Saturday, March 22, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.65: Different Conceptions of Release?

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Kīrti)
naraḥ pitṇām-anṇaḥ prajābhir-vedair-ṣīṇāṁ kratubhiḥ surāṇām |
utpadyate sārdham-ṇais-tribhis-tair-yasyāsti mokṣaḥ kila tasya mokṣaḥ || 9.65 

A man becomes free of his debt
to the ancestors through his offspring,

To the ancient sages through the vedas,
and to the gods through acts of sacrifice.

He is born with these three debts

And when from these three he is released,
there, so they say, in him, is release.

Evidently the idea of making effort in the direction of release pre-dated the Buddha, and the Buddha after his enlightenment taught the likes of Nanda to make effort in the direction of release. It is equally evident, from the present series of verses, that words for effort (yatna) and for release (mokṣa) were the same before and after.

I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention, then, was to stimulate us to consider whether the two kinds of effort and two kinds of release were variations on the same theme, or were (to borrow a phrase from FM Alexander) different – nay opposite – conceptions.

According to the MW dictionary, a Brahman owes three debts or obligations, viz. 1. brahmacarya or "study of the vedas", to the ṛṣis; 2. sacrifice and worship, to the gods; 3. procreation of a son, to the Mane.

So the counsellor in today's verse is evidently referring to an ancient idea in Brahmanism.

Now Indophile Buddhist scholars say that Aśvaghoṣa sought to present the Buddha's teaching as a kind of flowering of Brahmanism; and at the same time Indophile Buddhist scholars understand that Aśvaghoṣa was out to refute Brahmanical arguments.

From where I sit Aśvaghoṣa was most certainly not intending to present the Buddha's Dharma as consummation of Brahmanism. At the same time I don't think Aśvaghoṣa was particularly interested in refuting Brahmanical arguments. Aśvaghoṣa, as he tells us himself in SN18.64, was primarily interested not in philosophical argument but in the practical matter of release

Though Buddhist scholars are bound to see me as an oddball for saying this, I see a parallel with the approach of FM Alexander. If we want somebody in the west to compare Aśvaghoṣa to, William Shakespeare would seem to be an obvious candidate. But I think a truer parallel might be with FM Alexander. 

Some scholars have pointed to an ongoing debate between Brahmanism and Buddhism, as if the Buddha's teaching was an -ism battling it out for supremacy on an equal footing with another -ism.  

My standpoint may be unfashionably non-post-modernist, but I think the direction implicit in Aśvaghoṣa's writing is a million miles away from any such ongoing debate between Brahmanism and Buddhism. 

The task of a follower of the Buddha in practice – which admittedly is totally different from the task of a Buddhist scholar – is never to engage as a Buddhist in an ongoing debate with anybody. The task is to make effort in the direction of a freedom in which all debate has been transcended.

From where I sit, Aśvaghoṣa sought to present the Buddha's teaching as veering in the direction of that condition of neuro-muscular release, or lengthening and widening, of a person sitting in full lotus, which embodies the abandoning of all views. All views includes both (a) on the one side, Brahmanical arguments; and (b) on the other side, the refutation of those arguments.

The emphasis that Aśvaghoṣa places, in the final two cantos of Saundara-nanda, on release, freedom, liberation, or coming undone (mokṣa), is expressed by many verbs and nouns from the root √muc. So if Aśvaghoṣa's intention in today's verse was indeed to stimulate us to consider how the same word mokṣa can express opposite – nay completely different– conceptions, then perusing some of these verses may be instructive:

athaivam-ādeśita-tattva-mārgo nandas-tadā prāpta-vimokṣa-mārgaḥ /
Having thus had pointed out to him the path of what is,
Nanda took that path of liberation.
sarveṇa bhāvena gurau praṇamya kleśa-prahāṇāya vanaṃ jagāma // SN17.1 //
He bowed with his whole being before the Guru and,
with a view to abandoning the afflictions, he made for the forest.

sa pādayos-tatra vidhāya śaucaṃ śucau śive śrīmati vṛkṣa-mūle /
Having washed his feet there, 
Nanda, by a clean, auspicious, and splendid tree-root,
mokṣāya baddhvā vyavasāya-kakṣāṃ paryaṅkamaṅkāvahitaṃ babandha // 17.3 //
Girded on the intention to come undone, and sat with legs fully crossed.

tataḥ sa tattvaṃ nikhilaṃ cikīrṣur-mokṣānukūlāṃś-ca vidhīṃś-cikīrṣan /
Wishing to practise, on that basis, the truth that has no gaps,
and wishing to perform practices that would be favourable to release,
jñānena lokyena śamena caiva cacāra cetaḥ-parikarma-bhūmau // 17.5 //
He moved, using mundane know-how, and stillness,
into the stage of readying of consciousness

vimokṣa-kāmasya hi yogino 'pi manaḥ puraṃ jñāna-vidhiś-ca daṇḍaḥ /
Because, for a practitioner whose desire is release,
the mind is his fortress, know-how is his rod,
guṇāś-ca mitrāṇy-arayaś-ca doṣā bhūmir-vimuktir-yatate yad-artham // 17.12 //
The virtues are his friends, the faults are his foes;
and liberation is the territory he endeavours to reach.

sa duḥkha-jālān-mahato mumukṣur-vimokṣa-mārgādhigame vivikṣuḥ /
Desiring release from the great net of suffering;
desiring to enter into possession of the pathways of release,
panthānam-āryaṃ paramaṃ didṛkṣuḥ śamaṃ yayau kiṃ-cid-upātta-cakṣuḥ // 17.13 //
Desiring to experience the supreme noble path;
he got a bit of the Eye, and came to quiet.

yaḥ syān-niketas-tamaso 'niketaḥ śrutvāpi tattvaṃ sa bhavet pramattaḥ /
Heedless would be the unhoused man who, despite hearing the truth,
housed the darkness of ignorance;
yasmāt-tu mokṣāya sa pātra-bhūtas-tasmān-manaḥ sv-ātmani saṃjahāra // 17.14 //
But since Nanda was a man of the bowl, a receptacle for liberation,
he had collected his mind into himself.

āryeṇa mārgeṇa tathaiva muktas-tathāgataṃ tattva-vid-ārya-tattvaḥ /
Exactly so is a finder of reality who, set free by the noble path,
is the reality of being noble:
anusmaran paśyati kāya-sākṣī maitryā ca sarva-jñatayā ca tuṣṭaḥ // 17.34 //
His body being a seeing Eye, he sees the Realised One,
gratefully acknowledging his benevolence and all-knowingness.

sa nāśakair-dṛṣṭi-gatair-vimuktaḥ paryantam-ālokya punar-bhavasya /
Sprung free from pernicious theories, seeing an end to becoming,
bhaktvā ghṛṇāṃ kleśa-vijṛmbhiteṣu mṛtyor-na tatrāsa na dur-gatibhyaḥ // 17.35 //
And feeling horror for the consequences of affliction,
Nanda trembled not at death or hellish realms.

mūlāny-atha trīṇy-aśubhasya vīras-tribhir-vimokṣāyatanaiś-cakarta /
And so the hero cut the three roots of shameful conduct 
using three seats of release,
camū-mukha-sthān dhṛta-kārmukāṃs-trīn-arīn-ivāris-tribhir-āyasāgraiḥ // 17.40 //
As if three rival princes, bearing bows in the van of their armies,
had been cut down by one prince using three iron points.

mahā-bhayāt kṣemam-ivopalabhya mahāvarodhād-iva vipramokṣam /
Like gaining safety after great danger;
like gaining release after long imprisonment;
mahārṇavāt pāram-ivāplavaḥ san bhīmāndhakārād-iva ca prakāśam // 17.68 //
Like having no boat and yet gaining the far shore, after a mighty deluge;
and like gaining clarity, after fearful darkness;

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 // 17.72 //
To be released into this quieted, dustless, feverless, sorrowless, 
ultimate true reality, which is free from darkness.

