Wednesday, April 30, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 10.21: Drawing Closer to Simplicity?

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Chāyā)
tataḥ śucau vāraṇa-karṇa-nīle śilā-tale saṁniṣasāda rājā |
nṛpopaviśyānumataś-ca tasya bhāvaṁ vijijñāsur-idaṁ babhāṣe || 10.21

Then, on a rock as grey as an elephant's ear,

On a clean slab of rock, the king sat down;

And, while sitting as a protector of men, being allowed by the other,

And wanting to know the reality of that other, he spoke as follows:

Zen Master Dogen never wrote of 座禅 (ZA ZEN) “seated meditation”; he always wrote of 坐禅 (ZAZEN), which for the past few years I have translated, using a hyphen, as “sitting-meditation.”

At the time of the Nishijima-Cross translation of Shobogenzo it hadn't occurred to me to translate 坐禅 as sitting-meditation, using a hyphen. It was remiss of me, and at the same time my preferred translation changed after my understanding changed with Alexander experience.

My teacher Gudo Nishijima did very much see it as significant that Dogen wrote 坐禅 and not 座禅. I clearly understood from him that “sitting” was better than “seated.” But a translation like “sitting in Zazen,” as I see it now, is further from hitting the target than is “sitting-meditation.” But it took me a lot of years, not until after our Shobogenzo translation was published, to see that 坐禅 might be best translated as “sitting-meditation.”

The point, as I see it now, is, that the sitting is the meditation and the meditation is the sitting.

But what does it mean to sit? Equally, what does it mean to meditate?

I think that at the most fundamental level, direction is the unifying factor. In particular, the upward direction is the unifying factor.

Alexander spoke of four directions:
1. To let the neck be free
2. To let the head go forward and up
3. To let the back lengthen and widen
4. While sending the knees forwards and away.

These are four directions for how to sit well. At the same time these are four directions for how to meditate.

As I sat after breakfast on Tuesday morning, reflecting on Nāgārjuna's four cornerstones of direction, it struck me afresh how to sit and to meditate can be one and the same thing -- an integral act not of doing but of allowing, or of being allowed (anumataḥ). 

What Alexander called four “directions” can, on a good day, be nothing more than four reflections, or meditation on four simple facts, viz:
1. Rarely if ever is anything to be gained by stiffening the neck. 
2. The head originally wants to go forward and up.
3. Each of us originally has two sides, a left side and a right side, with no gap in the middle. In the middle, rather, is the spinal column.
4. The pelvis originally is part of the back, not part of the legs.

These four are facts. They are not invitations to do something. They are facts to be reflected on, or meditated on, or contemplated, or realized.

But in the very realization of those facts as facts, sitting can become a Springing Up Together – an integral practice and experience, in other words, of going up against gravity, or of being allowed to go up against gravity. 

I may seem to have digressed, but today's verse seems to me to be about sitting. Today's verse contains not one but two verbs meaning to sit – saṁniṣasāda in the 2nd pāda, from saṁ-ni-√sad; and upaviśya or upopaviśya in the 3rd pāda, from upa√viś or upopa-√viś.

Both the Nepalese manuscript and EBC's text have nṛpopaviśya (nṛpa + upopaviśya), but all three professors translated as if the verb was upopaviśya:

Then the king sat down on the clean surface of the rock, dark blue like an elephant's ear; and being seated, with the other's assent, he thus spoke, desiring to know his state of mind: (EBC)

Then the king sat down on a clean piece of rock, dark blue as an elephant's ear, and being seated beside him with his permission spoke to him, desiring to ascertain his state of mind:- (EHJ)

Then the king sat down upon a clean rock, that was dark as an elephant's ear; seated close to him with his permission, and wishing to know his mind, the king said: (PO)

Today's verse, then, seems to present us with first a tricky textual uncertainty (nṛpopaviśya or upopaviśya); and second at least two layers of meaning (overt description of Bimbisāra approaching, sitting down, and asking the bodhisattva about his intention; or hidden suggestion of Bimbisāra drawing near to the truth of the other, and inquiring into the reality of that state of being).

The textual uncertainty is the same one as encountered in Canto 9 when the bodhisattva is described on or by the road:
As thus on those grounds they were going, they saw him, who had totally neglected purification, shining with handsome form, / On the road, royally seated at the foot of a tree – like the sun when it has entered a canopy of cloud.//BC9.8//

Reading upopaviśya for nṛpopaviśya would give “Sitting by the side of road, at the foot of a tree....”

If we read upopaviśya in today's verse, and go with the overt rather than what I see as the hidden mening,

Then, on a rock as grey as an elephant's ear,

On a clean slab of rock, the king sat down;

And, sitting beside the other, with his assent,

Wanting to know his state of mind, he spoke as follows:

But since the combination of textual uncertainty and ambiguity of meaning results in more permutations than I can reasonably handle with square brackets, I have put all my eggs in the basket of the Nepalese manuscript and what I think is the hidden meaning, or one of the hidden meanings.

Why is the rock described as being the colour of the elephant's ear? I think that description may be intended to emphasize that the surface of the rock was clean, pure, free of mud, moss and miscellaneous detritus. Maybe that was another sense in which Bimbisāra, in his meeting with the bodhisattva, was drawing close – drawing closer to simplicity, getting nearer to a bit of nothing.

tataḥ: ind. then
śucau (loc. sg.): mfn. shining , glowing , gleaming , radiant , bright; clear , clean , pure (lit. and fig.) ,
vāraṇa-karṇa-nīle (loc. sg. n.): of the dark colour of an elephant's ear
vāraṇa: m. an elephant (from its power of resistance)
karṇa: m. the ear
nīla: mfn. of a dark colour , (esp.) dark-blue or dark-green or black

śilā-tale (loc. sg.): n. a slab of rock ; the surface of a rock
saṁniṣasāda = 3rd pers. sg. perf. saṁ-ni-√sad: to sink or sit down
rājā (nom. sg.): m. the king

nṛpopaviśya: sitting as a king
nṛpa: m. protector of men, king
upaviśya = abs. upa- √ viś: to sit down , take a seat (as men
upopaviśya = abs. upopa- √ viś: to sit down or take a seat by the side of , sit down near to (acc.)
anumataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. approved , assented to , permitted , allowed , agreeable , pleasant
anu- √ man: to approve , assent to , permit , grant
ca: and
tasya (gen. sg.): his

bhāvam (acc. sg.): m. being ; true condition or state , truth , reality; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling , sentiment , opinion , disposition , intention ; the seat of the feelings or affections , heart , soul , mind
vijijñāsuḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. desirous of knowing or understanding; wishing to learn from (gen.)
idam (acc. sg. n.): this, the following
babhāṣe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. bhāṣ: to speak , talk , say , tell

時王勞問畢 端坐清淨石
瞪矚瞻神儀 顏和情交悦

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