Thursday, October 31, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.12: Don't Just Sit There, Do Something, Now!

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
athocur-adyaiva viśāma tad-vanaṁ gataḥ sa yatra dvipa-rāja-vikramaḥ |
jijīviṣā nāsti hi tena no vinā yathendriyāṇāṁ vigame śarīriṇām || 8.12

Or else they said: “Right now let us go into that forest,

Where he is, whose stride is the stride of a king of elephants;

For without him we have no wish to live on,

Like the sense organs when the embodied soul has departed.
[Or like embodied beings when the power of the senses has departed.]

If yesterday's verse describes Group A, religious self-blamers, today's verse as I read it describes another group within the category of common folk, Group B, doers. Or else today's verse describes another tendency within us who are not yet enlightened, that tendency being the tendency to rush in and do something.

When a young life is tragically cut short, a religious mother tries to cope with her grief by going to confession (Plan A), and a hard-working father tries to cope with his grief by throwing himself into his work (Plan B). I think I have seen examples like that on the TV news, and at the same time I recognize in myself those two kinds of opposing tendencies, towards two kinds of coping strategies.

So yesterday's verse describes one kind of unelightened reaction to grief, which is to blame oneself, directing negative emotion within (Plan A). And today's verse as I read it describes another kind of unenlightened reaction to grief, which is to re-direct that negative emotion into doing something or going somewhere in the world (Plan B).

What, then, might be an enlightened response to grief?

I don't know. But as a starting point, I think Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting, not necessarily to go to that extreme, and not necessarily to go to that extreme either.

The 4th pāda, I think, is deliberately ambiguous. Since both indriyāṇām (sense organs) and śarīriṇām (embodied souls) are genitive plural, the will to live having left the grieving me could be like (a) an embodied spirit/soul having departed from the physical organs of sense; or (b) the power of the senses having departed from human embodied souls.

In that case, the ambiguity might be designed to cause us to think – which way round do common folk see it? This would be the ostensible meaning, since common folk are ostensibly the authors of these words. And which way round would common folk fail to see it? This would be the hidden meaning, for which square brackets might be appropriate.

Among the three professors, EBC read vigame as governing śarīriṇām:
like the senses when the souls depart.” (EBC)

EHJ noted EBC's reading but opted (following Prasada) to read vigame as governing indriyāṇām. PO accepted EHJ's reading: 
like embodied beings, when the senses have decayed.” (EHJ)
like embodied beings when vital organs are gone.” (PO)

Which reading would Aśvaghoṣa have wished us to opt for?

I think the answer might be neither one nor the other. At the same time, I think Aśvaghoṣa might have wished us to understand that in the minds of common folk, the vital organs are subordinate to the temporarily embodied spirit or soul; whereas, in reality, what is truly primary in the lives of embodied beings is the power of the senses.

Reflecting on yesterday's verse and today's verse together, it seems to me that Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting that, as responses for coping with grief:
Plan A  is to blame our own mind,
whereas unspoken Plan A(2) is to train our own mind.
Plan B is “Don't just sit there, do something!”
whereas unspoken Plan B(2), conversely, is “Don't do something, just sit there!”

And whereas the relation between Plan A and Plan B is an “either or” relation, like flight vs fight, the relation between Plan A(2) and Plan B(2) is by no means a mutually exclusive relation. Rather, just sitting there might be a primary means of training our own mind, and having a trained mind might be the essential basis for enjoyment of just sitting there.

When recently I gleaned from youtube that Cesar Millan, aka the Dog Whisperer, had attempted suicide a couple of years ago, seemingly being overwhelmed by grief after the death of his pit bull sidekick Daddy, I knew that there was a big lesson here for me, that I could use Cesar as a mirror in which to see something about myself.

Cesar went to the United States with a strong intention of becoming. He wanted to become the best dog trainer in the world. Karmically, this was not the best of starting points. (And from my own experience of wanting to become the best in the world, I know whereof I speak.) When Cesar got to the US, to his surprise, he found that, whereas Mexican dogs tended to be skinny but balanced, American dogs tended to be well-fed but suffering from psychological problems. He realized that it was American dog lovers who needed training. So he gradually came to adopt a new motto: “I rehabilitate dogs and train people.” As part of the modus operandi he developed, Cesar acts as the pack leader who goes around all the time exuding “calm assertive energy.” Dogs respond to this with calm submissive energy, and Cesar trains humans to demand this calm energy from their dogs by projecting their human calm assertive energy. If you watch one of Cesar's shows on youtube, you will see that the method works spectacularly well. Cesar does really do what he claims to do, rehabilitating dogs and training people.

