Monday, April 28, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 10.19: Drawing Near to Perfection

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Rāmā)
taṁ rūpa-lakṣmyā ca śamena caiva dharmasya nirmāṇam-ivopadiṣṭam |
sa-vismayaḥ praśrayavān narendraḥ svayambhuvaṁ śakra ivopatasthe || 10.19

To him who, with his wealth of handsome form and his calmness,

Was like a work of dharma built to specification,

The first among men, filled with wonder, respectfully drew near,

As to 'Self-Existing' Svayam-bhū the mighty Indra drew near.

In today's verse again, the main verb is given extra force by coming at the end. And that main verb is upatasthe, from upa-√sthā, to stand or place one's self near.

So the point that is emphasized is that Bimbisāra drew near to the bodhisattva, who seemed to embody perfection itself.

Yesterday I used the analogy of golf, and that analogy may also serve in today's verse. Even the greatest golfer in the world does not expect to record a round of 18, with eighteen holes-in-one. Rather, at a par 5 hole more than half of the shots of even a top golfer would be approach shots.

Read like this, today's verse sheds further light on the canto title śreṇyābhigamanah, which means something like Śreṇya's Approach, or Śreṇya / Drawing Near. On the surface Śreṇya's Approach means Śreṇya's proposal, which the bodhisattva is going to reject as a bad idea. But below the surface Śreṇya's Drawing Near might be a good model for any of us to follow. Which is to say that, rather than going directly for the target of enlightenment, as we conceive it in our unenlightened state, the better course might be to remain content respectfully to place ourselves progressively (or regressively) nearer.

Again, at the risk of boring the living daylights out of everybody, I am going to connect this with the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, in which Springing Up Together, or Springing Up as All of One Piece (samutpāda), might be compared to getting the ball in the hole, and grounding oneself in direction (pratītya) might be compared to approaching the green.

Being grumpy, for whatever reason, to extend the analogy, might be equivalent to straying into the rough, or into a bunker, or into a lake, or somewhere else totally out of bounds.

But Springing Up Together (samutpāda), like getting the ball straight in the hole, suggests the practice and experience of perfection, and in today's verse svayam-bhuvam, which means “Self-Existing” or “Spontaneously Being” can also be read like that, as an expression of practice and experience of perfection.

Svayam-bhū is ostensibly the name of one of the three big Hindu gods, i.e., either Brahmā (MW: the one impersonal universal Spirit manifested as a personal Creator and as the first of the triad of personal gods) or Śiva (MW: "The Auspicious One,” the disintegrating or destroying and reproducing deity who constitutes the third god of the Hindu trimūrti or Triad, the other two being brahmā "the creator" and viṣṇu " the preserver").

But in this Canto, Aśvaghoṣa is portraying the human bodhisattva as if he were already the finished article, on a par with gods in heaven. Thus, apart from comparing the bodhisattva to the sun (BC10.7, 10.15) and to the moon (BC10.18), Aśvaghoṣa twice compares the bodhisattva to a god called Svayam-bhū, in today's verse and in BC10.2:
Well guarded, and beautified, by mountains; preserved, and purified, by healing hot springs; in the hook of five hills, stood the city he entered – / Like 'Self-Existing' Svayam-bhū, unperturbed, entering the heights of heaven. // BC10.2//

Svayam means “self” or “by oneself”; hence “spontaneously.” And bhū means being, existing, or arising.

So in today's verse as I read it, Aśvaghoṣa is describing the bodhisattva's being as perfectly enlightened even before he goes through ascetic practice, gives up ascetic practice, and sits easy under the bodhi tree.

I think the principle in the back of Aśvaghoṣa's mind, in other words, was the principle that when the bodhisattva became the fully awakened Buddha, that was traditionally described as a kind of earth-shattering event, accompanied by rejoicing of sky-dwellers in Tuṣita heaven et cetera; but at the same time nothing really changed. All that has happened was that the bodhisattva who was perfect already totally became himself.

