Saturday, May 31, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.10: Here Comes Another Stimulus

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bhadrā)
kāmābhibhūtā hi na yānti śarma tri-piṣṭape kiṁ bata martya-loke |
kāmaiḥ sa-tṣṇasya hi nāsti tptir-yathendhanair-vāta-sakhasya vahneḥ || 11.10

For those in thrall to desires arrive at happiness

Not in triple heaven, much less in the mortal world.

A man possessed of thirst is no more satisfied by desires

Than wind-befriended fire is satisfied by fuel.

I was talking yesterday of use of a stimulus (nimitta) in the context of developmental or meditative work (bhāvana). In other words, the use of a stimulus (nimitta) in the context of cultivating (bhāvana) a meditative or developmental path.

In those terms, each verse that Aśvaghoṣa wrote, like each of the 301 Zen koans that Dogen recorded in Shinji-shobogenzo, can be regarded as a nimitta, a stimulus, or a subject for meditation.

If I have learned anything from Alexander work, in those terms, about a stimulus, I have learned of the power that a stimulus has to put us wrong.

“You're not here” said FM Alexander, “to do exercises, or to learn to do something right, but to get able to meet a stimulus that always puts you wrong and to learn to deal with it."

wrote Dogen, giving me a stimulus that put me wrong for many years.

My understanding and English translation of those words has changed over the years as I have got, hopefully, a little wiser in dealing with that particular stimulus. Any development has been in the direction of non-doing.

So thirty years ago my language would have been more direct, closer to the military parade-ground:
Just sit up straight, making the body right!”

Nowadays I would prefer something less direct, more Alexandrian, along the lines of
Just sit upright, allowing the body to be true.”

Or maybe better still, in light of recent investigations of pratītya-samutpāda,
Just sit upright, allowing the body to come back to true.”

Not much to show for thirty-odd years of painful struggle, is it?

In those days I saw sitting in the right posture as the primary thing. Nowadays I see things very differently indeed. When I look back on what I thought and felt to be true before, I reflect that I was very foolish. I was a blind man being led by a Zen teacher who was almost equally as blind in many respects, and in some respects maybe even blinder. 

With today's verse, then, here comes another stimulus that is liable to put a fool wrong. 

The primary thing in the Buddha's teaching as Aśvaghoṣa tells it, is the elimination of faults. 

So here comes another stimulus, and if we allow it to put us wrong, if we react to it on the basis of faults, the stimulus is liable to give rise to a thought along the following lines:

Desires are the enemy. Desire is the enemy. With the third noble truth, the Buddha was pointing us towards the elimination of desire. Ultimate satisfaction lies not in fulfillment of desire, but only in nirvāṇa, the complete extinction or annihilation of desire.

If, instead of thus reacting like a dimwit to the stimulus, we go back and examine reliable early records of what the Buddha actually said – in the way that Dogen himself did in the final chapter of Shobogenzo – we come across the teaching which is recorded in Chinese characters as 少欲知足 (Jap: SHOYOKU-CHISOKU), wanting little and knowing satisfaction, or having small desire and being content.

Thanks to the Japanese-English Buddhist Dictionary, I had known since translating Shobogenzo that 少欲 (SHOYOKU), “small desire,” represents the Sanskrit alpecchuḥ and 知足 (CHISOKU) represents the Sanskrit saṁtuṣṭaḥ. So when I first obtained EHJ's texts of Saundarananda and Buddhacarita, the first thing I did was to scour them in the hope of finding Aśvaghoṣa's record in Sanskrit of the teaching recorded in the final chapter of Shobogenzo.

Because nothing valuable ever seems to come so easily, I found what I seemed to be looking for, but not in Sanskrit. I found it instead in EHJ's translation into English from the Tibetan, in the 26th Canto of Buddhacarita – i.e. in one of those later cantos for which Aśvaghoṣa's Sanskrit has been lost. My transcription of the relevant passages of EHJ's translation is here

There is, however, a passing reference in Saundarananda to alpecchatā tuṣṭiḥ, “wanting little and contentment.” And as luck would have it , the relevant section follows on from that part of SN Canto 16 quoted yesterday.

asyābhyupāyo 'dhigamāya mārgaḥ prajñā-trikalpaḥ praśama-dvikalpaḥ /
A means for gaining that end is the path
of threefold wisdom and twofold tranquillity.
sa bhāvanīyo vidhivad budhena śīle śucau tripramukhe sthitena // 16.30
It is to be cultivated by a wakeful person working to principle
-- abiding in untainted threefold integrity.

