Wednesday, December 4, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.46: Finding the Way Out Open and the Light Shining (When the Gods Are With Us)

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
yadā bahir-gacchati pārthivātmaje-tadābhavad-dvāram-apāvtaṁ svayam |
tamaś-ca naiśaṁ raviṇeva pāṭitaṁ tato 'pi daivo vidhir-eṣa ghyatām || 8.46

The moment that the prince moved outwards

The way out spontaneously became open

And the darkness of night was broken as if by the sun –

Hence, again, let this be grasped as action in the presence of the gods.

Sometimes I get on my own nerves, constantly repeating the formula ostensibly today's verse means that but as I read it it means this; so the three professors translated it like that, but I translate it like this.

Making such comments every day makes me sound and feel wiser than I am. This morning I woke up early and got up early with a bit of a headache. As I sat in the darkness before dawn, I didn't feel so wise, and I didn't feel that the gods were with me. If sitting in full lotus is always the king of samādhis, and samādhi is a state like the sea, then this morning the sea, at least on the surface, seemed cold and grey.

But having made a cup of strong tea and dragged myself upstairs to this office, and re-directed my attention to today's verse, I find myself wanting to translate the word bahir in the 1st pāda as “outwards,” in such a way as to emphasize the sense of movement in the right direction.

Then I can't help but ask myself how the three professors understood it. EBC: “when the prince went out”; EHJ: “when the king's son went forth”; PO: “as the king's son departed.”

So ostensibly it means when the prince went out/forth. But the real meaning of gacchati bahir, as I read it, is not so much “going out” as “moving to go outwards.”

What's the difference? It has to do with the principle that I cannot do the right thing directly, because the right thing does itself. But it is possible to learn how to get oneself going in the right direction.

Thus Marjory Barlow never intimated for a moment that I might be right. She always emphasized the opposite – that there was no future in being right, but everything to be gained by being happy to be wrong. But what she did sometimes say by way of encouragement at the end of a lesson, as I was leaving her in peace, was “You are going well.”

“You are going well” meant, in other words, “You are wrong as hell, but, thanks to my uncle's work, just now you are going in the right direction.”

Marjory's uncle, for anybody who is reading this blog for the first time, was FM Alexander, founder of the technique which bears his name, who famously said: “There is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a thing as a right direction.”

And “a right direction,” in the 1st pāda of today's verse, as I read it, is expressed as bahir, outwards.

In the 2nd pāda, ostensibly, the phrase abhavad-dvāram-apāvṛtaṁ svayam is describing the kind of miracle that nobody has ever yet witnessed – an event like a gate opening itself in defiance of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. But below the surface the intention might be to describe the kind of everyday miracle which is described by the 2nd law of thermodynamics – an event like muscles giving up undue tension as body and mind spontaneously drop off.

Ostensibly, then, abhavad-dvāram-apāvṛtaṁ svayam means “the gate opened by itself” – hence: the gate was thrown open of its own accord” (EBC); The gate was thrown open of itself” (EHJ); or “the gate opened on its own” (PO).

More literally, however, abhavad-dvāram-apāvṛtaṁ svayam means “the entrance / exit spontaneously became open.” Dvāram (singular) is more exactly understood not as one gate but as an entrance / exit, i.e. as a means of passage, with two gates or two doors. The reason I say this is that in BC5.70 two gates or two doors (kapāṭe, dual) are described as being spontaneously opened (vivṛte svayam): 
As the women, abandoning all shame and submission, relaxed in front of me; / And as the doors opened, spontaneously (vivṛte ca yathā svayaṁ kapāṭe), it is doubtless time to depart, in pursuit of wellness.”//BC5.70/
This distinction, between two doors and one way out, is worth making because, understood as “a way out,” dvāram can be taken as an expression of sitting-meditation itself, akin to Dogen's 出身活路 (SHUSSHIN NO KATSURO), lit. “vigorous road of getting the body out." This is precisely the allusion that Aśvaghoṣa himself already made in BC5.66:
When he had seen this deficiency in the other, the desire sprang up in him to escape in the night; / Whereupon, under the influence of gods, who were steeped in this mind, the entrance of the palace was found to be wide open. [Or the way to freedom from existence was seen to be wide open.] (bhavana-dvāram-apāvṛtaṁ babhūva) //BC5.66//

In the 3rd pāda, as I read it, the darkness of night is a metaphor for the darkness of ignorance – not only the kind of darkness that I sat in this morning before dawn, but also the kind of darkest ignorance I sat in for 12 of the 13 years I spent in Japan, thinking and feeling that the way to be upright was to pull my chin in so as to keep the neck bones straight vertically.

