Friday, March 28, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.71: Brahma-Dharma vs Buddha-Dharma

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bhadrā)
evaṁ-vidhā dharma-yaśaḥ-pradīpā vanāni hitvā bhavanāny-atīyuḥ |
tasmān-na doṣo 'sti ghaṁ prayātuṁ tapo-vanād-dharma-nimittam-eva || 9.71

Such lanterns as these of the splendour of dharma

Quit the forests and returned to their houses.

There is no fault in going home, therefore,

Away from the ascetic forest, when the reason is dharma itself!”

When I first read today's verse I felt the compound dharma-yaśaḥ-pradīptā (“shining with the splendour of dharma”), as per the old Nepalese manuscript, ought to be a noun phrase rather than adjectival. It seems Gawronski felt the same and suggested that pradīptā (shining) could be amended to pradīpa (lantern). I have followed Gawronski's conjecture and amended to pradīpa.

In BC9.48, in his reply to the veteran priest, the bodhisattva distinguished between two dharmas – the dharma of liberation, and the dharma of a king:
Again, as for the tradition that rulers of men realized liberation while maintaining their status in the royal family – that is not so. / How can the dharma of liberation, in which peace is paramount, be reconciled with the dharma of a king,  in which the rod is paramount?//BC9.48//

Disinclined to take this point, the counsellor began his speech by mentioning dharma three times:  
“This mantra-containing resolve of yours is not improper; but neither is it suited to the present time. / For to deliver your father in his old age into sorrow might not be, for one who loves dharma as you do, your dharma.//BC9.53// Assuredly, again, your judgement is not very acute, or else is dull, with regard to dharma, wealth and desires, / In that, for the sake of an unseen result, you pass over conspicuous wealth.//BC9.54//

After that the counsellor talked a lot about making effort (yatna) in the direction of release (mokṣa). We examined how the same words evidently meant something very different in the Brahmanical tradition from what they came to mean in the Buddha's teaching.

In today's verse the counsellor concludes his speech by coming back to dharma, using the word dharma twice in his closing verse as he also used the word dharma twice in his opening verse.

So my sense is that Aśvaghoṣa is goading us, for the final time in this Canto, to engage the grey matter and think again about what the word dharma really means. What did it mean to people before the time of the Buddha's enlightenment? And what did the Buddha mean by dharma?

In asking this question I remind myself of my son when he got lucky in what students at British universities call a viva – an oral examination. Having prepared for exactly the question that came up, my son told me how he felt obliged to insert a pause before beginning to speak, to create the impression of somebody going through a process in order to arrive at the answer.

In similar way I have been thoroughly briefed by Zen Master Dogen as to the answer to my own question of what the Buddha ultimately meant by dharma. The Buddha-dharma, asserted Dogen, is to sit. And to sit is the Buddha-dharma.

Thus, in the final analysis, I think that with the tiresome speech of the counsellor, which has thankfully now just ended, Aśvaghoṣa's intention has been to goad us in the direction of yatna, mokṣa, and dharma that the counsellor has never seen even in a dream – in the direction of the effort which is sitting, in the direction of the coming undone which is sitting, and ultimately in the direction of the dharma itself which is sitting.

So much for what I think. What, in Aśvaghoṣa's record of the Buddha's teaching, does the Buddha say? How does the enlightened Buddha, when he speaks to the enlightened Nanda of dharma in SN Canto 18, speak of dharma?

uttiṣṭha dharme sthita śiṣya-juṣṭe kiṃ pādayor-me patito 'si murdhnā /
"You who stands firm in the dharma which is loved by those who study it, 
stand up! Why are you fallen with your head at my feet?
abhyarcanaṃ me na tathā praṇāmo dharme yathaiṣā pratipattir-eva //SN18.22 //
The prostration does not honour me 
so much as this surefootedness in the dharma.

adyārthavat-te śrutavac-chrutaṃ tac-chrutānurūpaṃ pratipadya dharmaṁ /
Listening ears open to the truth which is replete with listening, and with purpose,
today you stand surefooted in the dharma
in a manner that befits the listening tradition.
kṛta-śruto vipratipadyamāno nindyo hi nirvīrya ivāttaśastraḥ // 18.25 //
For a man equipped with listening ears who is wavering
is like a swordsman lacking valour: he is worthy of blame.

ihottamebhyo 'pi mataḥ sa tūttamo ya uttamaṃ dharmam-avāpya naiṣṭhikam /
But deemed to be higher than the highest in this world is he who,
having realized the supreme ultimate dharma,
acintayitvātma-gataṃ pariśramaṃ śamaṃ parebhyo 'py-upadeṣṭum-icchati//18.56//
Desires, without worrying about the trouble to himself,
to teach tranquillity to others.

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!'

In the words of the counsellor who is steeped in the Brahmanical tradition, then, dharma is duty, to be done; and dharma is a spiritual or religious aim of life, to be believed in. Aśvaghoṣa's hidden agenda, as I perceive it, is to cause us to consider the difference between such views of dharma and what Nāgārjuna calls saddharma, the true dharma, the Truth, whose direction he describes as sarva-dṛṣti-prahāṇāya, “towards the abandoning of all views.” This dharma, as the Buddha speaks of it, is not so much to be done and is not so much to be believed in; it is rather to be stood firm in, or to be sat firm in. 

