Monday, December 16, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.58: An Act of Pure Gold (Dug from Below the Surface)

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
śucau śayitvā śayane hiraṇ-maye prabodhyamāno niśi tūrya-nisvanaiḥ |
kathaṁ bata svapsyati so 'dya me vratī paṭaikadeśāntarite mahī-tale || 8.58

How will he who, having slept on a pure golden bed
[after lying down in a pure golden act of lying down],

Is awakened in the night by sounds of musical instruments
[Is caused to expand in the night by sounds in the fourth state]:

How now will my vow-keeper drop off,

On the surface of the earth, with a single piece of cloth in between?"

The stated aim of this blog is to dig out the meaning of kāñcanam-āsanam, golden sitting. Along the way such excavation may also involve a bit of spadework directed at golden standing, golden walking, and golden lying down.

In the 1st pāda of today's verse as I read it, śayane hiraṇ-maye (which ostensibly means “on a golden bed”) is an allusion to the latter golden act – a golden act of lying down. Śucau (pure) can be read as a pointer to this hidden meaning. Because what in reality is pure gold? In practice, even with all the technological prowess modern industrialized societies possess, the purest 24-Carat gold one can buy is gold of 99.99% purity. But an act of lying down, in my book, can at least in principle be truly pure. The same, in very rare instances, may be true of an act of sitting.

In an impure act of sitting, the thought comes into the head of a human being with faulty sensory appreciation “sit down,” and the human being in question reacts immediately, as unconsciously as if he or she were a robot, and the habitual manner of bending the knees and flexing the hips comes into play. For most people that habitual manner of sitting is such that when the knees bend and the hips flex the knees and the hips are drawn towards each other as muscles (hip and knee flexors) contract more than they need to. A pure act of sitting might be one in which this habitual doing was prevented.

Now how does one prevent one's habitual doing? Not by doing something; that's for damn sure.

It turns out that one way to prevent one's habitual doing is thinking – for example, thinking before and during the bending of one's knees “knees forwards and away.” This is part of what FM Alexander meant by thinking, that is, thinking but not what people generally mean by thinking – in Zen parlance “non-thinking.”

A lot can be learned about thinking like this and sitting like this in the context of lying down, and thus being caused to wake up, and, equally, being caused to expand.

EHJ noted that In b niśi is curious, as it is at dawn that kings are woken by drums and the songs of bards.

Given that tūrya, which ostensibly means “musical instruments” but which also can mean “the fourth,” is it possible that Aśvaghoṣa, below the surface, was describing his own experience of sitting in the fourth stage of sitting-meditation, listening to sounds like hooting of owls and streams flowing through the night?

Following this stream of hidden meaning, the 3rd pāda, in which ostensibly Gautamī with a rhetorical question is expressing her concern, becomes an open question not so much about dropping off to sleep as about dropping off body and mind....

How does a vratin – one devoted to rules, vows, obedience or practice (vrata) – drop off body and mind? Perhaps, by being prepared, if necessary, to break every rule in the book? I don't know, but a Chinese Zen master in ancient times once famously said that No rule is our rule. Again, the Alexander teacher Marjory Barlow used to tell new students in lesson one, in the context of learning how to practise a golden act of lying down: Now I want you to be thoroughly disobedient.

Finally, then, in the 4th pāda, the reference to a single sheet of cloth brings ostensible and hidden meanings together. The single sheet of cloth in question is known in Japanese as za-gu (坐具; lit. “sitting gear”), i.e. a prostration cloth.

In the end is a prostration cloth a tool that is useful for a practitioner whose efforts are directed at dropping off in golden acts of walking, standing, and lying down, and ultimately in the golden act of golden sitting?

Not on its own it isn't. A prostration cloth on its own is as useless as a round black cushion. Even an act of prostration on its own, if practised in an end-gaining manner, is only the practising of one's old bad habits. What is also needed, to make an act of standing or bowing or lying down or sitting into a true act of pure gold, at least in my book, is a decision not to follow habit, before and in combination with preventive thinking along the lines of “knees forwards and away.”