Cesar learned, he asks us to believe in one of his books (though it might go against the grain for a macho kind of a Mexican bloke), to develop a calm submissive attitude towards his wife. But in this regard, since his marriage ended in divorce, either Cesar was lying to himself or for some other reason the strategy of adopting a calm submissive attitude towards his wife didn't work.

When Cesar's pigeons came home to roost a couple of years ago, as pigeons are wont to do, with his wife asking for a divorce and Daddy dying, Cesar swallowed a bunch of pills and expressed his desire to be buried next to his erstwhile canine sidekick. This was not the act of a pack leader exuding calm submissive energy, and it was not the act of a trained mind. Attempting suicide, in my book, can never be the act of a trained mind. The impulse to put an end to one's own suffering by ending one's life is an end-gaining impulse, and a mind that gives in to that impulse is not a trained mind.

What the Buddha called bhāvanā, simply thinking, is training the mind. 

When called upon to translate bhāvanā when the word cropped up in Saundara-nanda, I struggled to know how best to translate it. In retrospect, I think the difficulty was symptomatic of a certain negligence on my part when it comes to bhāvanā. The truth might be that, while involved in a mission to teach others how to be balanced, I, just like Cesar, have been negligent in training my own mind.

In terms of the above analysis of Plan A and Plan B, I have never been slow to blame myself (as per Plan A), and as anybody can tell from the millions of words I have accumulated in print and on the internet, like a massive slag heap that keeps growing day by day, I have not been negligent in doing stuff  directed at the world (as per Plan B). Neither have I been negligent in implementing Plan B(2), sticking to my vow to set aside time, four times every day, for just sitting there. But as a means for training my own mind – as per Plan A(2) – how effective has my sitting been?

Since I have never attempted suicide, I am tempted to say: More effective than Cesar's way!

But still, Cesar is a human being who I hold up as a mirror, and not only as a mirror in which to see faults. If Cesar truly succeeded in training his own human mind, maybe he really could act as a global pack leader, causing calm assertive and calm submissive energy to spread throughout the world. There again, that might be true for any one of us who truly trained his or her own mind. But easier said than done.
In whatever place of solitude you are, cross the legs in the supreme manner / And align the body so that it tends straight upward; thus attended by awareness that is directed // SN15.1 // Towards the tip of the nose or towards the forehead, or in between the eyebrows, / Let the inconstant mind be fully engaged with the fundamental. // 15.2 //  If some desirous idea, a fever of the mind, should venture to offend you, / Entertain no scent of it but shake it off as if pollen had landed on your robe. // 15.3 // Even if, as a result of calm consideration, you have let go of desires, / You must, as if shining light into darkness, abolish them by means of their opposite. // 15.4 //  What lies behind those desires sleeps on, like a fire covered with ashes; / You are to extinguish it, my friend, by training the mind (bhāvanayā), as if using water to put out a fire. // 15.5 //  For from that source they re-emerge, like shoots from a seed. / In its absence they would be no more -- like shoots in the absence of a seed. // SN15.6 // 

atha: ind. and so, then,
ūcur = 3rd pers. pl. perf vac: to say, speak
adya: ind. today
eva: (emphatic)
viśāma = 1st pers. pl. imperative viś: to enter, go into
tad (acc. sg. n.): that
vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest

gataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. gone
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
yatra: ind. wherein
dvipa-rāja-vikramaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. with the stride of a king of those who drink twice
dvipa: m. elephant (lit. drinking twice , sc. with his trunk and with his mouth)
vikrama: m. a step , stride , pace ; going , proceeding , walking , motion , gait ; valour , courage , heroism , power , strength

jijīviṣā (nom. sg.): f. ( √ jīv Desid.) desire to live
na: not
asti (3rd pers. sg. as): there is
hi: for
tena (inst. sg. m.): him
naḥ (gen. pl.): of/in us
vinā: ind. without

yathā: ind. as, like
indriyāṇām (gen. pl.): n. power , force , the quality which belongs especially to the mighty indra ; n. bodily power , power of the senses ; n. faculty of sense , sense , organ of sense
vigame (loc. sg.): m. going away , departure , cessation , end , absence
vi- √ gam: to go asunder , sever , separate ; to go away , depart , disappear , cease , die
śarīriṇām = gen. pl. śarīrin: m. an embodied being , creature , (esp.) a man ; m. the soul ; m. an embodied spirit

衆人咸議言 悉當追隨去
如人命根壞 身死形神離
王子是我命 失命我豈生 

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