I honestly don't know this morning whether I am the highest person in the world or the lowest. Is it possible for one person to be both? For most of 2014 I have been more or less ill, and can't help feeling, when I look back on my life of fearful and greedy end-gaining, that my burden of bad karma is a heavy one. At the same time, as a result of having made a methodical effort for the last 30 years or so in the direction of real release – i.e. not in the direction of a Brahmanical or Buddhist fantasy but in the direction of real neuro-muscular undoing in the real context of actually sitting – it is evident to me that when I sit in the morning, I sit firm in four dharma-directions.

I could have told you 20 or 30 years ago, having read it in Shobogenzo and believed it, that "the Buddha-dharma is sitting and sitting is the Buddha-dharma," but I dare say that I sit more firmly in the dharma now than ever I did then. Whether I feel healthy or ill, whether the price of gold goes up or down, whether other people affirm me or negate me, I sit firm in four dharma-directions, and know that nothing will ever shake that firmness.

Moreover, as a result of choosing (guided by what I don't know) to train as an Alexander teacher under Ray Evans, who understood the importance in Alexander work of primitive reflexes, I seem to be singularly well placed to voice those dharma-directions in terms of (1) Alexander's four primary directions, and (2) four corresponding primitive vestibular reflexes.

In the first instance I wish to let the neck be free. I wish my whole being to expand, as it is released out of the grip of the primitive fear reflex.

Secondly, I wish to allow my head to go forward. I know what it is like to sit in such a way that the thought of sitting upright stimulates that baby balance reflex which causes the head to be pulled back. I don't want to be held in the grip of that reflex, which is a friend and close ally of fear. Rather I want my head to release forward. But not forward and down. I don't want to sit all curled up like a baby in the womb, and I don't want to slump forward. No. I want to allow my head to go forward and up.

Thirdly, I wish to allow my back to widen. To that end, I think of the two sides of myself being separate from each other, left side going left, right side going right. I am aware of my two sitting bones and my two legs and my double-spiral musculature, and am aware of my two arms. My hands moving away from each other and away from my body, I open my arms. And then I bring my hands together. As the palms come into contact I think my two sides coming together and think of my two sides releasing apart, palms in contact, elbows directed out, upper arms directed away from each other, widening across the upper part of the arms as I widen the back – the whole back from the top of the neck to the bottom of the pelvis. What I have described in this paragraph is (a) the function of what I call the goalkeeper reflex, which separates the self into left and right sides, and (b) the inhibition or integration of that reflex by the action of bringing the hands to the midline.

Fourthly I wish my pelvis to release my legs out of itself, so that the pelvis works as part of the back, and not as if it were part of the legs. Again, I am aware of my sitting bones, which are part of my pelvis, and I am aware of my legs the top of which are joined to the pelvis and are resting on the round cushion, the knees of which are on the floor, and the feet of which are crossing the midline. With palms still together, I bow, rocking forward on my sitting bones in such a way that the pelvis and the legs remain separate, and rocking back. I rest my hands on my lap in such a way that the fingers are overlapping and the thumbs are touching at the midline, and sway from side to side. Again I sway in such a way that the pelvis moves with the rest of the back, all in one piece. In so moving, I am releasing my body out of the grip of the fourth of the four primitive vestibular reflexes, which I call the cat-sit reflex.

These four directions, which I have come to understand in terms of their relation with four primitive vestibular reflexes, are nothing that I believe in. But I have come to sit firm in them.

What FM Alexander expressed with his four primary directions was a discovery that he made that has universal validity – just as Einstein's discovery of e = mc2 has universal validity, and is not a function of anybody's belief in that equation.

Seeing the connection of Alexander's four primary directions with the four primitive vestbular reflexes (the Moro Reflex, Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex, Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex, and Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex, to give them their scientific names), helps me to understand that what FM Alexander discovered was a truth of universal validity. His four directions, in my book, are just saddharma-deśanāḥ, true dharma directions.

  • Let the neck be free
  • To let the head go forward and up
  • To let the back lengthen and widen
  • While letting the pelvis work as part of the back. 
So, I venture to submit, the Buddha-dharma, in light of these four directions, is just to sit. And just to sit, in light of these four directions, is the Buddha-dharma.

evaṁ-vidhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. of such a kind , in such a form or manner , such
dharma-yaśaḥ-pradīptāḥ (nom. pl. m.): shining with the splendour of dharma
yaśas: n. beautiful appearance , beauty , splendour , worth ; honour, glory, fame, renown
pradīpta: mfn. kindled , inflamed , burning , shining
dharma-yaśaḥ-pradīpā [Gawronski] (nom. pl. m.): shining with the splendour of dharma
pradīpa: m. a light , lamp , lantern (often ifc. " the light i.e. the glory or ornament of ")

vanāni (acc. pl.): n. the forests
hitvā = abs. hā: to leave, quit
bhavanāni (acc. pl.): n. a place of abode , mansion , home , house , palace , dwelling
atīyuḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. ati-√i: to pass by ; to enter

tasmāt: ind. from that, therefore
na: not
doṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a fault
asti: there is
gṛham (acc. sg.): n. home
prayātum = inf. pra- √ yā: to go forth ; go or repair to (acc.)

tapo-vanāt (abl. sg.): n. the ascetic forest
dharma-nimittam: ind. because of dharma, on account of dharma
eva: (emphatic)

如是等先勝 正法善名稱
悉還王領國 如燈照世間
是故捨山林 正法化非過 

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