Wednesday, February 12, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.27: Saving the Other by Being Present

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
haṁsena haṁsīm-iva viprayuktāṁ tyaktāṁ gajeneva vane kareṇum |
ārtāṁ sa-nāthām-api nātha-hīnāṁ trātuṁ vadhūm-arhasi darśanena || 9.27

Her who is like a goose separated from the gander;

Her who is like a cow elephant deserted in the forest by the bull;

Your unhappy young wife, 
who is widowed though her husband lives –

You should rescue her, by your presence.

Again, as yesterday, ostensibly a veteran priest is imploring the prince to return at once to Kapilavastu and thereby to put an end to the suffering of one who is unhappy without him.

And again, as yesterday, below the surface the voice of experience is encouraging the bodhisattva, on the contrary, not to return home without having first realized buddhahood  – or a state of really being present  – as a means in itself of rescuing others from suffering.

In the former reading, what is sought is a direct, short-term solution. The path suggested by the latter reading is an indirect path, followed for the long haul.

The difference between these two approaches is represented in Shobogenzo by the metaphor of trying to make a mirror as opposed to being content to polish a tile. 

Lest this sounds too philosophical and abstract, I would like to clarify how the principle is amenable to being practised in the context of an everyday action like, say, turning one's head to check the time by looking at a clock.

In the first instance, a desire to know the time presents itself to our consciousness. Our body-mind has evolved to react at once to the stimulus of this desire, and so in the normal course of events the untrained mind gives consent at once to the performance of the act, and we turn our heads just as unconsciously as if we were automatons. To go around like this is to live with a certain spontaneity – like the spontaneity of an excitable dog – but is not to be fully present.

In this situation, the Buddhist thesis is usually called “mindfulness,” through the practice of which all spontaneity tends to be smothered and all actions are carried out with deliberate carefulness. This broadly corresponds to trying to make a mirror.

The non-Buddhist antithesis is to negate the whole idea of being right, and to negate the whole idea of gaining any end. For this purpose on this blog, as in the language with which I speak to myself, I sometimes use strikingly irreligious language. E.g. "Fuck that for a game of cards!" In the example of turning the head to look at a clock, the only way to free one's body-mind from the habitual reaction which is stimulated by a desire to turn the head, is to give up all idea of turning the head – to make a decision NOT to do anything. The same analysis, once understood, can readily be applied to more ambitious aims, like sitting upright, or realizing arhathood. 

The synthesis, to return to the practical example of turning one's head to look at a clock, is, having given the state of buddha at least the chance to assert itself
– in other words, having brought about a gap between stimulus and response by saying “No,” and having allowed that gap to be filled by a lengthening and widening direction –
then to make a decision either
(a) to go ahead and look at the clock;
(b) to continue simply occupying the space vacated by saying No;
(c) to go ahead and do something else, like take a sip of water from a nearby glass.

What I have sketched above is the outline of a method for really being present. On the surface, today's verse doesn't seem to have much to do with sitting-meditation, but below the surface I think Aśvaghoṣa was always pointing towards that condition of really being present which a buddha realizes primarily through sitting-meditation.

Hence trātum...arhasi darśanena, “You should rescue... by your presence.”

The FM Alexander Technique, as taught to me in particular by Marjory Barlow, is a truly excellent method of inhibiting the end-gaining mind and learning really to be present.

At the same time, the physical act of sitting with the legs fully crossed in the lotus posture is a very advantageous position for just being present.

Having been learning the former for the past 20 years (I hear the words of a veteran teacher asking in my inner ear: “Is that all?”); and having been practising the latter for 30-odd years, I have had moments of being present – of sitting on the earth and totally owning the whole of it – that I don't think I would have had without learning and practising either. So this is my testimony, and this is the basis on which I understand the hidden meaning that Aśvaghoṣa buried in today's verse.

Zen masters who were present in ancient China spoke of drilling holes through rock with their sitting bones – that is the end, they said, that they wanted to gain. What chance did Kāma-deva, God of Love, aka Māra, have against those guys? 

haṁsena (inst. sg.): m. a goose , gander , swan , flamingo (or other aquatic bird , considered as a bird of passage ; sometimes a mere poetical or mythical bird
haṁsīm (acc. sg.); f. a female goose
iva: like
viprayuktām (acc. sg. f.): mfn. separated

tyaktām (acc. sg. f.): left, abandoned, deserted
gajena (inst. sg.): m. elephant
iva: like
vane (loc. sg.): n. forest
kareṇum (acc. sg.): f. a female elephant

ārtām (acc. sg. f.): mfn. fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained , disturbed ; unhappy
sa-nāthām (acc. sg. f.): mfn. having a master or protector ; having a lord or husband (ā f. " a woman whose husband is living ")
api: though
nātha-hīnām (acc. sg. f.): mfn. being without a master of protector, being widowed

trātum = infinitive trai: to protect , preserve , cherish , defend , rescue from (gen. or abl.)
vadhūm (acc. sg.): f. a young wife or woman
arhasi = 2nd pers. sg. arh: to ought
darśanena (inst. sg.): n. seeing , observing , looking , noticing , observation , perception ; n. audience , meeting ; n. the becoming visible or known , presence ; n. showing

汝今應速還 以救我生命
孤鳥離群哀 龍象獨遊苦

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