Thursday, November 7, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.19: The Ripe Fruit of Donkey Work

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
janāś-ca harṣātiśayena vañcitā janādhipāntaḥ-pura-saṁnikarṣa-gāḥ |
yathā hayaḥ kanthaka eṣa heṣate dhruvaṁ kumāro viśatīti menire || 8.19

Over-exuberance, again, deceived the common folk

Who moved in the vicinity of the battlements of their overlord.

“Since the horse Kanthaka is here neighing,” they thought,

“It must be that the prince is on his way!”

Some textual uncertainty surrounds the 1st pāda of today's verse, for which the old Nepalese manuscript has cañcitā (shaken) rather than vañcitā (deceived). But following EBC and EHJ in taking the original to be vañcitā (deceived), I think janāś-ca harṣātiśayena vañcitā is phrased to invite the understanding that the echoing of Kanthaka's neighing by the birds and other horses represented a state of over-exuberant excitement.  The common folk, if we follow this ostensible meaning, were deceived by all the exuberant excitement bubbling on the outside, as birds and horses responded joyfully to Kanthaka's neighing.

The three professors did not in fact follow this ostensible meaning. They rather picked up at least part of the hidden meaning, by understanding that the common people were deceived, i.e. deluded, by joyful excitement emanating from within.
And the people, deceived by an excessive joy...” (EBC)
And the people …. were deceived by superabundant joy...” (EHJ)
Those... fooled by the excess of their joy...” (PO)

In an attempt to preserve this hidden meaning, while also preserving the ostensible meaning and its logical connection with yesterday's verse, I have made the Sanskrit instrumental agent harṣātiśayena (with over-exuberance) into the subject of the English sentence, and have translated ca not as the conjunctive “and” but rather as the conjunctive but also possibly disjunctive “again” – the point of the disjunctive being that birds and horses have been described, below the surface, as abiding in the state of zero, but janāh (plural), “the common folks,” have been described (at least hitherto; BC8.9-13) as far from the state of zero.

The 2nd pāda as I read it expands on this contrast between on one side, birds (kha-gāḥ; movers in empty space) and horses (tura-gāḥ; movers in readiness), and on the other side common folk, by describing the common folk in question as janādhipāntaḥ-pura-saṁnikarṣa-gāḥ, movers in the vicinity of the battlements of the overlord of common folk.

Ostensibly, janādhipāntaḥ-pura-saṁnikarṣa-gāḥ is simply telling us where the common folk were. Hence:
who were in the neighbourhood of the king's inner apartments” (EBC);
who frequented the precincts of the queens' apartments” (EHJ);
living near the king's seraglio” (PO).
But describing the common folk as “movers in the vicinity of the battlements of the overlord of common folk,” as I read that phrase, might be highlighting the contrast between natural beings like birds and horses who naturally abide in the balanced state, and civilized city-dwellers who habitually do not.

Any way up, whether their conclusion stems from being deceived by outer exuberance or being deluded by inner exuberance, the common folk in the second half of today's verse are expressing a totally wrong conclusion.

The common folk misunderstood the neighing of Kanthaka as a signal that, in accordance with their hopes, the prince was coming back now to Kapalivastu. In reality, whatever the neighing of Kanthaka did signal, it did not signal that.

Having written the above comment yesterday and then slept on today's verse and sat, I found myself endeavouring to answer the question, without even having asked it: So what has this got to do with the one great matter, which is sitting? And hey presto: the answer that presents itself now is totally at odds with my previous conclusion, stated above, that the common folk came to the wrong conclusion.

That is to say, there might be a deeper layer of hidden meaning whereby the overlord (adhi-pa) means the Buddha, whose battlements (antaḥ-pura) are the law of cause and effect and the teaching of cause and effect. Moving (gāḥ) in the vicinity of these battlements, then, does not separate but rather connects human peoples or common folks (janāḥ) with birds (kha-gāḥ; movers in empty space) and horses (tura-gāḥ; willing movers in readiness).

In that case being deceived by over-exuberance must, below the surface, have a constructive meaning.... reflecting on which imperative, our attention is drawn back to the deceitful combatant of BC8.16, as well as to Aśvaghoṣa's confession quoted yesterday that his aim as a crafter of exuberant kāvya poetry is all bound up with deceit:

Seeing, in general, that the world is moved primarily by fondness for objects and is repelled by liberation,
I for whom liberation is paramount have told it here like it is, using a kāvya poem as a pretext. /
Being aware of the deceit, take from (this verb-rooted dust) what pertains to peace and not to idle pleasure.
Then elemental dust, assuredly, shall yield up serviceable gold. // 18.64 //

But in that case, again, if their conclusion is not wrong, what hidden truth is expressed by the words of the common folk in the second half of today's verse?

The answer to that question that came to me, even though I didn't ask the question, while I was sitting, was a two-word answer: 

Donkey work.

During the 13 years I lived in Tokyo between the New Year of 1982 and the end of 1994, I repeatedly experienced leaving my round black cushion to go out to work, and then coming back several hours later, especially if it was on a crowded commuter train, feeling like my brain and nervous system were utterly shot. Since I was physically tall and fit, an old rugby player who had gone to Japan and earned a black belt in karate the hard way, it seemed incongruous to some people that I was so sensitive. But I was, and I still am, unduly sensitive. And the fundamental reason for this undue sensitivity (I came to understand in 1995 when I came under the influence of an enlightened being named Ray Evans) is a poorly integrated Moro reflex.

Over the years I found that the best way for me to turn back towards the state of zero was to engage in what I called donkey work – which essentially meant sitting, then plodding on with some simple task, then sitting again, then plodding on with the same or another simple task. If the task in hand was something difficult like translating Shobogenzo, then I would make it simple by breaking it down into easily manageable tasks and accomplishing them slowly. If I carried on like this, with donkey work, aka polishing a tile as opposed to worrying about making a mirror, I found that instinct would gradually take over – somewhat in the manner of the licking and chewing of the horse, and the bowing of the horse's head, to which Monty Roberts drew the viewer's attention in the video clip I linked to yesterday.

Between 1990 and 1994 in particular, when I was living an hour's train journey out of the centre of Tokyo, I started going to work in the city two days per week, Tuesday and Wednesday, and staying at my friend's house in central Tokyo on Tuesday night. Concentrating money-making effort like this left the rest of the week relatively free for sitting and Shobogenzo translation. But I would often come back on Wednesday night totally caught in the fearful grip of stress, not having had a crap for two days. So when the donkey work began to kick in on a Thursday and instinct took over, as I began to come back to myself, instinct re-asserting itself tended to be associated with having an enormous crap.

So this is the prosaic background to any understanding I have of the hidden meaning, or at least of a hidden meaning, of the second half of today's verse. Ostensibly the common folk are jumping to the wrong conclusion. But below the surface they might be telling us the kind of truth that Buddhist scholars would never even dream that Aśvaghoṣa was interested in, which is namely that when instinct begins to assert itself, as in a loud neigh, or a satisfactory crap, only then is a bodhisattva on his way.

janāḥ (nom. pl.): m. the races, the common folk
ca: and (occasionally ca is disjunctive , " but " , " on the contrary " , " on the other hand " , " yet " , " nevertheless)
harṣātiśayena (inst. sg.): by abundant rapture
harṣa: m. bristling , erection (esp. of the hair in a thrill of rapture or delight) ; joy, happiness
atiśaya: m. pre-eminence , eminence ; mfn. pre-eminent , superior , abundant
ati- √śī: to surpass , excel ; to act as an incubus , annoy
heṣātiśayena [Gawronski]: mfn. quick , strong
cañcitāḥ [old Nepalese manuscript] = nom. pl. m. past passive participle cañc: to leap , jump , move , dangle , be unsteady , shake
vañcitāḥ [EBC/EHJ] (nom. pl. m.): mfn. deceived , tricked , imposed upon
vañc: to move to and fro , go crookedly , totter , stagger , waver ; to pass over , wander over , go astray ; (causative) to cause to go astray , deceive , cheat

janādhipāntaḥ-pura-saṁnikarṣa-gāḥ (nom. pl. m.): being in the vicinity of the king's inner apartments
janādhipa: m. 'people-ruler'; king
adhi-pa: m. a ruler , commander , regent , king
antaḥ-pura: n. the king's palace , the female apartments
saṁnikarṣa: m. drawing near or together , approximation , close contact , nearness , neighbourhood , proximity , vicinity ; (comp.) in the vicinity of , near ; connection with , relation to , (in phil.) the connection of an indriya or organ of sense with its viṣaya or object
ga: (only ifc.) going ; staying , being , abiding in

yathā: ind. since
hayaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the horse
kanthakaḥ (nom. sg.): m. Kanthaka
eṣa (nom. sg. m.): mfn. this , this here , here (especially as pointing to what is nearest to the speaker)
heṣate = 3rd pers. sg. heṣ: to neigh , whinny

dhruvam: ind. certainly, surely
kumāraḥ (nom. sg.): m. the prince
viśati = 3rd pers. sg. viś: to enter
iti: thus
menire = 3rd pers. pl. perf. man: to think , believe , imagine , suppose

謂呼太子還 不見而絶聲 


gniz said...

Still following along. I find each moment presents an opportunity for relaxing enough to take that big crap or instead possibly become tense and become constipated.

With constipation comes the anger, the fighting, the vicious words and the fear and anxiety and regret. With relaxation, sometimes there is relief--sometimes not.

Like you describe yourself to have been, I was and am still a bit of an overly sensitive fellow. I wonder if there is a pattern to that for those who are attracted to the so-called spiritual path.

Unlike yourself, I was not big and strapping and I was often picked on in my younger days. But I also learned to use my verbal instincts to dissect and ravage those who I felt deserved my wrath.

How many times do I have to hit myself on the head with a hammer before I learn to put it down?

I'm still finding out.

Mike Cross said...

Being a good listener, I think Alfred Tomatis said, is not so much about being sensitive to what one wants to hear, as it is about being able to be insensitive to all the surrounding noise.

In those of us in whom the Moro reflex is not well integrated, the filtering function of the brain seems to be impaired, so that we are overly sensitive in some or all channels.

Gudo Nishijima, in his own words, was "strong to noise." Having sat in an office where a daisy wheel printer was making a tremendous racket and watched him focus on editing his Japanese lectures, I can testify that he was indeed incredibly strong to noise. But I wasn't strong to noise then, and I am not strong to noise now. If anything I am weaker to noise now than I was then.

gniz said...

Huh. That's another interesting observation.

I'm somewhat sensitive to noise as well. I also tend to get an adrenaline spike from very small occurrences in life, and so overreact to many small situations.

Mike Cross said...

Speaking for myself, I think my undue sensitivity to noise, and my tendency to overreact to small stuff, are both rooted in an imperfectly integrated Moro reflex -- which is a very serious weakness for anybody to go through life with.

But, looking on the bright side, persistence in following along might be a strength...

Having given due consideration to the time and place as well as to the extent and method of one's practice, /
One should, reflecting on one's own strength and weakness, persist in an effort that is not inconsistent with them. // SN16.52 //