vāk-karma samyak saha-kāya-karma yathāvad-ājīva-nayaś-ca śuddhaḥ /
Using the voice well and the body well in tandem,
and making a clean living in a suitable manner:
idaṃ trayaṃ vṛtta-vidhau pravṛttaṃ śīlāśrayaṃ dharma-parigrahāya // 16.31
These three, pertaining to conduct, are for the mastery,
based on integrity, of one's dharma-duty.

satyeṣu duḥkhādiṣu dṛṣṭir-āryā samyag-vitarkaś-ca parākramaś-ca /
Noble insight into suffering and the other truths,
along with thinking straight, and initiative:
idaṃ trayaṃ jñāna-vidhau pravṛttaṃ prajñāśrayaṃ kleśa-parikṣayāya // 16.32 
These three, pertaining to know-how, are for dissolution,
based on wisdom, of the afflictions.

nyāyena satyābhigamāya yuktā samyak smṛtiḥ samyag-atho samādhiḥ /
True mindfulness, properly harnessed
so as to bring one close to the truths; and true balance:
idaṃ dvayaṃ yoga-vidhau pravṛttaṃ śamāśrayaṃ citta-parigrahāya // 16.33
These two, pertaining to practice,
are for mastery, based on tranquillity, of the mind.

kleśāṅkurān-na pratanoti śīlaṃ bījāṅkurān kāla ivātivṛttaḥ /
Integrity no more propagates the shoots of affliction
than a bygone spring propagates shoots from seeds.
śucau hi śīle puruṣasya doṣā manaḥ sa-lajjā iva dharṣayanti // 16.34 
The faults, as long as a man's integrity is untainted,
venture only timidly to attack his mind.

kleśāṃs-tu viṣkambhayate samādhir-vegān-ivādrir-mahato nadīnām /
But balance casts off the afflictions
like a mountain casts off the mighty torrents of rivers.
sthitaṁ samādhau hi na dharṣayanti doṣā bhujaṃgā iva mantra-baddhāḥ // 16.35
The faults do not attack a man who is standing firm in balanced stillness:
like charmed snakes, they are spellbound.

prajñā tv-aśeṣeṇa nihanti doṣāṃs-tīra-drumān prāvṛṣi nimnageva /
And wisdom destroys the faults without trace,
as a mountain stream in the monsoon destroys the trees on its banks.
dagdhā yayā na prabhavanti doṣā vajrāgninevānusṛtena vṛkṣāḥ // 16.36
Faults consumed by it do not stand a chance,
like trees in the fiery wake of a thunderbolt.

triskandham-etaṃ pravigāhya mārgaṃ praspaṣṭam-aṣṭāṅgam-ahāryam-āryam /
Giving oneself to this path with its three divisions and eight branches
-- this straightforward, irremovable, noble path --
duḥkhasya hetūn prajahāti doṣān prāpnoti cātyanta-śivaṃ padaṃ tat // 16.37
One abandons the faults, which are the causes of suffering,
and comes to that step which is total well-being.

asyopacāre dhṛtir-ārjavaṃ ca hrīr-apramādaḥ praviviktatā ca /
Attendant on it are constancy and straightness;
modesty, attentiveness, and reclusiveness;
alpecchatā tuṣṭir-asaṃgatā ca loka-pravṛttāv-aratiḥ kṣamā ca // 16.38 
Wanting little, contentment, and freedom from forming attachments;
no fondness for worldly activity, and forbearance.

What Aśvaghoṣa's record of the Buddha's teaching is thus reminding us very clearly is that desire is not the enemy, but faults are the enemy. And foremost among those faults is the fault of thirsting, whose elimination is manifested not by no desire and sackcloth and ashes, but rather by small desire and being satisfied with breakfast.

To repeat what I wrote yesterday, I am here showing my own workings: just because I am writing this stuff doesn't mean that I have understood it yet.

On the contrary, to go back to the verse in SN Canto 16 where we started yesterday:

doṣāśayas-tiṣṭhati yasya yatra tasyopapattir-vivaśasya tatra // SN16.24 
Wherever he remains susceptible to a fault, 
that is where he makes his appearance, whether he likes it or not.

