Friday, April 18, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 10.9: Royal Feathers Get Ruffled

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Vāṇī)
dṣṭvā ca sorṇa-bhruvam-āyatākṣaṁ jvalac-charīraṁ śubha-jāla-hastam |
taṁ bhikṣu-veṣaṁ kṣiti-pālanārhaṁ saṁcukṣubhe rājaghasya lakṣmīḥ || 10.9

On seeing him, moreover,
with the circle of hair between his eyebrows
and with his widely extending eyes,

With his shining body and beautiful webbed hands,

On seeing in a beggar's garb him who was fit to rule the earth,

The Royal Grace of Rājagṛha was ruffled.

The suggestion in today's verse, as I read it, is that the combination of a prince's god-like virtues and his wearing of a beggar's robe caused feathers to be ruffled. Something or someone was perturbed.

Aśvaghoṣa called that something or someone rājagṛhasya lakṣmīḥ, translated by EBC as “the Goddess of Rājagṛha,” by EHJ as “Rājagṛha's Goddess of Fortune,” and by PO as “The Royal fortune of Raja-griha.”

Among the dictionary definitions of lakṣmi which seem significant are: 
1. grace , and 
2. the Good Genius or Fortune of a king personified (and often regarded as a rival of his queen). 

The former definition, grace, suggests a state   something before perturbation. The latter suggests a female entity  – someone to whom a king attaches, the personification of feminine virtues such as beauty, loveliness and grace, and at the same time the female personification of kingly power, dominion and majesty.

What, then, was ruffled? And what has it got to do with me, as a bloke who sits?

I think Aśvaghoṣa might be intending to suggest that what was ruffled was the value system that prevailed in Rājagṛha at that time. 

The bodhisattva's attitude challenged prevailing values in the way that science challenged religion. Science was dangerous to kings because it challenged the religious assumptions – like direct descent from God – upon which royal legitimacy used to be based.

Neither of these challenges was a direct challenge; neither involved so-called “direct action” or forming of revolutionary groups bearing guillotines. Neither was even motivated by a desire to challenge the powers that be. The motivation, in each case, was rather a desire simply to go in the direction of knowing whatever truth can be known. 

I think that what today's verse has got to do with, then, again, is the anya (being different) of anya-kriya (different work). Being different sometimes means not conforming to convention. And when individuals do not conform to social convention, the feathers of people in authority are prone to be ruffled, especially in countries which are less tolerant of individual differences.

Speaking of the desire to know, and not conforming, I was reflecting as I cycled this morning to the bread shop on my own chequered career.

At primary school I used to like doing, and was good at doing, problems that started off sounding complicated but which ended up having a simple solution. If it takes twelve men with twenty-four sandwiches six hours to dig two holes... that kind of problem. The answer was invariably a nice round number, like four, or like one. If the answer came out to a clumsy fraction, the answer was generally wrong. Somehow I got it into my head at an early age that there must be a big simple answer out there somewhere, and the aim of my life was to find it. 

A veteran Alexander teacher once cautioned me, to the contrary, against getting Zen and Alexander work muddled up with each other. For her they were in parallel, but not the same. I eventually gave up having lessons with her, which in any case were a strain on the finances. Two truths in parallel with each other was never the solution I was looking for. 

The Zen Patriarch Nāgārjuna wrote of four pratyaya, which I call the cornerstones of direction. The fourth cornerstone is adhipateyam, “this present state of being the adhipa.” The adhipa means the commander, the king, the bloke who calls the shots. 

I come to the forest here in France to be that bloke – the king of the universe. Having travelled down the canal, and got lost in the city, and then kept pedalling forward, even though the going was somewhat hard, I have arrived at the forest, where I now am. 

Here by the forest, most of the time, it is very quiet. That helps me a lot, since noise tends to stimulate my auditory Moro reflex. Quiet surroundings, for me, are very conducive to the neck releasing. Since the Moro reflex, and equally a stiffened neck, are all tied up with end-gaining, or thirsting for a result, all this relates to the first of Nāgārjuna's four cornerstones of direction, the first cornerstone being the motivational. 

At the same time, my ear is helped by the singing of songbirds, cooing of pigeons, and of cuckoos, in many directions. The ear is the organ not only of hearing but also of spatial orientation, or listening to oneself in the gravitational field. Standing on the earth with a hazel thumbstick in hand, touching the earth through my feet and through the stick, and being aware through peripheral vision of mighty trees towering up into the vast sky... this also helps me a lot. In more cramped spaces, I tend easily to pull my head back and down. But here my head seems easily to remember where it wants to go, which is in a direction Alexander called “forward and up.” This description relates to the second of Nāgārjuna's four cornerstones of direction, the second cornerstone being the gravitational.

The third cornerstone of direction, as I understand it, relates to proper coordination of the two sides of the self, such that there is no gap. It is a direction which Alexander called widening of the back.

