Friday, March 14, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.57: Release from Transmigration, and Freedom from Doing

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
astīti ke-cit-para-lokam-āhur-mokṣasya yogaṁ na tu varṇayanti |
agner-yathā hy-auṣṇyam-apā dravatvaṁ tadvat-pravttau praktiṁ vadanti || 9.57 

Some say that the next world does exist

But do not affirm a means of exemption
[from life carrying on there];

For, just as heat belongs to fire and wetness belongs to water,

Nature, so they say, is there in the carrying on.

In the 2nd pāda of today's verse as in the 4th pāda of yesterday's verse, mokṣa, in the Brahmanistic thoughts of the counsellor, means, as per the Monier-Williams dictionary:

release from worldly existence or transmigration, final or eternal emancipation.

In Brahmanistic thoughts, before the time of the Buddha, the conception seemed to be that pravṛtti (lit. “moving onwards”) meant onward movement from one birth to the next, i.e. from one reincarnation to the next. And mokṣa, release, therefore, meant exemption from onward movement from one birth to the next.

Accepting this model, some saw strenuous effort, i.e. ascetic practice (tapas) as a means of release from transmigration, i.e. as a means of exemption from life carrying on from one birth to the next.

But some who also accepted this transmigration model, the counsellor seems to be saying in today's verse, took the opposite view on the need to make effort; they saw the carrying on (pravṛtti) as the natural working of the original substance of Universe (prakṛti), and not something one should hope to suppress or eliminate by a great effort of practice.

So today's verse, as I read it, is expressing one of two opposing views, taking the Brahmanistic transmigration model as a given, on the need to make effort.The thesis is that strenous ascetic practice is necessary. The anti-thesis referred to in today's verse is that we might as well not bother. 

If you believe some Buddhist scholars, the Buddha accepted the Brahmanistic model and built on it, or refined it, or developed it, polishing it here and there where he saw fit. I think those Buddhist scholars see it like that because they are generally Indo-philes. They tend to be widely read in Sanskrit texts and to be apologists for ancient Indian thought in general. Hence, for example, the familiarity with Sāṁkhya views that EH Johnston evinces in the footnote quoted below. The truth as I see it, and as Nāgāruna most concisely expressed it, from bang in the middle, is that the Buddha taught a dharma whose direction was towards the abandonment of all views. 

In the 3rd pāda of today's verse agneḥ (fire) and apām (water) are in the genitive case, while auṣnyam (heat) and dravatvam (wetness/liquidity) are nominative. In the 4th pāda, one would expect a parallel construction, with either pravṛtti (carrying on) or prakṛti (Nature) being in the genitive – whereas the old Nepalese manuscript (as well as Cowell's texts which were copied from it) has pravṛttau in the locative.

This led Gawronski to conjecture that the 4th pāda was originally
tadvat-pravṛttiṁ prakṛter vadanti
That would give a translation something like:
“For, as heat belongs to fire and wetness belongs to water,
So, they say, does the carrying on belong to Nature.”

EHJ noted:
Gawronski's conjecture requires that pravṛtti should be to prakṛti what auṣnya is to agni, and is more in accord with Sāmkhya views; but the school described here is certainly not Sāmkhya, but some variety of materialism.

Whether or not the view expressed in today's verse belongs somewhere within the wider orbit of Sāmkhya views, I do not know; either way, I agree with EHJ that the view expressed in today's view is a variety of materialism. That being so, I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention, once again, is that we should engage our grey matter and compare and contrast this view with the Buddha's teaching on mokṣa and pravṛtti. The latter is expressed most conspicuously in SN Canto 16:

jarādayo naika-vidhāḥ prajānāṃ satyāṃ pravṛttau prabhavanty-anarthāḥ /
The many and various disappointments of men, like old age,
occur as long as their doing goes on.
pravātsu ghoreṣv-api māruteṣu na hy-aprasūtās-taravaś-calanti // 16.10 //
(For, even when violent winds blow, trees do not shake that never sprouted.)

pravṛtti-duḥkhasya ca tasya loke tṛṣṇādayo doṣa-gaṇā nimittam /
And this, the suffering of doing, in the world,
has its cause in clusters of faults which start with thirsting --
naiveśvaro na prakṛtir na kālo nāpi svabhāvo na vidhir-yadṛcchā // 16.17 //
The cause is certainly not in God, nor in primordial matter Naturenor in time; 
nor even in one’s inherent constitution, nor in predestination or self-will.

jñātavyam-etena ca kāraṇena lokasya doṣebhya iti pravṛttiḥ /
Again, you must understand how, due to this cause,
because of men's faults, the cycle of doing goes on,
yasmān-mriyante sa-rajas-tamaskā na jāyate vīta-rajas-tamaskaḥ // 16.18 //
So that they succumb to death who are afflicted 
by the dust of the passions and by darkness;  
but he is not reborn who is free of dust and darkness.

asyopacāre dhṛtir-ārjavaṃ ca hrīr-apramādaḥ praviviktatā ca /
Attendant on [this noble eightfold path] are constancy and straightness;
modesty, attentiveness, and reclusiveness;
alpecchatā tuṣṭir-asaṃgatā ca loka-pravṛttāv-aratiḥ kṣamā ca // 16.38 //
Wanting little, contentment, and freedom from forming attachments;
no fondness for worldly activity, and forbearance.

tasmāt pravṛttiṃ-parigaccha duḥkhaṃ pravartakān-apy-avagaccha doṣān /
Comprehend, therefore, that suffering is doing
witness the faults impelling it forward;
nivṛttim-āgaccha ca tan-nirodhaṃ nivartakaṃ cāpy-avagaccha mārgam //SN16.42//
Realise its stopping as non-doing; and know the path as a turning back.

In today's verse, then, I have translated pravṛtti as “carrying on.” In the verses quoted above from SN Canto 16, pravṛtti is variously translated as “doing” as “the cycle of doing” and as “activity.” However it is translated, for the Buddha pravṛtti is evidently identified with the suffering here and now in this world that, by the right kind of effort, is to be cut off at source.

So the Buddha's teaching with regard to exempting ourselves from the carry-on of pravṛtti, and the Brahmanist teaching with regard to release from worldly existence or transmigration, are very similar – in the same way that a cake of chalk is very similar to a cake of cheese, until one bites into it. 

Speaking of doing, "The wrong inner patterns are the doing that has to be stopped," said Marjory Barlow

Those wrong inner patterns, another Alexander teacher named Ray Evans saw with particular clarity, are deeply implicated with aberrant primitive reflexes, beginning with that early fear reflex which causes a baby to to gasp and to grasp. 

So Nature, in the form of primitive vestibular reflexes, surely has been there, from the beginning, in the pravṛtti, in the doing, in all the regrettable carrying on. 

But that is no excuse for not making effort here and now, on the path to be known as a turning back. 

So the real point of today's verse, as I read it, is to prompt us to be mindful of the gap between the attitude of the counsellor who is idly quoting a second-hand view, in support of a policy of not bothering to make any effort, and the teaching of the Buddha who tirelessly championed the making, in the first person singular, of the right kind of effort. 

Finally I will say a word about freedom on the basis of what I have observed working with children and with adults (especially Alexander teachers) who are suffering from immature primitive reflexes. 

Sometimes the child or Alexander teacher is stiff in his neck, because he knows (unconsciously) that if, for example, he turns his head freely, he will stimulate an immature asymmetrical tonic neck reflex, causing the arm he is facing to do its own thing and the whole torso to tend automatically to twist. So he or she goes around constantly holding his or her head in a careful manner, not wanting to stimulate the reflex. 

In this situation the first kind of freedom is not freedom from the aberrant reflex. The first kind of freedodm is freedom from worrying about having to control it all the time. It is the freedom to let the neck turn freely and not worry about how the arms and torso might respond. It is the freedom of not having to get anything right. 

Again, many Alexander teachers have learned to crawl in a certain stylized way, such that an immature symmetrical tonic neck reflex, if they have retained this reflex in immature form, does not cause their feet to come up off the floor. But if such a person can be persuaded to forget about the Alexander technique, look up like a baby looking up at its mum, and just go for it, then two things are liable to happen. 

First, the underlying pattern asserts itself. So for example the ankles come up off the floor (a direct manifestation of the reflex), and the hands splay out to the side (an early compensation that babies make to prevent their arms from accidentally flexing). Thus, from a certain viewpoint, the crawling looks "wrong" -- not as it ought to be if one was arranging oneself in an orthodox Alexander manner. 

Second, the Alexander teacher who, despite all his or her Alexander knowledge, looked before somehow stilted, stiff, and controlled, suddenly looks, in all his or her wrongness, remarkably free. 

So this all relates, in my mind, with Alexander's observation that there is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a thing as a right direction. 

The right direction is towards more freedom. And I am not saying that the freeom which allows aberrant reflexes to assert themselves is the ultimate freedom from pravṛtti-duḥkha, the suffering of doing. But sometimes this kind of freedom is, as I see it, an important first step in the right direction -- not that I am always wise enough, even at 54, to allow myself to take it. The tendency is very strong, in many of us who have immature primitive reflexes, to go around the whole time trying to be right. 

asti: there is
iti: “...,” thus
ke-cit (nom. pl. m.): some
para-lokam (acc. sg.): m. the other or future world
āhur = 3rd pers. pl. perf. ah: to say , speak ; to express ; to call , hold , consider , regard as (with two acc. , for one of which may be substituted a phrase with iti)

mokṣasya (gen. sg.): m. liberation, release ; release from worldly existence or transmigration , final or eternal emancipation
yogam (acc. sg.): m. the act of yoking; a means , expedient , device , way , manner , method
na: not
tu: but
varṇayanti = 3rd pers. pl. varṇ: to paint , colour , dye ; to depict , picture , write , describe , relate , tell , explain ; to praise , extol , proclaim qualities

agneḥ (gen. sg.): m. fire
yathā: as
hi: for
auṣṇyam n. (fr. uṣṇa) , heat , warmth , burning
oṣṇa: mfn. a little warm , tepid
uṣṇa: mfn. hot , warm
apām = gen. pl. ap: f. (in Ved. used in sing. and pl. , but in the classical language only in pl. , ā́pas) water
dravatvam (nom. sg.): n. natural or artificial fluid condition of a substance , fluidity , wetness.

tadvat: ind. like that , thus , so (correlative of yad-vat ; of yathā , " as " )
pravṛttau (loc. sg.): f. moving onwards , advance , progress ; coming forth ; activity
prakṛtim (acc. sg.): f. " making or placing before or at first " , the original or natural form or condition of anything , original or primary substance ; (in the sāṁkhya phil.) the original producer of (or rather passive power of creating) the material world (consisting of 3 constituent essences or guṇas called sattva , rajas and tamas) , Nature (distinguished from puruṣa , Spirit as māyā is distinguished from brahman in the vedāntas)
pravṛttim [Gawronski] (acc. sg.): f. moving onwards , advance , progress ; coming forth ; activity
prakṛteḥ [Gawronski] (gen. sg.): f. original substance ; the original producer
vadanti = 3rd pers. pl. vad: to speak , say , utter , tell (with acc. of the thing said)

有言有後世 不説解脱因
如地堅火暖 水濕風飄動
後世亦復然 此則性自爾  

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