Finally, a further reflection, following on from what I wrote about mindfulness yesterday, is stimulated by the mention above in SN16.33 of “true mindfulness, properly harnessed so as to draw near to the [four noble] truths” (nyāyena satyābhigamāya yuktā samyak smṛtiḥ).

The point here, then, is that the original criterion for whether mindfulness is true, is not countable in terms of costs savings to Britain's National Health Service from reduced consumption of anti-depressant drugs. The original criterion, as Aśvaghoṣa tells it, is whether the practice of smṛti (mindfulness, meditative/reflective awareness) brings us back closer to the true meaning of the Buddha's four noble truths.

The point, in other words, in the wider scheme of things as the Indian patriarchs saw it, might be that we are not here to go through life immunized from suffering by practice of mindfulness borrowed second-hand from the Buddha as a cheap replacement for anti-depressant drugs.

We are rather here, as followers of the Buddha's teaching, to draw nearer to, to get back to, the original meaning of the Buddha's four noble truths. And if that drawing near, or that going back, involves recurrent passage through modes of existence like those of the hungry ghost, the angry demon, and the ignorant animal, so be it.

That may be why Zen Master Dogen, at the end of Shobogenzo chap. 4, Ikka-no-myoju, reminds us not to worry about falling or not falling into the six states of cause and effect – i.e. hell, hungry ghosts, animals, angry demons, human beings, and gods in heaven.

The point, in other words, might not be to avoid ever dipping our feet into the flood-waters of suffering. The point might rather be to approach true understanding of those four noble truths by which the Tathāgata originally took the world across.

iti duḥkham-etad-iyam-asya samudaya-latā pravartikā /
"This is suffering; this is the tangled mass of causes producing it;
śāntir-iyam-ayam-upāya iti pravibhāgaśaḥ param-idaṁ catuṣṭayam // SN3.12
This is cessation; and here is a means." 
Thus, one by one, this supreme set of four,

abhidhāya ca tri-parivartam-atulam-anivartyam-uttamaṁ /
The seer set out, with its three divisions
of the unequalled, the incontrovertible, the ultimate;
dvādaśa-niyata-vikalpam ṛśir-vinināya kauṇḍina-sagotram-āditaḥ // SN3.13
And with its statement of twelvefold linkage;
after which he instructed, as the first follower, him of the Kauṇḍinya clan.

sa hi doṣa-sāgaram-agādham-upadhi-jalam-ādhi-jantukaṁ /
For the fathomless sea of faults, whose water is falsity, where fish are cares,
krodha-mada-bhaya-taraṅga-calaṁ pratatāra lokam-api ca vyatārayat // SN3.14
And which is disturbed by waves of anger, lust, and fear;
he had crossed, and he took the world across too.

kāmābhibhūtāḥ (nom. pl. m.): defeated by desires
abhibhūta: mfn. surpassed , defeated , subdued , humbled ; overcome , aggrieved , injured.
abhi- √ bhū: to overcome , overpower , predominate , conquer , surpass , overspread ; to attack , defeat , humiliate ;
hi: for
na: not
yānti = 3rd pers. pl. yā: to go ; to go towards or against , go or come to , enter , approach , arrive at , reach
śarma (acc. sg.): n. shelter , protection , refuge , safety ; Joy , bliss , comfort , delight , happiness

tri-piṣṭape (loc. sg.): n. = tri-divá indra's heaven ; the 3rd or most sacred heaven , heaven (in general)
kiṁ bata: ind. still less
martya-loke (loc. sg.): in the world of mortals

kāmaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. pleasures, desires
sa-tṛṣṇasya (gen. sg.): one who has thirst
hi: for
nāsti: there is not
tṛptiḥ (nom. sg.): f. satisfaction , contentment

yathā: ind. as
indhanaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. kindling , lighting ; fuel
vāta-sakhasya (gen. sg. m.): mfn. (fire) having wind as friend or companion BhP.
vahneḥ (gen. sg.): m. any one who conveys or is borne along (applied to a charioteer or rider , or to various gods , esp. to agni ; fire (in general or " the god of fire ")

天樂尚不可 況處人間欲 
五欲生渇愛 終無滿足時
猶盛風猛火 投薪亦無足

Friday, May 30, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.9: Investigation of Desires – Work in Progress

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
kāmā hy-anityāḥ kuśalārtha-caurā riktāś-ca māyā-sadśāś-ca loke |
āśāsyamānā api mohayanti cittaṁ nṇāṁ kiṁ punar-ātma-saṁsthāḥ || 11.9

For transient desires are robbers of the stuff of happiness.

