śṇoti nūnaṁ sa na pūrva-pārthivān mahāsudarśa-prabhtīn pitā-mahān |
vanāni patnī-sahitān-upeyuṣas-tathā hi dharmaṁ mad-te cikīrṣati || 8.62
He surely has never heard of the earth-lords of ancient times,
Such as 'Very Beautiful to Behold' Mahā-su-darśa
and other ancestors,
and other ancestors,
Who went into the woods accompanied by their wives –
Since thus he wishes, without me, to perform dharma.
The directions “Let the head go forward and up, while letting the back lengthen and widen” are words and at the same time are directions. Those directions, in my book, are dharma as directions and directions as dharma. But they are nothing that anybody can do.
The above paragraph of commentary might not sound like much, but it is the fruit of thirty years of painful struggle. For that reason, as discussed yesterday, I am alert to Yaśodharā's description of her husband's desire to do dharma – as if dharma were some kind of thing to be performed, like a religious ceremony or like sitting in lotus as an ascetic practice.
Yesterday I considered dharma, comparing and contrasting what Yaśodharā might have meant by dharma with the use of the term dharma in SN Canto 18.
Today I will consider Yaśodharā's description of her husband's “wanting to do,” with reference to the earlier cantos of Buddha-carita in which Aśvaghoṣa describes, and the Buddha-to-be declares in his own words, what he wants.
Before beginning that investigation, a thought about the reference in today's verse to Mahā-su-darśa:
EBC notes that Mahāsudassana is the name of a king in Jātaka I, 95.
EHJ notes further that Mahāsudarśa is presumably the Mahāsudassana of the geneologies of the Dipavaṁsa and Mahāvaṁsa.
Why did Aśvaghoṣa alight upon this particular royal ancestor? Could a clue be in the name mahā-su-darśa, “Very Good Looking”? Is the cynical implication that an ancestor who looked like George Clooney would have been all the more likely to be followed into the ascetic forest by his dutiful, dharma-doing wife?
In any event, what strikes me as truly noteworthy in today's verse is the repetition of the formula in which dharma is the object of a desire to do or to perform. Yesterday the phrase was dharmaṁ kartum-icchati, “he wishes to do/perform dharma”; today the phrase is dharmaṁ cikīrṣati, which again means “he wishes to do/perform dharma.” Both phrases are desiderative forms of dharmaṁ kṛ, which the dictionary gives as “to do one's duty.”
In Yaśodharā's mind, her husband has been motivated by a desire to go into the woods and do something, i.e. to perform an ascetic dharma.
That being so, it may be instructive to review BC Cantos 3 & 4, and especially BC Canto 5, and recall what Aśvaghoṣa, and what the Buddha-to-be himself, said about his motivation and desire.
In the first place, as described at length in Canto 3 titled “Arising of Nervous Excitement,” the prince's fear reflexes were excited by manifestations of aging, sickness, and death. So, for example, Aśvaghoṣa describes him thus:
And so he whose mind had been cleansed by good intentions, before the fact, he who had heaped up piles of good karma, through long kalpas, by his acts, / When he heard about growing old, recoiled mightily, like a bull hearing the crash of a nearby thunderbolt.//BC3.34//
In Canto 4 the Buddha-to-be expresses this nervous agitation in his own words:
“I, in contrast, am fearful – I am exceedingly agitated, as I contemplate the terror of aging, death, and disease; / I know neither peace nor constancy, much less enjoyment, seeing the world blazing as if it were on fire. //BC4.98//
Out of this state of nervous agitation arises a desire for tranquillity, like a desire to get out of a burning house. As described in BC Canto 5, it is not a desire to do or perform dharma – although the buddha-to-be does speak of
- “my knowing this most excellent dharma [i.e. sitting-meditation]” (paramaṁ dharmam-imaṁ vijānato me; BC5.13).
- turning to dharma (patitasyāpadi dharma-saṁśraye; BC5.76).
- this my act of getting out, being yoked to dharma (dharma-yuktaṁ mama niryāṇam; BC5.78)
Nowhere in BC Canto 5, however, does either Aśvaghoṣa or the Buddha-to-be himself express the kind of desire to do or to perform dharma that Yaśodharā ascribes to her husband. The desire is rather a desire
- for tranquillity,
- for solitude,
- for the benefit of others,
- for an end to aging and dying,
- for the happiness of complete extinction,
- for a wandering life of freedom,
- for escape from a burning house,
- for ultimate riches,
- for escape,
- for the nectar of immortality,
- for the deathless step.
