Saturday, February 1, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.17: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Sālā)
tad-bhuṅkṣva tāvad-vasudhādhipatyaṁ kāle vanaṁ yāsyasi śāstra-dṣṭe |
an-iṣṭa-bandhau kuru māpy-upekṣāṁ sarveṣu bhūteṣu dayā hi dharmaḥ || 9.17

So enjoy for the present sovereignty over the earth.

You will return to the forest at the right moment,
as per the śāstras, or temporal sciences.

Never show disregard for your less fortunate kin.

For dharma is compassion directed towards all beings.

For the 3rd pāda, the Old Nepalese manuscript has:
an-iṣṭa-bandho kuru mapy apye(?pyā?)kṣāṁ

EHJ amended this to:
an-iṣṭa-bandhau kuru mayy-apekṣāṁ
“Have regard for me, your unlucky father;” (EHJ)

EBC's text has:
an-iṣṭa-bandhau kuru māpy-upekṣāṁ.
“do not show disregard for thy unhappy kindred,” (EBC)

I have adopted EBC's reading, based on understanding today's verse according to what my late teacher, the bane of my life, used to call “the four phases” or “three philosophies and one reality.”

On the surface, King Śuddhodana is continuing his emotional appeal, asking that the prince show compassion specifically to him and his fellow Śākyas back in Kapilavastu. In that case, the compassion that the King asks to be shown might be compassion which has yet to become, as discussed yesterday, dry.

But when we read today's verse on the basis of a progression through four phases,
  • the 1st pāda might express the subjective feeling of a Zen master who, in his unfettered sitting, is spontaneously rising up from the earth as king of everything he surveys;
  • the 2nd pāda, being antithetical to the 1st pāda in its objective or scientific aspect, might express the principle of coming back to nature, or coming back to the state of zero, or coming back to balance of the autonomic nervous system, as a natural process in time;
  • the 3rd pāda contains a practical injunction NOT TO DO (hence I prefer EBC's reading);
  • and the 4th pāda can be read as bringing the discussion right back again to the action of just sitting, whose object is no object in particular, i.e. nothing specific.

The importance of the principle expressed in the 3rd pāda, as I and EBC have read it, is indicated by the prominent position Aśvaghoṣa gives to the expression of that principle at the end of the last verse but two in his epic tale of Beautiful Happiness (Saundara-nanda):

When the occasion arose he entered the town for begging and attracted the citizens' gaze;
Being impartial towards gain, loss, comfort, discomfort, and the like and with his senses composed, he was free of longing; /
And being there, in the moment, he talked of liberation to people so inclined --
Never putting down others on a wrong path or raising himself up. // 18.62 //

The 4th pāda seems to pose a question about compassion. Do you have compassion or not? Am I a compassionate person, or am I not? If I ask myself the question like that, it is a stimulus for anxious soul searching.

Am I a compassionate person? No, am I fuck.

I am a bloke who sits four times a day – even during a week like this past one when I have been puking and coughing and groaning in the grip of a heavy cold. On that basis, I read the 4th pāda as not so much posing a question about compassion as posing a challenge about direction.

Read like this, then, today's verse, below the surface, is the teaching in four phases of a king of dharma, as truly and accurately transmitted by an old priest.

Thinking in four phases can, with practice, help us solve non-linear problems – or, in the worst-case scenario, can help us to accept the insolubility of a problem, except maybe by the passage of time. Hence the title of this post.

When I was at primary school I was precocious at solving certain kinds of problems that required a certain kind of linear reasoning which came easily to me. But real problems in life, you don't need me to tell you, tend not to be amenable to solution by linear reasoning – or via Buddhist dialectic, either, if it comes to that.

My studies at Sheffield University centred on the concept of Organizational Effectiveness, which became for me a kind of Zen koan, especially if I conceived of my karate-mad self as a kind of organization. There were essentially two approaches to OE, a goals approach, and a systems approach. So was effectiveness best defined in terms of  goals? Or in terms of systems? Was success to be judged in terms of identification and achievement of stated goals? Or in terms of harmonious long-term interaction with the environment?

I thought about this problem all the time. My brain was like a computer asked to solve a problem that it had not been programmed to solve, constantly whirring. Then when I came to Japan and met Gudo Nishijima and his dialectic system of “four philosophies” or “three philosophies and one reality,” I was sure I had found the answer. But in that conviction also, I turned out to be wrong.

To real problems in life there is no right answer. I, in my innocence, was sort of deceived by my education. 

Thus blunderingly we arrive, again and again, at the conclusion that there is no such thing as being right, but there is such a thing as a right direction. Fortunately for us, that direction is inherent in Aśvaghoṣa's writing. 

tad: ind. then, therefore
bhuṅkṣva = 2nd pers. sg. imperative bhuj: to enjoy , use , possess , (esp.) enjoy a meal , eat , eat and drink
tāvad: ind. so long, meanwhile, now
vasudhādhipatyam (acc. sg.): n. kingdom , royalty
vasudhā: f. 'producing wealth'; the earth
adhipati: m. a ruler , commander , regent , king; (in med.) a particular part of the head (where a wound proves instantly fatal)

kāle (loc. sg.): m. time, the proper time
vanam (acc. sg.): n. forest
yāsyasi = 2nd pers. sg. future yā: to go , proceed , move , walk , set out , march , advance , travel , journey ; to go away , withdraw , retire ; to go towards or against , go or come to , enter , approach , arrive at , reach ; with prakṛtim , to return to one's natural state
śāstra-dṛṣṭe (loc. sg. m.): mfn. " seen in the śāstra " , mentioned or prescribed in the śāstra , according to precept or rule , scientific
śāstra: n. an order , command , precept , rule; teaching , instruction , direction , advice , good counsel ; any instrument of teaching , any manual or compendium of rules , any bock or treatise , (esp.) any religious or scientific treatise ; a body of teaching (in general) , scripture , science
dṛṣṭa: mfn. seen , looked at , beheld , perceived , noticed ; visible , apparent ; appeared , manifested , occurring , existing , found , real ; experienced , learnt , known , understood ; seen in the mind , devised , imagined ; settled , decided , fixed , acknowledged , valid

an-iṣṭa-bandhau (loc. sg. m.): towards your unhappy kindred ; towards [me] who is wrong only in name
an-iṣṭa: mfn. unwished , undesirable , disadvantageous , unfavourable; bad , wrong , evil , ominous
bandhu: m. connection , relation , association (ifc. = belonging to , coming under the head of i.e. " being only in name "); a kinsman (esp. on the mother's side) , relative , kindred
kuru = 2nd pers. sg. imperative kṛ: to do, make
mayi (loc. sg.): me
apekṣām (acc. sg.): f. looking round or about , consideration of , reference , regard to (in comp. ; rarely loc.)
māpy-upekṣām [EBC]: “do not show disregard for”
mā: ind. a particle of prohibition or negation
api: and, also (emphatic)
upekṣām (acc. sg.): f. overlooking , disregard , negligence , indifference , contempt , abandonment

sarveṣu (loc. pl. n.): mfn. all
bhūteṣu (loc. pl.): n. that which is or exists , any living being (divine , human , animal , and even vegetable)
dayā (nom. sg.): f. sympathy , compassion , pity for (loc)
hi: for
dharmaḥ (nom. sg.): m. dharma

且還食土邑 時至更遊仙
不顧於親戚 父母亦棄捐
此豈名慈悲 覆護一切耶

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