yadi tu n-vara kārya eva yatnas-tvaritam-udāhara yāvad-atra yāvaḥ |
bahu-vidham-iha yuddham-astu tāvat-tava tanayasya vidheś-ca tasya tasya || 8.85
But if, O best of men, an effort is emphatically to be made,
Quickly say the word, and we two will go to it at once.
Let the battle take place, right here right now, on many fronts,
Between a son of yours and the various rules
[or the various prescriptions of fate].”
[or the various prescriptions of fate].”
Today's verse as I read it goes to the heart of the one great matter which is sitting-meditation.
The danger inherent in the mahāyana truth of all living beings being without the buddha-nature is that when, in our ignorance and stupidity, we misunderstand it, it becomes an excuse for being lazy and neglecting practice.
In part to guard against that I have for the past 30 years or so tethered myself to the stake of setting aside time, whenever possible, to sit in lotus four times every day – which roughly means first thing in the morning, later in the morning, in the afternoon (generally, these days, following an afternoon nap), and before going to bed at night. While thus spending no less than two to three hours every day more or less devoted to sitting, I am still perfectly capable of failing to make what is called in the 1st pāda of today's verse kārya eva yatnaḥ, “the effort that is emphatically to be made.”
The effort, is to some extent an effort of doing. Compared with staying in bed all morning, to get up and sit is an effort of doing. But the effort, as suggested by yesterday's verse, cannot ultimately be an effort of doing – because it is impossible for anybody, even for a moment, to make themselves happy. The effort emphatically to be made is primarily an effort of non-doing – because happiness, while it is everybody's natural birth-right, is a birth-right that we tend not to inherit until we make a conscious effort to stop what Marjory Barlow called “those wrong inner patterns.” “Those wrong inner patterns,” Marjory truly said, “are the doing that has to be stopped.”
What kind of effort is this effort NOT TO DO? The 2nd pāda of today's verse, as I read it, (yāvaḥ being the 1st person dual of the verb yā, to go) suggests a dual effort of understanding and allowing/accepting – understanding being a virtue associated with listening/learning and training/discipline; and allowing/accepting being a virtue associated with aging/experience.
In the battle whose essence, then, is NOT TO DO, what is a son of the king of dharma mainly up against?
The two wise men identify the opposition forces as vidheś-ca tasya tasya, which
EBC translates as “his fate, whatever it may be”;
EHJ as “the various prescriptions of scripture”;
and PO as “the diverse rules of scripture”:
- Let the battle be waged in every way with thy son and his fate whatever it be. (EBC)
- Just let there be struggle of many kinds on this point between your son and the various prescriptions of scripture. (EHJ)
- Let a battle then be waged here on many fronts between your son and the diverse rules of scripture. (PO)
EHJ notes that I give vidhi the sense of 'scriptural injunction' in view of the arguments employed in the next canto, especially verse 65-67.
EHJ's reading is supported by the fact that the two wise men do indeed use the word vidhi again in BC9.66 and BC9.67.
An argument could be made that the ostensible meaning is as per EHJ and PO's translations, but the hidden meaning has to do with a bodhisattva's attitude towards a śravaka's precepts, wherein prescriptive idealism is to be negated.
On balance, however, I think that (particularly in light of yesterday's verse which touched on predetermination) EBC was barking up the right tree by taking vidhi to mean fate or destiny.
Read like this, the logical progression underlying the present series of verses is exactly parallel to Dogen's thinking in his instructions for sitting-zen for everybody (Fukan-zazengi), whereby he begins by stating, in so many words,
(1) the truth of all living beings being without the buddha-nature, in light of which truth, who needs to make a big effort?
Then comes the anti-thesis:
(2) If we stop at understanding this principle intellectually and think on that basis that we have arrived at perfection, we are further away from perfection than we have ever been – heaven and earth are very far apart.
Therefore comes the practical synthesis:
(3) Śakyamuni practised upright sitting for six years ; Bodhidharma sat facing the wall for nine years – if the ancient sages were like that, how could people today fail to make effort?
