Thursday, January 2, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 8.75: Terms of Endearment

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
bahūni ktvā samare priyāṇi me mahat-tvayā kanthaka vipriyaṁ ktam |
guṇa-priyo yena vane sa me priyaḥ priyo 'pi sann-apriyavat praveritaḥ || 8.75

“After doing for me in battle many acts of love,

You, Kanthaka, have done one great act of non-love;

For the lover of merit whom I love,

Your beloved friend though he is,
you have cast – lovelessly – into the woods.

Today's verse as I read it is designed to cause us to reflect on the primacy, or otherwise, of love, or the transcendence thereof. 

A strong clue to that intention is provided by the appearance no less than six times, on its own and in compounds, of the term priya, which as an adjective means beloved or dear; as a masculine noun means a beloved person or a friend; and as a neuter noun means an act of love, a favour.

If causing us to reflect on the primacy of love was indeed Aśvaghoṣa's hidden agenda in composing today's verse, it may be in accordance with that agenda that the ostensible meaning of the 4th pāda of today's verse is as clear as mud... so that we are caused to stop and think about the various possibilities.

The two ambiguous elements are
1. priyo 'pi san, which could mean “despite [your] being a friend [to me or to him or to both of us]” or could mean “despite [him] being [my or your] beloved.”
2. apriyavat, which EBC translated as “like a worthless thing,” EHJ as “as if you did not love him,” and PO as “acting like a foe.” EHJ added in a footnote that apriyavat could also mean “as if he were not dear to me.” I think other possibilities are the adverbial "not being in possession of friends" or, in the same vein, the suitably ambiguous "lovelessly." 

Different readings of the 4th pāda result in widely varying translations, hence:

After having done many dear exploits for me in battle, one great deed of cruelty, O Kaṁthaka, hast thou done, — for by thee that dear son of mine, dear for his every virtue, has been tossed down in the wood, dear as he was (priyo' pi san), like a worthless thing (apriyavat). - EBC

Many, Kanthaka, are the services you have rendered me in battle; one great disservice you have done me in that though you do love him (priyo' pi san), you have thrown of in the jungle my loved one, who is so fond of virtue, as if you did not love him (apriyavat). - EHJ

After doing many favours for me in battle, you have done me, Kanthaka, a great disfavor; In that, acting like a foe (apriyavat), though you are a friend (priyo' pi san), you have cast off in the forest my love, the lover of virtue.” - PO

To cut through all the entanglement of all the endearment, I think we are called upon to go back to basics and consider where love or endearment, and transcendence thereof, fit into the wider scheme of things as a buddha sees it.

To that end, I would like to refer again to the work of Cesar Millan, American “Dog-Whisperer” (or, originally, in his own words, “Mexican guy who walks dogs”). Cesar is followed and reviled in equal measure in the country of dog-lovers where I live. Those who follow him are impressed by his real understanding of dog psychology; those who revile him see his methods of correcting dogs as cruel and barbaric. I am not one of the ones in the middle way. I am decidedly on Cesar's side. Which is to say, Cesar is not perfect and neither am I, but that direction wherein he is going, there also am I going.

In Mexico, Cesar reports, all the dogs he knew were skinny but balanced, whereas when he came to the US he was amazed to see so many dogs who were well-fed by their dog-loving owners but psychologically imbalanced. Hence Cesar's mantra, in his work of rehabilitating dogs and training people, of 
  • exercise
  • discipline 
  • affection

 – always in that order.

Reflecting further on the primacy or otherwise of love, or transcendence thereof, I think back to the early 1980s when I was one of Gudo Nishijima's so-called "four  Ejos" (Gudo's own phrase), his foreign disciples and putative successors, who listened attentively to Gudo's teaching on balance of the autonomic nervous system, the state of zero, in which neither love nor hate was in the ascendancy. It was all very well in theory, I couldn't help reflecting, but the other three Ejos were all happily married to Japanese wives, and Gudo himself, though he had given up sex, was still living with a loving wife and a loving daughter – whereas, in a lonely flat thousands of miles away from my nearest and dearest, I was feeling decidedly unloved.

The primary thing in human life, Gudo emphasized, was not love but was balance, and the key to balance, the gold standard for balancing the autonomic nervous system, was just to sit in quietness keeping the spine straight vertically.

Gudo's message was nearly true, and it made sense to me, for whom the primary thing at school had been not academic study but rugby, and the primary thing at university had been not academic study but karate. At least it made sense intellectually. But on some level something didn't add up. On some level things only began truly to add up when I started learning what FM Alexander meant by what he called “the primary control of the use of the self,” by which he meant how a person uses his head in relation to the spine and the rest of the organism.

What was lacking in Gudo's teaching was clear understanding of the problem that Alexander called “faulty sensory appreciation,” whereby the direction that a person feels to be up is actually down.

