Monday, March 24, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.67: Following the Rule & Honouring the Standard

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
tat-saumya mokṣe yadi bhaktir-asti nyāyena sevasva vidhiṁ yathoktam |
evaṁ bhaviṣyaty-upapattir-asya saṁtāpa-nāśaś-ca narādhipasya || 9.67 

Therefore, O mild-mannered man of the soma,
if you are devoted to release,

Honour the standard, in the proper manner, as prescribed.

Thus will come about the realization of the release

And the ending of the anguish of the lord of men.

I dreamt last night of being lost in a big city, walking up and down in one wrong direction after another; then I woke feeling lost, weak, oppressed by karma. An hour later and I don't feel at all lost any more. I feel, albeit temporarily, like the king of the universe. How is such a turnaround possible? Only by virtue of honouring the standard.

By honouring the standard, sitting in lotus with body wrapped in a kaṣāya, I clearly see the direction to go in, which is primarily UP. 

  • I want the the whole body, and especially the neck, not to be held in the grip of fear. 
  • I want the head not to be pulled forward and down, like the head of a baby in the womb, and not to be pulled back, like the head of a baby hyper-extending as it pushes and is pushed out of the birth canal: I want the head to go FORWARD and UP. 
  • I want the two sides of my body to be integrated with each other as part of a widening whole. 
  • And I similarly want the top and bottom halves of me to be properly integrated with each other, so that legs and pelvis are separate at the hip joints, and the pelvis is in no sense separate from the rest of the back.
What I have just described here is FM Alexander's four primary directions, understood in light of four primitive vestibular reflexes. That I am able to understand the four directions like this owes much to the late Ray Evans, but at the same time any understanding of it that I have got is all by virtue of honouring the standard.

In today's verse the counsellor tells the bodhisattva
sevasva viddhim
Obey the rule! 
Follow the form! 
Keep to the format! 
Practise the method! 
Honour the standard!

EBC translated the 2nd pāda: follow rightly the prescribed rule.
EHJ: follow in due form the injunctions I have just described.
PO: properly follow the rule I have pointed out.

These translation are all perfectly good. But at the same time I think Aśvaghoṣa is again goading us to consider, in connection with previously discussed elements of mokṣa (release), yatna (effort), and krama (process), what is the meaning, in our own practice, of a viddhi (MW: a rule, law, a prescribed act or rite or ceremony, a method), a standard method. 

Today's verse combines an imperative to follow a rule or to honour a standard (viddhiṁ √sev) with release/liberation (mokṣa) in the locative case.

This combination somehow seems, at first glance, to express a contradiction in terms.

A rule in the direction of release.
An iron law leading to liberation.
A framework for freedom.
A code prescribed for coming undone.

The contradiction seems to be highlighted by the juxtaposition of (a) the vocative saumya (O mild man of the soma! O kind gentlemen!), which is addressed to someone yielding, with (b) the content of the 2nd pāda suggesting something rigid and unyielding. 

From tomorrow's verse until the end of his monologue at BC9.72, the counsellor makes his case directly that the prince should leave the forest and go home. But before that, by means of such provocative juxtapositions, I think Aśvaghoṣa is encouraging us, one last time, to engage our grey matter and ask:

What is this thing called mokṣa that was pursued so devotedly in India both before and after the time of the Buddha?

And how is it to be pursued? How was it pursued then, before the time of the Buddha? How are we to pursue it now, as followers of the Buddha?

Do we pursue it by throwing away the rule-book? Do we pursue it by following the rule-book to the letter?

It is difficult for me to imagine any circumstances more conducive to release than certain Japanese hot springs that I visited while I was in Japan. Imagine soaking in a bath for half an hour with your naked body being supported by thick muddy sulphurous water that is not too hot or not too cold for soaking in, and just letting all muscular tension come undone, like being cocooned again in your mother's womb. On one level that kind of experience, which I did have in Japan, represents to me the epitome of being free of restraints. But if I had started loudly singing rugby songs while soaking in that bath, or – even worse – produced a scrubbing brush and a bar of soap, I would soon have been made aware of certain iron rules that exist in Japan, even for such a liberating thing as soaking in a bath... or especially for such a liberating thing as soaking in a bath.

When we reflect further, then, on what seem to be contradictions in terms, there seems to be a universal principle by which freedom – as was conceived in Brahmanism, or as was realized by the Buddha – has always to be anchored in something restrictive.

My Alexander head of training Ray Evans, who in his past life had been an engineer, explained this as a physical principle with an example like an aeroplane propeller, which is designed to move with maximum freedom, but around a pivot point that has to be very rigidly fixed.

Similarly, by setting aside 60 minutes in the morning to sit, and maintaining that as a fixed standard every morning, I demonstrate what from the outside might look like rigidity, or even a kind of obsessive-compulsive behaviour. But from the inside such rigidity affords a certain freedom. Without this kind of adherence to a traditional standard, my dream this morning might have been reminding me, I with my congenitally dodgy vestibular system would be ever liable to get lost.

Again, when Dogen came back from China to Japan, the title of the work he wrote was not something like “A Celebration of My Liberation,” but was rather FUKAN-ZAZEN-GI “The Rule of Sitting-Zen Recommended for Everybody” or “The Universally Recommended Standard Method of Sitting-Meditation.” The GI () of FUKANZENGI means something very close to the Sanskrit vidhi, i.e. a ceremonial act, a prescribed method of acting, a rule.

Characters thought to be written in Dogen's own hand.

  (Jap: GI) means rule, ceremony, model, rite, standard.

tat: ind. therefore
saumya (voc. sg.): O man of the soma!
mokṣe (loc. sg.): m. release, liberation, coming undone
yadi: if
bhaktiḥ (nom. sg.): f. division, predisposition (of body to any disease); attachment , devotion , fondness for , devotion to (with loc.)
asti: there is

nyāyena: ind. (inst. sg.) in the right manner , regularly , duly
nyāya: m. (fr. 4. nī) that into which a thing goes back i.e. an original type , standard , method , rule , (esp.) a general or universal rule , model , axiom , system , plan , manner , right or fit manner or way
sevasva = 2nd pers. sg. imperative sev: to remain or stay at , live in , frequent , haunt , inhabit , resort to (acc.) ; to serve , wait or attend upon , honour , obey
vidhim (acc. sg.): m. a rule , formula , injunction , ordinance , statute , precept , law , direction (esp. for the performance of a rite as given in the brāhmaṇa portion of the veda); any prescribed act or rite or ceremony ; method , manner or way of acting
yathoktam: ind. according to what has been stated , as mentioned before , in the above-mentioned way

evam: ind. thus
bhaviṣyati = 3rd pers. sg. future bhū: to be, become
upapattiḥ (nom. sg.): f. happening , occurring , becoming visible , appearing , taking place , production , effecting , accomplishing
asya (gen. sg.): this , this here , referring to something near the speaker

saṁtāpa-nāśaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the ending of the anguish
saṁtāpa: m. becoming very hot , great or burning heat , glow , fire ; affliction , pain , sorrow , anguish , distress
nāśa: m. the being lost , loss , disappearance ,
ca: and
narādhipasya (gen. sg.): m. 'lord of men' ; king

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