The 4th pāda is ostensibly Chandaka's renewed plea to Yaśodharā to believe that the gods ate his homework. Hence, for example, EHJ: “this therefore too must be understood to have been of divine ordering.” But in the original Sanskrit the past tense is not specified, and in translation I have gone out of my way to avoid the past tense, so that we can also read the 4th pāda, below the surface, as an exhortation to grasp, here and now, what action really is, on a good day, in the zone, abiding on what FM Alexander called “the plane of constructive conscious control,” when the gods seem to be on our side.

That action makes us balanced was absolutely the central teaching of my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima, and the teaching is demonstrably true. You don't have to be a Buddhist to affirm this truth. In Gudo's book, to affirm this truth was to be a follower of the Buddha, whatever you called yourself. My teacher knew full well what today's verse is all about, at least in principle.

Thus Gudo taught us, his students, action makes us balanced. The moment we go into action, we are already in balance, like somebody getting going on a bicycle. 

Against this kind of background, I find episodes of the Dog Whisperer on youtube to be compelling viewing. Cesar Millan says that he trains people and rehabilitates dogs. In rehabilitating dogs Cesar applies the universal principle that action makes us balanced. What it means in practice is, if you want your dog to be balanced, take it for a walk.

But here is the thing. Even people who have watched episodes of the Dog Whisperer and read Cesar's books, so that they know very well the truth that the way to make a dog balanced is to take it for a walk, don't actually know how to take a dog for a walk. For a start they need to be taught, in Cesar's words, “to master the walk.”

A parallel can be drawn between these dog owners in training and we Zen practitioners who are totally committed to Dogen's teachings, now that we have read it translated into English, and yet who in our everyday life repeatedly find the way out closed and ourselves surrounded in the all-encompassing darkness of ignorance.

The reason I came back to England at the end of 1994 with a view to training as a teacher of the FM Alexander Technique was that I knew damn well that under Gudo I was like a dog whose owner had never understood how to walk a dog – much less establish a balanced pack.

Gudo's genius was in the area of clarity of intellectual thinking. In the practical area, and particularly in the matter of how to sit well, he was literally worse than useless. 

I sense that Cesar Millan might have had a field day with my teacher: “You might be a Zen master, but you don't know how to walk a dog.”

Would my teacher mind me describing him like this? He once warned me not to spit upwards. But, unless I am deluding myself, I don't feel like I am spitting upwards. I feel more like I am endeavouring (1) to tell the truth; (2) to see and to paint all things as part of one big picture; and (3) to clarify in Aśvaghoṣa's writing the very truth that my teacher endeavored to clarify in Dogen's writing. The truth in question, again, is that action makes us balanced, and it is the gist of today's verse as I read it.

yadā (correlative of tadā in b or tataḥ in d): when , at what time , whenever (generally followed by the correlatives tadā , tataḥ)
yataḥ [EHJ] (correlative of tataḥ in d): ind. from which or what , whence , whereof , wherefrom ; wherefore , for which reason ; since
bahiḥ: ind. out , forth , outwards , outside (a house , village , city , kingdom &c ) with √ gam , or yā , to go out
gacchati = loc. sg. m. pres. part. gam: to go , move , go away , set out , come
pārthivātmajaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the prince
pārthivātmaje [EHJ] (loc. sg. m.): the prince ; the self-begotten of a lord of the earth
pārthiva: mfn. earthen , earthy , earthly , being in or relating to or coming from the earth , terrestrial ; fit for kings or princes , royal , princely ; m. an inhabitant of the earth ; m. a lord of the earth , king , prince , warrior ; m. an earthen vessel
ātmaja: m. born from or begotten by one's self " , a son

tadā: ind. at that time , then , in that case
abhavat = 3rd pers. sg. imperf. bhū: to be, become
dvāram (nom. sg.): n. door , gate , passage , entrance ; a way , means , medium
apāvtam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. open , laid open ; unrestrained , self willed
svayam: ind. self , one's self (applicable to all persons e.g. myself , thyself , himself &c ) , of or by one's self spontaneously , voluntarily , of one's own accord

tamaḥ (nom. sg.): n. darkness , gloom ; mental darkness , ignorance , illusion , error
ca: and
naiśam (nom. sg. n.): relating to night , happening at night , nightly , nocturnal ; walking or studying at night
raviṇā (inst. sg.): m. the sun or sun-god
iva: like, as if
pāṭitam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. split , torn , broken , divided
paṭ: to split , open , burst asunder ; causative: to split , burst (trans.) , cleave , tear , pierce , break , pluck out , remove

tataḥ: ind. from that, hence, consequently
api: also
daivaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. belonging to or coming from the gods , divine , celestial ; depending on fate , fatal
vidhih (nom. sg.): m. a rule , formula , injunction , ordinance , statute , precept , law , direction ; method , manner or way of acting , mode of life , conduct , behaviour ; any act or action , performance , accomplishment , contrivance , work , business
eṣa (nom. sg. m.): this, this here
gṛhyatām = 3rd pers. sg. passive imperative grah: to grasp

城門自然開 虚空自然明

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