Other mistakes are available.) 

What thinking in four phases does do, however, for better or for worse, is to lead the thinker always back to the round black cushion – where sitting, in fact, continues at times to be painful. So pain, it seems to me, from where I sit, does not cease. But the practice of it does cease. Tapaḥ, insofar as it means pain, or painful practice, continues. But tapaḥ, insofar as it means practice of pain, or asceticism, is abandoned. And today's verse, as I read it, is ultimately pointing to that way of cessation.

So ostensibly, as I read it, tapaḥ-praśāntam describes the forest as a place where austerities have drawn to a close for the night, as when the stumps are drawn at the end of a day's cricket. This is as per EBC's reading. But below the surface tapaḥ-praśāntam is suggesting the total and permanent abandonment of asceticism, by means of the practice of sitting-zen – and, equally, by means of the Buddha's teaching of four noble truths.

iti: thus
sma: ind. a particle perhaps originally equivalent to " ever " , " always " and later to " indeed " , " certainly " , " verily " , " surely " (it is often used pleonastically , and in earlier language generally follows a similar particle [esp. ha , na] , or relative , or prep. or verb , while in later language it frequently follows iti , na and nā
tat-tad (acc. sg. n.): that and that, various
bahu-yukti-yuktam (acc. sg. n.): employing much deductive reasoning
bahu: mfn. much, many
yukti: f. union , junction , connection , combination ; application ; trick , contrivance , means , expedient , artifice , cunning device , magic ; reasoning , argument , proof , influence , induction , deduction from circumstances ; reason , ground , motive
yukta: mfn. joined, employing, furnished with

jagāda = 3rd pers. sg. perf. gad: to speak articulately , speak , say ,
ca: and
astam m. setting (as of the sun or of luminaries); m. the western mountain (behind which the sun is supposed to set)
ca: and
yayau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. yā: to go
vivasvān (nom. sg.): m. " the Brilliant one " , N. of the Sun

tataḥ: ind. then
havir-dhūma-vivarṇa-vṛkṣam (acc. sg. n.): its trees grey from the smoke of burnt offerings
havir-dhūma: m. the smoke from an oblation Bcar.
havis: n. an oblation or burnt offering , anything offered as an oblation with fire (as clarified butter , milk , Soma , grain )
dhūma: m. smoke
vivarṇa: mfn. colourless , bad-coloured , pale , wan ; low, vile ; belonging to a mixed caste
vṛkṣa: tree

tapaḥ-praśāntam (acc. sg. n.): tranquillized by ascetic practice ; ascetic practice having ceased
praśānta: mfn. tranquillized , calm , quiet , composed , indifferent ; extinguished , ceased , allayed , removed , destroyed , dead
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
vanam (acc. sg.): n. the woods, the forest
viveśa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. viś: to enter

如是廣説法 遂至日云暮
見有事火者 或鑚或吹然
或有酥油灑 或擧聲咒願

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