Monday, March 31, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.74: Rhetorical Negation of Belief? Or Ironic Investigation of Reliance on Other People's Grounds?

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
na me kṣamaṁ saṁśaya-jaṁ hi darśanaṁ grahītum-avyakta-paras-parāhatam |
budhaḥ para-pratyayato hi ko vrajej-jano 'ndhakāre 'ndha ivāndha-deśikaḥ || 9.74

For it would ill befit me to accept a worldview born of doubt,

Unintelligible and beset with internal contradictions.

For what wise person would proceed
on the grounds of another person's grounds –

Like a blind man in the darkness, whose guide is blind?

I am not sure whether Aśvaghoṣa intended today's verse to be read with an ironic subtext, or not. In the end I decided that, whether Aśvaghoṣa intended one or not, there is an ironic subtext which I find too appealing to resist. 

When I sit in lotus in the morning, I am not doing something instinctive. I did not evolve to sit in lotus. Sitting with legs crossed in the full lotus posture is a contrivance of human consciousness. Neither is it something I contrived to do by myself. When I sit in lotus I am following in a yoga-tradition, as even the Buddha himself followed in a yoga-tradition, sitting on the grounds of another person's grounds.

At the same time it is up to me to make this practice into my own possession. That means not proceeding on the grounds of another person's belief, and not proceeding even on the grounds of my own belief. It means proceeding on the grounds of something more real than belief – something called in Sanskrit prajñā, really knowing.

At the end of my sitting just now, I dedicated any merit there was in the practice towards the buddhas in the ten directions and three times, on whose grounds I have just proceeded; and at the same time towards the mahā-prajñā-pāramitā, the knowing which totally transcends anybody's belief.

Thus today's verse means something to me if it is read not with any ironic subtext, but simply as a statement of the bodhisattva's determination to discover the truth for himself, and of his skeptical attitude towards Brahmanical beliefs:

For it would ill befit me to accept a doctrine born of doubt,

An undeveloped doctrine beset with internal contradictions.

For what wise person would proceed
on the grounds of another person's belief –

Like a blind man in the darkness, whose guide is blind.

At the same time, if we take para-pratyayataḥ √vraj, "proceeding on the grounds of another person's grounds," as an ironic expression of sitting-meditation, that opens up an ironic subtext that could be running through the whole verse:

For it would ill befit me to accept a worldview born of doubt,

Unintelligible and beset with internal contradictions.

For what wise person would proceed
on the grounds of another person's grounds –

Like a blind man in the darkness, whose guide is blind?

The verse hinges, then, on how we understand pratyaya-taḥ in the 3rd pāda. If we take the first definition of pratyaya given in the dictionary, belief, then para (the other) + pratyaya (belief) + taḥ (ablative suffix) is translated straightforwardly enough as “on the grounds of another person's belief.”

Grammatically, however, pratyaya is thought to be derived from prati-√i (prati = towards, aya = going). So English translations that best reflect this derivation might be “approach” or “motive.”

“Investigation of Pratyaya” (pratyaya-parīkṣā) is the title of the 1st canto of Nāgārjuna's Concise Statement, from Bang in the Middle, of the Fundamental (Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā). In the opening verses of that work, Nāgārjuna asserts that there are four pratyaya, and not a fifth.

Exactly what Nāgārjuna meant by pratyaya remains for me to investigate if and when I get to translating MMK. But nothing is more sure than that Nāgārjuna, the 14th Zen patriarch, was well familiar with the use by Aśvaghoṣa, the 12th Zen patriarch, of the term pratyaya. Nāgārjuna would have read the term pratyaya in today's verse and in the following verses from Saundara-nanda.

saṃkleśa-pakṣo dvividhaś-ca dṛṣṭas-tathā dvikalpo vyavadāna-pakṣaḥ /
There are understood to be two aspects to defilement;
correspondingly, there are two approaches to purification:
ātmāśrayo hetu-balādhikasya bāhyāśrayaḥ pratyaya-gauravasya // 5.16 //
In one with stronger motivation from within, there is self-reliance;
in one who assigns weight to conditions, there is outer-dependence.

ayatnato hetu-balādhikas-tu nirmucyate ghaṭṭita-mātra eva /
The one who is more strongly self-motivated loosens ties
without even trying, on receipt of the slightest stimulus;
yatnena tu pratyaya-neya-buddhir-vimokṣam-āpnoti parāśrayeṇa // 5.17 //
Whereas the one whose mind is led by circumstances struggles to find freedom,
because of his dependence on others.

nandaḥ sa ca pratyaya-neya-cetā yaṃ śiśriye tan-maya-tām avāpa /
And Nanda, whose mind was led by circumstances,
became absorbed into whomever he depended on;
yasmād-imaṃ tatra cakāra yatnaṃ taṃ sneha-paṅkān munir ujjihīrṣan // 5.18 //
The Sage, therefore, made this effort in his case,
wishing to lift him out of the mire of love.

