Thursday, January 9, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 8.82: No Substitute for Experience?

⏑⏑⏑⏑⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−¦¦⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−−   Puṣpitāgrā
śruta-vinaya-guṇānvitas-tatas-taṁ mati-sacivaḥ pravayāḥ puro-hitaś-ca |
sama-dhtam-idam-ūcatur-yathāvan-na ca paritapta-mukhau na cāpy-aśokau || 8.82

Then he was addressed by a counsellor,
a knowing friend possessed of learning, discipline and virtue,

And by the family priest, a man advanced in years;

The two spoke fittingly these equally-weighted words,

Neither showing agonized faces nor being nonchalant.

"Non-doing is, above all, an attitude of mind. It's a wish. It's a decision to leave everything alone and see what goes on, see what happens. Your breathing and your circulation and your postural mechanisms are all working and taking over. The organism is functioning in its automatic way, and you are doing nothing. If you're going to succeed in doing nothing, you must exercise control over your thinking processes. You must really wish to do nothing. If you're thinking anxious, worried thoughts, if you're thinking exciting thoughts that are irrelevant to the situation at hand, you stir up responses in your body that are not consistent with doing nothing. It's not a matter of just not moving--that can lead to fixing or freezing--it's a matter of really leaving yourself alone and letting everything just happen and take over. This is what we're aiming at in an Alexander lesson, and if we're wise, and we understand, it's also what we aim at in our own practice of non-doing. It is something that requires practice. Like most other things in life, it isn't something that you can achieve by simply wishing to do so, by just thinking, 'Well, I will now leave myself alone and not do anything.' Unfortunately, it doesn't work out like that. The whole process requires a lot of practice, and a lot of observation. Out of this process a tremendous lot of experience is to be gained..."
-- Walter Carrington, Thinking Aloud.

Just as the horseman Chandaka and the horse Kanthaka seemed to represent two aspects – thinking mind and instinctive body – of a balanced whole, so do the two servants of the king introduced in today's verse seem to represent two sides of the one real wisdom.

That being so, the first two pādas of today's verse, when I first I read them, seemed to contain a dry recognition along the lines of what Walter Carrington suggests at the end of the above quote, that “there is no substitute for experience.” 

My first intuition was that Aśvaghoṣa, if he had to choose between asking for their advice (a) a quick-witted young person who, through several years of learning, discipline and virtue, had acquired his or her B.S (Bull Shit), M. Sc. (More of the Same crap), and Ph. D.  (Piled higher and Deeper); and (b) an old person who, without studying anything, had seen it all before, Aśvaghoṣa might turn first to the oldie.

The phrase sama-dhṛtam in the 3rd pāda, however (though the sama- is only EHJ's conjecture, since the text of the old Nepalese manuscript is uncertain), is suggestive of two things weighed against each other in a balance.

EBC (whose text has ava-dhṛtam idam) thus translated “spoke to him as was befitting in these well-weighed words.” EHJ (sama-dhṛtam idam) has “addressed him as was proper in a well-balanced manner.And PO has “said to him truthfully in measured words.”

I like all these translations and see nothing ironic in Aśvaghoṣa's original wording of the 3rd and 4th pādas – he is unreservedly praising the words of the two friends of the king.

But what I think Aśvaghoṣa also is doing, below the surface, is posing the question of how much weight to assign to the two aspects of wisdom.

I suppose that as the sceptical principles of science have supplanted the beliefs and superstitions of religion in the minds of many of us, our tendency has been to assign less weight to experience and more weight to new knowledge.

Assigning too much weight to experience, evidently, can be a mistake. Old people – even eminent scientists and Zen masters – tend to become less open-minded in their old age, less able to absorb new information and less able to abandon old views accordingly. On the other hand, when it comes to the passing on of a practical tradition, or the one-to-one transmission of a practical teaching that bears somebody's name, like the FM Alexander Technique, or like the Buddha-dharma (or should that be the buddha-Dharma?), then, truly, there may be no substitute for experience. 

Masters in less intellectual fields of endeavour tend to be ones who have served long apprenticeships. But having served a long apprenticeship under a person of wrong views does not make a person useful to man or beast. 

So I think the gist of today's verse is to point us in the direction of a middle way between extremes, and this gist is confirmed by the familiar “neither this nor that” phrasing of the 4th pāda.

It might be instructive at some point to make a list of all the “neither this nor that” phrases in Aśvaghoṣa's poetry – maybe in connection with Nāgārjuna's more overtly philosophical writing. Does anybody feel a Ph. D. thesis coming on?

We will have plenty of opportunity to investigate the validity, or otherwise, of seeing the counsellor and the old priest as a metaphor for (a) knowledge or quick-witted intelligence, and (b) wisdom born slowly out of age, since the two men feature prominently in Canto 9, in which they convey to the prince the king's wish that he should come back and inherit his kingdom.

Nonchalant, incidentally, might be a felicitous translation in today's verse of a-śokau, since, etymologically, the -chalant of nonchalant (cognate with the French chaleur) derives from the Latin calēre, to be warm, and śoka also originally means heat.

śruta-vinaya-guṇānvitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): endowed with learning, discipline and virtue
śruta: n. anything heard , that which has been heard (esp. from the beginning) , knowledge as heard by holy men and transmitted from generation to generation , oral tradition or revelation , sacred knowledge; n. learning or teaching , instruction
vinaya: m. leading , guidance , training (esp. moral training) , education , discipline , control ; m. good breeding , propriety of conduct , decency , modesty , mildness
guṇa: m. good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
anvita: mfn. joined , attended , accompanied by , connected with , linked to ; having as an essential or inherent part , endowed with , possessed of , possessing
tataḥ: ind. then
tam (acc. sg. m.): him [the king]

mati-sacivaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a wise counsellor, Bcar.
mati: f. thought , design , intention , resolution , determination , inclination , wish , desire (with loc. dat. or inf.) RV. &c (matyā ind. wittingly , knowingly , purposely)
saciva: m. an associate , companion , friend ; esp. a king's friend or attendant , counsellor , minister
pravayāḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. strong , vigorous , in the prime of life; advanced in age , aged , old , ancient
puro-hitaḥ (nom. sg.): mfn. placed foremost or in front , charged , commissioned , appointed; m. one holding a charge or commission , an agent ; m. (esp.) a family priest , a domestic chaplain
ca: and

sama-dhṛtam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. made equal in weight ; equal or equivalent to
ava-dhṛtam [EBC] (acc. sg. n.): mfn. ascertained , determined , certain
idam (acc. sg. n.): this
ūcatur = 3rd pers. perf. dual vac: to speak
yathāvat: ind. duly , properly , rightly , suitably , exactly

na: not
ca: and
paritapta-mukhau (nom. dual m.): mfn. having the face overwhelmed with grief, Bcar.
paritapta: mfn. surrounded with heat , heated , burnt , tormented , afflicted
na: not
ca: and
api: also
a-śokau (nom. dual m.): mfn. not feeling sorrow
śoka: mfn. mfn. ( √ śuc) burning , hot ; flame , glow , heat ; m. sorrow , affliction , anguish , pain , trouble , grief
√ śuc: to shine , flame , gleam , glow , burn

王師多聞士 大臣智聰達
二人勸諫王 不緩亦不切

1 comment:

Mike Cross said...

Cf. BC1.51:

He entered the intimate surroundings of the women's quarters of the palace,

Bristling with a rush of joy at the prince's birth,

But steady, seeing the harem as if it were a forest,

Through his exceptional practice of austerities – and thanks also to old age.