Monday, November 18, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.30: Balancing, In the Loop

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
yathā ca vakṣāṁsi karair-apīḍayaṁs-tathaiva vakṣobhir-apīḍayan karān |
akārayaṁs-tatra paras-paraṁ vyathāḥ karāgra-vakṣāṁsy-abalā dayālasāḥ || 8.30

Insofar as they goaded their bosoms with their hands,

To that same degree they goaded their hands with their bosoms;

Those in that loop whose strength was not in strength,
their compassion being inactive,

Made bosoms, and the tips of doing hands, antagonize each other.

Today's verse is the last in the present series devoted to women who are different (anyāḥ striyaḥ; BC8.25-27) and to the very best among beautiful women (varāṅganāḥ; BC8.28-30). As such today's verse brings together elements of the two verses which precede it. Referring to the women as a-balāḥ, which literally means “the weak,” i.e. the weaker sex, echoes the simile in BC8.28 of wind-blown creepers beating themselves with flimsy tendrils. And the emphasis on reciprocity picks up the suggestion of a wheel, cycle or loop that Aśvaghoṣa made at the end of BC8.29, when he referred to pairs of bar-headed geese as rathāṅga-nāmnāṁ, or “[geese] whose name means 'a chariot wheel.' ”

As the concluding verse in this series, today's verse as I read it is mainly suggesting something not easy to understand about sitting with body as opposed to sitting with mind, about sitting with mind as opposed to sitting with body, and about sitting as body and mind dropping off.

But more generally also, not necessarily in sitting practice itself, goading bosoms with hands can be understood as a metaphor for stimulating the lazy heart and mind by doing something, like digging soil, or cycling for example. But in particular, just the physical act of sitting still, until the legs become painful and even after the legs have become painful, can be a way of goading the bosom with the hands or, more literally, "with the agents of doing"  (karaiḥ). 

Conversely, goading hands with bosoms can be understood as a metaphor for stimulating the lazy body by thinking something. Learning how to think like this is what Alexander work is all about. And in sitting-meditation, also, at least in my book, thinking up without moving a muscle is a way of goading the neuromuscular system into action, not by doing anything, but simply by thinking something.

Today's verse, as I read it, is suggesting that these two kinds of effort, physical and mental, should be balanced, in proportion with each other. 

Writing from the inside of this kind of loop, Dogen described a song gradually growing louder and louder. 

Today's verse, then, might be very difficult for anybody to understand who has not got practical experience of being in the loop. 

Today's verse might be difficult to understand even for people who have got plenty of such practical experience. 

Dogen wrote in Shobogenzo chap. 72, Zanmai-o-zanmai, The Samādhi that is King of Samādhis:
My late Master, the Olden Buddha, said: "Zen practice is body and mind dropping off, and just sitting has got it from the beginning. It is not necessary to burn incense, to perform prostrations, to contemplate the Buddha, to practise confession, or to read sutras." 
Clearly, the one who has gouged out the Eye of the Buddha-Ancestor and sat inside the Eye of the Buddha-Ancestor, for the past four or five hundred years, is my late Master alone. Few in China have matched shoulders with him. Rarely has it been clarified that sitting is the Buddha-Dharma and that the Buddha-Dharma is sitting. Even if some understand with their bodies that sitting is the Buddha-Dharma, no-one has known sitting as sitting. How then can there be any who let the Buddha-Dharma be the Buddha-Dharma? So then, there is mental sitting as opposed to physical sitting. There is physical sitting as opposed to mental sitting. And there is sitting as body and mind dropping off, as opposed to sitting as body and mind dropping off. Actually to have got what sounds like this is the practice and the understanding of the buddha-ancestors, in mutual accord. Allow this awareness, this thinking, this reflection. Investigate this mind, this intention, this consciousness. 

My own teacher Gudo Nishijima understood Dogen's teaching better than anybody I know, including me; but from where I sit my teacher affirmed goading bosoms with hands much more than he affirmed goading hands with bosoms. He certainly never affirmed goading hands with bosoms as such goading is practised in the FM Alexander Technique. As a result, rightly or wrongly, I felt that he could never fully affirm me. 

Sorry if this sounds like sour grapes. It could be that, over the course of the past 30 years, I for my part have failed to try hard enough in the area of developing Buddhist compassion. Conversely, as I think today's verse might ironically be suggesting, it could be a mistake to have tried too hard.

Any way up, today's verse, as I read it, culminates in a conspicuous, albeit ironic, expression of the principle of non-doing – and that expression is abalā dayālasāḥ.

Ostensibly a-balāḥ simply means “they, the women”; and dayālasāḥ means “with their sense of pity/compassion [for their own bosoms and hands] being faint or dull or absent”; hence
they, dull to all feelings of pity” (EBC);
the women, all feelings of pity dulled” (EHJ);
the women, bereft of compassion” (PO).

But what Aśvaghoṣa really means by a-balāḥ is “those who strength (bala) is in the not (a-) being strong, the not being forceful, the not being pushy.” So the real meaning of a-balāh is “those whose strength is not in strength,” in short, enlightened beings, buddhas. Think, for example, of the gentle methods Monty Roberts has used to train horses, as opposed to the forceful, nay brutal, methods used by his father.

And what Aśvaghoṣa really means by dayālasāḥ is “with the non-doing (alasa) attitude which is compassion (dayā) itself.” Think again of Monty Roberts. Or think, for another celebrated example, of FM Alexander. For myself, I think of the attitude of FM Alexander's niece, Marjory Barlow, who, in teaching inhibition and non-doing, and in teaching how to think, very clearly pointed out the folly of trying to do, by direct means, what is essentially an undoing.

yathā: ind. as
ca: and
vakṣāṁsi = acc. pl. vakṣas: n. sg. and pl. the breast , bosom , chest
karaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. the doer, the hand
apīḍayan = 3rd pers. pl. imperfect pīḍ: to press , squeeze ; to hurt , harm , injure , oppress , pain , vex ; to neglect (one's family)

tathā: ind. so
eva: (emphatic)
vakṣobhiḥ (inst. pl.): n. the breast , bosom , chest
apīḍayan = 3rd pers. pl. imperfect pīḍ: to press , squeeze ; to hurt , harm , injure , oppress , pain , vex
karān (acc. pl.): m. the hand

akārayan = 3rd pers. pl. causative imperfect kṛ: to make
tatra: ind. therein
paras-param: ind. each other
vyathāḥ (acc. pl.): f. agitation , perturbation , alarm , uneasiness , pain , anguish , fear
vyath: to tremble , waver , go astray , come to naught , fail ; to cease , become ineffective (as poison) ; to be agitated or disturbed in mind , be restless or sorrowful or unhappy

karāgra-vakṣāṁsi (nom./acc. pl.): fingertips and breasts
karāgra: n. tip of the finger [the point of doing]
agra: n. foremost point or part ; tip ; point, and hence , figuratively , sharpness ; n. the climax or best part; n. goal , aim
vakṣas: n. sg. and pl. the breast , bosom , chest
a-balāḥ (nom. pl.): f. a woman ; mfn. weak, feeble
dayālasāḥ (nom. pl. f.): mfn. disinclined to pity, Bcar. viii, 30.
dayā: f. sympathy , compassion , pity
day: to divide , impart , allot ; to take part in , sympathize with , have pity on
a-lasa: mfn. inactive , without energy , lazy , idle , indolent , tired , faint
lasa: mfn. shining , playing , moving hither and thither (cf. a-lasá)

[No corresponding Chinese]

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