mohātmikāyāṃ manasaḥ pravṛttau sevyas-tv-idam-pratyayatā-vihāraḥ /
When working of the mind is delusory, 
one should appreciate the causality therein;
mūḍhe manasy-eṣa hi śānti-mārgo vāyv-ātmake snigdha ivopacāraḥ // 16.64 //
For this is a path to peace when the mind is bewildered,
like treating a wind condition with oil.

sambhārataḥ pratyayataḥ svabhāvād-āsvādato doṣa-viśeṣataś-ca /
On the grounds of their being held together, 
their causalityand their inherent nature,
on the grounds of their flavour and their concrete imperfection,
athātmavān-niḥsaraṇātmataś-ca dharmeṣu cakre vidhivat parīkṣām // 17.15 //
And on the grounds of their tendency to spread out, 
he who was now contained in himself, 
carried out a methodical investigation into things.

In these verses from Saundara-nanda, the sense of conditionality or causality is to the fore. But in the present context in Buddha-carita, what the bodhisattva is negating –at least ostensibly, on the surface – is belief.

Hence EBC translated the 3rd pāda:
What wise man would go by another's belief?
And PO similarly:
For what wise man would follow another's belief...?

EHJ, however, was at pains to retain the sense established in Saundarananda (especially in SN Canto 5) of dependence on conditions.

Hence EHJ translated:
For what wise man would go forward in dependence on another...?

EHJ added in a footnote:
The prince's rejection of para-pratyaya has doctrinal significance. It is only the man of feeble faculties, in whom the roots of good are weak, who depends on others; those like the prince, in whom the force working for enlightenment is strong (note BC2.56 rūḍhamūle 'pi hetau), act of themselves, as clearly put at SN5.15-18.

I think EHJ may have been correct in intuiting that Aśvaghoṣa intended more by pratyaya than initially meets the eye. At the same time, in wanting to make the connection he wants to make to pratyaya as dependence on conditions, EHJ has translated the 3rd pāda in a way that seems somehow forced. The compound para-pratyaya-taḥ seems to be asking to be translated simply as:
  • by / on the grounds of (-taḥ)
  • another person's / somebody else's (para-)
  • pratyaya.

The central question that remains, then, is how to translate pratyaya, whose definitions in the MW dictionary include belief, assumption, ground, cause, co-operating cause.

Looking ahead to the coming couple of verses, so far I do not see those verses as likely candidates for concealing an ironic subtext. So perhaps I am barking up the wrong tree.

But, for example, might a worldview born of doubt – a way of seeing the world which is transcendent and full of paradoxes – be the essence of the transmission that Nāgārjuna received via Aśvaghoṣa?

Can we think that, after Aśvaghoṣa caused the bodhisattva to ask, “Who would proceed on the grounds of another person's grounds, like a blind man in the darkness whose guide is blind?”, Nāgārjuna, as it were, put his hand up and said “I will have a try.”

I ask these questions not knowing the answer to them, in which case there is nothing for it but to carry on, like a blind man groping in the dark → groping for the right direction.

A blind man cannot find his own way through the darkness by relying on his non-existent visual sense. Still less can he hope to go in the right direction by relying on the non-existent visual sense of somebody else who is blind. If he wishes to go in the right direction, the blind man needs to rely on something other than his visual sense... like his auditory sense, or his sense of touch, or his reason – or like the knowledge and experience of his blind guide.

If his blind guide is a buddha, the blind man might spend some time usefully investigating the other blind man's pratyaya. He might ask his blind guide, for example:

What do you mean by pratyaya? Your beliefs? Your motives? Conditions? The grounds for your action? 

Again, do you perhaps have a map – maybe written in braille – that we can use as grounds for going in the right direction?

Or are we ultimately better off just blindly sitting here in lotus, allowing ourselves to be directed by we know not what?

na: not
me (gen. sg.): of/for me
kṣamam (acc. sg. n.). fit , appropriate , becoming , suitable , proper for (gen.)
saṁśaya-jam (acc. sg. n.): born of doubt
saṁśaya: m. uncertainty , irresolution , hesitation , doubt
saṁga-śatam [EBC] (acc. sg. n.): “which involves a hundred prepossessions”
saṁga: m. “coming together”, conflict
śata: a hundred
hi: for
darśanam (acc. sg. n.): n. seeing , observing , looking , noticing , observation , perception ; n. inspection , examination ; n. apprehension , judgement ; discernment , understanding , intellect ; opinion ; view, doctrine , philosophical system ; n. the becoming visible or known , presence ; n. a vision , dream