They are hollow, and resemble phantoms in the world.

Even in their anticipation, they delude the mind of men.

How much more in their physical consummation?

In the 4th pāda of today's verse ātma-saṁsthāḥ, as a description of kāmāḥ (desires/pleasures), was translated by EBC as “when they take up their abode in the soul”; by EHJ as “their actual possession”; and by PO as “when actually possessed.”

Each of those efforts is fair enough as a translation of a term that could cover, and was probably intended to cover, a wide range of meanings.

kiṁ punar-ātma-saṁsthāḥ
How much more in their physical presence?
How much more when they have got under a person's skin?

The translation I have gone with, "How much more in their physical consummation?" is suggestive of consummation of sexual desires, and Aśvaghoṣa must have been aware of that as the most obvious meaning.

But what is true of sexual desires/objects may be equally true of other less tangible desires/objects.

In an Alexander lesson, for example, part of the teacher's job is to present the pupil with a stimulus – like, for example, “move your leg!” This creates in the mind of the pupil a desire to gain the end of moving a leg. And this desire to move the leg, unless the pupil is well and truly able to inhibit it, will delude the pupil's mind. The delusion of the mind, moreover, will be manifested, grossly or otherwise, in a change in muscle tone, along the lines of stiffening of the neck, pulling back and down of the head, and twisting of the torso resulting in shortening and narrowing of the back.

If the desire to move a leg thus deludes a pupil's mind even in anticipation of the act of moving a leg, how much more during the  consummation of that desire, by the actual act of moving a leg?

In Alexander jargon, the stimulus of the teacher's request that the pupil should move a leg is known as “the stimulus.” And the whole process – from presentation of the stimulus through to consummation of the desire to move the leg – is known as “the Work,” or “Work on the Self.”

For that reason a translation of nimitta that is both Alexander-friendly and fairly literal (since nimitta can mean “cause”) is stimulus. And a translation of bhāvana that is both Alexander-friendly and fairly close to how the Buddha seemed to use the word bhāvana (to mean something like “meditation” but with a practical/developmental as opposed to an intellectual emphasis) is Work.

Apropos of which, I would like to quote again a passage I have quoted on this blog several times before. The passage was written by FM Alexander in his seventies, for the preface of his fourth book, The Universal Constant in Living (1946), and I originally quoted it in an article I wrote ten or so years ago titled Practising Detachment.
The fact to be faced is that the human self was robbed of much of its inheritance when the separation implied by the conception of the organism as 'spirit,' 'mind' and 'body' was accepted as a working principle, for it left unbridged the gap between the 'subconscious' and the conscious. I venture to assert that if the gap is to be bridged, it will be by means of a knowledge, gained through practical experience, which will enable us to inhibit our instinctive, 'subconscious' reaction to a given stimulus, and to hold it inhibited while initiating a conscious direction, guidance, and control of the use of the self that was previously unfamiliar. I suggest that only those who become capable of translating into practice what is involved in the procedure just described can justly claim to have experienced detachment in the basic sense.

When Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow demonstrated to me in practice what FM was really talking about here, in the context of giving me the stimulus to move my leg, as described in this article, I got a first inkling of having been given a weapon with which, if I trained myself well enough, even I might eventually be able to kick Māra's arse.

Māra, it should be understood, is the King of Desire. And though people understand Alexander work to be all about good posture, which on the surface it seems to be about, the deeper truth is that what Alexander called “The Work” is all about inhibition, or cessation, of end-gaining desires.

In this regard, when push comes to shove, am I able to practise what I preach? There are times when I feel I am forced to admit: Am I hell.

At those times, I should like to resort to the credo of arrogant hypocrites everywhere – please do as I say, not as I do.

But I am still working on it. Still working above all, four times every day, on the Act of Development which is just to sit. And on this blog, for whose if anybody's benefit I am not sure, probably mainly my own, I am endeavouring to show my workings.

In general I write these comments on the day before I publish them, so that I sleep on them and sit in the morning for an hour, wearing a kaṣāya, before editing the translation and commentary and adding anything I want to add. In this way I reassure myself that whether the translation and commentary are good or bad, they are the by-products of a process that is being directed (not by me but by sitting itself) in the right direction.