anye 'pi santo vimumukṣavo hi śrutvā vimokṣāya nayaṃ parasya /
For true freedom-loving people (however individual they are)
when they hear of another person's plan that led to freedom
muktasya rogād-iva rogavantas-tenaiva mārgeṇa sukhaṃ ghaṭante // 18.13 //
Will happily work at freedom via that same path,
like sick men hearing the plan of one who became free from a disease.

aniścitaś-cāpratibaddha-citto dṛṣṭa-śrutādau vyavahāra-dharme /
In the daily round of dharma-practice 
since I am neither certain about nor bound in mind to 
visual, auditory and other kinds of perception,
yasmāt samātmānugataś-ca tatra tasmād visaṃyoga-gato 'smi muktaḥ // 18.19 //
And since through that dharma-round I am graced by trailing equanimity,
on that account I am detached and am free."

aho dhṛtis-te 'viṣayātmakasya yat-tvaṃ matiṃ mokṣa-vidhāv-akārṣīḥ /
Ah! What firmness in you, who is a slave to objects no more,
in that you have willed the means of liberation.
yāsyāmi niṣṭhām-iti bāliśo hi janma-kṣayāt trāsam-ihābhyupaiti // 18.26 //
For, facing the end of existence in this world and thinking 'I will be finished,'
it is a fool who gives in to a state of quivering anxiety.

rajas-tamobhyāṃ parimukta-cetasas-tavaiva ceyaṃ sadṛśī kṛtajñatā /
This gratitude is fitting, again, in none but you
whose mind has been liberated from the dust of the passions and from darkness.
rajaḥ-prakarṣeṇa jagaty-avasthite kṛtajña-bhāvo hi kṛtajña durlabhaḥ // 18.52 //
For while dust prevails in the world, O man of gratitude!
real gratitude is a rare state of being.

bravītu tāvat puri vismito janas-tvayi sthite kurvati dharma-deśanāḥ /
Just let the astonished people in the city say,
while you are standing firm, voicing dharma-directions,
aho batāścaryam-idaṃ vimuktaye karoti rāgī yad-ayaṃ kathām-iti // 18.58 //
'Well! What a wonder this is, 
that he who was a man of passion is preaching liberation!'

bhikṣārthaṃ samaye viveśa sa puraṃ dṛṣṭīr-janasyākṣipan
When the occasion arose 
he entered the town for begging and attracted the citizens' gaze;
lābhālābha-sukhāsukhādiṣu samaḥ svasthendriyo nispṛhaḥ /
Being impartial towards gain, loss, comfort, discomfort, and the like
and with his senses composed, he was free of longing;
nirmokṣāya cakāra tatra ca kathāṃ kāle janāyārthine
And being there, in the moment, he talked of liberation to people so inclined --
naivonmārga-gatān parān paribhavann-ātmānam-utkarṣayan // 18.62 //
Never putting down others on a wrong path or raising himself up.

ity-eṣā vyupaśāntaye na rataye mokṣārtha-garbhā kṛtiḥ
This work is pregnant with the purpose of release
it is for cessation, not for titillation;
śrotṝṇāṃ grahaṇārtham-anya-manasāṃ kāvyopacārāt kṛtā /
It is wrought out of the figurative expression of kāvya poetry
in order to capture an audience whose minds are on other things --
yan-mokṣāt kṛtam-anyad-atra hi mayā tat-kāvya-dharmāt kṛtaṃ
For what I have written here not pertaining to liberation,
I have written in accordance with the conventions of kāvya poetry.
pātuṃ tiktam-ivauṣadhaṃ madhu-yutaṃ hṛdyaṃ kathaṃ syād-iti // 18.63 //
This is through asking myself 
how the bitter pill might be made pleasant to swallow, 
like bitter medicine mixed with something sweet.

prāyeṇālokya lokaṃ viṣaya-rati-paraṃ mokṣāt pratihataṃ
Seeing, in general, that the world is moved primarily by fondness for objects
and is repelled by liberation,
kāvya-vyājena tattvaṃ kathitam-iha mayā mokṣaḥ param-iti /
I for whom liberation is paramount have told it here like it is,
using a kāvya poem as a pretext.
tad-buddhvā śāmikaṃ yat-tad-avahitam-ito grāhyaṃ na lalitaṃ
Being aware of the deceit,
take from (this verb-rooted dust) what pertains to peace and not to idle pleasure.
pāṃsubhyo dhātu-jebhyo niyatam-upakaraṃ cāmīkaram-iti // SN18.64 //
Then elemental dust, assuredly, shall yield up serviceable gold.

