Wednesday, March 19, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.62: Determinism/Freewill vs Grounds for Making an Effort

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Buddhi)
kaḥ kaṇṭakasya prakaroti taikṣṇyaṁ vicitra-bhāvaṁ mga-pakṣiṇāṁ vā |
svabhāvataḥ sarvam-idaṁ pravttaṁ na kāma-kāro 'sti kutaḥ prayatnaḥ || 9.62

Who produces the sharpness of a thorn

Or the birds' and the beasts' diversity of being?

All this is brought about naturally, out of innate being.

There is no such thing as free will.
Where are the grounds, then, for making an effort?

The implicit point that I think Aśvaghoṣa wants us to take from today's verse is NOT that determinism is a false view to be opposed by belief in the existence of free will.

Once again, I think the real point is to remind us that the Buddha's teaching is to make an effort in the right direction, and that direction is towards the abandonment of all views.

So the real contrast is not between the false view of determinism and Buddhist affirmation of free will. The real contrast is between (a) an attempt, by idle philosophizing, to justify not bothering to make an effort, and (b) the Buddha's positive exhortation that we should make an effort.

The direction of that effort, according to Nāgārjuna's conclusion, is towards the abandoning of all views.

So what kind of effort is effort towards the shedding of all views?

For a start, Dogen instructed, don't think in terms of good and bad, and don't care about right and wrong.

That means, I venture to submit, not even thinking in terms of good and bad use of the self, much less caring about right and wrong posture.

Echoing Dogen's teaching, FM Alexander observed that trying to be right only emphasizes what one already knows – trying to be right, in other words, only emphasizes the wrong views one already holds.

It is twenty years now since I first became carried away by enthusiasm for the teaching of FM Alexander, but I still don't feel that I have done any more than scratch the surface of Alexander's earth-shattering truth that there is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a thing as a right direction.

I think it is precisely because, there is such a thing as a right direction, that when all is said and done it truly is worth making an effort.

I would like to hammer the point home, if for nobody else's benefit then at least for my own benefit.

Objectively, the counsellor is arguing, there are no grounds for making an effort. But subjectively I feel that the exercise of my own free will is grounds for making an effort. Those were the very shaky and optimistic grounds upon which, fancying myself to be some kind of embryonic dream hero, I set off for Japan in the new year of 1982. Looking back on those days now, I feel ashamed. I continue to complain that Gudo Nishijima's instructions around "right posture" in Zazen put me wrong, but the truth is that I was already plenty wrong enough before I met Gudo Nishijima. 

Determinism, then, offers no grounds for making an effort. But the doctrine of free will does seem – at least to the light-headed and the air-headed – to provide such grounds.

In the practical arena, however, for example, sitting on a round black cushion, the subjective grounds of free will turn out not to be so solid ground.

Determinism is no grounds and freewill is very shaky grounds.

And yet – hooray! – there are totally other grounds for making an effort. The grounds are present, here and now, in there being such a thing as the 2nd law of thermodynamics a right direction.

Going further, the right direction for all living things, from thorns, through birds and beasts, to human beings, might be a lengthening and widening direction, upward and outwards.

For thorns, which are guided by what Chinese Zen masters called 艸木心 (Jap: SOMOKU-SHIN), “the mind of grass and trees,” the right direction is unconscious. For birds and beasts, again, the right direction is more or less instinctive or unconscious. But for human beings – at least for those who take possession of what FM Alexander called Man's Supreme Inheritance – the direction can be made conscious.

When I began to realize twenty years ago what FM Alexander was talking about, it rocked my world totally. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, but in some ways the worst – as if I was being rewarded and at the same time punished. This, in retrospect, is precisely what my particular mix of black and white past karma deserved.

So here, in conclusion, are, as I see them, the grounds for making effort. In the first place, there is such a thing as a right direction. And in the second place, a person's ability to go in that direction is a function of karma which it behoves him or her  without necessarily worrying about good and bad or right and wrong  to make as white as possible.





kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who?
kaṇṭakasya (gen. sg.): m. a thorn
prakaroti = 3rd pers. sg. pra- √ kṛ: to make, produce ; effect
taikṣṇyam (acc. sg.): n. sharpness

vicitra-bhāvam (acc. sg. m.): the manifold being
vicitra: variegated , many-coloured , motley , brilliant ; manifold, various
bhāva: m. being ; manner of being , nature , temperament , character
mṛga-pakṣiṇām (gen. pl. m.): of beasts and birds
pakṣin: m. 'winged one'; a birds or winged animal
vā: or

svabhāvataḥ: ind. produced by natural disposition , innate , natural
sarvam idam (nom. sg. n.): 'all this' ; this whole world
pravṛttam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. issued from (abl.) , come forth , resulted , arisen , produced , brought about , happened , occurred

na: not
kāma-kāraḥ (nom. sg. m.): m. the act of following one's own inclinations , spontaneous deed , voluntary action , acting of one's own free will , free will
asti: there is
kutaḥ: ind. from whom? from where? whence? whereto? in which direction? wherefore? why? from what cause or motive?
prayatnaḥ (nom. sg.): m. persevering effort , continued exertion

蕀刺誰令利 此則性自然
及種種禽獸 無欲使爾者 

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