Most of the above comment was written very early on Thursday morning, or the middle of Wednesday night, after I woke up before 3 am and knew I wasn't going to get back to sleep. That being so, the above could probably do with further polishing to take some of the sharper and more ragged edges off of it. But instead of being inspired to edit what I wrote already, this morning in my sitting I was rather led to reflect on the distinction that the Buddha made (e.g. in the Ariyapariyesanasuttaṁ) between pursuit of desires that are transient, subject to ageing and death, and pursuit of the ageless and deathless nirvāṇa which is not subject to ageing and death.

In SN Canto 12, the Buddha uses the metaphor of the gods' ambrosia, the deathless nectar, the nectar of immortality, to represent that ageless and deathless nirvāṇa. He says to Nanda:

sarva-duḥkhāpahaṃ tat-tu hasta-stham-amṛtaṃ tava /
But that deathless nectar which prevents all suffering you have in your hands:
viṣaṃ pītvā yad-agadaṃ samaye pātum-icchasi // SN12.25
It is an antidote which, having drunk poison, you are going in good time to drink.

This comment is going to get very long. But as I said already, these are not my conclusions but my workings, written mainly for my own benefit.

The verse that, this morning as I sat, I really felt inspired to go back and read, was SN16.28. Here it is in its original context: 

doṣa-kṣayo jātiṣu yāsu yasya vairāgyatas-tāsu na jāyate saḥ /
In whichever realms of existence a man has ended faults, 
thanks to that dispassion he is not born in those realms.
doṣāśayas-tiṣṭhati yasya yatra tasyopapattir-vivaśasya tatra // SN16.24 
Wherever he remains susceptible to a fault, 
that is where he makes his appearance, whether he likes it or not.

taj-janmano naika-vidhasya saumya tṛṣṇādayo hetava ity-avetya /
So my friend, with regard to the many forms of becoming, 
know their causes to be [the faults] that start with thirsting
tāṃś-chindhi duḥkhād yadi nirmumukṣā kārya-kṣayaḥ kāraṇa-saṃkṣayādd hi //16.25
And cut out those [faults], if you wish to be freed from suffering; 
for ending of the effect follows from eradication of the cause.

duḥkha-kṣayo hetu-parikṣayāc-ca śāntaṃ śivaṃ sākṣi-kuruṣva dharmaṃ /
Again, the ending of suffering follows from the disappearance of its cause. 
Experience that reality for yourself as peace and well-being,
tṛṣṇā-virāgaṃ layanaṃ nirodhaṃ sanātanaṃ trāṇam-ahāryam-āryam // 16.26
A place of rest, a cessation, an absence of the red taint of thirsting, 
a primeval refuge which is irremovable and noble,

yasmin-na jātir-na jarā na mṛtyur-na vyādhayo nāpriya-saṃprayogaḥ /
In which there is no becoming, no aging, no dying, no illness, 
no being touched by unpleasantness,
necchā-vipanna priya-viprayogaḥ kṣemaṃ padaṃ naiṣṭhikam-acyutaṃ tat // 16.27 
No disappointment, and no separation from what is pleasant: 
It is an ultimate and indestructible step, in which to dwell at ease.

dīpo yathā nirvṛtim-abhyupeto naivāvaniṃ gacchati nāntarikṣam /

A lamp that has gone out reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky,
diśaṃ na kāṃ-cid vidiśaṃ na kāṃ-cit sneha-kṣayāt kevalam-eti śāntim // 16.28
Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point:
Because its oil is spent it reaches nothing but extinction.

evaṃ kṛtī nirvṛtim-abhyupeto naivāvaniṃ gacchati nāntarikṣam /
In the same way, a man of action who has come to quiet 
reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky,
diśaṃ na kāṃ-cid vidiśaṃ na kāṃ-cit kleśa-kṣayāt kevalam-eti śāntim // 16.29
Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point:
From the ending of his afflictions he attains nothing but extinction.

asyābhyupāyo 'dhigamāya mārgaḥ prajñā-trikalpaḥ praśama-dvikalpaḥ /
A means for gaining that end is the path
of threefold wisdom and twofold tranquillity.
sa bhāvanīyo vidhivad budhena śīle śucau tripramukhe sthitena // SN16.30 
It is to be cultivated by a wakeful person working to principle
-- abiding in untainted threefold integrity.