And the fourth cornerstone, as mentioned already, relates to a momentary sense of being in command. In Rājagṛha the person who was nominally in command was King Śreṇya. But truly being in command, as king of one's own universe, might ultimately be a function of the direction that Alexander called sending the knees “forwards and away.” When life becomes complicated I tend to fail to send my knees forwards and away. Conversely, when I fail to send my knees forwards and away, life tends to become complicated. So life in the city, where I am not the king, easily descends into a vicious spiral. But life alone by the forest, where presently I am the king, tends to ascend in a virtuous spiral.

I am making this record, as usual, mainly for my own benefit. I don't expect anybody will be able to understand what I am going on about.

When I discussed my understanding of Nāgārjuna's four cornerstones of direction with my wife, she understood well enough where I was coming from. But, she told me, she would never have begun to understand without her years of Alexander experience.

I submit that there are four cornerstones which exist a priori – prior to Zen and prior to the Alexander Technique. They are four cornerstones of the human neuro-physiology which we all share. To paraphrase one of Sting's better lyrics, “We share the same neuro-physiology, regardless of ideology.” Proceeding from these grounds, it seems to me, makes for simplicity.

Finally, speaking of simplicity, I remember a story from Shobogenzo that strikes me as relevant to today's verse. It is the story of how Dogen's teacher Tendo Nyojo gave a dharma-talk as a memorial to a wealthy supporter's relative, after which the grateful supporter offered Master Tendo a substantial donation of gold pieces. The Master very politely but insistently refused the gift. 

“Why did he refuse the gift?” I asked my teacher at the time. 
“Couldn't he have accepted the gold and used it for some constructive purpose?”

The answer that came back was this:
“Master Tendo was just enjoying his simple life.”

That, I think, is what Nāgārjuna meant by adhipateyam, “this present state of being in overall command.” It is not an intellectual realization but is a function of simply sitting in lotus and not-doing what Alexander called allowing the knees to go forwards and away. This direction, in turn, is a function of the fourth of four vestibular reflexes whose development and inhibition cause a baby, at aged around 6 months, to come up from its tummy into the cat-sit position. As long as this reflex holds sway, a person is not in overall control of himself or herself. Rather, the reflex, is dictating that the upper body does one thing and the hips and legs do another (as in the cat-sit position, where the neck and arms are extended, and the hips and knees are flexed). 

Nāgārjuna, it needs to be said, finally, not only affirmed the existence of four cornerstones. He also wrote of the four cornerstones in very negative terms – somewhat similarly to Charles Sherrington who in his pioneering book on reflexes, “The Integrative Action of the Nervous System” [1906], wrote of “the convenient fiction of the simple reflex.”

dṛṣṭvā = abs. dṛś: to see, behold
śubhorṇabhruvam [EBC] (acc. sg. m.): with his beautiful circle of hair between the eyebrows
śubha: mfn. beautiful
ūrṇā: f, wool , a woollen thread , thread ; a cobweb ; a circle of hair between the eyebrows
bhrū: f. eyebrow
ca: and
sorṇa-bhruvam = acc. sg. sorṇa-bhrū: mfn. having a circle of hair between the eye-brows Bcar. i , 65 (conj.)

āyatākṣam (acc. sg. m.): having longish eyes
āyata: mfn. stretched , lengthened , extending

jvalac-charīram (acc. sg. m.): having a glowing body
jvalat = pres. part. jval: to burn brightly , blaze , glow , shine
śubha-jāla-hastam (acc. sg. m.): having hands with a beautiful webbing
jāla: n. a net ; any reticulated or woven texture ; " the web or membrane on the feet of water-birds " » -pāda the finger- and toe-membrane of divine beings and godlike personages

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
bhikṣu-veṣam (acc. sg. m.): with beggar's garb
kṣiti-pālanārham (acc. sg. m.):
kṣiti: f. earth
pālana: n. the act of guarding , protecting , nourishing , defending
pāl: to watch , guard , protect , defend , rule , govern
arha: mfn. meriting , deserving ; becoming , proper , fit (with gen. or ifc.)

saṁcukṣubhe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. saṁ- √ kṣubh: to shake about violently , agitate , toss , excite
kṣubh: to shake , tremble , be agitated or disturbed , be unsteady , stumble (literally and metaphorically)
rājagṛhasya (gen. sg.): of Rāja-gṛha
lakṣmīḥ (nom. sg.): f. beauty , loveliness , grace , charm , splendour , lustre ; N. of the goddess of fortune and beauty ; the Good Genius or Fortune of a king personified (and often regarded as a rival of his queen) , royal power , dominion , majesty

眉間白毫相 脩廣紺青目
擧體金光曜 清淨網縵手
雖爲出家形 有應聖王相
王舍城士女 長幼悉不安
此人尚出家 我等何俗歡

No comments: