Sunday, October 20, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.1: Not Owning the Forest (When Suppression Does Not Work)

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
tatas-turaṅgāvacaraḥ sa dur-manās-tathā vanaṁ bhartari nirmame gate |
cakāra yatnaṁ pathi śoka-nigrahe tathāpi caivāśru na tasya cikṣipe || 8.1

In low spirits, meanwhile 

– With his master gone thus
with no sense of me and mine, to the forest 

He whose sphere was horses
made on the road an effort to suppress his sorrow.

And surely enough, while also being thus, 
he failed to banish his tears.

The title of the present canto is antaḥ-pura-vilāpaḥ "Lamenting Within the Battlements"(“Lamentations in the Palace” [EHJ]; “Lamenting in the Seraglio” [PO]).

Antaḥ-pura is as per the title of BC Canto 2, antaḥ-pura-vihāraḥ, “Exploring Within the Battlements.” (“Life in the Palace” [EHJ]; “Life in the Ladies' Chambers” [PO]).

Vilāpa is as per the title of SN Canto 6, bhāryā-vilāpaḥ, “A Wife's Lament” and SN Canto 7, nanda-vilāpaḥ, “Nanda's Lament.”

Antaḥ-pura is given in the dictionary as the king's palace, the female apartments, gynaeceum; those who live in the female apartments; a queen.

Vilāpa is given as lamentation, wailing, from the verb vi-√lap: to utter moaning sounds, wail, lament.

The impression one is left with, then, reflecting on these four canto titles, two of which contain antaḥ-pura and three of which contain vilāpa, is that Aśvaghoṣa was particularly interested in examining goings on behind closed palace doors, and was even more interested in examining human expression of sorrow, regret, or unhappiness.

Hence the present canto begins with Chandaka described in the 1st pāda as dur-manaḥ, in bad or low spirits, sad, melancholy, sorrowful.

The 2nd pāda describes Chandaka's master as tathā.... gata, “thus... gone,” which may be another one of several plays that Aśvaghoṣa makes on the epithets tathāgata, i.e., “One thus gone” or “a realized one” (see e.g. SN3.20, SN4.46) and sugata, “One gone well” (see e.g. SN3.21, SN4.28).

Just as tathā... gata could mean not much or could mean a lot, so nir-mama (lit. devoid of 'mine') also could mean not much or could mean a lot.

My guess is that Aśvaghoṣa wanted us to think what nir-mama might mean (1) as a description of any old body who has gone off (gata) like that (tathā), and (2) as a description of a realized being  (tathāgata).

For example, (1) as a description of a person who is not yet enlightened, might nir-mama mean absent-minded? Might it mean irresponsible? Might it suggest my failure to take ownership of what rightly belongs to me – like my sorrow, or my sexual desire, or my translation, or my anger, or the ground under my feet?

And (2) as a description of a realized human being, what might being devoid of me and mine really mean? 

Thinking idealistically, enlightenment might be total negation of ownership of anything. And in SN Canto 17, it is true, the newly enlightened Nanda declares:
Nothing is dear to me, nor offensive to me. There is no liking in me, much less disliking. /  In the absence of those two, I am enjoying the moment, like one immune to cold and heat. // SN17.67 //
At the same time, I remember nearly 30 years ago in one of his Saturday afternoon “Zen Seminars in English,” my teacher Gudo Nishijima forcefully emphasized the principle that in the modern age “everybody should have his own wallet.”

Even in ancient times, when one stops and thinks about it objectively, didn't wandering beggars who had left home to follow the Buddha's teaching, though they were devoid of financial liabilities, have a certain number of assets – like for example bowl, robe, staff, water filter, and straw sandals?

The final word of today's verse, according to the old Nepalese manuscript, and also in EBC's Sanskrit text, is cikṣipe. EHJ noted that cikṣiye must be taken to be certain on the basis of the Chinese and Tibetan translation. Hence EHJ amended the text to cikṣiye and translated the 4th pāda “nevertheless his tears did not cease to flow.”

It would be easier for me to judge the validity of EHJ's proposed amendment if I understood the grammar of cikṣiye – presumably from the root √kṣi, to make an end of? But in any event, cikṣipe, from the root √kṣip, which means to despatch or get rid of, to banish, seems to me to make sense.

In regard to the logical relation between the 3rd pāda and the 4th pāda, however, my reading is not quite the same as EHJ's reading. The tathāpi (tathā + api) in the 4th pāda ostensibly means "even so" (he tried to suppress his emotion; even so / nevertheless, he could not stop his tears from flowing). But if we take api to mean "also" rather than "even," then api can be read as linking the two tathā, the first tathā describing the unenlightened prince as being like that and the second tathā describing the unenlightened Chandaka as also being like that. 

Ostensibly, then, nir-mama praises the prince for his selflessness ("when his unselfish master thus went into the forest" [EBC]; "when his master had gone to the forest in self-renouncement" [EHJ]; "as his master entered the forest, selfless," [PO]). But below the surface I think Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting that the prince, in his manner of intrusion into the forest, had not yet become truly himself; and Chandaka (tathāpi) also was like that. 

I think the point Aśvaghoṣa is making in the 4th pāda, then, is that, as everybody knows who has ever failed to suppress a fit of the giggles, effort to suppress an emotion – be the emotion negative or positive – is ever liable not to work. Suppression is not enlightened behaviour. 

If not suppression, what is the enlightened response to the welling up of an emotion – or to any potentially disturbing stimulus, for that matter?

My Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima never tired of talking about realism, i.e. seeing all things just as they are. In Alexander work the talk is of “allowing.” Dog-whisperer Cesar Millan talks of meeting all things and matters with “calm assertive energy" or "calm submissive energy."

