Monday, March 31, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.74: Rhetorical Negation of Belief? Or Ironic Investigation of Reliance on Other People's Grounds?

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
na me kṣamaṁ saṁśaya-jaṁ hi darśanaṁ grahītum-avyakta-paras-parāhatam |
budhaḥ para-pratyayato hi ko vrajej-jano 'ndhakāre 'ndha ivāndha-deśikaḥ || 9.74

For it would ill befit me to accept a worldview born of doubt,

Unintelligible and beset with internal contradictions.

For what wise person would proceed
on the grounds of another person's grounds –

Like a blind man in the darkness, whose guide is blind?

I am not sure whether Aśvaghoṣa intended today's verse to be read with an ironic subtext, or not. In the end I decided that, whether Aśvaghoṣa intended one or not, there is an ironic subtext which I find too appealing to resist. 

When I sit in lotus in the morning, I am not doing something instinctive. I did not evolve to sit in lotus. Sitting with legs crossed in the full lotus posture is a contrivance of human consciousness. Neither is it something I contrived to do by myself. When I sit in lotus I am following in a yoga-tradition, as even the Buddha himself followed in a yoga-tradition, sitting on the grounds of another person's grounds.

At the same time it is up to me to make this practice into my own possession. That means not proceeding on the grounds of another person's belief, and not proceeding even on the grounds of my own belief. It means proceeding on the grounds of something more real than belief – something called in Sanskrit prajñā, really knowing.

At the end of my sitting just now, I dedicated any merit there was in the practice towards the buddhas in the ten directions and three times, on whose grounds I have just proceeded; and at the same time towards the mahā-prajñā-pāramitā, the knowing which totally transcends anybody's belief.

Thus today's verse means something to me if it is read not with any ironic subtext, but simply as a statement of the bodhisattva's determination to discover the truth for himself, and of his skeptical attitude towards Brahmanical beliefs:

For it would ill befit me to accept a doctrine born of doubt,

An undeveloped doctrine beset with internal contradictions.

For what wise person would proceed
on the grounds of another person's belief –

Like a blind man in the darkness, whose guide is blind.

At the same time, if we take para-pratyayataḥ √vraj, "proceeding on the grounds of another person's grounds," as an ironic expression of sitting-meditation, that opens up an ironic subtext that could be running through the whole verse:

For it would ill befit me to accept a worldview born of doubt,

Unintelligible and beset with internal contradictions.

For what wise person would proceed
on the grounds of another person's grounds –

Like a blind man in the darkness, whose guide is blind?

The verse hinges, then, on how we understand pratyaya-taḥ in the 3rd pāda. If we take the first definition of pratyaya given in the dictionary, belief, then para (the other) + pratyaya (belief) + taḥ (ablative suffix) is translated straightforwardly enough as “on the grounds of another person's belief.”

Grammatically, however, pratyaya is thought to be derived from prati-√i (prati = towards, aya = going). So English translations that best reflect this derivation might be “approach” or “motive.”

“Investigation of Pratyaya” (pratyaya-parīkṣā) is the title of the 1st canto of Nāgārjuna's Concise Statement, from Bang in the Middle, of the Fundamental (Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā). In the opening verses of that work, Nāgārjuna asserts that there are four pratyaya, and not a fifth.

Exactly what Nāgārjuna meant by pratyaya remains for me to investigate if and when I get to translating MMK. But nothing is more sure than that Nāgārjuna, the 14th Zen patriarch, was well familiar with the use by Aśvaghoṣa, the 12th Zen patriarch, of the term pratyaya. Nāgārjuna would have read the term pratyaya in today's verse and in the following verses from Saundara-nanda.

saṃkleśa-pakṣo dvividhaś-ca dṛṣṭas-tathā dvikalpo vyavadāna-pakṣaḥ /
There are understood to be two aspects to defilement;
correspondingly, there are two approaches to purification:
ātmāśrayo hetu-balādhikasya bāhyāśrayaḥ pratyaya-gauravasya // 5.16 //
In one with stronger motivation from within, there is self-reliance;
in one who assigns weight to conditions, there is outer-dependence.

ayatnato hetu-balādhikas-tu nirmucyate ghaṭṭita-mātra eva /
The one who is more strongly self-motivated loosens ties
without even trying, on receipt of the slightest stimulus;
yatnena tu pratyaya-neya-buddhir-vimokṣam-āpnoti parāśrayeṇa // 5.17 //
Whereas the one whose mind is led by circumstances struggles to find freedom,
because of his dependence on others.

nandaḥ sa ca pratyaya-neya-cetā yaṃ śiśriye tan-maya-tām avāpa /
And Nanda, whose mind was led by circumstances,
became absorbed into whomever he depended on;
yasmād-imaṃ tatra cakāra yatnaṃ taṃ sneha-paṅkān munir ujjihīrṣan // 5.18 //
The Sage, therefore, made this effort in his case,
wishing to lift him out of the mire of love.

mohātmikāyāṃ manasaḥ pravṛttau sevyas-tv-idam-pratyayatā-vihāraḥ /
When working of the mind is delusory, 
one should appreciate the causality therein;
mūḍhe manasy-eṣa hi śānti-mārgo vāyv-ātmake snigdha ivopacāraḥ // 16.64 //
For this is a path to peace when the mind is bewildered,
like treating a wind condition with oil.

sambhārataḥ pratyayataḥ svabhāvād-āsvādato doṣa-viśeṣataś-ca /
On the grounds of their being held together, 
their causalityand their inherent nature,
on the grounds of their flavour and their concrete imperfection,
athātmavān-niḥsaraṇātmataś-ca dharmeṣu cakre vidhivat parīkṣām // 17.15 //
And on the grounds of their tendency to spread out, 
he who was now contained in himself, 
carried out a methodical investigation into things.

