Sunday, March 16, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.59: Wrong Views vs Right Effort

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Mālā)
yad-indriyāṇāṁ niyataḥ pracāraḥ priyāpriyatvaṁ viṣayeṣu caiva |
saṁyujyate yaj-jarayārttibhiś-ca kas-tatra yatno nanu sa svabhāvaḥ || 9.59 

When the working of the senses is ingrained

And pleasantness and unpleasantness 
reside in the objects of the senses,

And when all is conjoined with old age and infirmities,

What place there has effort?
Is it not all a function of innate being?

If some opinionated modern-day neuro-physiologist wished to express in Sanskrit his view that “the working of the senses is hardwired,” an exact Sanskrit translation of those words would be indriyāṇāṁ niyataḥ pracāraḥ.

Going back the other way, however, from Sanskrit to English, the term “hardwired” might not quite have the appropriate register for a counsellor in the ancient Indian court of King Śuddhodana; hence I have gone with "ingrained."

The point, in any event, is that indriyāṇāṁ niyataḥ pracāraḥ or “the working of the senses is ingrained,” is expressing a view of the human brain and nervous system which is (a) more deterministic than is justified by recent discoveries about neural plasticity; and, more to the point, (b) more deterministic than is implicitly recognized in the Buddha's exhortation that each of us should, by making an effort on an individual basis, defeat the power of the senses.

Am I suggesting that the Buddha taught that everybody should become his or her own neuro-developmental therapist?

It sounds like a stupid question, or like a crazy proposition. But maybe not so stupid and not so crazy when one begins to understand the power of bows and prostrations in retraining, in particular, the vestibular system.

So far the science that people have connected mostly with the Buddha's teaching is psychology. My teacher Gudo Nishijima was possibly the first to draw attention to the importance of a physiological system like the autonomic nervous system. But scientific knowledge about human physiology has limited, if any, practical value. What has more value, in my book, is understanding of the role in human development, and especially in infant development, of developmental movements. Including those developmental movements that are replicated for example by (1) sitting in lotus and bowing and swaying, and (2) doing a prostration on the floor and standing up again. 

As to the assumption expressed in the 2nd pāda of today's verse, that pleasantness and unpleasantness reside in the objects of the senses, the Buddha very explicitly falsified that notion at the end of SN Canto 13:

dṛṣṭvaikaṃ rūpam-anyo hi rajyate 'nyaḥ praduṣyati /
On seeing one and the same form this man is enamoured, that man is disgusted;
kaś-cid bhavati madhya-sthas-tatraivānyo ghṛṇāyate // SN13.52 //
Somebody else remains in the middle; 
while yet another feels thereto a human warmth.

ato na viṣayo hetur-bandhāya na vimuktaye /
Thus, an object is not the cause of bondage or of liberation;
parikalpa-viśeṣeṇa saṃgo bhavati vā na vā // 13.53 //
It is due to peculiar fixed conceptions that attachment arises or does not.

kāryaḥ parama-yatnena tasmād-indriya-saṃvaraḥ /
Through effort of the highest order, therefore, contain the power of the senses;
indriyāṇi hy-agutpāni duḥkhāya ca bhavāya ca // SN13.54 //
For unguarded senses make for suffering and for becoming.

When I prepared this post yesterday morning, my provisional title for it was Hardwired Senses vs Neural Plasticity. But having sat yesterday evening and slept on it, I realized when I woke up this morning that this title  at least insofar as it suggested an opposition between two views on a particular subject   reflected a lack of clarity on my part.

In connection with the 1st pāda of today's verse, is there a true Buddhist view on neural plasticity which is right, and other views which are wrong? Was it the Buddha's intention to establish a true Buddhist view? 

Again, in connection with the 2nd pāda, is the correct view that objects are not inherently pleasant or unpleasant, but thinking makes them so? Was the Buddha out to show that this view, his view, was right, whereas the other view which saw pleasantness and unpleasantness as residing in objects, was wrong?