“You are all perfect,” Marjory Barlow used to say, “apart from what you are doing.”


arhattvam-āsādya sa sat-kriyārho nirutsuko niṣpraṇayo nirāśaḥ /
Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served.
Without ambition, without partiality, without expectation;
vibhīr-viśug-vītamado virāgaḥ sa eva dhṛtyānya ivābabhāse // SN17.61 //
Without fear, sorrow, pride, or passion;
while being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different.

Hence again, Dogen wrote that when the moon is reflected in water, the water is not disturbed by the moon, and the moon is not made wet by the water.

And yet, having said all this, the fact remains that the pelvis is part of the back, not part of the legs, and an awful lot of us fail to realize this in practice. Before I came to the Alexander Technique, I had a black belt in karate, and a strong idea that I should always be centred in my hara, or my tanden. But in regard to the obvious truth that the pelvis is part of the back, not part of the legs, thanks to FM Alexander, I am a lot more clear now than I was then.

One of these days, when I get round to it, I will post a video on this blog to demonstrate what the four cornerstones of direction are, as I understand them, in the context of an activity like bowing down to the ground.

In relation to the motivational, I will endeavour to demonstrate the meaning of not being in a panic to get to the end, and, especially, not being in too much of a hurry to touch the floor with the hands. In other words, don't "end-gain" to get the hands on the floor; attend to the means-whereby of staying grounded in directions, while bending the knees and bending the hips, and the hands will get there sure enough without any bother. 

In relation to the gravitational, what does it mean to keep allowing the head to go forward and up, even while the body is moving down in space towards the ground?

In relation to having no gap in the middle, I would like to discuss the action of bringing the palms, and the two sides of the self, into contact with each other. I would like to discuss this particularly in connection with a vestibular reflex called the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex. 

And in relation to this present state of being in command, I should like to draw attention above all to the fact that the pelvis is originally part of the back. The pelvis, before the big muscles of the hip and thigh start bullying it and twisting it out of place, originally belongs to the back. And when my pelvis is back where it belongs, working as part of my back, then (to borrow a phrase from Shunryu Suzuki) I am the boss.

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
rūpa-lakṣmyā (inst. sg. f.): with beauty of form
rūpa: n. any outward appearance or phenomenon or colour (often pl.) , form , shape , figure; handsome form
lakṣmī: f. wealth , riches ; good sign; beauty , loveliness , grace , charm , splendour , lustre
ca: and
śamena (inst. sg.): m. tranquillity , calmness , rest , equanimity; peace
ca: and
eva (emphatic)

dharmasya (gen. sg.): dharma
nirmāṇam (acc. sg.): n. measuring ; forming , making , creating , creation , building , composition , work (ifc. " made of "); (with Buddh. ) transformation ; pith , the best of anything (= sāra)
nir- √ mā: to mete out , measure ; to build , make out of (abl.) , form , fabricate , produce , create
iva: like
upadiṣṭam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. specified , particularized ; taught , instructed
upa- √ diś: to point out; to indicate , specify , explain , inform , instruct , teach
upaviṣṭam [EHJ] (acc. sg. m.): mfn. seated, sitting
upa- √ viś: to come near ; to sit down

sa-vismayaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having astonishment , surprised , perplexed , doubtful
praśraya-vān (nom. sg. m.): mfn. deferential , respectful , civil , modest
narendraḥ (nom. sg.): m. “chief of men”; king

svayambhuvam (acc. sg. m.): = svayambhū: mfn. 'self-existing , independent'; name of brahman, of śiva
svayam: ind. self , one's self (applicable to all persons e.g. myself , thyself , himself &c ) , of or by one's self spontaneously , voluntarily , of one's own accord
bhū: mfn. becoming , being , existing , springing , arising
śakraḥ (nom. sg. m.): “the mighty” Indra
iva: like, as
upatasthe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. upa- √ sthā: to stand or place one's self near ; to place one's self before (in order to ask) , approach , apply to ; to come together or meet with , become friendly with , conciliate ; to stand near in order to serve , attend , serve

妙色淨端嚴 猶若法化身
虔心肅然發 恭歩漸親近
猶如天帝釋 詣摩醯首羅


Jordan said...

Any video yet?

Mike Cross said...

Kūrma-mitra! What is the big hurry?