Monday, March 17, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.60: Taking a View vs Laying the Foundations of Attention

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
adbhir-hutāśaḥ śamam-abhyupaiti tejāṁsi cāpo gamayanti śoṣam |
bhinnāni bhūtāni śarīra-saṁsthāny-aikyaṁ ca dattvā jagad-udvahanti || 9.60 

The oblation-eating fire is stilled by water,

And fiery flames cause water to dry up;

The disparate elements, when contained in a body,

Confer unity and so bear up the world.

The gist of today's verse, as I read it, is a materialistic view, according to which the world is an aggregate of disparate elements. But the general thrust of the argument that the counsellor is setting out – albeit without conviction, on the basis of a view he refers to but does not own – remains the same. That general thrust is: since everything is just the unfolding of nature (prakṛti), or innate being (svabhāva), why bother to make an effort?

Today's verse, then, can be read as a reminder of the intimate connection that tends to exist between lack of practical effort and a materialistic worldview.

The other side of the coin, of course, is the intimate connection that tends to exist between unduly rigorous ascetic effort and an idealistic or spiritual worldview. And it is negation of the latter view which causes Dogen at the beginning of his instructions for sitting-dhyāna to ask: 何費功夫 (Jap: NANZO KUFU O TSUIYA SAN?)

So I think the way to read today's verse, again, is not as the expression of a wrong view which is designed to stimulate us to embrace an opposing right view.

In other words, just because the materialistic thesis which the counsellor is proposing is not true, that does not make its idealistic anti-thesis true; and vice versa.

So when Nanda at the end of SN Canto 17 describes himself as released into true reality (saddharme vimuktaḥ), he might not be expressing realization of one view or the other.

tasmāc-ca vyasana-parād-anartha-paṅkād-utkṛṣya krama-śithilaḥ karīva paṅkāt /
From that extreme predicament, from that worthless mire,
up he dragged me, like a feeble-footed elephant from the mud,
śānte 'smin virajasi vijvare viśoke saddharme vitamasi naiṣṭhike vimuktaḥ // SN17.72 //
To be released into this quieted, dustless, feverless, sorrowless,
ultimate true reality, which is free from darkness.

In connection specifically with today's verse, the point might be that what Nanda calls “true reality” (saddharma) is NOT the same as what the counsellor calls “the world” (jagat) whose unity is conferred by disparate elements.

On further reflection, and in conclusion, the counsellor in today's verse is espousing a second-hand view of the world and in so doing he is showing, on more than one level, a lazy attitude.

First of all he is lazy to borrow a worldview that belongs to others – the ke cit he refers to – instead of looking for himself (and listening) how the world is.

Secondly the view he is borrowing from others is a materialistic view, and a materialistic view tends inherently to be bound up with laziness, or lack of effort.

But more fundamentally, to hold any view, even a view one has formed oneself, is a kind of laziness. A contrast might be drawn between holding a view (or a visual picture) and paying attention (or listening). Once one has formed a view, there it is, the work is already done. One can hold one's view aloft, unthinkingly, like a flag made of sturdy material. "I am a Buddhist. I am a scientist. I believe absolutely in karma. I see the world as being governed absolutely by cause and effect. I subscribe to Darwin's view of evolution (even though I haven't necessarily understood it yet)." And so on, and so forth.  But attention is different. Attention has to be paid moment by moment.

Some children with immature primitive reflexes are given a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), because they evidently find it difficult to pay attention, or to concentrate, on tasks in the classroom or on their homework. In many cases these diagnoses are a misnomer. The child does not lack attention per se. Rather, because of immature reflexes, he is having to give so much attention to physical tasks like moving a pencil (or like tracking and changing focus with the eyes, while occluding extraneous stimuli) that relatively little attention is left over for listening to a new instruction from the teacher (or for forming a sentence that he wants to write and remembering how words in that sentence are spelled).

Understood like this, attention is fundamentally a physical problem, and the way forward for a child thought to be suffering from so-called ADD or ADHD, in many cases, might be physical movements – movements like for example going on hands and knees and bowing, and then standing up again, and repeating that developmental movement a few times.

A view of the material world as an aggregate of disparate elements, once formed, is like a picture that has already been painted. We can hang it on the wall and look at it whenever we want. But to listen to the Universe is a more momentary thing, requiring attention. And attention, I have been taught over the years, mainly by dyslexic and dyspraxic children, has its basis in physical balance and coordination.

“Mindfulness,” everybody knows, has become trendy. If you want to know how to practise it, read some journalistic wit describing her daily round in the Daily Mail. But as a rule, in my country at least, educated people, while grounded in the rudiments of pscyhology, are much less aware of the value of developmental movements like going on hands and knees and bowing, or developmental non-movements like crossing the legs and sitting still.

Ironically, seen like this, the resort to Buddhist “mindfulness” among trendy cognoscenti might be symptomatic of a lazy world view that is not so different from the one being espoused in today's verse.

adbhiḥ (inst. pl.): f. water
hutāśaḥ (nom. sg.): m. oblation-eater , fire
śamam (acc. sg.): m. tranquillity, peace
abhyupaiti = 3rd pers. sg. abhyupe-√i: to go near , approach , arrive at , enter ; to enter a state or condition

tejāṁsi (nom. pl.):. n. (often pl.) the sharp edge (of a knife &c ) , point or top of a flame or ray , glow , glare , splendour , brilliance , light , fire
ca: and
apaḥ (acc. pl.): f. water
gamayanti = 3rd pers. pl. causative gam: to go
śoṣam (acc. sg.): m. the act of drying up , desiccation , dryness
√śuṣ: to make dry , dry up

bhinnāni (nom. pl. n.): mfn. split , broken , shattered , pierced , destroyed ; divided into parts , anything less than a whole ; disjoined
bhūtāni (nom. pl.): n. that which is or exists , any living being (divine , human , animal , and even vegetable); n. an element , one of the 5 elements (esp. a gross element = mahā-bh° q.v. ; but also a subtle element = tan-mātra q.v. ; with Buddhists there are only 4 element)
śarīra-saṁsthāni (nom. pl. n.): contained in a body
saṁstha: standing together , standing or staying or resting or being in or on , contained in (loc. or comp.)

aikyam (acc. sg.): n. (fr. eka) , oneness , unity , harmony , sameness , identity ; aggregate
ca: and
dattvā = abs. dā: to give , bestow , grant , yield , impart , present
gatvā [Gawronski/EHJ] = abs. gam: to go to, to become
jagad (acc. sg.): n. the world
udvahanti = 3rd pers. pl. ud- √ vah: to lead or carry out or up , draw out , save ; to bear up ; to bear (a weight or burden) , wear (clothes &c ) ; to support (the earth) , rule , govern

謂水能滅火 火令水煎消
自性増相壞 性和成衆生 

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