Sunday, October 13, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 7.53: Us & Them (and the Mirror Principle) Revisited

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
yajñais-tapobhir-niyamaiś-ca tais-taiḥ svargaṁ yiyāsanti hi rāgavantaḥ |
rāgeṇa sārdhaṁ ripuṇeva yuddhvā mokṣaṁ parīpsanti tu sattvavantaḥ || 7.53

For by various acts of devotion, austerities, and restrictions,

Those coloured by desire's red taint desire to go to heaven;

Whereas, having battled with red desire as if with an enemy,

Those animated by the true essence desire to arrive at liberation.

Among the definitions of saṁgha in the MW dictionary is this one:

a clerical community, congregation, church, (esp.) the whole community or collective body or brotherhood of monks (with Buddhists).

Why does Aśvaghoṣa never use the word saṁgha in this Buddhist technical sense?

Out of “the three objects of Buddhist worship” as conventionally cited, Aśvaghoṣa does use buddha many times in the sense of the enlightened being who taught Nanda and others (e.g. SN4.27, SN4.42 ; SN9.51; SN13.2; SN16.69; SN17.32; SN18.51), and he does use dharma or saddharma in the sense of the truth that the Buddha taught (eg. SN18.4; SN18.10; SN18.11), but nowhere does Aśvaghoṣa use saṁgha to mean “a community of Buddhists.” Why not?

My theory is that Aśvaghoṣa was a champion of the true individual and was the enemy of any form of groupthink. And so far I am sticking to my theory. If anybody can find anywhere in Aśvaghoṣa's writings a use of the word saṁgha that falsifies my theory, then go ahead, Buddhist punk, and make my day.

Since so far I am sticking to this theory, when I read a verse like today's verse, I read it through the filter of this prejudice. I think the ascetic who is speaking in today's verse represents all those who fancy themselves to be a true believer, one of the good guys, one of us, one of the true ones, as opposed to one of them, the false ones. 

As such, thinking his own view to be true, like the striver in SN Cantos 8 & 9, he might as well be holding up a big banner with two words emblazoned on it in 14 big letters “D-E-L-U-D-I-N-G   M-Y-S-E-L-F.”

In common with all of us who habitually delude ourselves that we are right, the ascetic speaking now, via application of the mirror principle, points his index finger at the other who is wrong, failing to notice the three fingers with which he is pointing back at himself. 

For what is his own laying in ash if it is not an act of devotion, an austerity, and a restriction?

Again, what is the desire to arrive at liberation (or to “ambush” liberation) if it is not an end-gaining desire?

What it means to delude oneself in one's belief that one's own view is identified with the truth itself, is something I learned the hard way, face-to-face with a teacher who had supreme confidence in his own view. 

Maybe my perception became jaundiced by that kind of experience, but to me a saṁgha is a community, a kind of club to which some belong and others don't belong. These days I don't want to belong to one, and I do not want to lead one. In the past, I admit, I harboured a desire to do both, largely because of the way that Dogen described communal Zen practice of monks living together in a temple.  

A vihāra, in my book, is different. Vihāra is a term that Aśvaghoṣa does use – e.g. in SN5.20, where he describes the Buddha leading Nanda to vidyā-vihārābhimataṃ vihāram, a vihāra beloved as a pleasure-ground of learning/knowing.

I conceive of a vihāra as a more open space wherein buddhas, bodhisattvas and mahāsattvas are more akin to solitary swimmers knowing the same sea, or solitary walkers knowing the same hills, and less like rugby players who can tell by the colour of their rugby shirts whose side they are playing on, or less like family living under the same roof. 

The speaker in today's verse is not wearing a conventional Buddhist uniform. He rather seems to be wearing the uniform of a Buddhist tantric yogin. And he is speaking words that sound like Buddhist words. So I think Aśvaghoṣa is challenging us to decide and at the same time making it difficult for us to decide: is he truly one of us, or is he one of them?

And if we all agree with each other that he is in fact not the real deal, but is one of them, so that our view becomes the conventional wisdom, winning general acceptance among scholars working in the field of Buddhist studies... that might be typical behaviour of human beings who are still governed by the herd instinct.

So my view, in conclusion, is that this ascetic is not the real deal. But I might be wrong if I thought that Aśvaghoṣa's intention was that I should arrive at this view; and still wronger if I thought that Aśvaghoṣa's intention was that others should be converted to this view. Aśvaghoṣa's intention, as spelled out by his grandson Nāgārjuna, and again by his later descendant Joshu, might rather be the abandonment of all views, and might be something totally non-sectarian in the garden, like a big tree. 

yajñaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. worship , devotion , prayer , praise ; act of worship or devotion , offering , oblation , sacrifice
yaj: to worship , adore , honour (esp. with sacrifice or oblations)
tapobhiḥ (inst. pl.): n. austerities, ascetic practices
niyamaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. restraining ; limitation , restriction
ca: and
tais-taiḥ (inst. pl.): this and that, various, different

svargam (acc. sg.): m. heaven
yiyāsanti = 3rd pers. pl. desid. yā: to go
hi: for
rāga-vantaḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. having colour , coloured , red ; impassioned , enamoured

rāgeṇa (inst. sg.): n. redness, passion
sārdham: ind. jointly , together , along with , with (instr.
ripuṇā (inst. sg.): m. an enemy , adversary , foe
iva: like
yuddhvā = abs. to fight , wage war , oppose or (rarely) overcome in battle ; to fight with (instr. , also with saha , samam)

mokṣam (acc. sg.): m. emancipation , liberation , release
parīpsanti = 3rd pers. pl. desid. pary- √ āp: to wish to obtain or reach , desire ; to wish to get at , lie in wait or ambush
tu: but
sattvavantaḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. endowed with life , living , existent , a living being ; endowed with or possessed of the true essence ; resolute , energetic , courageous ; abounding in the quality sattva
sat-tva: n. being ; true essence , nature , disposition of mind , character ; vital breath , life , consciousness , strength of character , strength , firmness , energy , resolution , courage , self-command , good sense , wisdom , magnanimity

祠祀祈天神 及種種苦行
悉求生天樂 未離貪欲境
能與貪欲爭 志求眞解脱
此則爲丈夫 決定正覺士

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