If I come back to the 1st person singular, what holds me in its grip is more than three kinds of debt. Fear, particularly in the form of primitive fear reflexes, holds me in its grip. Anger holds me in its grip. Greed holds me in its grip. Obsession, compulsion, infatuation, holds me in its grip. Bad habit, mis-use, holds me in its grip. A view which, as such is a priori false, holds me in its grip. Worrying holds me in its grip. 

Being gripped is a neuro-muscular thing. Understanding well the neuro- part of the equation, FM Alexander described work in the direction of being released as "the most mental thing there is." At the same time, not neglecting the -muscular part of the equation either, Alexander employed in his teaching what he called "positions of mechanical advantage," the best known of these being what his students called the monkey position.  

The supreme position of mechanical advantage, however, at least in my book, is sitting in full lotus. So when Aśvaghoṣa wrote that for him release/liberation (mokṣa) was paramount, I read those words as equivalent to Dogen saying that for him sitting in full lotus was paramount. A buddha just sitting in full lotus is the very embodiment of release from every kind of grip. 

In conclusion then, there is, as I see it, a lot more to work on, in the direction of release, than release from debts to ancestors, ancient sages and gods.  

But finally, as the one main means, the one great matter, we have this mysteriously powerful traditional "position of mechanical advantage" which is sitting in full lotus. And for that, in the end, a debt of thanks may indeed be due to the ancient Indian ancestors, to the ancient Indian sages and to the ancient Indian gods. 

naraḥ (nom. sg.): m. a man
pitṛṇām (gen. pl.): m. the fathers , forefathers , ancestors , (esp.) the pitṛs or deceased ancestors
an-ṛṇaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn free from debt
prajābhiḥ (inst. pl.): f. offshoot, offspring

vedaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. knowledge , true or sacred knowledge or lore , knowledge of ritual ; N. of certain celebrated works which constitute the basis of the first period of the Hindu religion (these works were primarily three , viz. 1. the ṛg-veda , 2. the yajur-veda, 3. the sāma-veda)
ṛṣīṇām (gen. pl.): m. a singer of sacred hymns , an inspired poet or sage , any person who alone or with others invokes the deities in rhythmical speech or song of a sacred character ; the ṛṣis were regarded by later generations as patriarchal sages or saints , occupying the same position in India history as the heroes and patriarchs of other countries , and constitute a peculiar class of beings in the early mythical system , as distinct from gods , men , asuras , &c
kratubhiḥ (inst. pl.): m. ( √1. kṛ , or 2. kṛ) , plan , design , intention , resolution , determination , purpose ; deliberation, consultation ; a sacrificial rite or ceremony , sacrifice (as the aśva-medha sacrifice) , offering , worship
surāṇām (gen. pl.): m. a god , divinity , deity

utpadyate = 3rd pers. sg. ut- √ pad: to arise , rise , originate , be born
sārdham: ind. jointly , together , along with , with
ṛṇaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. anything due , obligation , duty , debt (a Brahman owes three debts or obligations , viz. 1 . brahmacarya or " study of the vedas " , to the ṛṣis ; 2. sacrifice and worship , to the gods ; 3. procreation of a son , to the Mane)
tribhiḥ (inst. pl. n.): three
taiḥ (inst. pl. n.): those

yasya (gen. sg.): of whom
asti: there is
mokṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. liberation, release, exemption
kila: ind. (a particle of asseveration or emphasis) indeed , verily , assuredly ; " so said " " so reported " , pretendedly
tasya (gen. sg.): of him
mokṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. liberation, release, exemption

如人生育子 不負於祖宗
學仙人遺典 奉天大祠祀
此三無所負 則名爲解脱

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