grahītum = inf. grah: to grasp, take, accept
avyakta-paras-parāhatam (acc. sg. n.): undeveloped and full of internal contradictions
a-vyakta: mfn. undeveloped , not manifest , unapparent , indistinct , invisible , imperceptible
vyakta: mfn. adorned , embellished , beautiful ; caused to appear , manifested , apparent , visible , evident ; developed , evolved ; distinct , intelligible ; perceptible by the senses (opp. to a-vyakta , transcendental) ; n. (in sāṁkhya phil.) " the unevolved (Evolver of all things) " , the primary germ of nature , primordial element or productive principle whence all the phenomena of the material world are developed
paras-para: mfn. each other, mutually
āhata: mfn. struck , beaten , hit , hurt ; rendered null , destroyed , frustrated ; blunted ; uttered falsely ; repeated

budhaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a wise or learned man , sage
para-pratyayataḥ: on the grounds of another's assumption
pratyaya: m. belief, firm conviction , trust , faith , assurance or certainty of (gen. loc. or comp.); conception , assumption , notion , idea ; ground , basis , motive or cause of anything ; (with Buddhists) a co-operating cause ; the concurrent occasion of an event as distinguished from its approximate cause
-taḥ: (ablative suffix)
hi: for
kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who?
vrajet = 3rd pers. sg. optative vraj: to go, proceed

janaḥ (nom. sg.): m. person, man
andha-kāre (loc. sg.): mn. 'blind-maker' ; darkness
andhaḥ (nom. sg. m. ): mfn. blind
iva: like
andha-deśikaḥ (nom. sg. m.): having a blind guide
deśika: mfn. familiar with a place , a guide (lit. and fig.) ; m. a Guru or spiritual teacher ; a traveller

世間猶豫論 展轉相傳習
無有眞實義 此則我不安
明人別眞僞 信豈由他生
猶如生盲人 以盲人爲導

於夜大闇中 當復何所從 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.73: Exemplary Disbelief, and Failing to See the Truth of a Right Direction

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
ihāsti nāstīti ya eṣa saṁśayaḥ parasya vākyair-na mamātra niścayaḥ |
avetya tattvaṁ tapasā śamena vā svayaṁ grahīṣyāmi yad-atra niścitam || 9.73

“As to the doubt you raise,
about existence in this world and non-existence,

I shall arrive at conviction in this matter
not by way of another's words.

Seeing the truth by the heat of asceticism,
or else by the coolness of quietism,

I will grasp for myself what, in this matter, is to be ascertained.

The asti (there is, it exists) and nāsti (there is not, it does not exist) of the 1st pāda of today's verse, and the doubt (saṁśayaḥ), seem to refer to what the counsellor said about rebirth in BC9.55:
Some say, moreover, that there is rebirth (punar-bhavo' sti) ; others assert with conviction that there is not (nāsti). / While this matter remains thus open to doubt (saṁśayitaḥ), it is only natural to enjoy whatever royal rank has come our way.//BC9.55//

The point to reflect on then, in relation to a controversy like whether or not Buddhists believe in reincarnation, is that if we really followed the Buddha we would refuse to believe one thing or the other on the basis of what anybody (including the Buddha himself) said.

I am reminded of the teaching of Marjory Barlow who would tell a new pupil in a first Alexander lesson, “I don't want you to believe a single word I say. You be the judge of whether or not I am talking out of my hat!”

Of course it is possible, for those of us of a religious inclination, to think that this story is about one special bodhisattva named Prince Sarvartha-siddha, who became the enlightened Buddha, whose words it behoves us to believe. But I for one don't necessarily read Buddha-carita like that. Before it specifically means Gautama Buddha, buddha means that which is awake in anybody. So I think the point is for every buddha-to-be, not only this one most celebrated Bodhisattva, to stand firm in his or her resolve, and for every buddha-to-be to make up his or her own mind, on the basis of practice and experience.

In the 3rd pāda I read tapasā śamena as roughly equivalent to the English phrase “by hook or by crook.” The bodhisattva is expressing his determination, one way or another, to realize whatever truth there is to be realized.

At the same time, and following on from the discussion in yesterday's comment about practice at the interface between fear paralysis and panic, tapas and śama can be taken as representing opposite approaches to the truth, each of which lacks something which the other has.

In other words, tapas can be taken as standing for what the Moro reflex orchestrates – the motivating heat of red panic. While śama can be taken as representing what fear paralysis evokes – the pallid dampening of excitement.

In fact, looking ahead to BC Canto 12, arāḍa-darśanaḥ, “Meeting with Arāḍa,” the bodhisattva does pursue these two alternative approaches of  tapas and śama, trying first the more cool and contemplative approaches of Arāḍa and Uḍraka (śama), and then rejecting their teachings in favour of fierce asceticism (tapas).

