Thursday, March 20, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.63: Thy/My Will Be Done vs Effort in the Direction of Undoing

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Sālā)
sargaṁ vadantīśvaratas-tathānye tatra prayatne puruṣaṣya ko 'rthaḥ |
ya eva hetur-jagataḥ pravttau hetur-nivttau niyataḥ sa eva || 9.63 

Others say, in a similar way,
that creation arises from Īśvara, the Almighty.

What meaning for a person, in that case, is there in effort,

When what causes the world's carrying on

Is the same immutable agency that causes cessation?

Today's verse as I read it is designed to cause us to consider what kind of effort is required in nivṛtti (cessation, non-doing) as opposed to pravṛtti (carrying on, doing).

In other words, what kind of effort did the Buddha have in mind when he told Nanda:

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.

According to the view which the counsellor attributes to others (without even having the gumption to own that view himself), all is the will of the Almighty, and so no effort is required on the part of the individual. This may not have been the original intention of the likes of Jesus or Mohammed when they taught their followers sentiments like “Thy will be done” or  Insha'Alla, but some Christians and Muslims have seemed through history to take the teaching that way, as a justification for passivity. Thus, I remember reading in Bruno Bettleheim's account (The Informed Heart) of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, that Jewish inmates who had lost all spark and totally resigned themselves to their fate were known by other Jewish inmates as “Muslims.”

The false thesis, then, seems to that because all creation arises from the Almighty, individual effort is pointless, but rather “Thy will be done.” Are we to think, in that case, that the true Buddhist anti-thesis is “My will be done”? As opposed to the passive viewpoint of the religious martyr, should we think that the viewpoint of the operatic prima donna is the true one?

Again, I think Aśvaghoṣa is having the counsellor cite a one-sided view NOT so as to stimulate us to take the other side, in a philosophical debate, but rather to stimulate our grey matter into thinking what the Buddha's teaching really is, and what relation the Buddha's teaching bears to philosophical conflicts.

My Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima came to the conclusion some time around the early 1990s that the Buddha's teaching is not a religion but is a philosophy.

From where I sit, the Buddha's teaching is very intimately related with FM Alexander's observation that “there is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a thing as a right direction.”

FM Alexander was not interested in philosophy. He loved horses, and was more a fan of the turf than of intellectual pursuits. So when he observed that “there is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a thing as a right direction,” he was not making a philosophical proposition. He was, however, making an observation that has philosophical implications.

The main implication, it seems to me, might be that whenever philosophical views are competing with each other to establish which one is more true – e.g. “Thy will be done” vs “My will be done”, or free will vs determinism, or the Enlightenment view of objective reality vs post-modernism – the right direction for a follower of the Buddha's teaching is always towards the abandonment of those views.

At the level of sitting-meditation, I venture to submit, to hold a view is to hold undue tension, and to abandon a view is to release undue tension – or, in other words, to come undone. 

Hence, in a real, physical sense, to move in the direction of abandoning all views is to move in the direction of undoing, i.e. the direction of muscular release (mokṣa), i.e. of lengthening and widening, i.e. of growing upward and outward.

"You cannot do an undoing," Marjory Barlow used to say. 

In conclusion, then, if today's verse is read on the basis of belief in God as eternal prime mover in the Universe, then what the counsellor is saying makes a certain sense. 

But on the basis of the practical truth that "You cannot do an undoing," the counsellor's understanding of pravṛtti (carrying on, doing) and nivṛtti (cessation, non-doing), could not be more different from what the Buddha taught. 

The cause of pravṛtti (carrying on, doing), as the Buddha used that term, is unconscious thirsting/grasping. The cause of  nivṛtti (cessation, non-doing), as the Buddha used that term, is just an effort of consciousness. 

So in the Buddha's teaching, in my book at least, there is not one common immutable cause of doing and non-doing. On the contary, there are two distinct causes which are opposed to each other. 

sargam (acc. sg.): m. (fr. √ sṛj) letting go , discharging , voiding (as excrement) ; a herd let loose from a stable , any troop or host or swarm or multitude ; emission or creation of matter , primary creation (as opp. to pratisarga " secondary creation ") , creation of the world (as opp. to its pralaya " dissolution " , and sthiti , " maintenance in existence ")
vadanti = 3rd pers. pl. vad: to speak, say
īśvaratas: from Īśvara; from the Almighty
īśvara: mfn. able to do , capable of master , lord , prince , king ; m. God, the supreme being
-taḥ: (ablative suffix)
tathā: ind. likewise
anye (nom. pl. m.): others

tatra: ind. there, in that case, in those circumstances
prayatne (loc. sg.): m. persevering effort , continued exertion or endeavour
puruṣaṣya (gen. sg.): m. a man , male , human being ; a person
kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): what?
arthaḥ (nom. sg.): m. use, utility, sense, meaning, advantage

yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): [that] which
eva: (emphatic)
hetuḥ (nom. sg.): m. " impulse " , motive , cause , cause of , reason for (loc. , rarely dat. or gen)
jagataḥ (gen. sg.): n. that which moves or is alive ; the world
jagat: (pres. part. √gam, to go) living
pravṛttau (loc. sg.): f. onward movement, doing, continuing activity, carrying on

hetuḥ (nom. sg.): m. cause
nivṛttau (loc. sg.): f. returning, non-doing, ceasing; ceasing from worldly acts , inactivity , rest , repose (opp. to pra-vṛtti)
niyataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (past. part. ni- √yam, to fasten) fixed , established , settled , sure , regular , invariable , positive , definite [EBC: determined; EHJ: certainly]
niyataḥ = gen. sg. m. pres. part. ni-√i: to go into (cf. nyāya) , enter , come or fall into , incur (acc.) ; to undergo the nature of i.e. to be changed into
sa (nom. sg. m.): it, that
eva: (emphatic)

諸有生天者 自在天所爲
及餘造化者 無自力方便
若有所由生 彼亦能令滅

何須自方便 而求於解脱 

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