So plenty of desire is expressed in BC Canto 5, but none of it is desire to do or to perform dharma. Thus:
Then one day, attended by sons of ministers, whose diverse chatter would make them suitable companions, / Since, in his desire for tranquillity, he wanted to visit the forest, with the king's permission he set off out. //5.2//
And desiring to be alone with his thoughts, he fended away those amicable hangers on / And drew close to the root of a solitary rose-apple tree whose abundant plumage fluttered agreeably all around. //5.8//
For if I here, being like that myself, should disavow another in the same condition, / That would not be worthy of me, or conduce to my knowing this most excellent dharma.” //5.13 //
Desiring to put an end to aging and dying, he had – while remaining mindful – directed his thinking towards living in the forest, / And yet he reluctantly re-entered the city, like a mighty elephant from the jungle entering a ring. //5.23 //
Then, he of battle-cry like roaring thunder-cloud, listened to this cry of woe, and experienced a calmness most profound; / For as he heard the words “perfectly contented,” he set his mind on the matter of pari-nirvāṇa – the happiness of complete extinction. //5.25 //
Bowing down with hollowed hands joined, he said: “Grant me, O god among men, proper assent! / I desire to go wandering, for the sake of liberation, since, for a man such as I am, the invariable rule is separation.” //5.28//
Then he who had the moment of Meru addressed his momentous relative: “Whether or not this turns out to be a way, I ought not to be held back; / For when a house is being consumed by fire, it is not right to stop a man who seeks a way out. //5.37 //
But even those ultimate instruments, on a par with heavenly harps, gave him no pleasure nor any joy. / His desire, as a sincere man going straight for his goal, was to get out, in pursuit of the happiness of ultimate riches; and therefore he was not in the mood for play. //5.46//
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 [the way to freedom from existence was seen to be wide open.] //5.66 //
He woke that ready runner of the fleet of foot, the stableman Chandaka, and addressed him as follows: / “Bring me in haste the horse Kanthaka! I wish today to flee from here, in order to obtain the nectar of immortality. //5.68 //
"Often indeed has a lord of the earth expelled enemies while riding in battle on you! / So that I too might realise the deathless step, O best of horses, act! //5.75//
Readily indeed are companions found when the battle is joined, or in the happiness at the gaining of the end, when the booty is acquired; / But companions are hard for a man to find when he is getting into trouble – or when he is turning to dharma. //5.76//
Fully appreciate, then, this act of mine, yoked to dharma, of getting out, proceeding from here, for the welfare of the world; / And exert yourself, O best of horses, with quick and bold steps, for your own good and the good of the world.” //5.78 //[Aśvaghoṣa]
Having thus exhorted the best of horses, as if exhorting a friend to his duty, and desiring to ride into the forest, / The best of men with his handsome form, bright as fire, climbed aboard the white horse, Like the sun aboard an autumn cloud, up above. //5.79//
Then he with the lengthened eyes of a lotus – one born of mud, not of water – surveyed the city and roared a lion's roar: / “Until I have seen the far shore of birth and death, I shall never again enter the city named after Kapila.” //BC5.84//
The above might seem like a lot of sand-counting, or nit-picking, but the difference between the will to do and the desire to be free is a big one and a profound one. Just how big and just how profound the difference is might be a secret known only to those who have struggled with it.
If we take as a starting point Dogen's assertion that the Buddha-dharma is to sit, and to sit is the Buddha-dharma, the nub of the matter is how to sit. After more than thirty years investigating the nub of the matter, studying the words of ancient Zen patriarchs and sitting in lotus four times a day, I do not know how to sit any more than I know how to breathe. But I have picked up along the way – largely thanks to the teaching of FM Alexander – some clues about how NOT to sit.
Thirty years ago my mind was much more oriented towards learning what to do. Nowadays I am more focused on knowing what NOT to do, in the practical context of not doing it. On that basis, I see the expression in yesterday's verse about wishing to do dharma as a kind of red flag. And just in case we missed that red flag yesterday, here the same expression is again, in almost the same form, in today's verse too.
śṛṇoti = 3rd pers. sg. śru: to hear, listen ; to hear (from a teacher) , study , learn
nūnam: ind. (esp. in later lang.) certainly , assuredly , indeed (also in questions e.g. kadā n° , when indeed?
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
pūrva-pārthivān (acc. pl. m.):
pūrva: mfn. former , prior , preceding , previous; ancient, old ; m. an ancestor , forefather (pl. the ancients , ancestors)
pārthiva: m. an inhabitant of the earth ; m. a lord of the earth , king , prince , warrior
mahāsudarśa-prabhṛtīn: Mahā-sudarśa and other [kings]
mahā-sudarśa: m. N. of a king Bcar.
su-darśa: mfn. easily seen , conspicuous ; beautiful to see , lovely
prabhṛti: beginning , commencement (ifc. = " commencing with " or " et caetera " )
pitā-mahān (acc. pl.): m. a paternal grandfather ; pl. the Pitris or ancestors
vanāni (acc. pl.): n. the woods
patnī-sahitān (acc. pl. m.): accompanied by their wives
patnī: a female possessor , mistress ; a wife
sahita: mfn. accompanied or attended by
upeyuṣaḥ = acc. pl. m. past perfect participle upa- √i: to go or come or step near , approach , betake one's self to , arrive at , meet with , turn towards
tathā: ind. thus, in such a manner
tataḥ [Gawronski]: ind. thence, from that, consquently
sa [Gawronski]: he
hi [EHJ]: for
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. dharma
mad-ṛte: without me
ṛte: ind. under pain of , with the exclusion of , excepting , besides , without
cikīrṣati = 3rd pers. sg. desid. kṛ: to do, perform