Saturday, December 7, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.49: My Own Doing vs Awakened Action

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
tad-evam-āvāṁ nara-devi doṣato na tat-prayātaṁ prati-gantum-arhasi |
na kāma-kāro mama nāsya vājinaḥ ktānuyātraḥ sa hi daivatair-gataḥ || 8.49

Therefore, O royal goddess!,

Do not blame the two of us for his departure. 

It was neither my nor this horse's own doing; 

For he went with the gods in his train.”

Thus concludes a seven-verse monologue which begins and ends with Chandaka asking not to be blamed, and in which Chandaka refers in every verse in some way to the gods.

The ostensible gist of Chandaka's argument has been that nobody – neither thinking man nor instinctive beast – was to blame for the prince's departure, since it was a function of divine intervention; it was the doing of the gods. 

The sting in the tail of today's verse, as I read it, is Chandaka's subverting of this ostensible gist, by describing the gods as following, or being subordinate to, the bodhisattva's action of going.

In the previous three verses, Chandaka has described the action here and now (vidhir eṣa) as “of the gods” (daivaḥ), but in today's verse he (sa) the buddha-to-be has gone (gataḥ) with the gods (daivataiḥ) having been made (kṛta-) into his retinue of followers (anuyātra).

The effect, amplified by the verse's ending with the action word gataḥ (gone, going, moving), is to focus our attention on the primacy of action. In the first place action is being described as different from my own doing, and the difference has to do with whether I am wilfully doing something, or whether action is happening in the zone of the gods. But in the final analysis, the suggestion is that above and ahead of even the gods, in the universal pecking order, is the action expressed as sa gataḥ – him going.

Whether this particular take on the ending of today's verse is accepted or not, today's verse and the series of veres which precede it are undeniably designed to invite us to reflect on the difference between my own doing, for which I might be open to blame, and divine action which
  • is effortless (vigata-śramaḥ; BC8.44),
  • is beyond verbal expression, or done with the mouth shut (saṁyatānanaḥ; BC8.45),
  • tends spontaneously to do itself (svayam; BC8.46)
  • is natural, not stilted by self-conscious concentration (apramattaḥ; BC8.47),
  • is realized just in the moment of the present (samaye: BC8.48), and
  • is not of my own doing (na kāma-kāraḥ: BC8.49).
Action like this, as I mentioned yesterday, was right at the centre of the teaching of my Zen teacher in Japan, Gudo Nishijima. He said he revered action, and he did indeed revere action.  
My teacher revered action as an objective reality which is different from thinking. The Japanese word Gudo used to describe the relation between thinking and reality, or between thinking and action, is kiri-hanarete-iru, “being cut off from each other.”

As I also mentioned yesterday, FM Alexander and George Soros are two men of action who have not seen thinking and action as necessarily cut off from each other. On the contrary, FM Alexander and George Soros have convincingly demonstrated how vital a role thinking can play in individual human action and in the action on financial markets. 

And yet, I am sure that if Gudo, FM and George had sat around a table together, they would have found themselves largely in agreement.

The work of FM Alexander is nothing if not practical. That being so, in Alexander work, for one thing, it is recognized that what Alexander meant by thinking, for example, “let the head go forward and up,” is something totally different from thinking about the head going forward and up. Thinking in Alexander work belongs, ironically, in that realm which Gudo considered to be cut off from thinking. Hence a phrase that Alexander liked (coined by the philosopher John Dewey) was “thinking in activity.”

My Zen teacher's reverence of action above any kind of thinking also finds its echo in George Soros' attitude towards “objective reality” or “harsh reality,” and in Soros's critique of the kind of post-modernist “narratives” which people are prone to believe in but which, in the face of harsh realities like death, are prone to prove pathetically powerless.

Again, if this translation of Aśvaghoṣa's poetry had been placed on the table around which Gudo, FM and George were sitting, I am sure that all three men of action would have approved of the irony which Aśvaghoṣa constantly uses to remind us that whereas our intellects readily jump to the conclusion that he is saying one thing, an effort of digging invariably shows us that in reality he is saying something different from, or something totally opposite to, what we first thought.

But this is where I barge into the room and start sowing seeds of dissension, if not banging the table.

Gudo thought and Gudo taught that when the Zen patriarchs described the essential art of sitting-meditation as 非思量 (Jap: HI-SHIRYO), their point was that the secret was to leave thoughts and feelings be and to come back to action itself, that action being the action of sitting, which is different (, HI-) from thinking (思量, SHIRYO). Here, Gudo thought and Gudo taught, we have the fundamental principle of just sitting (祗管打坐, SHIKAN-TAZA). Just to sit is different from thinking.

I say Gudo misunderstood the Zen patriarchs' use of the negation , which we should study in the phrase 非仏 (HI-BUTSU). 非仏 (HI-BUTSU) means “a non-buddha.” And a non-buddha means a real buddha, a buddha who in Aśvaghoṣa's terms is anya, odd, individual, other, different from what people think and expect. Just as 非仏 (HI-BUTSU) means “a non-buddha,” 非思量 (HI-SHIRYO) means “non-thinking.”

When FM Alexander described his work as “an exercise in finding out what thinking is,” he was talking about non-thinking – i.e. thinking, but not what people understand by thinking.

And when George Soros describes situations in which human thinking and realities like the supply and demand of gold, or housing, influence each other via reflexive feedback loops, he also, as I hear him, is falsifying what my teacher taught about thinking and reality being cut off from each other.

FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow was a person surpassed by nobody in her pure, simple, irreligious reverence for the reality of an action not of my own doing. The particular action I have in mind was me moving my leg with a minimum amount of disturbance in the relationship between my head, neck and back. And the key to me accomplishing this movement not in a way of my own doing but in a way that left the gods trailing in my wake, was learning how to think. It is not that Marjory revered thinking more than she revered action. She revered thinking as a means to true action. She revered thinking as the means-whereby human beings might raise ourselves from the murky lowlands of our own doing to the sunlit uplands of awakened action.

That is what Alexander work, as Marjory Barlow taught it, was all about. That is what today's verse, as I read it, is all about. And that is what this whole poem, below the surface, is all about – the clue being in the title buddha-carita (buddha = awakened; carita = action).

tad: ind. therefore
evam: ind. thus
āvām (acc. dual aham): the two of us
nara-devi (voc. sg.): f. 'man-goddess'; queen
doṣataḥ: ind. from a fault or defect

na: not
tat-prayātam (acc. sg.): his setting out; his going away
prati: ind. towards, with respect to
gantum = inf. gam: to go, set out; to go to or towards , approach (with acc.); to go against with hostile intentions , attack ; mánasā- √gam , to go with the mind , observe , perceive ; (without mánasā) to observe , understand , guess ; doṣeṇa or doṣato- √gam , to approach with an accusation , ascribe guilt to a person (acc.)
arhasi (2nd pers. sg. arh): you should

na: not
kāma-kāraḥ (nom. sg.): m. the act of following one's own inclinations , spontaneous deed , voluntary action , acting of one's own free will , free will
mama (gen. sg.): of me
na: not
asya (gen. sg.): of this
vājinaḥ (gen. sg.): m. warrior, hero ; m. the steed of a war-chariot ; m. horse, stallion

kṛtānuyātraḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. accompanied by, Bcar
kṛta: mfn. done, made, effected
anuyātra: f(-ā)n. retinue , attendance ; that which is required for a journey
anu- √ yā: to go towards or after , follow ; to imitate, equal
anu-yātṛ: m. a follower , companion
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
hi: for
daivataiḥ (inst. pl.): n. a god , a deity (often coll. " the deities ")
gataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. gone, departed


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