Never in a million years could I have written the above comment if I had never come across the teaching of FM Alexander. At the same time, I would never have thought to translate today's verse as I have translated it, taking śayane to mean not only a bed but a golden act of lying down, without having been taught by my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima. Gudo truly venerated action. He worshipped, adored, and sang the praises of action. He loved action like a man loves a woman (as long as she belongs to him).

In this blog I am in a way endeavouring to clarify and carry on my teacher's teaching, centred as it was on action. At the same time, I never seem to tire of criticizing my teacher's teaching, because, from where I sit, in the end that teaching wasn't quite 100% pure gold.

Gudo used to say “Zazen is the standard for our action.”

On reflection, the 1st pāda of today's verse seems to me to hint invitingly at a gold standard in which gold is truly pure. 

It is good to have something to aim for. And yet perfectionism, in Gudo's four-phased philosophical system, invariably belongs to the first phase and requires opposition from a materialistic anti-thesis. 

In practice, Gudo demonstrated in his life the virtue of not worrying overly much about purity and impurity. Perfectionism might be a tendency that a real keeper of the vow of practice, on the surface of the earth, with only a sheet of cloth in between, in the end is called upon snoringly to drop off.

śucau (loc. sg. n.): mfn. shining , glowing , gleaming , radiant , bright ; brilliantly white , white ; clear , clean , pure (lit. and fig.)
śayitvā = abs. śī: to lie , lie down , recline , rest , repose ; to lie down to sleep , fall asleep , sleep
śayane (loc. sg.): n. the act of lying down or sleeping , rest , repose , sleep ; n. a bed, sleeping-place
hiraṇ-maya (loc. sg. n.): mfn. golden , gold-coloured
hiraṇya n. (prob. connected with hari , harit , hiri) gold (orig. " uncoined gold or other precious metal " ; in later language " coined gold " -or " money ")

prabodhyamānaḥ = nom. sg. m. caus. passive pres. part. pra- √ budh: to wake up , awaken (trans.) ; to cause to expand or bloom ; to stimulate (by gentle friction) ; to make sensible , cause to know , inform , admonish , persuade , convince
niśi (loc. sg.): in the night
tūrya-nisvanaiḥ (inst. pl.): by the sounds of musical instruments
tūrya: n. a musical instrument; mfn = turya
turya: mfn. 4th ; forming a 4th part ; n. the 4th state of soul (» °rīya)
turīya: n. the 4th state of spirit (pure impersonal Spirit or brahma) ; mfn. being in that state of soul
sa-tūrya: mfn. accompanied by music
tūrya-maya: mfn. musical
tūryāṁśa: m. a 4th part
nisvana: m. sound , noise , voice

katham: ind. how?
bata: ind. an interjection expressing astonishment or regret , generally = ah! oh! alas!
svapsyati = 3rd pers. sg. future svap: to sleep , fall asleep
saḥ (nom. sg. m.): he
adya: ind. today, now
me (gen. sg.): my [EHJ note: I take me in c as merely expletive.]
vratī (nom. sg. m.): mfn. observing a vow , engaged in a religious observance &c ; m. an ascetic , devotee ; m. a religious student
vrata: n. will , command , law , ordinance , rule ; obedience , service ; sphere of action , function , mode or , manner of life (e.g. śuci-vr° , " pure manner of life " ), conduct , manner , usage , custom ; a religious vow or practice , any pious observance , meritorious act of devotion or austerity , solemn vow , rule , holy practice (as fasting , continence &c ; vratáṁ- √car , " to observe a vow " , esp. " to practise chastity ")

paṭaikadeśāntarite (loc. sg.): with one piece of cloth in between
paṭa: m. woven cloth , cloth , a blanket , garment , veil , screen ; a painted piece of cloth , a picture ; monastic habit
eka-deśa: m. one spot or place , one passage , a certain spot or passage , some place ; a part , portion or division of the whole
antarita: mfn. gone within , interior , hidden , concealed , screened , shielded ; separated, excluded ; impeded
mahī-tale (loc. sg.): n. the surface of the earth , ground , soil

清淨寶床臥 奏樂以覺惛
豈能山樹間 草土以籍身

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