Arāḍa's approach to mokṣa (release/freedom) is somewhat philosophical and meditative, rather than rigorously practical or ascetic; and Uḍraka, as Aśvaghoṣa sums him up in SN3.3, is inclined towards quietness (upaśama-matim):

atha mokṣa-vādinam-arāḍam-upaśama-matiṁ tathoḍrakaṁ /
Then Ārāḍa, who spoke of freedom, 
and likewise Uḍraka, who inclined towards quietness,
tattva-kṛta-matir-upāsya jahāv-ayam-apy-amārga iti mārga-kovidhaḥ // SN3.3 //
He served, his heart set on truth, and he left. 
He who intuited the path intuited: "This also is not it."

sa vicārayan jagati kiṁ nu paramam-iti taṁ tam-āgamaṁ /
Of the different traditions in the world, he asked himself, 
which one was the best?
niścayam-anadhigataḥ parataḥ paramaṁ cacāra tapa eva duṣ-karaṁ // SN3.4 //
Not obtaining certainty elsewhere, 
he entered after all into ascetic practice that was most severe.

EHJ changed the at the end of the 3rd pāda to ca, translating “I will arrive at the truth for myself by asceticism and quietude...” But I think Aśvaghoṣa's suggestion, with (or else) is that the bodhisattva was already aware of two mutually exclusive approaches, each of which he would test out, one at a time, before abandoning both and coming back to just sitting.

What strikes me on perusing BC Canto 12 is that
(a) Arāḍa comes across as a Zen master, who speaks from experience of the four stages of sitting-meditation;
(b) the bodhisattva is described even while in the thick of ascetic practice as sparkling like the sea –

kṣīṇo 'py-akṣīṇa-gāmbhīryaḥ samudra iva sa vyabhāt //BC12.99//
Wasted away, and yet undiminished in the depths of his dignity and composure,
he caught the eye like the sparkling sea.”

One irony of today's verse, then, might be that the bodhisattva in the end will realize the truth neither by asceticism nor by quietism, but rather by abandoning both of those -isms.

But a deeper irony, that we may revisit in BC Canto 12, might reside in a hundredth or a thousandth of a gap in the mind of a Zen practitioner who is proud of what he thinks he understands, wherein heaven and earth are very far removed from each other. I mean, it is easy for me, sitting on an easy chair, to dismiss Arāḍa as a believer in an -ism, and easy for me to dismiss asceticism as another time-wasting -ism... but where has that got me?

One irony, again, might be that the bodhisattva now expects to grasp something, whereas as the enlightened Buddha he will point in the direction of letting go of everything. Now the bodhisattva looks forward to certainty. Later he will teach that, aside from death and taxes, there is no such thing as certainty, no nailed-down truth, no right position – but there is a right direction.

But a deeper irony, again, in conclusion, that sitting-zen makes me aware of, even as I write here about a right direction, is that what I feel to be the right direction turns out to be the wrong direction. What I feel to be up turns out to be down. 

Fundamentally, this is a vestibular problem. Blessed with a congenitally dodgy vestibular system, I have come to understand it in myself as a vestibular problem. But it turns out that it is a vestibular problem for everybody. At the most fundamental level, our sense of the right direction is influenced, or distorted, by a primitive panic reflex. And below that there is fear paralysis.

Still, even though I cannot reliably feel where it is, there is such a thing as a right direction. Or else how would the tree in the garden grow? 

Because there is such a thing as a right direction, it seems to me, even in the absence of certainties that can be grasped, and even though life hitherto has been a littany of errors, there is still worthwhile effort to be made. 

iha: ind. in this world
asti: there is
na: not
asti: there is
iti: “...” thus
yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): [that] which
eṣa (nom. sg. m.): this
saṁśayaḥ (nom. sg.): m. uncertainty , irresolution , hesitation , doubt

parasya (gen. sg.): another's
vākyaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. speech, saying, words
na: not
mama (gen. sg.): my
atra: ind. in this matter
niścayaḥ (nom. sg.): m. inquiry , ascertainment , fixed opinion , conviction , certainty , positiveness ; resolve, resolution

avetya = abs. ava-√i to look upon , consider ; to perceive , conceive , understand , learn , know
tattvam (acc. sg.): n. that-ness, the truth, the reality
tapasā (inst. sg.): n. warmth , heat ; pain, suffering ; ascetic practice
śamena (inst. sg.): m. tranquillity , calmness , rest , equanimity , quietude or quietism , absence of passion , abstraction from eternal objects through intense meditation ; tranquillization , pacification , allayment , alleviation , cessation , extinction ; indifference, apathy
vā: or
ca [EHJ]: and

svayam: ind. by myself
grahīṣyāmi = 1st pers. sg. future grah: to grasp
yat (acc. sg. n.): [that] which
atra: ind. in this matter
niścitam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. ascertained , determined , settled , decided ; n. certainty , decision , resolution , design
niś- √ ci : to ascertain , investigate , decide , settle , fix upon , determine , resolve

