Monday, March 3, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.46: Is Fear the Real Enemy?

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
lobhādd-hi mohād-atha-vā bhayena yo vāntam-annaṁ punar-ādadīta |
lobhāt-sa mohād-atha-vā bhayena saṁtyajya kāmān punar-ādadīta || 9.46

For he who, out of greed, out of ignorance, or else in fear,

Would take back the food he has vomited,

He, out of greed, out of ignorance, or else in fear,

Would take back the desires he has renounced.

The thought-provoking phrase in today's verse, repeated in the 1st and 3rd pādas, is atha vā bhayena, “or else in fear.”

The bodhisattva's recognition that vomited food might be eaten in fear seems to set his thinking apart from the thinking of, for example, the striver who tells Nanda in SN Canto 8, when Nanda is wanting to return to his wife Sundarī:
Greedy and untrained, devoid of decency and intelligence, / Truly, a wretched dog is wishing to eat again some food that he himself has vomited." // SN8.21 //

Thus, according to the conventional wisdom, a dog's motivation for eating vomit would be either its greed or its ignorance. The bodhisattva in today's verse, however, adds atha-vā bhayena, “or else in fear.”

This causes us to consider more deeply why a dog, or why a man, would stoop to eating his own vomit. Might it be that evolution has hard-wired the instinct in a dog to take back meat that it has vomited up, lest the valuable nutrition that remains in the meat goes to waste and the dog ends up starving. In that case, the dog's instinct, it could be argued is born neither out of greed for food that has retained some appetizing taste, nor out of ignorance in regard to what food is fresh and what food it not, but rather out of fear of starvation. And what is true of dogs, as a general rule, tends also to be true for human beings – dog trainers generally say that it is a mistake to think of dogs as behaving like humans, but more reasonable to see human beings indulging in pack behaviour like dogs, with dominance, submission, and all the rest of it, and with behaviour which, when push comes to shove, tends to be driven more by instinct than by reason. (I can't help feeling sorry this morning for poor old Alan Pardew, who was rendered so hapless on Saturday by his retaliatory anger.) 

When we think about it in this way, more objectively or scientifically, the act of eating vomit seems less disgusting than if we merely react to what strikes us subjectively as a disgusting thought.

I am reminded of a chat show in which Kathy Burke fancifully described an impossible mating between a frog and a donkey. Quick as a flash, the naturalist David Attenborough, who was one of the guests on the show, took out an imaginary notebook, licked an imaginary pencil, and made as if to take notes. Good old David. A true hero of reasonableness and all-round good egg.

This is the kind of thinking that Aśvaghoṣa, as I hear him, is always encouraging us to practice.

If we don't stop to think about it, in Alexander work, we tend to think that our task is to inhibit instinctive behaviour. But the truth is that we cannot inhibit instinctive behaviour, at least not directly. The very desire to inhibit instinctive behaviour triggers the instinctive behaviour from which we wish to be free! That being so, if we wish to be free from instinctive behaviour, the only way is to follow an indirect route, involving in the first instance the giving up of a desire. Our primary task, then, is to inhibit the desire to go directly for the target. This Alexandrian truth of inhibition, I venture to submit, is not a million miles from the Buddha's third noble truth, nirodha-satya, or the truth of inhibition.

The distinction I am discussing now I think I have already discussed in connection with the thoughts on desires or pleasures (kāmān) expressed respectively by the striver in SN Cantos 8 and 9, and by the Buddha in, for example, SN Canto 15:

In whatever place of solitude you are, cross the legs in the supreme manner / And align the body so that it tends straight upward; thus attended by awareness that is directed // SN15.1 // Towards the tip of the nose or towards the forehead, or in between the eyebrows, / Let the inconstant mind be fully engaged with the fundamental. // 15.2 // If some desirous idea (kāma-vitarkaḥ) , a fever of the mind, should venture to offend you, / Entertain no scent of it but shake it off as if pollen had landed on your robe. // 15.3 // Even if, as a result of calm consideration, you have let go of desires (kāmān), / You must, as if shining light into darkness, abolish them by means of their opposite. // 15.4 // What lies behind those desires sleeps on, like a fire covered with ashes; / You are to extinguish it, my friend, by the means of mental development, as if using water to put out a fire. // 15.5 // For from that source they re-emerge, like shoots from a seed. / In its absence they would be no more -- like shoots in the absence of a seed. // 15.6 // See how acquisition and other troubles stem from the desires (kāmebhyaḥ)  of men of desire (kāminām), / And on that basis cut off at their root those troubles, which are akin to enemies calling themselves friends. // 15.7 // Fleeting desires (kāmāḥ)  ; desires which bring privation; flighty desires, which are the causes of wagging to and fro; / And common desires, are to be dealt with like poisonous snakes -- // 15.8 // The chasing of which leads to trouble, the keeping of which does not conduce to peace, / And the losing of which makes for great anguish. Securing them does not bring contentment. // 15.9 // Satisfaction through extra-ordinary wealth; success through the gaining of paradise, /And happiness born from desires (kāmebhyaś-ca sukhotpattiṃ): he who sees these things comes to nothing. // 15.10 // Pay no heed to the changeable, unformed, insubstantial and ungrounded desires, / Which are presumed to bring happiness; being here and now, you need pay no heed to those desires (kāmān). // 15.11 // 