In these verses from Saundara-nanda, the sense of conditionality or causality is to the fore. But in the present context in Buddha-carita, what the bodhisattva is negating –at least ostensibly, on the surface – is belief.

Hence EBC translated the 3rd pāda:
What wise man would go by another's belief?
And PO similarly:
For what wise man would follow another's belief...?

EHJ, however, was at pains to retain the sense established in Saundarananda (especially in SN Canto 5) of dependence on conditions.

Hence EHJ translated:
For what wise man would go forward in dependence on another...?

EHJ added in a footnote:
The prince's rejection of para-pratyaya has doctrinal significance. It is only the man of feeble faculties, in whom the roots of good are weak, who depends on others; those like the prince, in whom the force working for enlightenment is strong (note BC2.56 rūḍhamūle 'pi hetau), act of themselves, as clearly put at SN5.15-18.

I think EHJ may have been correct in intuiting that Aśvaghoṣa intended more by pratyaya than initially meets the eye. At the same time, in wanting to make the connection he wants to make to pratyaya as dependence on conditions, EHJ has translated the 3rd pāda in a way that seems somehow forced. The compound para-pratyaya-taḥ seems to be asking to be translated simply as:
  • by / on the grounds of (-taḥ)
  • another person's / somebody else's (para-)
  • pratyaya.

The central question that remains, then, is how to translate pratyaya, whose definitions in the MW dictionary include belief, assumption, ground, cause, co-operating cause.

Looking ahead to the coming couple of verses, so far I do not see those verses as likely candidates for concealing an ironic subtext. So perhaps I am barking up the wrong tree.

But, for example, might a worldview born of doubt – a way of seeing the world which is transcendent and full of paradoxes – be the essence of the transmission that Nāgārjuna received via Aśvaghoṣa?

Can we think that, after Aśvaghoṣa caused the bodhisattva to ask, “Who would proceed on the grounds of another person's grounds, like a blind man in the darkness whose guide is blind?”, Nāgārjuna, as it were, put his hand up and said “I will have a try.”

I ask these questions not knowing the answer to them, in which case there is nothing for it but to carry on, like a blind man groping in the dark → groping for the right direction.

A blind man cannot find his own way through the darkness by relying on his non-existent visual sense. Still less can he hope to go in the right direction by relying on the non-existent visual sense of somebody else who is blind. If he wishes to go in the right direction, the blind man needs to rely on something other than his visual sense... like his auditory sense, or his sense of touch, or his reason – or like the knowledge and experience of his blind guide.

If his blind guide is a buddha, the blind man might spend some time usefully investigating the other blind man's pratyaya. He might ask his blind guide, for example:

What do you mean by pratyaya? Your beliefs? Your motives? Conditions? The grounds for your action? 

Again, do you perhaps have a map – maybe written in braille – that we can use as grounds for going in the right direction?

Or are we ultimately better off just blindly sitting here in lotus, allowing ourselves to be directed by we know not what?

na: not
me (gen. sg.): of/for me
kṣamam (acc. sg. n.). fit , appropriate , becoming , suitable , proper for (gen.)
saṁśaya-jam (acc. sg. n.): born of doubt
saṁśaya: m. uncertainty , irresolution , hesitation , doubt
saṁga-śatam [EBC] (acc. sg. n.): “which involves a hundred prepossessions”
saṁga: m. “coming together”, conflict
śata: a hundred
hi: for
darśanam (acc. sg. n.): n. seeing , observing , looking , noticing , observation , perception ; n. inspection , examination ; n. apprehension , judgement ; discernment , understanding , intellect ; opinion ; view, doctrine , philosophical system ; n. the becoming visible or known , presence ; n. a vision , dream

grahītum = inf. grah: to grasp, take, accept
avyakta-paras-parāhatam (acc. sg. n.): undeveloped and full of internal contradictions
a-vyakta: mfn. undeveloped , not manifest , unapparent , indistinct , invisible , imperceptible
vyakta: mfn. adorned , embellished , beautiful ; caused to appear , manifested , apparent , visible , evident ; developed , evolved ; distinct , intelligible ; perceptible by the senses (opp. to a-vyakta , transcendental) ; n. (in sāṁkhya phil.) " the unevolved (Evolver of all things) " , the primary germ of nature , primordial element or productive principle whence all the phenomena of the material world are developed
paras-para: mfn. each other, mutually
āhata: mfn. struck , beaten , hit , hurt ; rendered null , destroyed , frustrated ; blunted ; uttered falsely ; repeated

budhaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a wise or learned man , sage
para-pratyayataḥ: on the grounds of another's assumption
pratyaya: m. belief, firm conviction , trust , faith , assurance or certainty of (gen. loc. or comp.); conception , assumption , notion , idea ; ground , basis , motive or cause of anything ; (with Buddhists) a co-operating cause ; the concurrent occasion of an event as distinguished from its approximate cause
-taḥ: (ablative suffix)
hi: for
kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who?
vrajet = 3rd pers. sg. optative vraj: to go, proceed

janaḥ (nom. sg.): m. person, man
andha-kāre (loc. sg.): mn. 'blind-maker' ; darkness
andhaḥ (nom. sg. m. ): mfn. blind
iva: like
andha-deśikaḥ (nom. sg. m.): having a blind guide
deśika: mfn. familiar with a place , a guide (lit. and fig.) ; m. a Guru or spiritual teacher ; a traveller

世間猶豫論 展轉相傳習
無有眞實義 此則我不安
明人別眞僞 信豈由他生
猶如生盲人 以盲人爲導

於夜大闇中 當復何所從 

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