有無等猶豫 二心疑惑増
而作有無説 我不決定取

淨智修苦行 決定我自知

Saturday, March 29, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.72: The Firm Resolve of the Son of a King

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
tato vacas-tasya niśamya mantriṇaḥ priyaṁ hitaṁ caiva npasya cakṣuṣaḥ |
anūnam-avyastam-asaktam-adrutaṁ dhtau sthito rāja-suto 'bravīd-vacaḥ || 9.72

Then, after he had listened to the fond and well-meaning words

Of a counsellor who was the eye of a ruler of men,

Leaving nothing omitted and nothing garbled,
neither getting stuck nor getting carried away,

Standing firm in his resolve, the son of a king said:

Today's verse puts me in mind of what might be the most fundamental issue in sitting-meditation. It is an issue which, despite what I wrote yesterday as if I knew what I was talking about, I have barely understood at all.

The direction of sitting-meditation, as Aśvaghoṣa describes it in SN Canto 17, is towards quiet. The process involves seeing faults, or noise in the system, at subtler and subtler levels, and sitting in such a way that those faults, or that noise, is absent.

Alexander work, as I experienced it on the teaching table of FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow, is essentially the same. Hence Alexander is reported to have said, “If you want to meditate, this is how.”

Now to aspire to understand what the silence is, is folly. Many people in the Alexander world approach the subject of reflexes in the hope of getting their dirty claws around what Alexander meant by “the right thing does itself.” The approach I have taken, and continue to take, on the contrary, is that understanding the primitive reflexes, and in particular the four primitive vestibular reflexes, can help us understand the wrong doing that we wish to stop. Understanding of four vestibular reflexes does not help us understand the right thing, or the silence, but it can help us understand the wrong thing, or the noise.

I have a congenitally dodgy vestibular system, as has my father, and my brother. But what I experienced on Marjory Barlow's teaching table is this: my vestibular reflexes may be aberrant as all hell, but if I am absolutely unshakeable clear and firm in my resolve NOT TO DO, then those wrong patterns do not get a look in.

As the Buddha told Nanda in SN Canto 16: “Even when violent winds blow, trees do not shake than never sprouted.”

But what needs to be emphasized, what I felt I omitted to emphasize yesterday, is that maintenance of the decision NOT TO DO is not a passive state. It is not the expression of a fear paralysis response. Rather it is a kind of firm resolve – but not the kind of resolve that triggers the Moro reflex into action.

Hence when the penny drops, people sometimes talk about totally giving up all idea of doing anything, without giving up. Or stopping trying without giving up.

This, I venture to submit. is what is most fundamental. So that when the Buddha, at the beginning of SN Canto 15, tells Nanda to focus the inconstant mind on the fundamental (ālambana), this is how I understand the Buddha's words.

kurvīthāś-capalaṃ cittam-ālambana-parāyaṇam // 15.2 //
Let the inconstant mind be fully engaged with the fundamental.

In the 2nd pāda of today's verse, insofar as nṛ-pa meant a king of dharma, nṛ-pasya cakṣus, “the act of seeing of a protector of men,” or “the eye of a king,” could be read as an expression of sitting-meditation itself. But in the context of today's verse, nṛ-pasya cakṣus does not mean sitting-meditation itself; it describes King Śuddhodana's counsellor as his eye.

Again, in the 4th pāda, insofar as rājan means a king of dharma, rāja-sutaḥ, "the son of a king," can be read as an expression of a buddha-to-be, a bodhisattva. In the context of today's verse rāja-sutaḥ is more naturally taken as simply meaning the Prince, i.e. Prince Sarvartha-siddha, the son of King Śuddhodana. The same is true of the kumāra of the Canto title, kumārānveṣaṇaḥ, “Seeking the Prince.”

What Aśvgahoṣa seems to be drawing attention to, however, as I hear him, is the firm resolve of not just the bodhisattva who was Prince Sarvartha-siddha but the firm resolve which every bodhisattva must have. Hence while the present Canto is ostensibly about two servants of King Śuddhodana seeking out King Śuddhodana's son, I think Aśvaghoṣa's real intention is that any bodhisattva who is reading or listening should use these words as an aid to seeking himself or herself as a bodhisattva, i.e., as an heir to the teaching of the King of Dharma. 

