Tuesday, October 22, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.3: Grieving (3): What Happens in Nature

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
hayaś-ca saujasvi cacāra kanthakas-tatāma bhāvena babhūva nirmadaḥ |
alaṁktaś-cāpi tathaiva bhūṣaṇair-abhūd-gata-śrīr-iva tena varjitaḥ || 8.3

And the horse Kanthaka moved himself 
by an effort of physical strength;

He panted; he was, through his whole being, devoid of ebullience;

Again, decked though he was in decorative trappings,

He seemed, without the one in question, to lack any lustre.

Duḥkha, being such a general term, is aptly translated in most cases as “suffering.” Other possibilities are pain, hardship, uneasiness, trouble, and sorrow. Aśvaghoṣa's most extensive treatment of it is in SN Canto 16, where the word duḥkha appears no less than 27 times in the first 47 verses of the canto.

But within the general field of suffering, Aśvaghoṣa's specialist subject is evidently śoka, grief or sorrow, as experienced when loved ones are separated by death or – more to the point  separated by somebody's decision to go forth into the homeless life. This śoka finds its outward expression in vilāpa, bewailing or lamenting. Hence Aśvaghoṣa's detailed treatment of sorrow in SN Canto 6, bhāryā-vilāpa, “A Wife's Lamenting,” in SN Canto 7, nanda-vilāpa, “Nanda's Lamenting,” and BC Canto 8, antaḥ-pura-vilāpa, “Lamenting Within the Battlements.”

Yes, I said this already two days in the comment to BC8.1. Bear with me. My brain these days does not work as fast as it used to, and neither is my memory as sharp as it once was. It seems to help to keep repeating myself.

I also quoted in the comment to BC8.1 these most excellent words of FM Alexander, which I think apply equally to what FM called “the work” and what the Buddha called bhāvanā:
"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." 
In this light, BC8.1 can be read as an expression of human consciousness putting a spanner in the works of the grieving process. 

BC8.2, then, can be read as the antithesis to the thesis that human consciousness is what puts a spanner in the works (hence tu, but). BC8.2 can be read as making the case for human consciousness, the growth of which can be facilitated by deliberately slowing down, by coming back again to slow, slow, slow, slow Zen. BC8.2 can be read as making the case for learning to do it consciously.

And in today's verse, BC8.3, I think Aśvaghoṣa is using the horse Kanthaka like Cesar Millan used Daddy the pit bull terrier, to exemplify what happens in Nature, where the conditions are right.

That being so, the horse Kanthaka does not (1) put a spanner in the works of the grieving process by trying to suppress his sorrow; nor therefore does he need (2) to learn to allow the process by an effort of consciousness. Rather, (3) Kanthaka's sorrow is naturally out there, for all to see, through his whole being, in the laboured movement of his limbs, in his shortness of breath, and in his lack of lustre.

As an example out of my own experience of what today's verse as I read it is describing, a few years ago when I was in France my neighbour Farmer Louvelle puts a herd of cows with calves out to pasture in the field next to my field. Except one cow was tena varjitaḥ, without the object in question, without her calf, which had presumably gone to satisfy the French appetite for veal. And this bereaved mother spent the whole night relentlessly mooing, so that I who was sleeping out in a caravan a matter of yards away from her got barely a wink of sleep. The next morning when I looked at her, she was a terrible sight, her red eyes sunken deep into her drawn face. But within a day or two she seemed to be chewing the cud as contentedly as all the other cows in the field. “That,” I thought to myself, “is how to grieve.”

Saujasvi cacāra, as I read it, then, "making a physical effort to move oneself" is what happens in nature when a natural being is grieving. Albeit without a spring in the step, the natural being keeps on moving, by an effort of physical trying. Only a being which can act unnaturally, because of its big thinking brain, that is a human being, can respond to the feeling of being overwhelmed by grief like Cesar did, by giving up and swallowing a bunch of pills. Having spent so many years teaching other human beings to learn from dogs how to be more natural, Cesar went and did something all too human, demonstrating that he hasn't got to the end yet of all the lessons that dogs and horses  to say nothing of buddhas  have to teach us. Me neither. 

