Thursday, December 5, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.47: Letting Action Be Grasped (Again)

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
yad-apramatto 'pi narendra-śāsanād-ghe pure caiva sahasraśo janaḥ |
tadā sa nābudhyata nidrayā htas-tato 'pi daivo vidhir-eṣa ghyatām || 8.47

In accordance with the instruction of the best of men,

People in their thousands, in house and town,
were leaving nothing unattended;

In that moment all were seized by repose
and not roused to wakefulness –

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

In the 1st pāda of today's verse, once again, narendra-śāsana (like the rāja-śāsana of BC8.44) ostensibly means the decree of King Śuddhodana. But below the surface narendra-śāsana means the teaching of the Buddha.

In another parallel with BC8.44 (where jānann api = “knowing full-well”), the api of the 1st pāda ostensibly means “though” (“observant though they were of the king's command” [EHJ]) but below the surface api is emphatic (leaving [absolutely] nothing unattended).

Ostensibly, then, the people in question, apramattaḥ janaḥ, are guards whose job it is to be observant, attentive, mindful, diligent, anything but careless (diligent guards had been placed by thousands” [EBC]). 

Below the surface, what are we to make of apramattaḥ janaḥ? On one level it might mean people who, in accordance with the Buddha's teaching, are observant, attentive, mindful, diligent, anything but careless and inattentive. On one level, in other words, apramattaḥ might describe all-knowing buddhas and mindful bodhisattvas. At a deeper level of irony, being mindful that a-pramattaḥ is a compound beginning with a negative prefix, we might take a-pramattaḥ as a more deeply ironic description of people who, in the area of nothingness or being without (a-) are negligent, intoxicated, heedless, and careless (pramatta). At a deeper level of irony, in other words, a-pramattaḥ might be read as describing non-buddhas who have forgotten all about themselves, their minds not being concentrated on anything. Going further, there may be deeper and deeper depths of apramattaḥ janaḥ that so far I have neither fathomed nor plumbed.

Ostensibly in the 3rd pāda tadā (then, at that moment) expresses a moment at which something changed – the guards were being vigilant, and then, tadā, at that particular moment, they fell asleep. But below the surface I read tadā as pointing to that moment, described in all three pādas, in which action takes place. This is the moment that Dogen frequently refers to as SHOTO-INMO-JI, “that very moment.” Being seized by sleep / slumber / quiesence / repose and not being roused to self-conscious "wakefulness," then, can be read as an ironic description of people who are a-pramattaḥ, leaving nothing unattended, as they carelessly drop off body and mind. Below the surface, in other words, leaving nothing unattended and having dropped off are two ironic descriptions of one moment in the same ineffable state of action.

It is a difficult point to grasp, and so I shall labour it.

On the surface, the api of the 1st pāda indicates an opposition between (a) a-pramattaḥ, being vigilant / observant / attentive / mindful, and (b) nidrayā hṛtaḥ, being seized by sleep. But below the surface there is no such opposition: (a) a-pramattaḥ, being truly mindful, or being careless in the matter of nothing, and (b) nidrayā hṛtaḥ, being carried away by slumber / repose, are ironic descriptions of the same ineffable state of action.

A final reflection on today's verse, born of lying in bed this frosty morning waiting to generate sufficient will to get up, is that here I am lying here lazily, reflecting on the train-wreck of my life, thinking about who I am and how and why I have continued to get everything wrong, while at the same time thinking how best to express and explain the forgetting of myself in the balanced state of action.

This was a little slice of irony before breakfast in a cosmos whose very substance seems to be irony. 

Who is to blame for all this bloody irony? One top candidate, from ancient times through to modern times, has been the gods. So the reference to the gods which is repeated in the 4th pāda of yesterday's, today's and tomorrow's verses,  can be read on one level as suggesting action in the zone, action in that bubble of conscious control wherein the gods seem to be with us. But on maybe a deeper level, when Aśvaghoṣa refers to the gods he might have had in mind that ironic sense of humour which Marjory Barlow detected lurking in the background to all our human folly.

The Alexander technique will work wherever it is applied. It is not magic, but does its job at the point of application. How deeply it is applied depends on the aims and wishes of the person concerned. If the aim is to get rid of a pain in the back it will do so effectively by bringing into consciousness the 'wrong doing' which is producing the pain. If the aim is greater awareness of habitual reactions in other departments of the self, it will work there too, and by the same process. We are all bound in the prison of habit. We have habits of thought -- unexamined fixed opinions and prejudices which determine our behaviour without our realising it.

We are also the victims of emotional reaction. These are very powerful driving forces.

A young pupil of my husband's, when she first realised the importance of these things, burst out, "Oh, I see, Dr. Barlow, this is a life-sentence."

Alexander's favourite way of describing his work was as "a means of controlling human reaction." Under this basic umbrella can be included every form of blind, unconscious reaction, and here we come to the whole question of Self-Knowledge.

The muscular bad habits of misuse harm only oneself -- unconscious habits of thought and emotion harm oneself and other people, because they determine our reactions to everyone else. It could be said that we use other people to practise our unconscious bad habits on.

The greatest misery and misunderstanding we experience is often in this field of personal relationships. Of course, these inner emotional states are mirrored in the way we use ourselves -- states of rage, anxiety, and fear -- to take only the most obvious examples -- are there for all the world to see by the unmistakeable bodily attitudes. This is also true of more subtle inner conditions such as depression, worry and hopelessness.

In some way the constant and deep reaction-patterns are more obvious to other people than to ourselves.

I sometimes think that there is a wry sense of humour lurking somewhere in the background of the Universe permitting this tragi-comic state of affairs, where certain characteristics of a person are known and clearly seen by everyone, except the person himself.

yad: = " so that " , " in order that " , " wherefore " , " whence " , " as " , " in as much as " , " since " , " because " [the correlative being tad , " therefore "] , " when " , " if "
yadā [EBC]: when
apramattaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. not careless , careful , attentive , vigilant ; [forgetful of nothing ; heedless in nothing]
pramatta: mfn. excited , wanton , lascivious , rutting ; drunken , intoxicated ; inattentive , careless , heedless , negligent , forgetful of (abl. or comp.)
pra- √mad: to enjoy one's self , be joyous , sport , play ; to be careless or negligent , to be indifferent to or heedless about (abl. or loc.)
api: and , also , moreover , besides , assuredly , surely
narendra-śāsanāt (abl. sg): by the king's instruction [see BC8.44]
śāsana: n. punishment , chastisement , correction ; n. government ; n. an order , command , edict , enactment , decree , direction

gṛhe (loc. sg.): m. a house , habitation , home ; m. the inhabitants of a house , family ; domestic or family life ; n. a name , appellation
pure (loc. sg.): n. a fortress , castle , city , town ; the female apartments , gynaeceum ; the body (cf. 3. pur, the body considered as the stronghold of the puruṣa )
ca: and
eva: emphatic
sahasraśaḥ: ind. by thousands
janaḥ (nom. sg.): m. people

tadā: ind. then, at that time
sa (nom. sg. m.): it [the group of people]
na: not
abudhyata = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect [or imperfect passive] budh: to wake , wake up , be awake ; [passive] to be awakened or restored to consciousness ;
nidrayā = inst. sg. f. sleep , slumber , sleepiness , sloth
hṛtaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. taken, carried away, seized ; ravished , charmed , fascinated

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

[same characters summarize next verse as well] 

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