The point, in summary, is that even though in principle each one of us is hard-wired for happiness, even though, without doing anything, each is plentifully endowed with the buddha-nature; in practice a battle remains to be fought and won against not only idealistic prescriptions and religious precepts but against the force of bad karma accumulated from times without beginning by greed, anger, and delusion. Hence:
Because of the instinct-led accumulation, from time without beginning, of the powerful mass of afflictions, / And because true practice is so difficult to do, the faults cannot be cut off all at once. // SN16.71 //
And hence again:
Just as a fruit may have flesh that is bitter to the taste and yet is sweet when eaten ripe, / So heroic effort, through the struggle it involves, is bitter and yet, in accomplishment of the aim, its mature fruit is sweet. // SN16.93 //Directed energy is paramount: for, in doing what needs to be done, it is the foundation; without directed energy there is no accomplishment at all; / All success in this world arises from directed energy -- and in the absence of directed energy wrongdoing is rampant. // 16.94 // No gaining of what is yet to be gained, and certain loss of what has been gained, / Along with low self-esteem, wretchedness, the scorn of superiors, Darkness, lack of spirit, and the breakdown of learning, restraint and contentment: / For men without directed energy a great fall awaits. // 16.95 // When a capable person hears the guiding principle but realises no growth, When he knows the most excellent method but realises no upward repose, / When he leaves home but in freedom realises no peace: The cause is the laziness in him and not an enemy. // 16.96 // A man obtains water if he digs the ground with unflagging exertion, And produces fire from fire-sticks by continuous twirling. / But those are sure to reap the fruit of their effort whose energies are harnessed to practice, For rivers that flow swiftly and constantly cut through even a mountain. // 16.97 // After ploughing and protecting the soil with great pains, a farmer gains a bounteous crop of corn; After striving to plumb the ocean's waters, a diver revels in a bounty of coral and pearls; / After seeing off with arrows the endeavour of rival kings, a king enjoys royal dominion. So direct your energy in pursuit of peace, for in directed energy, undoubtedly, lies all growth." // SN16.98 //
Finally, stimulated by the phrase “a battle here and now on many fronts” (bahu-vidham-iha-yuddham), I reflected as I sat just now on FM Alexander's drawing up of four battle lines, each requiring a joint effort of understanding and allowing, viz:
- 1. To let the neck be free,
- 2. To let the head go forward and up,
- 3. To let the back lengthen and widen,
- 4. While allowing the legs to release out of the back.
To win this battle might be simply to keep going, day by day, in a direction that is not dictated by fate. To win this battle might be, in other words, in a phrase borrowed from FM Alexander, to exercise, even if only for one moment, "man's supreme inheritance.”
nṛ-vara (voc. sg.): O best of men!
kāryaḥ (nom. sg. m.): to be done, to be made
yatnaḥ (nom. sg.): m. (also pl.) effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care , endeavour
tvaritam: ind. quickly , swiftly
tvar: to hurry , make haste , move with speed
udāhara = 2nd pers. sg. imp. ud-ā- √ hṛ: to set up , put up ; to relate , declare , announce ; to call, name
yāvat: ind. as soon as , the moment that
atra: ind. in this matter ; in this place , here at this time , there , then.
yāvaḥ = 1st pers. dual yā: to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey
bahu-vidham: ind. diversely , in several directions , up and down
iha: ind. in this place , here; in this case ; at this time
yuddham (nom. sg.): n. battle , fight , war
yudh: to fight , wage war , oppose or (rarely) overcome in battle
astu = 3rd pers. sg. imperative as: to be, to take place , happen
tāvat: ind. at once , now , just , first
tava (gen. sg.): your
tanayasya (gen. sg.): m. son
vidheḥ (gen. sg.): m. a rule , formula , injunction , ordinance , statute , precept , law , direction (esp. for the performance of a rite as given in the brāhmaṇa portion of the veda ); method , manner or way of acting , mode of life , conduct , behaviour ; fate , destiny
tasya tasya (gen.): this and that , various , different