If we think about the whole canto in that light, the essence of it is that the veteran priest and the counsellor have presented various arguments why the bodhisattva should go back on his promise, as if he had never roared the lion's roar, but all these arguments have left the bodhisattva totally and utterly unmoved. Rather in his firmness (dhṛtau) he is stood firm (stithaḥ). Or, as Aśvaghośa puts it in 9.80, his resolve (tasya niścayam) is sthiram eva [supply your own expletive for eva] firm, immovable, steadfast.

This resolve on the part of the bodhisattva is a keeping of a decision NOT TO DO. It is a decision or a vow NOT to return to Kapilavastu as an ordinary person, an unenlightened being. But it is not a passive state. The bodhisattva is not content to curl up in the forest and give up. In the background there is a positive intent, a determination not to give up, a determination to carry on and realize something.

The 3rd pāda of today's verse can thus be read as a hint in the direction of the interface where the fundamental resides, so that an-ūnam (no omission) suggests one side and a-vyastam (nothing garbled) suggests the other; and a-saktam (no getting stuck) suggests one side and a-drutam (not getting carried away, not getting ahead of oneself, not going too fast) suggests the other.

In terms of the primitive reflexes, getting carried away is intimately related with the Moro reflex, whose colour is panicked red. But – and this is the point that I omitted to mention yesterday – getting stuck is intimately related with an even more primitive reaction known as the fear paralysis response, whose colour is deathly white. We don't want our practice to be ruddily tainted with the former, and even less do we want our practice to be pallidly steeped in the latter.

tataḥ: ind. then
vacaḥ (acc. sg.): n. speech, words
tasya (gen. sg. m.): of him
niśamya = abs. ni- √ śam: to hear
mantriṇaḥ (gen. sg.): m. a king's counsellor , minister

priyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. fond
hitam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. beneficial , advantageous , salutary , wholesome , suitable ; well-disposed , favourable , friendly , affectionate , kind
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
nṛpasya (gen. sg.): m. ruler of men, king
cakṣuṣaḥ (gen. sg.): n. the act of seeing ; faculty of seeing , sight ; the eye

an-ūnam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. not less , not inferior to (abl.); whole , entire ; having full power
ūna: mfn. wanting , deficient , defective , short of the right quantity , less than the right number , not sufficient
a-vyastam mfn. undecomposed , undispersed , not separated ;
vy-asta: mfn. cut in pieces , dismembered ; torn asunder , gaping ; severed , separated , divided , distinct ; multiplied , various , manifold ; opposed to , inverse , reverse ; disordered , disarranged , confused , bewildered
asaktam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. not stopped or intercepted by or at (loc. ; said of arrows and of a sword) ; free from ties , independent ; detached from worldly feelings or passions , unattached or indifferent ; ind. without obstacle or resistance ; uninterruptedly
sakta: mfn. clinging or adhering to , sticking in
a-drutam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. not accelerated
druta: mfn. quick, quickly or indistinctly spoken

dhṛtau (loc. sg.): f. holding , seizing , keeping , supporting , firmness , constancy , resolution , will , command
sthitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. remaining
rāja-sutaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the king's son
abravīt = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect brū: to speak, say
vacaḥ (acc. sg.): n. words, speech

太子聞大臣 愛語饒益説
以常理不亂 無礙而庠序
固志安隱説 而答於大臣  

Friday, March 28, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.71: Brahma-Dharma vs Buddha-Dharma

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bhadrā)
evaṁ-vidhā dharma-yaśaḥ-pradīpā vanāni hitvā bhavanāny-atīyuḥ |
tasmān-na doṣo 'sti ghaṁ prayātuṁ tapo-vanād-dharma-nimittam-eva || 9.71

Such lanterns as these of the splendour of dharma

Quit the forests and returned to their houses.

There is no fault in going home, therefore,

Away from the ascetic forest, when the reason is dharma itself!”

When I first read today's verse I felt the compound dharma-yaśaḥ-pradīptā (“shining with the splendour of dharma”), as per the old Nepalese manuscript, ought to be a noun phrase rather than adjectival. It seems Gawronski felt the same and suggested that pradīptā (shining) could be amended to pradīpa (lantern). I have followed Gawronski's conjecture and amended to pradīpa.

In BC9.48, in his reply to the veteran priest, the bodhisattva distinguished between two dharmas – the dharma of liberation, and the dharma of a king:
Again, as for the tradition that rulers of men realized liberation while maintaining their status in the royal family – that is not so. / How can the dharma of liberation, in which peace is paramount, be reconciled with the dharma of a king,  in which the rod is paramount?//BC9.48//

Disinclined to take this point, the counsellor began his speech by mentioning dharma three times:  
“This mantra-containing resolve of yours is not improper; but neither is it suited to the present time. / For to deliver your father in his old age into sorrow might not be, for one who loves dharma as you do, your dharma.//BC9.53// Assuredly, again, your judgement is not very acute, or else is dull, with regard to dharma, wealth and desires, / In that, for the sake of an unseen result, you pass over conspicuous wealth.//BC9.54//

After that the counsellor talked a lot about making effort (yatna) in the direction of release (mokṣa). We examined how the same words evidently meant something very different in the Brahmanical tradition from what they came to mean in the Buddha's teaching.

