Saturday, December 28, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 8.70: Forgetting Constancy

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
itīha devī pati-śoka-mūrchitā ruroda dadhyau vilalāpa cāsakt |
svabhāva-dhīrāpi hi sā satī śucā dhtiṁ na sasmāra cakāra no hriyam || 8.70

Thus did a goddess here in this world,
being insensible with grief for her husband,
[being insensible with the sorrow of a master]

Repeatedly weep, reflect, and lament.

For, steadfast as she was by nature,
she in her pain

Was not mindful of constancy and made no show of modesty.

In the 1st pāda of today's verse pati-śoka is given in the dictionary as “grief for a husband” but literally it could also means “the sorrow of a master” – whatever that might be.

In the 3rd pāda, again, satī śucā is ambiguous. Satī could mean 1. being [steadfast by nature] (loc. sg. f. pres. part. as), or 2. a good wife (nom. sg. f.). Śucā could mean 1. with grief, i.e. in her sorrow/distress/pain (inst. sg. śuc), or 2. pure (nom. sg. f. śuca).

Thus EBC translated: 
self-possessed as she was [satī] by nature, yet in her distress [sucā] she remembered not her fortitude and felt no shame. (EBC)

EHJ evidently omitted to translate śucā; hence:
For, though steadfast by nature, she forgot the rules of decorum and felt no shame. (EHJ)

PO took satī not to be the present participle from as but rather to be the noun satī  “a good wife/woman,” and śucā to be the adjectival “pure”; hence:

though by nature steadfast, that good and pure woman [satī śucā] paid no heed to fortitude and she felt no shame. (PO)

PO's reading has the merit of avoiding the perhaps inelegant repetition of “in her grief/sorrow/pain/distress,” but the disadvantage of inferring that Aśvaghoṣa unambiguously affirmed Yaśodharā's purity.

If Aśvaghoṣa did intend śucā to mean “in her grief/sorrow/pain/distress,” as per the reading of EBC and me, the Sanskrit is not in fact so inelegantly repetitious since the original words śoka and śuca are different words from the same root.

But did Aśvaghoṣa intend in passing to refer to Yaśodharā's goodness and purity? My guess is that he might have done, but in a deliberately ambiguous manner.

Aśvaghoṣa's idea, I am guessing, might have been that there is a criterion for purity of human action, but that criterion is a million miles from traditional conceptions, in ancient India and elsewhere, of what makes a woman “a good and pure woman/wife.”

Apropos of that, I read the 3rd and 4th pādas of today's verse as pointer to what real and true purity is – and a reminder of what pure action is not.

Pure action is an expression of a person's original nature. That is why Aśvaghoṣa describes Yaśodharā as svabhāva-dhīrā, “spontaneously steadfast” or “steadfast by nature.” As the embodiment of what is divine down here on earth (iha devī), she didn't need to go around trying to be right, or trying to be a good woman, a true wife, being 'mindful' of the virtue of dhṛti (constancy, firmness), because that virtue of constancy or resoluteness was already inherent in her – naturally, spontaneously, originally.

A person who is constant might thus meet the criterion, and, equally, a person who is mindful of breathing or of standing or of walking might meet the criterion. But a person who is mindful of Buddhist virtues like dhṛti (constancy) or indeed like smṛti (mindfulness) might – in just that moment of self-consciousness – be totally failing to meet the criterion. Similarly a person who is shy, modest or ashamed may or may not meet the practical criterion of purity. But a person who makes a self-conscious show of his or her shyness or modesty or shame might be totally failing to meet the criterion.

I know I sound like a scratched vinyl record that got stuck, but what I have just written above is no different from what I wrote yesterday on the subject of postural adjustments, or so-called “corrections,” made under the sway of the delusion that good posture is something that we human beings can achieve through direct intervention, through trying to be right.

What proper posture is I have no clue. If I know anything, I know a bit about how NOT to sit in sitting-meditation. This is not much to show for 54 years of struggling to understand what I was placed on this earth to understand. And yet just this bit of knowing seems to provide me with a good basis for understanding a verse like today's verse as I think Aśvaghoṣa intended it to be understood – as laden with no little irony.

Did the three professors who have already translated Buddhacarita, namely, EB Cowell, EH Johnston, and Patrick Olivelle, catch this irony? Did they hell. They missed the irony because of thinking that Aśvaghoṣa's writing belonged in the library next to religious texts like the Old Testament, and the New Testament and the Quran – texts containing the Word of God, to be read by believers who are striving to be Right.

But verily brethren I am here to say unto you: Fuck that for a game of cards. Trying to be right like that is precisely NOT how to sit. Trying to be right means suppressing one's original nature, one's natural spontaneity – the very opposite of the direction that Aśvaghoṣa, below the surface of today's verse, is encouraging us to go in.

The metaphor of a scratched vinyl record would not have meant anything to the ancient Zen patriarch Aśvaghoṣa, but I think he knew what it was to have been caused repeatedly to weep, to reflect, and to lament – in which triad the root of the middle element, to reflect, is the dhyai of dhyāna.

Trying to be right, in all sorts of ways, causes the breathing not to be as free as it otherwise might be. This – and not Buddhist virtues – is, in my book, the first thing to be mindful of in sitting-dhyāna.

My parting shot is this: Zen in Japan, and Zen as it has been transmitted from Japan to France, America, and elsewhere, is totally corrupted by what FM Alexander called "trying to be right" and by what my teacher Gudo Nishijima called "idealism." And, though it has been a cause for much weeping and lamenting on my part, I have no hesitation in telling the truth on this blog that the teaching of my teacher, when push came to shove, was more part of the problem than it was part of the solution. 

