Thursday, March 6, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.49: Where Not to Seek Unity

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Haṁsī)
śame ratiś-cec-chithilaṁ ca rājyaṁ rājye matiś-cec-chama-viplavaś-ca |
śamaś-ca taikṣṇyaṁ ca hi nopapannaṁ śītoṣṇayor-aikyam-ivodakāgnyoḥ || 9.49

When he delights in peace and quiet, his kingship is lax,

When his mind turns to kingship, the peace and quiet is spoilt.

For peacefulness and severity are incompatible –

As a unity of the cold and the hot is impossible, in water and fire.

I think the point of the metaphor in today's verse is that if one tried to make a unity of fire-and-water by combining fire and water – e.g. by throwing a bucket of cold water into a blazing fire – one element would cancel the other one out, so that either the fire would continue burning, having caused the water to evaporate; or else the water would remain, seeping into wood and earth, having put out the fire.

At the same time, the 4th pāda seems to point in an oblique and abbreviated way to a most fundamental law of the universe which is intimately related with Alexander's axiom that there is no such thing as a right position, but there is a right direction.

That law, of course, is the 2nd law of thermodynamics, aka Time's Arrow, which broadly describes the fact that all energy has a tendency over time to spread out, and it will spread out unless prevented from doing so.

It is because of this very tendency that cold and heat cannot co-exist as cold and heat – rather, what was hot tends to cool, and what was cold warms up. Sooner or later, fires go out, and ice melts, with consequences that can be replete with both great suffering and great beauty. 

Read in this way, then, today's verse also is amenable to being read in four phases.

In the 1st phase a king chooses the realm of inner peace over his material realm.

In the 2nd phase, conversely, a king turns his mind to his material realm, and his inner peace goes to pot.

In the 3rd pāda, the bodhisattva is making the same practical point that he made yesterday, which brought to my mind the Alexander axiom that “you cannot do an undoing.”

But the 4th pāda can be read as transcendent even to such vital absolutes of practice as “you cannot do an undoing.” In the end, the suggestion might be, we are living in a universe in which, for all the universe's manifold mystery, all energy in the universe follows the same rule --> tending to spread out, unless prevented from doing so by what chemists call “activation energy barriers.” Because of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, the Universe is one expanding whole. And because of that very same law, to make a unity of water and fire is not possible.

Thus, from where I sit, the teaching of Dogen and the teaching of Aśvaghoṣa is one and the same teaching, expressed according to the same four-phased philosophical progression. It is the same teaching transmitted, going down or going up, in a one-to-one transmission.

When Dogen came back from China, motivated to carry on that transmission in his own country of Japan, he wasted no time in writing Fukan-zazengi, the Rule/Method of Sitting-Meditation Recommended for Everybody. The Fu of Fukan-zazengi means universal, for everybody – kings, beggars, Alexander teachers, students, the unemployed, the infirm, medical men and women, those detained behind bars, city traders in London, martial artists in Tokyo, chefs in Paris, lumberjacks in Alaska, ice-road truckers in Canada, wheat-farmers in Ukraine, soldiers in Russia, judges in South Africa, English teachers in China, Sanskrit pandits in India, fishermen in harbours everywhere... in short, everybody.

And in Fukan-zazengi Dogen expresses the essential imperative in sitting-meditation like this:

Forgetting involvements forever,
Naturally/spontaneously become all of one piece!

So all this seems to tell us that, in Dogen's teaching, unity was foremost.

Again, the supreme thing in Dogen's teaching is the sitting in full lotus that he called “the King of Samādhis.” And samādhi originally means “putting together” (sam = together + putting = ādhi). So again, the sense of integration or unity is to the fore.

In today's verse, then, is Aśvaghoṣa expressing a teaching which is subtly different from what Dogen taught? Is Aśvaghoṣa leaning more towards the teaching of the small vehicle, whereas Dogen leant more towards the teaching of the large vehicle?

No, I don't think so.

In Aśvaghoṣa's teaching, too, samādhi is at the centre of everything, and is certainly at the centre of sitting-meditation. Aśvaghoṣa describes as a general fact that the second stage of sitting-meditation is samādhi-jam, “born of samādhi.” This is a general fact or a universal truth, irrespective of whether the sitter is a male or female beggar, a king or a queen, a humble lay man or woman, and irrespective even of whether the sitter is a follower of the Buddha or a non-Buddhist yoga adept, like Arāḍa. The second dhyāna is samādhi-jam, “born of samādhi.”

But before that, whether the sitter is a king or a commoner, an enlightened Buddha or a beginner, the first stage of sitting-meditation is kāmair-viviktaṃ malinaiś-ca dharmaiḥ “distanced from desires and tainted things” and is viveka-jam “born of separateness/solitude.” (This, by the way, is implicitly recognized in the "forgetting involvements" part of Dogen's injunction.) 

Thus, though the subject of today's verse is understood to be a king, it may be significant that Aśvaghoṣa saw fit in today's verse not to specify any subject. Because what is true for kings bearing royal insignia, might also be true for shaven-headed sitting-practitioners bearing a beggar's insignia – if we let our minds dwell too heavily on weighty matters of politics and economics, or become too emotionally entangled in anything in the outside world, that won't be conducive to entering and enjoying the first stage of sitting-meditation.

In the first instance, then, whoever we are, we are required in sitting-meditation to separate ourselves from any matter that is not conducive to peace – whether it is a matter on the outside, like social turmoil, or a matter on the inside, like an idealistic conception of unity.

śame (loc. sg.): m. tranquillity , calmness , rest , equanimity ; peace
ratiḥ (nom. sg.): f. pleasure , enjoyment , delight in , fondness for (loc.)
ced: ind. when, if
śithilam loose , slack , lax , relaxed , untied , flaccid , not rigid or compact ; unsteady ; languid , inert , unenergetic , weak , feeble ; loosely retained or possessed
ca: and
rājyam (nom. sg.): n. kingship; kingdom

rājye (loc. sg.): n. kingship; kingdom
matiḥ (nom. sg.): f. mind
ced: ind. when, if
śama-viplavaḥ (nom. sg. m.): peace being ruined
viplava: m. confusion , trouble , disaster , evil , calamity , misery , distress ; tumult , affray , revolt ; destruction, ruin
ca: and

śamaḥ (nom. sg.): m. peace ; tranquillization , pacification , allayment , alleviation , cessation , extinction
ca: and
taikṣṇyam (nom. sg.): n. sharpness (of a knife); fierceness , severity
ca: and
hi: for
na: not
upapannam (nom. sg. n): mfn. happened , fallen to one's share , produced , effected , existing , being near at hand ; fit , suited for the occasion , adequate , conformable
upa- √ pad: to approach ; to take place , come forth , be produced , appear , occur , happen; to be present , exist ; to be possible , be fit for or adequate to (with loc.) ; to become , be suitable

śītoṣṇayoḥ (gen. dual): cold and hot
śīta: mfn. cold ; n. cold , coldness , cold weather ; cold water
uṣṇa: mfn. hot ; mn. heat , warmth , the hot season (June , July) ; mn. any hot object
aikyam (nom. sg.): n. oneness , unity , harmony , sameness , identity
iva: like, as if
udakāgnyoḥ (gen. dual): water and fire
udaka: n. water
agni: m. fire

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