None of the above will be news to anybody who follows this blog. But I wanted to write it out in full again, mainly for my own benefit, reading the English next to Aśvaghoṣa's original Sanskrit, as he puts the noble eightfold path into its proper context. That context, as indicated by the word bhāvanīyaḥ in the last line of SN16.30, which means "to be cultivated" or "to be developed" (lit. to be caused to be brought into being"), might be a developmental one. 

(Marjory Barlow, now I come to think of it, once reminded me that Alexander work has to do with growth, and as such nothing in it can be hurried along. If there is any wisdom in me proceeding with this blog at the snail's pace of one verse per day, therein may lie the source of the wisdom.)

Mindfulness at present is much in vogue. It even raised its ugly head last night on Newsnight, when Arianna Huffington was talking about it. But the word mindfulness is a not very good translation, chosen by British Buddhist scholars back in the 19th century, of the Pali sati (Sanskrit smṛti) which, paired with samādhi, forms the aforesaid twofold tranquillity in the noble eightfold path.

Many years ago I remember reading a book or pamphlet by Ajahn Sumedho whose memorable title was Mindfulness, the Path to the Deathless.  But more exactly speaking, the path to the deathless is the noble eightfold path, of which reflective or meditative awareness is a vital and integral part – primarily in the context of sitting with legs crossed, wearing a kaṣāya, and pointing one's body in an upward direction. 

kāmāḥ (nom. pl.): m. pleasures, desires
hi: for
anityāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. inconstant, transient
kuśalārtha-caurāḥ (nom. pl. m.): being robbers of prosperity and purpose (EBC: the robbers of our happiness and our wealth; EHJ: “robbers of the treasury of good”)
kuśala: n. welfare , well-being , prosperous condition , happiness
artha: aim, purpose ; substance , wealth , property , opulence , money ; (hence in astron.) N. of the second mansion , the mansion of wealth
caura: a thief, robber

riktāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. emptied , empty , void ; hollow , hollowed (as the hands); idle, worthless ;
ca: and
māyā-sadṛśāḥ (nom. pl. m.) resembling phantoms
māyā: f. illusion , unreality , deception , fraud , trick , sorcery , witchcraft, magic ; an unreal or illusory image , phantom , apparition ib. (esp. ibc. = false , unreal , illusory ; cf. comp.)
ca: and
loke (loc. sg.): m. the world

āśāsyamānāḥ = nom. pl. m. passive pres. part. ā- √ śaṁs: to hope for , expect ; to wish to attain , desire ;
api: even
mohayanti = 3rd pers. pl. causative: to stupefy , bewilder , confound , perplex , cause to err or fail
cittam (acc. sg.): n. mind

nṛṇām (gen. pl.): m. men
kiṁ punar: ind. how much more?
ātma-saṁsthāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. based on or connected with the person
ātman: m. the individual soul , self , abstract individual ; the person or whole body considered as one and opposed to the separate members of the body; the body
saṁstha: mfn. standing together , standing or staying or resting or being in or on , contained in (loc. or comp.); being in, belonging to (comp.); partaking or possessed of (comp.)

五欲非常賊 劫人善珍寶
詐僞虚非實 猶若幻化人
暫思令人惑 況常處其中
五欲爲大礙 永障寂滅法

Thursday, May 29, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.8: The Danger of Being Deluded by Desires/Objects

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Rāmā)
nāśīviṣebhyo hi tathā bibhemi naivāśanibhyo gaganāc-cyutebhyaḥ |
na pāvakebhyo 'nila-saṁhitebhyo yathā bhayaṁ me viṣayebhya eva || 11.8

For I am not so afraid of venomous snakes,

Or of thunderbolts falling from the sky,

Or of fires supplied with air,

As I am fearful of objects of the senses.

indhane sati vāyau ca yathā jvalati pāvakaḥ /
Just as a fire burns only where fuel and air co-exist,
viṣayāt parikalpāc-ca kleśāgnir-jāyate tathā // SN13.50 
So a fire of affliction arises, from an object and the forming of a conception.

abhūta-parikalpena viṣayasya hi badhyate /
For through an illusory fixed conception one is bound to an object;
tam-eva viṣayaṃ paśyan bhūtataḥ parimucyate // 13.51 //
Seeing that very same object as it really is, one is set free.

dṛṣṭvaikaṃ rūpam-anyo hi rajyate 'nyaḥ praduṣyati /
On seeing one and the same form this man is enamoured, that man is disgusted;
kaś-cid bhavati madhya-sthas-tatraivānyo ghṛṇāyate // 13.52
Somebody else remains in the middle;
while yet another feels thereto a human warmth.

ato na viṣayo hetur-bandhāya na vimuktaye /
Thus, an object is not the cause of bondage or of liberation;
parikalpa-viśeṣeṇa saṃgo bhavati vā na vā // SN13.53 
It is due to peculiar fixed conceptions that attachment arises or does not.

