Saturday, March 29, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.72: The Firm Resolve of the Son of a King

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
tato vacas-tasya niśamya mantriṇaḥ priyaṁ hitaṁ caiva npasya cakṣuṣaḥ |
anūnam-avyastam-asaktam-adrutaṁ dhtau sthito rāja-suto 'bravīd-vacaḥ || 9.72

Then, after he had listened to the fond and well-meaning words

Of a counsellor who was the eye of a ruler of men,

Leaving nothing omitted and nothing garbled,
neither getting stuck nor getting carried away,

Standing firm in his resolve, the son of a king said:

Today's verse puts me in mind of what might be the most fundamental issue in sitting-meditation. It is an issue which, despite what I wrote yesterday as if I knew what I was talking about, I have barely understood at all.

The direction of sitting-meditation, as Aśvaghoṣa describes it in SN Canto 17, is towards quiet. The process involves seeing faults, or noise in the system, at subtler and subtler levels, and sitting in such a way that those faults, or that noise, is absent.

Alexander work, as I experienced it on the teaching table of FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow, is essentially the same. Hence Alexander is reported to have said, “If you want to meditate, this is how.”

Now to aspire to understand what the silence is, is folly. Many people in the Alexander world approach the subject of reflexes in the hope of getting their dirty claws around what Alexander meant by “the right thing does itself.” The approach I have taken, and continue to take, on the contrary, is that understanding the primitive reflexes, and in particular the four primitive vestibular reflexes, can help us understand the wrong doing that we wish to stop. Understanding of four vestibular reflexes does not help us understand the right thing, or the silence, but it can help us understand the wrong thing, or the noise.

I have a congenitally dodgy vestibular system, as has my father, and my brother. But what I experienced on Marjory Barlow's teaching table is this: my vestibular reflexes may be aberrant as all hell, but if I am absolutely unshakeable clear and firm in my resolve NOT TO DO, then those wrong patterns do not get a look in.

As the Buddha told Nanda in SN Canto 16: “Even when violent winds blow, trees do not shake than never sprouted.”

But what needs to be emphasized, what I felt I omitted to emphasize yesterday, is that maintenance of the decision NOT TO DO is not a passive state. It is not the expression of a fear paralysis response. Rather it is a kind of firm resolve – but not the kind of resolve that triggers the Moro reflex into action.

Hence when the penny drops, people sometimes talk about totally giving up all idea of doing anything, without giving up. Or stopping trying without giving up.

This, I venture to submit. is what is most fundamental. So that when the Buddha, at the beginning of SN Canto 15, tells Nanda to focus the inconstant mind on the fundamental (ālambana), this is how I understand the Buddha's words.

kurvīthāś-capalaṃ cittam-ālambana-parāyaṇam // 15.2 //
Let the inconstant mind be fully engaged with the fundamental.

In the 2nd pāda of today's verse, insofar as nṛ-pa meant a king of dharma, nṛ-pasya cakṣus, “the act of seeing of a protector of men,” or “the eye of a king,” could be read as an expression of sitting-meditation itself. But in the context of today's verse, nṛ-pasya cakṣus does not mean sitting-meditation itself; it describes King Śuddhodana's counsellor as his eye.

Again, in the 4th pāda, insofar as rājan means a king of dharma, rāja-sutaḥ, "the son of a king," can be read as an expression of a buddha-to-be, a bodhisattva. In the context of today's verse rāja-sutaḥ is more naturally taken as simply meaning the Prince, i.e. Prince Sarvartha-siddha, the son of King Śuddhodana. The same is true of the kumāra of the Canto title, kumārānveṣaṇaḥ, “Seeking the Prince.”

What Aśvgahoṣa seems to be drawing attention to, however, as I hear him, is the firm resolve of not just the bodhisattva who was Prince Sarvartha-siddha but the firm resolve which every bodhisattva must have. Hence while the present Canto is ostensibly about two servants of King Śuddhodana seeking out King Śuddhodana's son, I think Aśvaghoṣa's real intention is that any bodhisattva who is reading or listening should use these words as an aid to seeking himself or herself as a bodhisattva, i.e., as an heir to the teaching of the King of Dharma. 

If we think about the whole canto in that light, the essence of it is that the veteran priest and the counsellor have presented various arguments why the bodhisattva should go back on his promise, as if he had never roared the lion's roar, but all these arguments have left the bodhisattva totally and utterly unmoved. Rather in his firmness (dhṛtau) he is stood firm (stithaḥ). Or, as Aśvaghośa puts it in 9.80, his resolve (tasya niścayam) is sthiram eva [supply your own expletive for eva] firm, immovable, steadfast.

This resolve on the part of the bodhisattva is a keeping of a decision NOT TO DO. It is a decision or a vow NOT to return to Kapilavastu as an ordinary person, an unenlightened being. But it is not a passive state. The bodhisattva is not content to curl up in the forest and give up. In the background there is a positive intent, a determination not to give up, a determination to carry on and realize something.

The 3rd pāda of today's verse can thus be read as a hint in the direction of the interface where the fundamental resides, so that an-ūnam (no omission) suggests one side and a-vyastam (nothing garbled) suggests the other; and a-saktam (no getting stuck) suggests one side and a-drutam (not getting carried away, not getting ahead of oneself, not going too fast) suggests the other.

In terms of the primitive reflexes, getting carried away is intimately related with the Moro reflex, whose colour is panicked red. But – and this is the point that I omitted to mention yesterday – getting stuck is intimately related with an even more primitive reaction known as the fear paralysis response, whose colour is deathly white. We don't want our practice to be ruddily tainted with the former, and even less do we want our practice to be pallidly steeped in the latter.

tataḥ: ind. then
vacaḥ (acc. sg.): n. speech, words
tasya (gen. sg. m.): of him
niśamya = abs. ni- √ śam: to hear
mantriṇaḥ (gen. sg.): m. a king's counsellor , minister

priyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. fond
hitam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. beneficial , advantageous , salutary , wholesome , suitable ; well-disposed , favourable , friendly , affectionate , kind
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
nṛpasya (gen. sg.): m. ruler of men, king
cakṣuṣaḥ (gen. sg.): n. the act of seeing ; faculty of seeing , sight ; the eye

an-ūnam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. not less , not inferior to (abl.); whole , entire ; having full power
ūna: mfn. wanting , deficient , defective , short of the right quantity , less than the right number , not sufficient
a-vyastam mfn. undecomposed , undispersed , not separated ;
vy-asta: mfn. cut in pieces , dismembered ; torn asunder , gaping ; severed , separated , divided , distinct ; multiplied , various , manifold ; opposed to , inverse , reverse ; disordered , disarranged , confused , bewildered
asaktam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. not stopped or intercepted by or at (loc. ; said of arrows and of a sword) ; free from ties , independent ; detached from worldly feelings or passions , unattached or indifferent ; ind. without obstacle or resistance ; uninterruptedly
sakta: mfn. clinging or adhering to , sticking in
a-drutam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. not accelerated
druta: mfn. quick, quickly or indistinctly spoken

dhṛtau (loc. sg.): f. holding , seizing , keeping , supporting , firmness , constancy , resolution , will , command
sthitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. remaining
rāja-sutaḥ (nom. sg.): m. the king's son
abravīt = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect brū: to speak, say
vacaḥ (acc. sg.): n. words, speech

太子聞大臣 愛語饒益説
以常理不亂 無礙而庠序
固志安隱説 而答於大臣  

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