But in some respects Gudo Nishijima, I came over the years to understand, was singularly unable to see some things as they really were. The Alexander world, similarly, is full of teachers who talk about allowing as opposed to doing, but who in the heat of the moment tend not to practise what they preach – I should know, since I am a repeat offender. And Cesar, as I alluded to yesterday, when the stimulus was strong enough, evidently found himself unable to practise what he preached in the way of calm assertive energy. Instead he cried out for help like a baby by swallowing a load of pills, as if wishing to kill himself.

Reading today's verse in this light, I wonder if Aśvaghoṣa intended to suggest an irony in describing Chandaka as turaṅgāvacaraḥ, “one whose sphere was horses,” or “an inhabitant of the world of horses” i.e. a kind of horse-whisperer  – the irony being that a person who is truly at home in the world of horses, a true horse-whisperer, might know how to respond to emotion like a horse (or any other non-human mammal) responds to emotion, which means, in the first instance, not suppressing it.

The two tathā in the 2nd pāda (tathāgata; thus... gone) and in the 4th pāda (tathāpi; thus also) thus seem to me to be designed to raise some questions about sorrow and the suppression or ownership thereof.

For example:
Does a realized man have no sense of me and mine?
Does a realized man have a definite sense of me and mine?
Does a horse in its natural element have any sense of me and mine?
Does a horseman whose world is horses and whose job is horses, need to maintain any sense of me and mine?
How does a realized man own his sorrow?
Does a realized man ever make an effort to suppress his sorrow?
Among horses in their natural element is an effort made to suppress sorrow?
Is it possible for horses consciously to own their sorrow?
As a means of banishing tears, is the effort to suppress sorrow effective?

Today's verse as I read it, as befits the opening verse of a canto whose theme is lamenting, thus raises more questions on sorrow than it answers. But I think the point of the 4th pāda is to suggest something that we all already know to be an unquestionable fact – namely that effort to suppress our sorrow sometimes has, upon our lacrimal glands, an effect exactly opposite to the one desired.

And this might be an irony that we ignore at our peril when we wish to sit upright, demonstrating to ourselves and to the world a posture that looks like a sitting buddha. If we practise sitting like this we are liable to end up more and more fixed, increasingly tight and right – the very opposite of how buddha in his or her element, like a dragon who found water, might really be. Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

An antidote to being tight and right, I have found over the past ten or so years, is to live alone, for a few weeks at least, by the forest in France. There have been moments living out there when I have stepped out of my shed / Zendo, and on the path have stopped, looking out at the Foret D'Andaines with the hazel thumbstick in my hand touching the earth, and just totally fucking owned it.

I apologize for my French. But sometimes, it is unquestionably true, suppressing ourselves in the effort to be right does not work. The suppressed tendency asserts itself with all the more energy.

What Gudo by his example showed me, what Alexander teachers by their example show me all the time, and what Cesar's suicide attempt confirms, is that human pride – emanating from our big thinking brains  comes before a fall. So I shouldn't make too much of the one or two good moments I have experienced in which I felt the whole of the forest before my eyes and the whole of the earth under my feet totally belonged to me. But this kind of experience, rooted in sitting, rather than Buddhist scholarship, is the basis from which, for better or worse, I approach a verse like today's verse.

FM Alexander said:
 "When an investigation comes to be made it will be found that every single thing we do in the work is exactly what is done in Nature, where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously." 
If one accepts, as I do, that Alexander's teaching also holds true for that work on the self that the Buddha called bhāvanā, then how this teaching relates to sorrow is open to question.

How the teaching relates to breathing is also open to question. But holding the breath is unquestionably not it.

How the teaching relates to sorrow is open to question. But trying to suppress one's sorrow is unquestionably not the way to go.

So my conclusion for the present is to lie down for a while, with a view to sitting in lotus, and seeing about not holding the breath.

tataḥ: ind. then
turaṅgāvacaraḥ (nom. sg. m.): the inhabitant of the world of the fast-goer, the horseman
ava-cara: m. the dominion or sphere or department of (in comp. » kāmāvacarāḥ; the gods or inhabitants of the worlds of desire)
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
dur-manāḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. in bad or low spirits , sad , melancholy

tathā: ind. in that manner, thus
vanam (acc. sg.): n. the forest
bhartari (loc. sg.): m. a bearer ; a preserver , protector , maintainer , chief , lord , master
nir-mame (loc. sg. m.): mf(ā)n. unselfish , disinterested , (esp.) free from all worldly connections
gate (loc. sg. m.): mfn. gone, going

cakāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kṛ: to do, make
yatnam (acc. sg.): m. activity of will ; effort
pathi (loc. sg.): m. a way , path , road , course
śoka-nigrahe (loc. sg. m.): towards keeping sorrow down
śoka: m. sorrow , affliction , anguish , pain , trouble , grief
nigraha: m. keeping down or back , restraining , binding , coercion , suppression , subjugation ; defeat , overthrow , destruction
vigraha (EBC): m. keeping apart or asunder , isolation

tathāpi: ind. even thus , even so , nevertheless , yet , still , notwithstanding
tathā: ind. in that manner, thus
api: even, also
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
aśru (nom/acc. sg.): n. a tear ; with √muc , or √kṛ or √vṛt to shed tears
na: not
tasya (gen. sg.): of him
cikṣipe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kṣip: to throw , cast , send , despatch ; to throw away , cast away , get rid of ; to strike down , ruin , destroy
cikṣiye [EBC] = (?) 3rd pers. sg. perf. kṣi: to destroy , corrupt , ruin , make an end of (acc.)

車匿牽馬還 望絶心悲塞
隨路號泣行 不能自開割

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