In view of what the Buddha thus tells Nanda in SN Canto 13, we should maybe understand that the bodhisattva in today's verse is fearful of objects not because there is originally any fault in objects themselves, but rather because sense objects become dangerous when they become the targets of the desirous senses of a person who lacks the detachment to see an object as it really is.

At the same time being afraid of viṣayebhyaḥ in the plural can mean being afraid of sensual attractions, or sensuality. So although the word viṣaya originally suggests something very objective – an object of the senses, or the reach of the senses – it can also include some more subjective sense of the activity of the senses. Bhayaṁ me viṣayebhyaḥ, therefore, could be translated as “my fear of objects targeted by the senses” or maybe more strictly accurately, in view of what the Buddha tells Nanda, as “my fear of targeting of objects by the senses.”

In a similar way, only the other way round, kāma, from the root √kam (to wish, to desire), ostensibly means something subjective. But just as in English a heart's desire is an object that the heart wants, and desires can mean objects of desire, so too in Sanskrit can kāmāḥ mean desires as objects.

So when in today's verse the bodhisattva confesses his fear of objects (viṣayebhyaḥ), and in tomorrows verse describes how desires (kāmāḥ) delude men's minds, even though viṣayebhyaḥ sounds originally more objective and kāmāḥ sounds originally more subjective, I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention is to indicate that in the coming speech the bodhisattva is going to use the two terms as more or less synonymous.

When a young bloke falls in love, as young blokes are prone to do – to fall “into love” as my Zen teacher used to phrase it, as if love were some kind of elephant trap – is he deluded by sensual objects, like lingerie and lip-gloss? Or is he deluded by his own desires? Is the cause on her or in him?

The apparently interchangeable use of viṣaya (object) and kāma (desire) seems to suggest that, as far as the bodhisattva was concerned, for practical intents and purposes, the distinction between the subjective and the objective was a nicety that could be transcended. The important thing, in the practice of a bodhisattva who desired release, was not to become too deeply ensnared in delusion.

A practical directive in this direction, a teaching directed by the Buddha to his son Rāhula, is recorded in the Mahārāhulovādasuttaṁ as follows:

Paṭhavīsamaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi.

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu translates this as:
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is to be even as the earth.

In a footnote, AB adds:
Develop the meditation - bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi, could be more literally rendered as “develop the development” if it wasn't so unidiomatic. 

Reflecting this morning that bhāvana in Sanskrit is an -na neuter action noun (from the causative of bhū, to be), it occurred to me that bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi might be translated still more literally as “develop the developing” or “develop the act of development”:

Paṭhavīsamaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi.
“Develop the act of development, Rahula, that is to be even as the earth.”
“Do the work of developing, Rahula, that is to be even as the earth.”

Most readers of this blog, I suppose, like me, have come to the Buddha's teaching primarily through the transmission of the Buddha-dharma through Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna in India, through Bodhidharma in India and China, through the Chinese Zen patriarchs in China, and through the Japanese Zen Master Dogen in China and Japan.

For us, therefore, the emphasis is somewhat problematic that the Buddha and the Indian patriarchs Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna evidently placed on bhāvana, using a variety of nimitta nimitta being conventionally understood as meaning something like “a subject for meditation.” It is problematic since in the Buddha's teaching as we have received it, all that is necessary is just to sit, dropping off body and mind. Nobody has transmitted to us an a-la-carte menu of nimitta. Our dumb arses have been happily sitting as if in the cheap seats where only one set menu is served.

But now, in the writings of Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna, we are confronted with talk of bhāvana (meditation), in which are implicated various nimitta (subjects of meditation); and these terms evidently hark back to what the Buddha taught the likes of his son Rāhula, as recorded in the most ancient Pali texts.