In today's verse the counsellor concludes his speech by coming back to dharma, using the word dharma twice in his closing verse as he also used the word dharma twice in his opening verse.

So my sense is that Aśvaghoṣa is goading us, for the final time in this Canto, to engage the grey matter and think again about what the word dharma really means. What did it mean to people before the time of the Buddha's enlightenment? And what did the Buddha mean by dharma?

In asking this question I remind myself of my son when he got lucky in what students at British universities call a viva – an oral examination. Having prepared for exactly the question that came up, my son told me how he felt obliged to insert a pause before beginning to speak, to create the impression of somebody going through a process in order to arrive at the answer.

In similar way I have been thoroughly briefed by Zen Master Dogen as to the answer to my own question of what the Buddha ultimately meant by dharma. The Buddha-dharma, asserted Dogen, is to sit. And to sit is the Buddha-dharma.

Thus, in the final analysis, I think that with the tiresome speech of the counsellor, which has thankfully now just ended, Aśvaghoṣa's intention has been to goad us in the direction of yatna, mokṣa, and dharma that the counsellor has never seen even in a dream – in the direction of the effort which is sitting, in the direction of the coming undone which is sitting, and ultimately in the direction of the dharma itself which is sitting.

So much for what I think. What, in Aśvaghoṣa's record of the Buddha's teaching, does the Buddha say? How does the enlightened Buddha, when he speaks to the enlightened Nanda of dharma in SN Canto 18, speak of dharma?

uttiṣṭha dharme sthita śiṣya-juṣṭe kiṃ pādayor-me patito 'si murdhnā /
"You who stands firm in the dharma which is loved by those who study it, 
stand up! Why are you fallen with your head at my feet?
abhyarcanaṃ me na tathā praṇāmo dharme yathaiṣā pratipattir-eva //SN18.22 //
The prostration does not honour me 
so much as this surefootedness in the dharma.

adyārthavat-te śrutavac-chrutaṃ tac-chrutānurūpaṃ pratipadya dharmaṁ /
Listening ears open to the truth which is replete with listening, and with purpose,
today you stand surefooted in the dharma
in a manner that befits the listening tradition.
kṛta-śruto vipratipadyamāno nindyo hi nirvīrya ivāttaśastraḥ // 18.25 //
For a man equipped with listening ears who is wavering
is like a swordsman lacking valour: he is worthy of blame.

ihottamebhyo 'pi mataḥ sa tūttamo ya uttamaṃ dharmam-avāpya naiṣṭhikam /
But deemed to be higher than the highest in this world is he who,
having realized the supreme ultimate dharma,
acintayitvātma-gataṃ pariśramaṃ śamaṃ parebhyo 'py-upadeṣṭum-icchati//18.56//
Desires, without worrying about the trouble to himself,
to teach tranquillity to others.

bravītu tāvat puri vismito janas-tvayi sthite kurvati dharma-deśanāḥ /
Just let the astonished people in the city say,
while you are standing firm, voicing dharma-directions,
aho batāścaryam-idaṃ vimuktaye karoti rāgī yad-ayaṃ kathām-iti // 18.58 //
'Well! What a wonder this is,
that he who was a man of passion is preaching liberation!'

In the words of the counsellor who is steeped in the Brahmanical tradition, then, dharma is duty, to be done; and dharma is a spiritual or religious aim of life, to be believed in. Aśvaghoṣa's hidden agenda, as I perceive it, is to cause us to consider the difference between such views of dharma and what Nāgārjuna calls saddharma, the true dharma, the Truth, whose direction he describes as sarva-dṛṣti-prahāṇāya, “towards the abandoning of all views.” This dharma, as the Buddha speaks of it, is not so much to be done and is not so much to be believed in; it is rather to be stood firm in, or to be sat firm in. 

I honestly don't know this morning whether I am the highest person in the world or the lowest. Is it possible for one person to be both? For most of 2014 I have been more or less ill, and can't help feeling, when I look back on my life of fearful and greedy end-gaining, that my burden of bad karma is a heavy one. At the same time, as a result of having made a methodical effort for the last 30 years or so in the direction of real release – i.e. not in the direction of a Brahmanical or Buddhist fantasy but in the direction of real neuro-muscular undoing in the real context of actually sitting – it is evident to me that when I sit in the morning, I sit firm in four dharma-directions.