The three professors each translated tena in the 4th pāda “his master,” which is of course the ostensible meaning, but I preferred not to specify the object because I think Aśvaghoṣa has in mind the essence of grieving for all of us, two-legged and four-legged beings alike, which is being without him, or her, or it – being without the object in question.

I haven't written the above comment as an expert in grieving. On the contrary, I might have demonstrated over the past 30 years or so that I am rubbish at allowing processes like a natural being does, and am more of an expert at suppressing the self as only a thinking being does. 

Nevertheless, I want to conclude this comment by daring to express a dissenting view and opinion on what I perceive as a tendency towards reducing both the Buddha's teaching and Alexander work to practice of “mindfulness.” The Buddha's emphasis on the importance of smṛti, which means mindfulness or awareness or attention, is evident in the number of times in SN Cantos 13 through 16 that the Buddha sings the praises smṛti. True mindfulness is one of the branches of the noble eightfold path that the Buddha taught straight after his enlightenment, and not losing mindfulness is one of the eight truths of a great human being that the Buddha taught on the night before he died. But I think there is more to what the Buddha called bhāvanā than mindfulness, as is evident from reading Aśvaghoṣa's writings. And there is more to what Alexander called “the work,” than mindfulness – as Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow took pains to impress on me.

In what Alexander called “the work,” we are pursuing, Marjory said, a definite pattern – as expressed for example by the words “head forward and up, back to lengthen and widen, knees forwards and away.”

With bhāvanā also, I think bhāvanā as the Buddha taught it was not only a function of mindfulness, but was originally a function of sitting with feet on opposite thighs.

That being so, sometimes bhāvanā might mean just to make a physical effort to sit in lotus with the body (SHIN NO KEKKAFUZA), while not being in any condition to breathe deeply, while being devoid of ebullience through one's whole being, and while totally lacking lustre. In this matter, at least, if not in the matter of constantly maintaining mindfulness, I do know whereof I speak. 

hayaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a horse
ca: and
saujasvi (nom. sg. m.): ind. powerfully, with bodily strength
-ojasvi = adverbial usage of ojasvin: mfn. vigorous , powerful , strong , energetic
ojas: n. bodily strength , vigour , energy , ability , power ; vitality (the principle of vital warmth and action throughout the body)
cacāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. car: to move one's self , go , walk , move , stir , roam about , wander
saujāḥ [EHJ] = nom. sg. m. saujas: mfn. strong , powerful Bcar.
vicacāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vi- √ car: to move in different directions ; to rove , ramble about or through ; to sally forth
kanthakaḥ (nom. sg.): m. Kanthaka

tatāma = 3rd pers. sg. perf. tam: to gasp for breath (as one suffocating) , choke , be suffocated , faint away , be exhausted , perish , be distressed or disturbed or perplexed
bhāvena (inst. sg.): m. any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling ; the seat of the feelings or affections , heart , soul , mind
babhūva = 3rd pers. sg. perf. bhū: to be, become
nirmadaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. unintoxicated , sober , quiet , humble , modest ; not in rut (elephant)

alaṁkṛtaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. adorned , decorated
ca: and
api: even, though
tathā: ind. in that manner
eva: (emphatic)
bhūṣaṇaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. embellishment , ornament , decoration

abhūt = 3rd pers. sg. aorist bhū: to be, become
gata-śrīḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who has obtained fortune or happiness ; his lustre gone
śrī: f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory ; prosperity , welfare
gata: gone, gone to any state or condition; disappeared (often in comp.)
iva: like, as if
tena (inst. sg. m.): him, it [the prince]
varjitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (with instr. or ifc.) deprived of , wanting , without , with the exception of

良馬素體駿 奮迅有威相
躑躅顧瞻仰 不覩太子形 

No comments: