Wednesday, December 25, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.67: Playing in the Lap of Ancestors

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
abhāginī yady-aham-āyatekṣaṇaṁ śuci-smitaṁ bhartur-udīkṣituṁ mukham |
na manda-bhāgyo 'rhati rāhulo 'py-ayaṁ kadā-cid-aṅke parivartituṁ pituḥ || 8.67

Even if I am not to be blessed with the good fortune

To behold the brightly smiling face, with its long eyes, of my husband;
[To look up to the brightly smiling face, with its long eyes, of a master;]

Does this poor unfortunate Rāhula deserve

Never to roll around in his father's lap?
[Never to be reborn in the lap of ancestors?]

Ostensibly Yaśodharā is resorting to another weapon in her emotional arsenal, citing her concern for the son Rāhula whom she bore to the husband who has left her. That being so, bhartur mukham in the 2nd pāda means “my husband's face” and aṅke pituḥ in the 4th pāda means “his father's lap.”

In the original Sanskrit, however, there is no possessive pronoun “my” or “his.” This leaves open a way to read today's verse, below the surface, as an invitation to reflect on the complex web of causes and effects whereby Rāhula did in fact come to be reborn in the lap of the ancestors, as a Zen practitioner in his own right. 

The evidence for this rebirth of Rāhula in the lap of the ancestors (and equally his playfull rolling around, or wandering, in the lap of the ancestors) is preserved in The Long Discourse Giving Advice to Rāhula, (Mahārāhulovādasuttaṁ; MN 62).

In this sutra the Buddha advises Rāhula on many different kinds of meditation. At the same time, everything is in the context of Rāhula sitting cross-legged by a tree and directing his whole self upward – an activity which, though it does not manifest much noticeable movement, at least not on the outside, might itself be described as playing in the lap of the ancestors.

The sutra (translated by Ānandajoti Bhikkhu) describes Rāhula thus:

Tato paṭinivattitvā aññatarasmiṁ rukkhamūle nisīdi.
Therefore having turned back he sat down at the root of a certain tree.
Pallaṅkaṁ ābhujitvā, ujuṁ kāyaṁ paṇidhāya,
After folding his legs crosswise, and setting his body straight,
parimukhaṁ satiṁ upaṭṭhapetvā.
he established mindfulness at the front.

And one way of reading this is that setting the body straight, or directing the body upwards, is a preliminary step before establishing mindfulness – taking the absolutive paṇidhāya as an expression of one action followed in time by another independent action, like going to the post office and then to the baker's. 

Another way of reading this is that directing the body upwards is part of the process of establishing mindfulness (a process in which establishing mindfulness might, conversely have a role to play in directing the body upwards). The absolutive paṇidhāya in the latter reading expresses a prior action upon which the subsequent action depends, like going to the post office and buying a stamp, or like going to the baker's and buying a loaf.

From where I sit, a lot of investigation is being done in Buddhist and scientific circles about what mindfulness meditation is and how to practice it. Less attention tends to be paid to the matter of setting the body straight, or directing the body upwards, or directing the whole self upwards – as if we all already knew what that might  mean. 

If true mindfulness and truly directing oneself upwards form a virtuous circle, then, I admit, it does not matter from which side one joins in. 

But if the circuit has somehow got blocked so that the virtuous circle is not working, then the problem might be in a practitioner's lack of true mindfulness, and, equally, the problem might be in a practitioner's taking it for granted that he knows what it means to set the body straight or to direct the body upwards. 

It is against the latter kind of misconception that the teaching of FM Alexander is an antidote of inestimable value. Alexander saw with unrivalled clarity that in civilized societies almost every person's circuit tends easily to get blocked by what he called "faulty sensory appreciation," centered on faulty working of the vestibular system. 

This much, at least, I have gleaned from my 54 years. The vestibular system is much more fundamental, and much less reliable, than we tend to assume. 

abhāginī (nom. sg. f.): mfn. having no share
bhāgin: mfn. entitled to or receiving or possessing a share , partaking of , blessed with , concerned in , responsible for (loc. , gen. or comp.)
bhāginī: f. a co-heiress
yadi: if
aham: I
āyatekṣaṇam (acc. sg. n.): with its lengthened eyes
āyata: mfn. lengthened ; extended , long
īkṣaṇa: n. a look , view , aspect sight ; eye

śuci-smitam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. smiling brightly
bhartur (gen. sg.): m. a preserver , protector , maintainer , chief , lord , master ; a husband
udīkṣitum = inf. ud- √ īkṣ : to look up to ; to look at , regard , view , behold ; to wait , delay , hesitate ; to expect
mukham (acc. sg.): n. face

na: not
manda-bhāgyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. unfortunate , ill-fated , unhappy
manda: mfn. slow, idle, lazy ; unhappy , miserable ; ill
bhāgya: mfn. (fr. bhāga) entitled to a share ; lucky, fortunate
arhati = 3rd pers. sg. arh: to deserve to
rāhulaḥ (nom. sg.): m. Rāhula; n. of a son of gautama buddha
api: even
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this

kadā-cit: ind. at some time or other , sometimes , once (na = never)
aṅke (loc. sg.): m. a hook , curve ; the curve in the human , especially the female , figure above the hip (where infants sitting , astride are carried by mothers hence often = " breast " or " lap ")
parivartitum = inf. pari- √ vṛt: to turn round , revolve , move in a circle or to and fro , roll or wheel or wander about , circumambulate (acc.) ; to be reborn in (loc.)
pituḥ (gen. sg.): a father; m. pl. (°taras) the fathers , forefathers , ancestors , (esp.) the pitṛs or deceased ancestors ; m. a father and his brothers , father and uncles , paternal ancestors

羅睺羅何故 不蒙於膝下

1 comment:

Rich said...

Buddhists don't have much of a sporting tradition. Maybe using there bodies for that would be healthier.