Friday, April 4, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.78: Towards Uncommon Normality, Resolutely

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
tad-evam-apy-eva ravir-mahīṁ pated-api sthiratvaṁ himavān giris-tyajet |
adṣṭa-tattvo viṣayonmukhendriyaḥ śrayeya na tv-eva ghān pthag-janaḥ || 9.78

That being so, even the sun may fall to the earth,

Even a Himālayan mountain may relinquish its firmness,

But never would I, not having realized the truth,
my senses oriented expectantly towards objects,

Go back home as a common man.

In the 1st pāda of today's verse, tad-evam, “That being so” refers back to yesterdays' verse, in which the bodhisattva clarified that, in his estimation, a breaker of a vow of practice was not worth his or her salt.

At the end of BC Canto 5, the bodhisattva roared a lion's roar, whose verbal content was “Until I have seen the far shore of birth and death, I shall never again enter the city named after Kapila.” (BC5.84)

Today's verse, then, is another one to be added to the list compiled yesterday, of verses in which the bodhisattva expresses his iron resolve not to break this vow.

At the same time, the bodhisattva's use of the phrase pṛthag-janaḥ invites us to be clear in what sense the bodhisattva does not wish to be ordinary, and in what sense he does so wish.

EBC translated pṛthag-janaḥ as “as a man of the world,” EHJ as “a worldly man,” and PO as “like a common man.”

The corresponding phrase that Dogen favours in Shobogenzo is 凡夫 (Jap: BONBU), a common man, a common bloke. But since pṛthak originally means “separate” or “set apart,” a more literal rendering of pṛthag-jana into Chinese characters is 異生, lit. “a different being,” i.e. a being who is different from an enlightened being.

The literal meaning of pṛthag-jana, then, as the bodhisattva is using the term, seems to be a man who is ordinary or common in the sense of being the sort of mediocre bloke from whom an enlightened being is set apart.

The danger of translating pṛthag-jana as “common man” or – more dangerously still – “ordinary person,” is that such translations easily convey a whiff of social snobbery, as also does the word ārya to describe those uncommon truths which are noble, or āryan.

Today's verse, then, can be read as providing in passing a definition of what a pṛthag-jana, or “common man,” is in the understanding of bodhisattvas. A common man is what we do not wish to be, not out of any sense of social snobbery, but because of our wish not to be enslaved by senses which are oriented expectantly towards objects.

At the same time, in the same spirit as the bodhisattva when he said “know the state of a true person to be freedom from faults” (prahīṇa-doṣa-tvam-avehi cāptatām; BC9.76) a Zen master in ancient China famously said

the ordinary mind is the truth itself
the normal mind is the truth itself

(Jap: HEIJO-SHIN ko[re] DO).

The irony here, then, is that the bodhisattva is seeking the nobility which sets a person apart from the common man, but this nobility, being freedom from faults, is nothing but a state of utter normality, or ordinariness.

And the faults in question, the bodhisattva has evidently understood even before he has fully realized the truth, are the faults that stem from thirsting. It is end-gaining – to borrow a couple of phrases of FM Alexander – that brings into play faulty sensory appreciation.

As long as I am retaining any trace of an idea of gaining an end, the senses with which evolution has equipped me, centred around the vestibular sense, strain to get busy.

That being so, even the idea of becoming normal is liable to be pernicious, especially for a person whose sensory appreciation is more-than-usually distorted by vestibular faults.

If not by pursuing normality as an idea (i.e. as an end to be gained), then, how is a faulty bodhisattva to go about becoming truly ordinary? Ironically, the message of Saundara-nanda seems to be, by making into his own possession those four truths that the Buddha called noble.

Sometimes as regular readers will know, I ask myself stupid questions (like the one underlined above) and then shortly afterwards, having sat for a while and slept for a while, I wake up with stupid answers, which I can't resist unloading onto this blog. So it was just now.

The answer that presented to the question I had asked myself was simply the one word samādhi, lit. “putting (ādhi) together (sam-).”

Samādhi as means, and samādhi as end.

Samādhi as means because samyak-samādhi, straight samādhi, is the eighth element in the eightfold path which constitutes the fourth of the Buddha's four noble truths.

Samādhi as end because just sitting in full lotus, as that practice and experience has been transmitted through the ages, is the ultimate end, the highest and most transcendent matter, the one great purpose, the King of Samādhis.

Going further, I wonder whether it was the desire to express oneness of samādhi as means and samādhi as end that led Nāgārjuna to the enigmatic compound pratītya-samutpāda.  This pratītya-samutpāda, in Nāgārjuna's book, is the very transcendent thing that the Buddha, the fully awakened one, taught.

Sam-ut-pāda, “Springing Up (ut-pad) Together (sam-),” can be taken as an expression of samādhi as the end itself. This end in my book is inevitably a function of sitting in lotus; equally it is a function of the integrative working of the vestibular system, as is indicated by the Up (ut-) and by the Together (sam-) of Springing Up Together.

And I suppose, because samādhi is not only the end but also the means, Nāgārjuna used as the first element in the compound a word which also suggests samādhi as a means of going (√i) towards (prati) the end.

This, though it is early days, is how I am inclined right now to understand Nāgārjuna's famous phrase pratītya-samutpāda – which, according to Nāgārjuna, is the very transcendent thing that the fully awakened Buddha taught.

samutpāda: Springing Up Together
pratītya (= abs. prati-√i): going / having gone (itya) in a direction (prati).

The samādhi which is a Springing Up Together (samutpāda),
whose means is the samādhi which is a going in a direction (pratītya).

- to be continued...

tad: ind. that, therefore, thus
evam: ind. thus
api: even
eva (emphatic)
raviḥ (nom. sg.): m. the sun
mahīm (acc. sg.): f. 'the great world' the earth
patet = 3rd pers. sg. optative pat: to fall

api: even
sthiratvam (acc. sg.): n. firmness
himavān (nom. sg.): m. a snowy mountain ; the himālaya
giriḥ (nom. sg.): m. a mountain
tyajet = 3rd pers. sg. optative tyaj: to leave ; to give up , surrender , resign , part from , renounce

adṛṣṭa-tattvaḥ (nom. sg. m.): not having seen/realized the truth
viṣayonmukhendriyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): with senses beholden to their object
viṣaya: m. object, object of the senses
unmukha: mfn. raising the face , looking up or at ; waiting for , expecting
indriya: n. sense

śrayeya = 1st pers. sg. optative śri: to go to , approach , resort or have recourse to (for help or refuge) , tend towards (acc.) ; to go into, enter
na: not
tu: but
eva (emphatic)
gṛhān (acc. pl.): m. (m. sg. and pl. , in later language m. pl. and n. sg.) a house , habitation , home ; m. pl. a house as containing several rooms
pṛthag-janaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a man of lower caste or character or profession ; an ordinary professing Buddhist ; a fool, blockhead, a villain ; pl. common people , the multitude (also sg.)
pṛthak: ind. ( √ pṛth or prath + añc) widely apart , separately , differently , singly , severally , one by one
pṛ́thak-pinda: m. a distant kinsman who offers the śrāddha oblation (» piṇḍa) by himself and not together with the other relations
pṛthag-gaṇa: m. a separate company or class

日月墜於地 須彌雪山轉
我身終不易 退入於非處

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