In the crude thoughts of the religious striver, desires or pleasures, are the enemy. Sensual pleasures, in particular, are the enemy, being originally sinful. Therefore sainthood, or enlightenment, or being pure and right, is primarily a matter of eliminating sexual desire.

In the thoughts of a bodhisattva on the way to true enlightenment, in contrast, the enemy is not sexual desire per se, but rather the faults that tend to be mobilized by the trigger of any desire. Yes, to eliminate these faults requires us to inhibit the end-gaining desire that unconsciously triggers the faults. But desire per se is not our enemy. Our truer enemy might be the fear that lies behind the desire, or instinctual urge, or thirst, to go directly for the gaining of an end. 

The religious striver, then, is one who is fearfully striving in search of a state of being right. He has the illusory desire to realize a state of being right. Whereas the bodhisattva, again, is establishing with unshakeable conviction and impeccable clarity that there is such a thing as a right direction

This right direction is not towards anything static, like a right position. Hence FM Alexander's question to an end-gaining pupil who wanted to be right, “Don't you see that if you get perfection today, you will be farther away from perfection than you have ever been?”

It may be truer to say that the right direction is towards further movement in the right direction. Hence the traditional teaching of “The Matter of Buddha Going On Up,” or “The Matter of the Continuing Upwardness of Buddha” (See Shobogenzo chap. 28, BUTSU-KOJO-JI).

Reading today's verse in this light, I think Aśvaghoṣa wishes us to understand that the direction the bodhisattva is now establishing is NOT towards annihilation of desires or pleasures; the direction is rather towards freedom from greed, ignorance, and – in particular – fear.

In BC Canto 13, Defeat of Māra, Aśvaghoṣa says that Māra is known in the world as Kāma-deva, “God of Love” or “God of Desires.” But perhaps the suggestion in today's verse is that Māra might equally be known, or might better be known, as “God of Fear” or “King of Fears.”

Either way, whether we call him God of Love or King of Fears, the thing for a bloke who sits to have confidence in might be that Māra knows that he has never stood a chance against the King of Samādhis.

lobhāt (abl. sg.): m. impatience ; covetousness , cupidity , avarice
hi: for
mohāt (abl. sg.): m. loss of consciousness , bewilderment , perplexity , distraction , infatuation , delusion ; ignorance
atha vā: or else
atha: and, else
vā: or
bhayena (inst. sg.): n. fear

yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
vāntam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. vomited
annam (acc. sg.): n. food
punar: again
ādadīta = 3rd pers. sg. optative ā- √ dā: " to give to one's self " , take , accept ; to take back , reclaim ; to take as food or drink

lobhāt (abl. sg.): m. impatience ; covetousness , cupidity , avarice
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
mohāt (abl. sg.): m. loss of consciousness , bewilderment , perplexity , distraction , infatuation , delusion ; ignorance
atha vā: or else
bhayena (inst. sg.): n. fear

saṁtyajya = 3rd pers. sg. optative saṁ- √ tyaj: to relinquish altogether , abandon , leave , quit , desert ; to shun, give up, renounce
kāmān (acc. pl.): m. wish , desire , longing; love , affection , object of desire or of love or of pleasure ; pleasure , enjoyment ; love , especially sexual love or sensuality
punar: again
ādadīta = 3rd pers. sg. optative ā- √ dā: " to give to one's self " , take , accept ; to take back , reclaim ; to take as food or drink

已吐貪恚癡 而復還服食
如人反食吐 此苦安可堪 

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