Clearly understanding this point, the primary thing in my life, starting with the first hour every morning, is to sit in full lotus, to think “head forward and up” and decide most definitely NOT TO DO the kind of physical adjustment that Gudo encouraged his students to do. The primary thing in sitting is NOT TO DO any variation, however subtle, on that theme.

The Buddha-Dharma, as discussed yesterday, is for or towards the abandonment of all views. It has that direction. It is aimed in that direction, towards the abandonment of all views. 

The view of the dog-lover who sees love between human and pet as primary is just a view to be abandoned. The view of the romantic who sees love between human man and human woman as primary is just a view to be abandoned. But above all, a bloke who sits is required to understand, the view of the Zen master who sees correct posture as primary, is just a view to be abandoned.

“I love all my students,” Gudo once told me in the context of a heated discussion, his bottom lip quivering. Maybe so. But that love did me, for one, fuck all good. It was the love of a hand in which there is no eye. Whereas in the hand of Marjory Barlow, for example, I experienced a true eye.

In Marjory's hand, yes, there was love. But the love was not the primary thing. The primary thing was a direction. To express that direction, Marjory used the words “let the head go forward and up,” but she might as well have expressed that direction as “towards the abandonment of all views” (sarva-dṛṣṭi-prahāṇāya).

There is no such thing as a right position, FM Alexander asserted, but there is such a thing as a right direction.  

A Zen master who does not understand this principle, in my book, is never a true master. I wouldn't claim to have fully understood the principle myself, yet. But that, decidedly, is the direction in which I wish to go, in the coming year and in every year. 

bahūni (acc. pl. n.): mfn. many
kṛtvā = abs. kṛ: to do
samare (loc. sg.): m. coming together , meeting , concourse , confluence; hostile encounter , conflict , struggle , war , battle
sam- √ṛ: to join together , bring to pass , bring about
priyāṇi (acc. pl.): n. love , kindness , favour , pleasure
me (gen. sg.): of/for me

mahat (nom. sg. n.): mfn. great
tvayā (inst. sg.): by you
kanthaka (voc. sg.): O Kanthaka!
vipriyam (nom. sg.): n. (also pl.) anything unpleasant or hateful , offence , transgression
kṛtam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. done

guṇa-priyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. fond of merit or excellence
yena (inst. sg.): by which
vane (loc. sg.): n. the forest
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
me (gen. sg.): my
priyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. beloved , dear to (gen. loc. dat. or comp.) , liked , favourite , wanted , own ; fond of attached or devoted to (loc.)

priyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. beloved , dear to (gen. loc. dat. or comp.) , liked , favourite , wanted , own ; fond of attached or devoted to (loc.)
api: even, though
san = nom. sg. m. pres. part. as: to be
apriyavat: like an enemy ; friendlessly
apriya: mfn. disagreeable , disliked ; m. a foe , an enemy
-vat: an affix added to words to imply likeness or resemblance , and generally translatable by " as " , " like " (e.g. brāhmaṇa-vat , like a Brahma)
priyavat: mfn. possessing friends
a-: (negative prefix)
-vat: (possessive suffix) possessing, containing
priyam: ind. agreeably , kindly , in a pleasant way
praveritaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. cast , hurled

我數乘汝戰 毎念汝有功
今者憎惡汝 倍於愛念時
所念功徳子 汝輒運令去
擲著山林中 猶自空來歸


Rich said...

This doesn't have much to do with your post but if I had video replay as in sports I could understand more of recent reality. But regardless the direction is more practice.

Mike Cross said...

I agree that the slower we go, the more there is to see -- that is one of the guiding principles of this blog; hence the snail's pace of one verse per day.

On direction and practice though, I think good coaches in many sports, and other areas of practice like music, caution against mindless repetition, and emphasize quality over quantity.

The thing to beware of is practce in the wrong direction. i.e. practising one's mistakes, or reinforcing one's bad habits.

Hence FM Alexander: "Trying is only emphasizing what you already know."

All this is very intimately related with "there is no such thing as a right position" or "there is no such thing as being right".... "but there is a right direction."

My teacher Gudo Nishijima also used to emphasize that going slowly in the right direction is much better than going quickly in the wrong direction.

The irony was that he spent his life diligently pointing people in the wrong direction!

For a lover of irony, there might be a certain beauty in it...

Rich said...

So maybe in the situation where my bad habits take over, slowing down and adjusting my direction is all that is needed.

Emphasizing what I already know is ironically not knowing anything which offers some freedom from all the crazy habits accumulated.

Mike Cross said...

Since an ounce of experience is worth a ton of words, here is something to try:

1. Write your normal signature on a piece of paper.

2. Try to replicate that signature on the same sheet of paper, only move the pen or pencil excrutiatingly slowly -- as slowly as you can without stopping.

3. Observe whether the two signatures look the same.

If they don't, despite your best efforts, that might be evidence that you didn't need to try to "adjust your direction" to perform a non-habitual action.

In other words, keeping to your decision to move very slowly already contained in it the power to inhibit your habitual response to the desire/stimulus "I want to write my signature."

Rich said...

O yea, thanks.