Sunday, April 6, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 9.80: Directionless Suffering (With No Plan B)

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
tataḥ sa-bāṣpau saciva-dvijāv-ubhau niśamya tasya sthiram-eva niścayam |
viṣaṇṇa-vaktrāv-anugamya duḥkhitau śanair-agatyā puram-eva jagmatuḥ || 9.80

Then the counsellor and the twice-born veteran,
both in tears,

Having perceived his unshakeable resolve,

Tagged along, in the grip of suffering, with despondent faces;

And then meekly, having no other course,
the two of them went back to the city in question.

A buddha by definition is one who has realized the truth, whereas the bodhisattva by his own admission (a-dṛṣta-tattvasya; BC9.75) is one who has not realized the truth yet.

If the implicit point of yesterday's verse was to remind us of this difference between (a) a buddha who has realized the truth and (b) a bodhisattva who has not yet realized the truth, then how much greater still is the difference between (b) a bodhisattva with unshakeable resolve to go in the direction of the truth, and (c) common men who have neither realized the truth, nor yet established an unshakeable resolve to go in that direction?

In today's verse, as two convenient examples of the latter class of person, (c), we have the counsellor and the veteran priest – specialists, respectively, in the areas of political science and religion... but what good, in the end, has that done them?

In the end it is they, not the bodhisattva, who are returning to the city. Though he the bodhisattva has not yet accomplished his task, he is still very much oriented in that direction. The two of them have singularly failed to accomplish the task with which the king charged them, and as such they are showing everywhere the signs of sorrow – being sa-bāṣpau, tearful; viṣaṇṇa-vaktrau, having despondent faces; and duḥkhitau, being pained, sorrowful, gripped by suffering.

So the morale of today's verse, as I read it, is that we need not fear so much the hardships of practice as a bodhisattva; but we might be wise to fear the suffering of one who has yet to establish, or who backslides from, from a bodhisattva's vow of practice. We might be wise to fear a life that is lived without any effort to seek out for ourselves, and go in, the right direction.

Reflecting further, particularly in light of the discoveries of FM Alexander, on the meaning of agatyā in the 4th pāda (“being without recourse” or “having no other course”), I think the reason the bodhisattva had an alternative course open to him, whereas the king's emissaries did not, exactly speaking, is that the bodhisattva really knew the meaning of the word No.

FM Alexander was clear in seeing that a person who has not learned to say No is at the mercy of the wishes of others, and at the mercy of his own unconscious impulses. But when a person has learned to say No, that person has a choice.

This is not a philosophical proposition. It was a practical discovery. Alexander was born as a premature baby and so we can suppose he suffered a lot in his youth under the influence of an immature primitive fear reflex, and he badly wanted to be free of this influence. Thus he was motivated to work out a practical means for acting freely, for being able in practice to exercise a choice, to choose between alternative courses of action.

To bring this discussion back to sitting-meditation, Plan A is always simply just to do one's best to sit upright, relying on one's feeling of where the UP in upright is. This feeling is a large part of our evolutionary inheritance as human beings. Unfortunately, Alexander found, it is almost universally faulty and unreliable. That being so, Plan B begins with saying No.

What I have learned to say No to, mainly, in sitting upright, is the desire to sit upright. In order to allow myself truly to be directed up, I have to give up all idea of sitting upright. 

Understanding this point is like getting a joke. And every time you remember it, it makes you want to smile. 

This may sound sort of Zen, but I didn't learn it while practising sitting-Zen in Japan. I learned it in England under Alexander teachers, and in particular under FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow – while lying on my back on her teaching table. 

tataḥ: ind. then
sa-bāṣpau (nom. dual): mfn. tearful, weeping
saciva-dvijau (nom. dual): the counsellor and the twice-born man
saciva: m. an associate , companion , friend, esp. a king's friend or attendant , counsellor , minister;
ubhau (nom. dual): both

niśamya = abs. ni- √ śam: to observe , perceive , hear , learn
tasya (gen. sg.): his
sthiram (acc. sg. m.): mfn. firm , hard , solid , compact , strong ; fixed , immovable , motionless , still , calm
eva: (emphatic)
niścayam (acc. sg.): m. conviction, certainty ; resolution , resolve, fixed intention , design , purpose ,

viṣaṇṇa-vaktrau (nom. dual): with despondent faces
vi-√sad: to be exhausted or dejected , despond , despair ; to sink down
vaktra: n. " organ of speech " , the mouth , face
anugamya = abs. anu- √ gam: to go after , follow , seek , approach , visit , arrive ;
duḥkhitau (nom. dual): mfn. pained , distressed, afflicted , unhappy

śanaiḥ: ind. quietly , softly , gently , gradually , alternately
agatyā: ind. unavoidably, indispensably
a-gati: mfn. not going , halting , without resource , helpless; f. want of resort or resource , unsuccessfulness
puram (acc. sg.): n. the city
eva: (emphatic)
jagmatur = 3rd pers. dual perf. gam: to go

王師及大臣 言論莫能勝相謂計已盡 唯當辭退還

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