Or was the gist of the Buddha's teaching rather to make effort in the direction of abandoning all views?

Probably behind the lack of clarity, or ignorance, which causes us to attach to one view in opposition to another, is a kind of pride. It might be human arrogance that causes us to believe that there is such a thing as a true view, and to seek to identify ourselves with it.

FM Alexander's words with regard to the illusion of “right posture” (There is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a thing as a right direction) might be amended with regard to the illusory belief in a true Buddhist view:

There is no such thing as a true view, but there is such a thing as a true effort in the direction of abandoning views.

That direction, a bloke who sits reflects, is the direction of muscular release, of lengthening and widening, upward and outward.

It is eight o' clock in the morning but the sun is already shining strongly, so it feels like spring is in the air – as spring was in the air 20 years ago when the books arrived in the post that I had ordered from the Maruzen bookstore in Shimbashi, on the FM Alexander Technique. By that time I had come to understand that there must be something wrong in my approach to sitting, in spite of all my purported understanding of the difference between polishing a tile and trying to make a mirror; and those books on the FM Alexander Technique, as I devoured them, seemed to me to offer a compelling explanation of where I had been going wrong.

The new knowledge, I might add, did not stop me from continuing to go wrong. Some might argue that I reacted to the new knowledge in the only way that I (with my hard-wired vestibular faults?) knew how, by going even wronger. 

I heard it through the grapevine that, in connection with my new-found enthusiasm for the teaching of FM Alexander, my teacher Gudo Nishijima had quipped, “Is it Alexander the Great?”

Alexander will have the last laugh, though. Because his teaching does indeed bear the hallmark of true greatness. Even if its would-be champions are, below the surface, even wronger and faultier than we ourselves suppose, the teaching is always pointing everybody in the right direction.

yad: (nom. and acc. sg. n. and base in comp. of ya) , who , which , what , whichever , whatever , that (with correlatives tad , tyad , etad , idam , adas , tad etad , etad tyad , idaṁ tad , tad idam , tādṛśa , īdṛśa , īdṛś , etāvad , by which it is oftener followed than preceded ; or the correl. is dropped)
indriyāṇām (gen. pl.): n. the senses
niyataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. held back or in , fastened , tied to (loc.) ; fixed , established , settled , sure , regular , invariable , positive , definite ; customary , usual
ni- √ yam: to fasten , tie to (loc.) ; to restrict (food &c ); to fix upon , settle , determine , establish
pracāraḥ (nom. sg.): m. roaming , wandering; coming forth , showing one's self , manifestation , appearance , occurrence , existence ; use ; conduct , behaviour ; a playground , place of exercise

priyāpriyatvam (nom. sg. n.): pleasant-and-unpleasant-ness
priyāpriya: n. sg. du. or pl. pleasant and unpleasant things
viṣayeṣu (loc. pl.): m. sphere (of influence or activity); object of sense ; object
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)

saṁyujyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive saṁ- √ yuj : to be joined together , be united &c ; to be married to (instr.)
yad: that; [that] which
jarayā (inst. sg.): f. old age, aging
ārttibhiḥ = inst. pl. ārti: f. painful occurrence , pain , injury , mischief ; sickness
ca: and

kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): what? (ka with or without √ as may express " how is it possible that? ")
tatra: ind. in that, there
yatnaḥ (nom. sg.): m. effort
nanu: ind. not , not at all , never ; (interr.) not? is it not? (hence often = ) certainly , surely , indeed , no doubt (esp. in questions amounting to an affirmation e.g. nanv ahaṁ te priyaḥ , am I not your friend i.e. certainly I am your friend)
sa (nom. sg. m.): that, it
svabhāvaḥ (nom. sg.): m. own condition or state of being , natural state or constitution , innate or inherent disposition , nature , impulse , spontaneity

諸根行境界 自性皆決定
愛念與不念 自性定亦然
老病死等苦 誰方便使然

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