Saturday, March 1, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.44: One Right Direction

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
ślāghyaṁ hi rājyāni vihāya rājñāṁ dharmābhilāṣeṇa vanaṁ praveṣṭum |
bhagna-pratijñasya na tūpapannaṁ vanaṁ parityajya ghaṁ praveṣṭum || 9.44

For it is praiseworthy for kings to leave their kingdoms behind them

And, in their desire for dharma, 
to betake themselves back to the forest.

But it is not fitting for a vow-breaker

To shun the forest and betake himself back to the family.

In Aśvaghoṣa's writing vanam can sometimes mean not so much the forest as the woods – as when tapo-vanam means not so much “the forest of painful practice” where reside buddhas and bodhisattvas, but more “the woods of asceticism” – a brambly thicket that buddhas have conclusively left behind.

Similarly, gṛhaṁ praveṣṭum might in certain contexts be read as “to go home” in the sense of allowing body and mind to drop off and one's original nature to emerge.

But to seek to dig such irony out of today's verse might not fit Aśvaghoṣa's intention; rather, it might be to fail to appreciate the strength of resolve that the bodhisattva is now expressing, in one direction.

It is the same strength of resolve that the Buddha, in SN Canto 5, speaking without any sense of irony that I can detect, encourages Nanda to demonstrate:
Then the sage of Videha [Ānanda] said to Nanda, who was weeping inside: "Come!" / At this Nanda approached him meekly and said "I won't go forth." // SN5.35 // On hearing Nanda's idea, the Videha sage related it to the Buddha; / And so, after hearing from him also as to Nanda's actual state, the Great Sage spoke to Nanda again: // 5.36 //
"O you who have yet to conquer yourself! Given that I, your elder brother, have gone forth, and your cousins have gone forth after me, / And seeing that our relatives who remain at home are committed to practice (jñātīṃś-ca dṛṣṭvā vratino gṛha-sthān), are you minded to be conscious of consciousness, or are you not? // 5.37 // Evidently the royal seers are unbeknown to you who retreated smiling into the forests (vanāni ye śiśriyire hasantaḥ); / Having spat out desires, they were desirous of tranquillity and thus not stuck in lower order desires. // 5.38 // Again, you have experienced the drawbacks of family life (gṛheṣu doṣān) and you have observed the relief to be had from leaving it, / And yet you, like a man in a disaster area who is resigned to his death, have no intention of giving up and leaving house and home. // 5.39 // How can you be so devoted to the wasteland of saṁsāra and so devoid of desire to take the auspicious path / When -- like a desert trader who drops out from a caravan -- you have been set on that very path? // 5.40 // One who in a house burning on all sides, instead of getting out of there, would lie down in his folly to sleep, / Only he might be heedless, in a world burning in the fire of Time, with its flames of sickness and aging. // 5.41 // Again, like the condemned man being led, drunkenly laughing and babbling, to the stake, / Equally to be lamented is one whose mind is upside-down, cavorting while Death stands by, with noose in hand. // 5.42 //  When kings and humble householders, leaving relations and possessions behind, / Have gone forth, will go forth, and even now are going forth, what is the point of pandering to fleeting fondnesses? // 5.43 //  I do not see any pleasure which might not, by turning into something else, become pain. / Therefore no attachment bears scrutiny -- unless the grief is bearable that arises from the absence of its object. // 5.44 // So, my friend, knowing the human world to be fickle, a net of Indra, a web of fictions, like a gaudy magic show, / Abandon the net of delusion you call 'my love,' if you are minded to cut the net of suffering. // 5.45 // Unfancied food that does one good is better than tasty food that may do harm: / On that basis I commend you to a course which, though unpalatable, is wholesome and honest. // 5.46 // Just as a nurse keeps firm hold of an infant while taking out soil it has put in its mouth, / So, wishing to draw out the dart of passion, have I spoken to you sharply for your own good. // 5.47 // And just as a doctor restrains a patient then gives him bitter medicine; / So have I given you, in order to help you, this disagreeable advice with beneficial effect. // 5.48 // Therefore, while you are meeting the present moment, while death has yet to come, / So long as you have the energy for practice, decide on better (buddhiṁ kuru śreyasi)." // SN5.49 //

So the one direction in which the bodhisattva has already decisively oriented himself, and the one direction which, as the enlightened Buddha, he will again later affirm, is away from gṛha, the home, or the family, and towards vanam, the forest.

So what is wrong with gṛha? What faults does it represent? What did the Buddha mean by gṛheṣu doṣān, the faults in families, or the faults in homes, or the drawbacks of family life? Notice that, in passing, the Buddha praises those who remain at home (gṛha-sthān) but who are devoted to practice (vratinaḥ). So it is not being at home with one's family that is wrong per se; what the Buddha wishes us not to backslide towards is the faults that tend, like unseen black snakes, to go with being at home, with one's family.

What gṛha represents, then, might be, for example:
  • the dark old nest of unconscious habit
  • being tied to the past
  • love, and its inevitable corollary hate
  • groupthink
  • group behaviour
  • mutual emotional reaction between family members

And what vanam represents, in a verse like today's verse, might be what lies in the opposite direction, viz:
  • the golden light of consciousness
  • presence
  • freedom from love and hate
  • independent thinking
  • solitary practice
  • sitting in the state of balanced stillness (aka King of Samādhis).