In SN Canto 16 I translated bhāvana as “mental development” (sarvāsravān bhāvanayābhibhūya na jāyate śāntimavāpya bhūyaḥ; He prevails over all pollutants, by the means of mental development, and, on finding peace, is no longer subject to becoming. SN16.5). And I translated nimitta, somewhat non-committally as "a factor":

pragrāhakaṃ yat-tu nimittam-uktam-uddhanyamāne hṛdi tan-na sevyam /
That factor said to be "garnering" does not serve when the emotions are inflamed,
evaṃ hi cittaṃ praśamaṁ na yāti [viś]vāyunā vahnir-iveryamāṇaḥ //16.53
For thus the mind does not come to quiet, like a fire being fanned by the wind.

śamāya yat syān-niyataṃ nimittaṃ jātoddhave cetasi tasya kālaḥ /
A factor ascertained to be calming has its time when one's mind is excited;
evaṃ hi cittaṃ praśamaṃ niyacchet pradīpyamāno 'gnir-ivodakena //16.54
For thus the mind subsides into quietness, like a blazing fire doused with water....

Near the beginning of the Mahārāhulovādasuttaṁ, Rāhula is described like this:

Tato paṭinivattitvā aññatarasmiṁ rukkhamūle nisīdi.
Therefore having turned back he sat down at the root of a certain tree.
Pallaṅkaṁ ābhujitvā, ujuṁ kāyaṁ paṇidhāya,
After folding his legs crosswise, and setting his body straight,
parimukhaṁ satiṁ upaṭṭhapetvā.
he established mindfulness at the front.

In this passage ujuṁ (straight) corresponds to the Sanskrit ṛjum, which the MW dictionary defines as “tending in a straight direction, straight, upright.” So in some sense we can understand that sitting-meditation as Dogen taught it is our bhāvana, and this word ujum or ṛjum (tending upright) expresses the only nimitta that some of us have personally received from a teacher, as a means with which to practise our bhāvana.

In that case, it struck me as I sat this morning, it may be important for us to recognize that this very simple practice of sitting-meditation that we like to practise is also – because the Buddha called it so – a bhāvana, a Developing, or an Act of Development.

Since tending in a direction, and uprightness, are essentially vestibular problems; and since in human development the vestibular system is precocious, that all sort of makes sense to me.

But the proof of the pudding – for bodhisattvas who desire release, and who therefore fear ensnarement in delusion induced by desires/objects – may be in the eating.

That being so, who in Dogen's line in the world today can truly claim, by his detachment with regard to desires/objects, to have kicked Māra's arse? 

Don't look at me, because I certainly haven't, at least not on a permanent basis.

Perhaps we who follow Dogen would all do well to go back to the ancient texts, in Sanskrit and in Pali, and think again, in light of what is recorded there, about the sitting practice that has been transmitted down to us.

Ironically, though it may only be subjective prejudice re-asserting itself, I find those ancient texts to be supportive of the heretic non-Buddhist effort I have been making these past 20 years, in which I have become progressively less interested in Buddhism as a religion, and more interested in scientific discoveries to do with human development (bhāvana), centred on the working of the vestibular system. Chief among the modern pioneers of such bhāvana, in my book, has been FM Alexander.

na: not
āśīviṣebhyaḥ (abl. pl.): m. a kind of venomous snake
hi: for
tathā: ind. so, to that extent
bibhemi = 1st pers. sg. bhī: to fear, be afraid

na: not
eva: (emphatic)
āśanibhyaḥ (abl. pl.): f. the thunderbolt , a flash of lightning
gaganāt (abl. sg.): n. the atmosphere , sky , firmament
cyutebhyaḥ (abl. pl. f.): mfn. falling

na: not
pāvakebhyaḥ (abl. pl.): m. fire or the god of fire
anila-saṁhitebhyaḥ (abl. pl. m.): combined with air
anila: m. air or wind
saṁhita: mfn. put together ; joined or connected or endowed or furnished with , abounding in , possessed of , accompanied by (comp.)
saṁ- √ dhā: to combine, connect with

yathā: ind. as, to such an extent
bhayam (acc. sg.): n. fear
me (gen. sg.): in/of me
viṣayebhyaḥ (abl. pl.): m. sphere (of influence or activity); objects, ends to be gained ; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
eva: (emphatic)

不畏盛毒蛇 凍電猛盛火
唯畏五欲境 流轉勞我心