I could have told you 20 or 30 years ago, having read it in Shobogenzo and believed it, that "the Buddha-dharma is sitting and sitting is the Buddha-dharma," but I dare say that I sit more firmly in the dharma now than ever I did then. Whether I feel healthy or ill, whether the price of gold goes up or down, whether other people affirm me or negate me, I sit firm in four dharma-directions, and know that nothing will ever shake that firmness.

Moreover, as a result of choosing (guided by what I don't know) to train as an Alexander teacher under Ray Evans, who understood the importance in Alexander work of primitive reflexes, I seem to be singularly well placed to voice those dharma-directions in terms of (1) Alexander's four primary directions, and (2) four corresponding primitive vestibular reflexes.

In the first instance I wish to let the neck be free. I wish my whole being to expand, as it is released out of the grip of the primitive fear reflex.

Secondly, I wish to allow my head to go forward. I know what it is like to sit in such a way that the thought of sitting upright stimulates that baby balance reflex which causes the head to be pulled back. I don't want to be held in the grip of that reflex, which is a friend and close ally of fear. Rather I want my head to release forward. But not forward and down. I don't want to sit all curled up like a baby in the womb, and I don't want to slump forward. No. I want to allow my head to go forward and up.

Thirdly, I wish to allow my back to widen. To that end, I think of the two sides of myself being separate from each other, left side going left, right side going right. I am aware of my two sitting bones and my two legs and my double-spiral musculature, and am aware of my two arms. My hands moving away from each other and away from my body, I open my arms. And then I bring my hands together. As the palms come into contact I think my two sides coming together and think of my two sides releasing apart, palms in contact, elbows directed out, upper arms directed away from each other, widening across the upper part of the arms as I widen the back – the whole back from the top of the neck to the bottom of the pelvis. What I have described in this paragraph is (a) the function of what I call the goalkeeper reflex, which separates the self into left and right sides, and (b) the inhibition or integration of that reflex by the action of bringing the hands to the midline.

Fourthly I wish my pelvis to release my legs out of itself, so that the pelvis works as part of the back, and not as if it were part of the legs. Again, I am aware of my sitting bones, which are part of my pelvis, and I am aware of my legs the top of which are joined to the pelvis and are resting on the round cushion, the knees of which are on the floor, and the feet of which are crossing the midline. With palms still together, I bow, rocking forward on my sitting bones in such a way that the pelvis and the legs remain separate, and rocking back. I rest my hands on my lap in such a way that the fingers are overlapping and the thumbs are touching at the midline, and sway from side to side. Again I sway in such a way that the pelvis moves with the rest of the back, all in one piece. In so moving, I am releasing my body out of the grip of the fourth of the four primitive vestibular reflexes, which I call the cat-sit reflex.

These four directions, which I have come to understand in terms of their relation with four primitive vestibular reflexes, are nothing that I believe in. But I have come to sit firm in them.

What FM Alexander expressed with his four primary directions was a discovery that he made that has universal validity – just as Einstein's discovery of e = mc2 has universal validity, and is not a function of anybody's belief in that equation.

Seeing the connection of Alexander's four primary directions with the four primitive vestbular reflexes (the Moro Reflex, Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex, Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex, and Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex, to give them their scientific names), helps me to understand that what FM Alexander discovered was a truth of universal validity. His four directions, in my book, are just saddharma-deśanāḥ, true dharma directions.

  • Let the neck be free
  • To let the head go forward and up
  • To let the back lengthen and widen
  • While letting the pelvis work as part of the back. 
So, I venture to submit, the Buddha-dharma, in light of these four directions, is just to sit. And just to sit, in light of these four directions, is the Buddha-dharma.

evaṁ-vidhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. of such a kind , in such a form or manner , such
dharma-yaśaḥ-pradīptāḥ (nom. pl. m.): shining with the splendour of dharma
yaśas: n. beautiful appearance , beauty , splendour , worth ; honour, glory, fame, renown
pradīpta: mfn. kindled , inflamed , burning , shining
dharma-yaśaḥ-pradīpā [Gawronski] (nom. pl. m.): shining with the splendour of dharma
pradīpa: m. a light , lamp , lantern (often ifc. " the light i.e. the glory or ornament of ")

vanāni (acc. pl.): n. the forests
hitvā = abs. hā: to leave, quit
bhavanāni (acc. pl.): n. a place of abode , mansion , home , house , palace , dwelling
atīyuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. ati-√i: to pass by ; to enter

tasmāt: ind. from that, therefore
na: not
doṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a fault
asti: there is
gṛham (acc. sg.): n. home
prayātum = inf. pra- √ yā: to go forth ; go or repair to (acc.)

tapo-vanāt (abl. sg.): n. the ascetic forest
dharma-nimittam: ind. because of dharma, on account of dharma
eva: (emphatic)

如是等先勝 正法善名稱
悉還王領國 如燈照世間
是故捨山林 正法化非過