The teaching of Marjory Barlow and FM Alexander, in contrast, is in my book very much part of the solution. But there again Marjory did say, "We are all going around trying to be right; and I include myself in that." 

Ah yes, Marjory. But you were one of the ones who was not blind to it in yourself. 

Gudo, if I am honest, seemed to have a talent in his own everyday life for not worrying about good and bad. His lifetime of sitting-zen practice and dealing with difficult problems as a pillar of society during Japan's post-war economic miracle, had equipped him well for disregarding rights and wrongs and getting on with doing the necessary. He was a maker of omelettes who didn't worry about how many eggs had to be cracked in the process. But when it came to correcting people's posture -- especially earlier on, when I was one of his earlier victims -- his teaching was so stupid, so direct, so bad, that I don't have the words, not even the swear words, to describe it. 

iti: thus
iha: ind. here, now, in this case
devī (nom. sg.): f. the goddess, queen
pati-śoka-mūrchitā (nom. sg. f.): insensible through grief for her husband ; insensible with a master's sorrow
pati: a master , owner , possessor , lord , ruler , sovereign ; a husband
śoka: pain , sorrow , grief or regret
pati-śoka = pati-śuc: f. grief for a husband
mūrchita: mfn. fainted , stupefied , insensible

ruroda = 3rd pers. sg. perf. rud: to weep , cry , howl , roar , lament , wail
dadhyau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. dhyai: to think of , imagine , contemplate , meditate on , call to mind , recollect ; (alone) to be thoughtful or meditative
vilalāpa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. vi- √ lap: to utter moaning sounds , wail , lament , bewail ; to speak variously , talk , chatter
ca: and
a-sakṛt: ind. not (only) once , often , repeatedly
sa-kṛt: mfn. (fr. sa + kṛt) acting at once or simultaneously ; ind. at once ; once

svabhāva-dhīrā (nom. sg. f.): steady by nature
svabhāva: ibc. from natural disposition , by nature , naturally , by one's self , spontaneously
dhīra: mfn. steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave; well-conducted, well-bred
api: though
hi: for
sā (nom. sg. f.): she
satī [EBC] = nom. sg. f. pres. part. as: to be
satī [PO] (nom. sg. ): f. her ladyship , your ladyship ; a good and virtuous or faithful wife (esp. applied in later use to the faithful wife [popularly called Suttee] who burns herself with her husband's corpse
śucā [EBC] = inst. sg. śuc: f. flame , glow , heat ; f. (also pl.) pain , sorrow , grief or regret
śucā [PO] = nom. sg. f. śuca = śuci , pure RV. x , 26 , 6

dhṛtim (acc. sg.): f. holding , seizing , keeping , supporting , firmness , constancy , resolution , will , command
na: not
sasmāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. smṛ: to remember, be mindful of
cakāra = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kṛ: to do, make
no: ind. in later language = na , " not " , for which it is generally used to suit the verse
hriyam (acc. sg.): f. shame , modesty , shyness , timidity

言已心迷亂 或哭或狂言
或瞪視沈思 哽咽不自勝


Rich said...

Wasn't correcting your posture just part of his technique. Giving you something to do while sitting all that time. Until non doing became the natural thing to do. ???

Mike Cross said...

The very phrase "correcting your posture" expresses a view that we are required to abandon.

That is Zen 101.

Hasn't anybody understood a single fucking word I have written on this blog?

My point is that there is no such fucking thing as a correct posture. The 13 years I spent in Japan trying to sit in the correct posture were 13 years of effort based on a delusion.

What I am saying, to put it another way, is that all those Zen teachers in Japan and France and America who take it on themselves to "correct their students' posture" are the utterly blind leading the utterly blind.

When it came to posture, Gudo did not have any technique, or any true principle to work to. He was totally fucking clueless. In all his teaching career, he bungled through on the basis of trial and error -- much as he did with his Shobogenzo translation, relying on me to clear up his mess.

Non-doing is never the natural thing to do.

Non-doing is the natural thing NOT to do.

Rich said...

Thanks for being clear on that and happy new year.

Mike Cross said...

The vital thing to understand is what NOT to do in sitting. That is where mindfulness of breathing comes in. It is in the NOT doing where consciousness, or knowing, resides. Trying to achieve "correct posture" by direct means is unconscious doing -- ironically, the very thing we wish to be free of.

There are three more days in 2013 in which to clarify this point.

FM Alexander said we could change the habits of a lifetime in 5 minutes -- if we learn to use our brain.

What Alexander meant by using our brain is not doing but thinking -- but not what people generally understand by thinking. Hence ancient Zen patriarchs in China called it "non-thinking."

The point is that no amount of unconscious doing begets non-doing. It is the decision NOT to do that we are required to cultivate... a recognition that I think relates to the Buddha's noble truth of nirodha, inhibition.

I think most visitors to this blog are Zen practitioners in the United States, and most of them will have been influenced to some degree or other by the "correcting your posture" misconception. If and when they see the root irony that, under this misconception, we diligently practice the very thing we are required to drop off, then and only then will they get the real gist of Aśvaghoṣa's irony.

It may take many years for that to a happen, but I hope it does happen, sooner or later.

Rich said...

" It is the decision NOT to do that we are required to cultivate... a recognition that I think relates to the Buddha's noble truth of nirodha, inhibition. "

Agreed. Will continue to practice this.