Friday, October 25, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.6: Balance As a Function of the Forest

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
sa-puṇḍarīkair-api śobhitaṁ jalair-alaṁktaṁ puṣpa-dharair-nagair-api |
tad-eva tasyopavanaṁ vanopamaṁ gata-praharṣair-na rarāja nāgaraiḥ || 8.6

The city's park,
though graced by lotus-covered waters,

Though adorned by flower-bearing plants,

Being nothing but that park itself, was like the woods –

It no longer exuded lordly splendour,
now that the citizens' exuberant joy was gone.

Today's verse, like yesterday's, is again ostensibly describing a kind of desolation, a condition of suffering. But below the surface Aśvaghoṣa might be intending to remind us that total absence of exuberant joy is a state to work towards – as again described yesterday – methodically, step by gradual step.

Distanced from desires and tainted things, containing ideas and containing thoughts, /Born of separateness and possessed of joy and ease, is the first stage of meditation, which he then entered. // SN17.42 //Released from the burning of the bonfire of desires, he derived great gladness from ease in the act of meditating -- /Ease like a heat-exhausted man diving into water. Or like a pauper coming into great wealth. // 17.43 //Even in that, he realised, ideas about aforesaid things, and thoughts about what is or is not good, /Are something not quieted, causing disturbance in the mind, and so he decided to cut them out. // 17.44 //For, just as waves produce disturbance in a river bearing a steady flow of tranquil water, / So ideas, like waves of thought, disturb the water of the one-pointed mind. // 17.45 //And just as noises are a source of bother to one who is weary, and fallen fast asleep, / So do ideas become bothersome to one who is indulging in his original state of unitary awareness. // 17.46 //And so gradually bereft of idea and thought, his mind tranquil from one-pointedness, /He realised the joy and ease born of balanced stillness -- that inner wellbeing which is the second stage of meditation. // 17.47 //And on reaching that stage, in which the mind is silent, he experienced an intense joy that he had never experienced before. /But here too he found a fault, in joy, just as he had in ideas. // 17.48 //
For when a man finds intense joy in anything, paradoxically, suffering for him is right there. /Hence, seeing the faults there in joy, he kept going up, into practice that goes beyond joy. // SN17.49 //

From a translation point of view it is the 3rd pāda that presents the most difficulty.

EBC apparently understood tad (that) to refer to upavanam (garden) and tasya (of his) to refer back to bhartuḥ (the master); hence “that garden of his, which was now like a forest...”

EHJ understood tad-eva (that very same) to refer to upavanam (grove) but understood tasya to refer back to puram (the city); hence “That very same city-grove... was now like a forest

PO followed EHJ with “the same city park...looking more like a jungle.

So on the grammar, I agree with EHJ and PO, but in light of my reading of the 4th pāda, I think tad-eva (“being nothing but that same...”) is designed to make the point that Dogen famously made using the metaphor of water reflecting the moon – i.e. that when water reflects the moon, the water is not changed by the moon and the moon does not get wet.

It is the point that Aśvaghoṣa makes in SN17.61, quoted yesterday.
Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served. Without ambition, without partiality, without expectation; /Without fear, sorrow, pride, or passion; while being nothing but himself (sa eva), he seemed in his constancy to be different. // SN17.61 //
The point is that one person's attaining to the seat of arhathood, or realization of emptiness, does not change the essential of nature of anything, including the person himself or herself. On the contrary, the effect may be to bring out that original nature so unrestrictedly that nothing is ever again allowed to detract from it and nothing superfluous (like exuberant joy) is ever again allowed to blot it out.

Sounds good, doesn't it? It works as an explanation at least. Such decisive realization is harder to locate in practice, and nowhere to be seen in the bathroom mirror.

Any way up, the ostensible meaning of vanopamam (like the woods) is pejorative, and this is most clearly brought out by PO's translation (“looking more like a jungle”). But Aśvaghoṣa may be intending, not for the first time, to suggest his real intention ironically. And the intention might be that when the planted trees in a city park are allowed to show their true nature, they are just trees in their natural state, like a wood.

Ostensibly, then, tasyopavanam (that [city]'s park), is higher up the food chain, because more civilized, than vanam (the forest in its wild and natural state, the woods). But literally upa-vanam (MW: a small forest or wood, grove , garden; a planted forest)  is a kind of dimunitive. It means something like “near to (upa) a forest (vanam)” or “a mini-forest." Thus, if we follow the hidden meaning, Aśvaghoṣa is subverting the ostensible meaning and making trees that are planted through human intervention subordinate to trees in their natural state – so that when city trees are realized as equal to trees in a wood, that can be taken as a symbol of enlightenment.

Just as the Buddha himself was originally a city boy, from Kapilavastu, it should be remembered, so also was Aśvaghoṣa from the ancient Indian city of Saketa (aka Ayodhya, supposed birthplace of the original Sanskrit epic hero Rāma – him of the Rāmāyaṇa). So the realization expressed in today's verse may be taken as partly autobiographical, or at least as arising out of personal experience.

