Tuesday, October 8, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.48: Investigation of Doing & Non-doing

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Vāṇī)
svargāya yuṣmākam-ayaṁ tu dharmo mamābhilāṣas-tv-apunar-bhavāya |
asmin vane yena na me vivatsā bhinnaḥ pravttyā hi nivtti-dharmaḥ || 7.48

But this dharma of yours aims at heaven,

Whereas my desire is for no more becoming;

Which is why I do not wish to dwell in this wood:

For a non-doing dharma is different from doing
[or a non-doing dharma is destroyed by doing].

Today's verse is such a vitally important verse that its meaning deserves to be distilled and crystallized in the most succinct and pithy of Zen comments. Well, hard luck. The best I can do for the moment is this comment.

The old Nepalese manuscript has in the 4th pāda pravṛttyau. On paleographical grounds this could be read with equal justification as the locative pravṛttau, but in context it is naturally read as pravṛttyā. Pravṛttyā, in turn, can be read as ablative (pravṛttyāḥ with the dropped before hi as per the rules of sandhi) or as instrumental (pravṛttyā).

Bhinna, the past participle of bhid, to split, can be read in many ways --  the MW dictionary gives split, broken, shattered, pierced, destroyed; leaky (as a ship); broken through, transgressed, violated; disunited, set at variance. With a locative bhinna means cleaving to, and so grammatically bhinnaḥ pravṛttau is possible, but logically it does not fit. 

Bhinnaḥ with ablative means “different from” or “apart from” and EBC followed this reading:
the nature of cessation is different from that of activity. (EBC)
EHJ followed EBC with
the dharma of cessation from activity is apart from the continuance of active being. (EHJ)
But EHJ in a footnote to his translation added as an alternative reading (taking pravṛttyā as instrumental):
the dharma of nivṛtti is destroyed by pravṛtti.
PO erred on the side of interpretation rather than literal exactness with:
the dharma of cessation is opposed to the dharma of continued existence.

My view is that Aśvaghoṣa did not lack the writing skills to leave us in no doubt exactly which reading he meant, if he desired to leave us in no doubt. That being so, accepting that the original was in fact pravṛttyā[ḥ]I think the ambiguity of bhinnaḥ pravṛttyāḥ (abl.) or bhinnaḥ pravṛttyā (inst.) is designed to cause us to stop and think.

What in fact is the relationship between nivṛtti and pravṛtti?

What did the Buddha-to-be understand by pravṛtti?
What did the Buddha-to-be understand by nivṛtti?
And how did the Buddha-to-be understand that nivṛtti is bhinna from, by or with pravṛtti?

And more than that:
What did the Buddha himself understand by pravṛtti?
What did  the Buddha himself understand by nivṛtti?
And how might the Buddha himself have understood that nivṛtti is bhinna from, by or with pravṛtti?

My translation reflects one reading of the situation and two readings of the 4th pāda, but there may be many other readings which are equally valid or more valid than mine. 

My reading of the situation is that the prince on the surface is gently making a logical or philosophical point – A is different from B. But below the surface the words of the Buddha-to-be are pointing to a truth which is not so gentle, but much more severe. A is destroyed by B. A is violated by B, and never the twain shall meet. Sorry to be so blunt and dogmatic about it, but you cannot do an undoing.

So this is how I have understood the 4th pāda, on the surface and below the surface, and how accordingly I have translated it, using square brackets:

For a non-doing dharma is different from doing
[or a non-doing dharma is ruined / destroyed by doing].

So far, so clear. But going futher, by way of a PS, there is doubt. 

When I first prepared the vocabulary for this verse, I didn't notice that pravṛttyā could be the ablative pravṛttyāḥ minus the ; I assumed it was the instrumental pravṛttyā. That being so, my attention was first drawn to the dictionary definition of bhinna as mixed or mingled with (instr.).

bhinnaḥ pravṛttyā hi nivṛtti-dharmaḥ
The dharma of non-doing is mixed in with doing.
The dharma of non-doing is muddled up with doing.

As a logical statement, that sucks. As an aid to clarity of thinking, it sucks.

As an aid to clarity of thinking, PO's translation is vastly preferable:
the dharma of cessation is opposed to the dharma of continued existence.

As an aid to clarity of thinking, PO's translation has the attraction of mirroring the words of FM Alexander (which I have quoted on this blog before) :
These terms stand for two different, nay, opposite conceptions and for two different procedures. According to the first or end-gaining conception, all that is necessary when an end is desired is to proceed to employ the different parts of the organism in the manner which our feeling dictates as necessary for the carrying out of the movements required for gaining the end, irrespective of any harmful effects due to misuse of the self during the process; a conception which implies the subordination of the thinking and reasoning self to the vagaries of the instinctive guidance and control of the self in carrying out the activities necessary to achieve the end. It will be seen therefore that end-gaining involves the conception and procedure of going direct for an end without consideration as to whether the "means-whereby" to be employed are the best for the purpose....
In principle, then, an end-gaining dharma by definition is opposed to a dharma which is a means-whereby. A dharma of doing  is opposed to a dharma of non-doing. A dharma of continued existence is opposed to a dharma of cessation.

Contrarily to translate bhinnaḥ pravṛttyā hi nivṛtti-dharmaḥ “The dharma of non-doing is mixed in with doing” would muddy the waters. And anyway, in context, it would not fit, even in square brackets. It would go against the logical flow of the verse. Aśvaghoṣa couldn't have intended such a reading.

And yet “The dharma of non-doing is mixed in / muddled up with doing” seems to have a ring of truth about it – not in dustless Buddhist theory but rather in my own dusty, very-far-from-perfect practice.

So here then are not only two but three levels at which to read the 4th pāda of today's verse:–
(1) At the most superficial level it gently and politely points out a difference between nivṛtti and pravṛtti.
(2) Below that level, it is a more stark and strident pointing out of the incompatibility between nivṛtti and pravṛtti, a statement that nivṛtti is destroyed by pravṛtti.
(3) At a level of considerably less stridency and less certainty, it can be read as a suggestion that nivṛtti and pravṛtti are all mixed up with each other.

How many more levels there might be is an unknown unknown.

One way of looking at it is that to sit in full lotus with the body is to do; to sit in full lotus with the mind is not to do; and sitting in full lotus as dropping off body and mind is non-doing.

At the same time, fully to sit in lotus might be to abandon all ways of looking at it.

As a PPS, to personalize all of the above, in the mid-1980s, prior to a trip to the US with Jeff Bailey, Gudo Nishijima prepared a booklet titled “Learning a Different Way.” That pretty much sums up what I thought I was doing in my twenties, or, to be precise, from the ages of 22 to 34, from meeting Gudo Nishijima in 1982 through to starting Alexander lessons in 1994. I thought I was learning a different way, a better way. As part of this learning process, I studied in detail what Dogen meant by polishing a tile as opposed to trying to make a mirror. I spent a lot of time thinking long and hard, and writing, about this dichotomy, which seemed to be at the heart of Dogen's Zazen teaching.

Getting into Alexander work, however, caused me to see that I had not been learning such a different way after all. By holding myself up through a big effort of doing, like a soldier on a parade ground, I had been practising a peculiarly Japanese variation on the theme of doing, on the theme of end-gaining. And doing and non-doing, end-gaining and means-whereby, I began to understand more practically, are more than different conceptions; they are – as FM Alexander wrote – opposite conceptions, and different procedures. “You cannot do an undoing,” Marjory Barlow emphasized. In Alexander work one learns to think a direction like “spine to lengthen” – just to think it, not to try and do it. The tiniest bit of trying to implement it, Marjory would say, and the whole thing is ruined. A non-doing dharma is ruined by doing.

“You cannot do an undoing.” This is very clear in principle – a kind of Alexandrian absolute – and I have endeavoured to be clear about this truth in my internet outpourings. But in my everyday life am I an exemplar of non-doing, of attending to the means-whereby principle, of a way that is truly different from pravṛtti? In short, no I am not. Especially not, I feel, when I am here in Aylesbury. But even in Aylesbury I get up in the morning and sit in relative quietness for an hour. Conversely, there are times by the forest in France when I am totally ruled by end-gaining, and devoted to doing. So in principle Aylesbury is a place for carrying on with family life and getting things done, whereas by the forest in France is a place to practice a different way, non-doing. But in actual practice, the whole thing feels like a bloody great muddle. More than that, in terms of forging for myself a path through life, I feel like I have made a bloody great mess of everything, and through that mess I feel like I am muddling, not very well.

Sometimes I wonder why I even bother, say, muddling on with this translation effort. Just because the three professors in my opinion did not know Aśvaghoṣa's teaching, even if they knew a lot about it, and I know that they didn't know it, that doesn't mean that I do know it. What is to stop my translation effort further muddying waters that Buddhist scholars have already muddied?

The answer to that question, I hope, might be provided by today's verse – or at least hinted at obliquely by today's verse.

I think the Buddha-dharma is a dharma of non-doing. As such, can it really even be touched, much less ruined, much less destroyed, by the unenlightened doing of a muddler? I hope not.

If the truth is that the Buddha-dharma, as a dharma of non-doing, can never be destroyed by doing,  then, ironically, the words of the Buddha-to-be in the 4th pāda of today's verse can be read as stating the exact opposite of this truth -- “A non-doing dharma is destroyed by doing." Was Aśvaghoṣa aware of this irony? I don't know. But in general I think Aśvaghoṣa was not a person upon whom any irony was ever lost.

svargāya (dat. sg.): m. for heaven
yuṣmākam (gen. pl.): of you all
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this
tu: but
dharmaḥ (nom. sg.): m. dharma

mama (gen. sg.): my
abhilāṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. desire , wish , covetousness , affection (with loc. or ifc.)
tu: but
apunar-bhavāya (dat. sg.): for not again becoming

asmin (loc. sg. n.): this
vane (loc. sg.): n. forest
yena (inst. sg.): by which, for which reason
na: not
me (gen. sg.): in/of me
vivatsā (nom. sg. f.): the desire to live

bhinnaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. split , broken , shattered , pierced , destroyed ; leaky (as a ship) ; broken through , transgressed , violated ; disunited , set at variance ; distinct , different from or other than (abl. or comp.); mixed or mingled with (instr.) ; cleaving to (loc. or comp.)
bhid: to split , cleave , break , cut or rend asunder , pierce , destroy ; to pass through (as a planet or , comet) ; to disperse (darkness) ; to transgress , violate , (a compact or alliance) ; to disturb , interrupt , stop
pravṛttyāḥ (abl. sg.): f. doing, active life
pravṛttyā (inst. sg.): f. doing, active life
pravṛttau [old Nepalese manuscript = pravṛttyau] (loc. sg.): f. doing, active life
hi: for
nivṛtti-dharmaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the dharma of non-doing

合會別離苦 其苦等無異
非我心不樂 亦不見他過 
但汝等苦行 悉求生天樂
我求滅三有 形背而心乖 

No comments: