Tuesday, November 26, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.38: Letting What Moves Quickly Take Everything Away

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
anartha-kāmo 'sya janasya sarvathā turaṅgamo 'pi dhruvam-eṣa kanthakaḥ |
jahāra sarvasvam-itas-tathā hi me jane prasupte niśi ratna-cauravat || 8.38

This here horse Kanthaka, also, is constantly desirous that I,

In every way, should come to naught.

For thus, from here, he took away my everything –

Like a jewel thief who steals in the night, while people are fast asleep.

The 1st pāda of today' verse, as I read it, belongs to the first phase, partly because it relates to desire; partly because it is about the 1st person singular, me; and partly because, below the surface, it points to anartha-kāmo 'sya janasya, “the downfall / coming to naught of this person,” as an aim of practice.

If the 1st pāda thus centres on me and my desires and aims, the 2nd pāda, to the contrary, is all about nature, here and now. Nature here and now in today's verse Aśvaghoṣa calls turaṅgama eṣa kanthakaḥ, “Kanthaka, this here horse” – a horse being turaṇgama, lit. “what moves quickly/willingly.” So the 2nd pāda, as I read it, belongs to the second phase because it relates to nature, including the natural instinct – or what moves quickly – here in me.

The 3rd pāda belongs to the third phase because it relates to action, starting from here, in which everything is taken away from me. On this subject – i.e. on the subject of nature being allowed to work and take over – the Alexander teacher Walter Carrington (quoted here, from the book Thinking Aloud) spoke as follows:
"Non-doing is, above all, an attitude of mind. It's a wish. It's a decision to leave everything alone and see what goes on, see what happens. Your breathing and your circulation and your postural mechanisms are all working and taking over. The organism is functioning in its automatic way, and you are doing nothing." "If you're going to succeed in doing nothing, you must exercise control over your thinking processes. You must really wish to do nothing. If you're thinking anxious, worried thoughts, if you're thinking exciting thoughts that are irrelevant to the situation at hand, you stir up responses in your body that are not consistent with doing nothing. It's not a matter of just not moving--that can lead to fixing or freezing--it's a matter of really leaving yourself alone and letting everything just happen and take over." "This is what we're aiming at in an Alexander lesson, and if we're wise, and we understand, it's also what we aim at in our own practice of non-doing. It is something that requires practice. Like most other things in life, it isn't some-thing that you can achieve by simply wishing to do so, by just thinking, 'Well, I will now leave myself alone and not do anything.' Unfortunately, it doesn't work out like that. The whole process requires a lot of practice, and a lot of observation. Out of this process a tremendous lot of experience is to be gained..."
Thus the 4th pāda, while ostensibly a simile, is really a metaphor for what Walter Carrington was talking about – body and mind dropping off in the practice of non-doing.

A translation of today's verse that better preserves this progression through four phases might be:

Desirous of the downfall, in every way, of me,

This here horse Kanthaka also surely is;

For thus, from here, he bore away my everything –

Like a jewel thief who steals in the night, while people are fast asleep.

This is in fact how the translation of today's verse stood when I lay down to sleep last night. But on reflection, an-artha (lit. "non-value") might be one of those negative phrases which is intended below the surface to point to the supremely valuable buddha-nature as a bit of nothing. In that case “coming to naught” might be closer to Aśvaghoṣa's intention than “downfall.” Also on further reflection, “constantly” might be a stronger translation of dhruvam than “surely” – the point being that natural forces, and especially the constant 1g of the earth's gravity, are always there, ready and willing (tura) to take everything from me, if only I allow them to work.

Have I done today's verse justice, in this translation and commentary? Absolutely not. But have I made a start, in at least scratching the surface of the tortoise? I hope so. As a teacher of the FM Alexander Technique, I know, for a start, that today's verse is a metaphorical description of non-doing, of letting nature work. And as a bloke who has sat four times a day for the past 30 years, I know, for a start, that today's verse is a metaphorical description of body and mind dropping off in sitting-meditation.

anartha-kāmaḥ (nom. sg. m.): desiring the disappointing occurrence
an-artha: m. non-value , a worthless or useless object; disappointing occurrence , reverse , evil
kāma: n. (ifc.) desirous of , desiring , having a desire or intention
asya (gen. sg. m.): this
janasya (gen. sg.): m. person ( ayaṁ janaḥ , " this person " , I )
sarvathā: ind. in every way , in every respect , by all means ; altogether , entirely , in the highest degree , exceedingly

turaṅgamaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a horse
tura: mfn. quick , willing , prompt; strong , powerful , excelling , rich , abundant
gama: ifc. going ; riding on (comp.) ; m. going , course
api: even
dhruvam: ind. firmly , constantly , certainly , surely ;
dhruva: mfn fixed , firm , immovable , unchangeable , constant , lasting , permanent , eternal (e.g. the earth , a mountain , a pillar , a vow &c ); settled , certain , sure
eṣa (nom. sg. m.): this , this here , here (especially as pointing to what is nearest to the speaker
kanthakaḥ (nom. sg.): m. Kanthaka

jahāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. hṛ: to take ; to take away , carry off , seize , deprive of , steal , rob
sarva-svam (acc. sg.): n. the whole of a person's property or possessions
itaḥ: ind. from here
tathā: ind. in that manner, like that
hi: for
me (gen. sg.): my

jane (loc. sg.): m. people
prasupte (loc. sg. m.): mfn. fallen into sleep , fast asleep , sleeping , slumbering ; asleep i.e. insensible ; quiet , inactive , latent
niśi (loc. sg.): in the night
ratna-cauravat: ind. like a jewel thief
ratna: n. a gift ; a jewel , gem , treasure , precious stone
ratna-caura: m. a stealer of jewels, Bcar
caura: mfn. ( √cur, to steal) thievish ; a thief. robber

告馬汝無義 奪人心所重
猶如闇冥中 怨賊劫珍寶 

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