For more than ten years I have been betaking myself back and forth to a forest in France by the side of which I bought a derilect property – but not betaking myself home, I would like to think, as a backslider or vow-breaker.

I like to think that I have kept my big promises in life, the main ones being (1) to sit in lotus four times every day; (2) to get to the end of the Shobogenzo translation; and (3) to keep slowly doing these Aśvaghoṣa translations, at a rate of one verse per day.

I wasn't able to keep promise (2) to my satisfaction because, as I saw it, my translation partner did not keep his promise to me. Am I still angry about it? The short answer is Yes. Did I wait for him to redeem himself? Yes. Did he redeem himself? No. 

A final reflection on today's verse, then, is that the kind of ability manifested by the bodhisattva to keep his vow, or stick to his decision to keep going in a chosen direction, is a function, in the book of FM Alexander, of what Alexander called “the manner of the use of the self.”

Which is to say that, for the reasons outlined in BC Canto 1, the buddha-to-be must have developed in such an optimal way that his “manner of using himself,” or balance and co-ordination, was exceptionally good.

That being so, FM Alexander's caution about "willing, without direction" might not have applied to the buddha-to-be.

The will-to-do without direction – if you are wrong and you “will” do, God help you.

This kind of problem, I think, is behind Dogen's caution about the importance of putting oneself in the hands of a true teacher, like a piece of wood entrusted to a skilled carpenter. A true teacher imparts to a student the right direction, like a good carpenter is able to bring out the best qualities of even warped wood. And the right direction – all the more so as a practitioner grows more conscious of it – becomes a true basis for keeping vows and promises, and for realizing good intentions in general.

There is no such thing as a right position, emphasized FM Alexander, but there is a right direction.

Even if we sit in full lotus, a position which is mechanically very advantageous for the direction of energy in the right direction, if we lack direction, either because of habitual bad use, or because of being misdirected by bad instruction, or most likely both, there will be something in our sitting that tends to prevent us from entering that condition of balanced stillness which is originally inherent in sitting in lotus. So for anybody who aspires to realize the samādhi which is king of samādhis, this matter of there being a right direction might be absolutely the most fundamental point.

In terms of today's verse, is it possible for a king or even an elected head of state to sit in lotus – let's say, under a tree in his palace garden – and, forgetting all about his realm and his rule, to betake himself back to the forest by realizing sitting itself as the King of Samādhis? Yes, when we look more deeply into what gṛha and vanam might mean, I think this might be possible in principle, even if extremely difficult in practice. 

Conversely, is it possible for a lonely practitioner who has left friends and family thousands of miles behind him, to sit for hours each day in the full lotus posture, pulling his head back into the past, longing for a missing lover like a cakra-vāka duck separated from its mate, and thus failing to betake himself back to the forest by realizing sitting itself as the King of Samādhis? Yes, when we look more deeply into what gṛha and vanam might mean, I think this also is possible. 

Who am I trying to kid? I know this is possible. If I know anything, I know this is possible. 

In conclusion, then, I venture to submit that we need not be in such a desperate hurry that our desire for dharma causes us to run unconsciously from geographical location A to geographical location B. Rather, the first thing might be to understand exactly what the bodhisattva in today's verse had oriented himself away from, and to investigate exactly what the Buddha in SN Canto 5 was pointing towards, with the description “being conscious of consciousness” (saṃvinna-vit) and by the imperative “decide on better!” (buddhiṁ kuru śreyasi).

ślāghyam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. praiseworthy
hi: for
rājyāni (acc. pl.): n. kingship; kingdom
vihāya = abs. vi- √ hā: to leave behind , relinquish , quit , abandon; to give up
rājñām (gen. pl.): m. king

dharmābhilāṣeṇa (inst. sg.): in their desire for dharma
abhilāṣa: m. desire , wish , covetousness , affection (with loc. or ifc.)
abhi- √ laṣ: to desire or wish for (acc.) , covet , crave.
vanam (acc. sg.): n. the forest
praveṣṭum = inf. pra- √ viś: to enter, go into, resort to ; to enter upon , undertake , commence , begin , devote one's self to (acc.) ; to enter into i.e. be absorbed or thrown into the shade by (acc.)

bhagna-pratijñasya (gen. sg. m.): mfn. one who has broken a promise , faithless
bhagna: mfn. broken
pratijñā: f. admission , acknowledgment , assent , agreement , promise , vow ; assertion
prati- √ jñā : to admit , own , acknowledge , acquiesce in , consent to , approve ; to promise
na: not
tu: but
upapannam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. obtained , reached , gained; fit , suited for the occasion , adequate , conformable
upa- √ pad: to go towards, to approach; to be possible , be fit for or adequate to (with loc.)

vanam (acc. sg.): n. the forest
parityajya = abs. pari- √ tyaj : to leave , quit , abandon , give up , reject , disregard , not heed
gṛham (acc. sg.): m. a house, home ; m. the inhabitants of a house , family ; domestic or family life
praveṣṭum = inf. pra- √ viś: to enter, go into, resort to

捨王位五欲 任苦遊山林
此則爲隨順 樂法漸増明
今棄閑靜林 還家受五欲

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