I think the realization relates to the fact that even in a town or a city, seeing trees as they are – or for that matter, seeing a house sparrow or a pigeon as they are, or touching a dog or a horse as they are – can put us back in touch with the balanced state of nature. So, yes, finding solitude in the forest is optimal. But balance is not exclusively a function of the forest.

A big beast in the Alexander world named Walter Carrington wrote and published a pamphlet titled “Balance as a Function of Intelligence.” Because balance can be a function of human intelligence, I have dared to assert there is such a thing as sitting in lotus with the mind. My own teacher, Gudo Nishijima, seemed to me to negate such a possibility, and so I argued with him on this point, long and hard. Even before I had come back to England in 1994 with a view to understanding in practice what “sitting with the mind” might mean, I had read words of Dogen that seemed to express this possibility and I wondered what they really meant. Now, though I may be prejudiced by the conceit that I know, better than my teacher knew, how sitting with the mind is possible, I do see Aśvaghoṣa affirming the principle of sitting with the mind, for example in BC8.2 (by going slowly while thinking separateness). 

For my teacher balance was a function of the autonomic nervous system. In revering instinctive balance as he did, in this way, my teacher was like Cesar Millan revering the instinctive behaviour of his pit bull terrier Daddy. And I see this angle also as being affirmed by Aśvaghoṣa, for example, in BC8.4. It may be that, because balance can be a function of the autonomic nervous system, there is such a thing as sitting in lotus with the body.

But ultimately, when two become none, balance might be a function of balance  – gradually to approach which state is gradually to approach emptiness (BC8.5).

Once more I have laboured the point to death under a heavy load of words.
Never mind.
Here and now, in one word, or less, what was Aśvaghoṣa's intention?

sa-puṇḍarīkaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): having white lotuses, covered in white lotuses
puṇḍarīka: n. a lotus-flower (esp. a white lotus)
api: also
śobhitam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. splendid , beautiful , adorned or embellished by
śubh: to beautify , embellish , adorn , beautify one's self; look beautiful or handsome , shine , be bright or splendid ;
jalaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. (also pl.) water

alaṁkṛtam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. adorned, decorated
puṣpa-dharaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): flower-bearing
nagaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. " not moving " ; a mountain ; any tree or plant
api: also

tad (nom. sg. n.): he, she, it, that, this ; ind. there , in that place , thither , to that spot ; ind. then , at that time , in that case ; ind. thus , in this manner , with regard to that
eva: (in its most frequent use of strengthening the idea expressed by any word , eva must be variously rendered by such adverbs as) just , exactly , very , same , only , even , alone , merely , immediately on , still , already , &c (e.g. tvam eva yantā nā*nyo 'sti pṛthivyām , thou alone art a charioteer , no other is on earth , i.e. thou art the best charioteer MBh. iii , 2825 ; tāvatīm eva rātrim , just so long as a night ; evam eva or tathai*va , exactly so , in this manner only ; in the same manner as above ; tenai*va mantreṇa , with the same mantra as above ; apaḥ spṛṣṭvai*va , by merely touching water ; tān eva , these very persons ; na cirād eva , in no long time at all ; japyenai*va , by sole repetition ; abhuktvai*va , even without having eaten ; iti vadann eva , at the very moment of saying so ; sa jīvann eva , he while still living , &c ) (sometimes , esp. in connection with other adverbs , eva is a mere expletive without any exact meaning and not translatable e.g. tv eva , cai*va , eva ca
tasya (gen. sg.): his
upavanam (nom. sg.): n. a small forest or wood , grove , garden ; a planted forest
upa: ind. (a preposition or prefix to verbs and nouns , expressing) towards , near to; by the side of , with , together with , under , down ; prefixed to proper names upa may express in classical literature " a younger brother " (e.g. upe*ndra , " the younger brother of indra ") , and in Buddhist literature " a son. "
vanopamam (nom. sg. n.): resembling a forest
vana: mfn. a forest , wood , grove , thicket , quantity of lotuses or other plants growing in a thick cluster (but in older language also applied to a single tree)
upama: mfn. (ifc.) equal , similar , resembling , like

gata-praharṣaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): devoid of rapture ; their extreme joy all gone
praharṣa: m. erection , extreme joy , thrill of delight , rapture
na: not
rarāja = 3rd pers. sg. perf. rāj: to reign , be king or chief , rule over (gen.) , direct , govern (acc.); to be illustrious or resplendent , shine , glitter
nāgaraiḥ (inst. pl.): m. a citizen ; mfn. (fr. nagara, a town) town-born , town-bred , relating or belonging to a town or city , town-like , civic

泉池不澄清 華果不榮茂
巷路諸士女 憂慼失歡容 

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