Saturday, May 10, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 10.31: More Required than Mindfulness

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
tan-niṣphalau nārhasi kartum-etau pīnau bhujau cāpa-vikarṣaṇārhau |
māndhātvaj-jetum-imau hi yogyau lokān api trīn iha kiṁ punar-gām || 10.31

So do not render fruitless

These muscular arms that were meant to draw a bow;

For, like Māndhātṛ, these two arms are capable of conquering

Even the three worlds here and now, let alone the earth.

Today's verse is the third time we have encountered Māndhātṛ so far in Aśvaghoṣa's writing. Ānanda cites him in SN Canto 11 as one of several examples of men who made it to heaven with ultimately unhappy consequences:
Having attained half of Indra's throne as a veritable earth-lord of the old school, / Māndhātṛ when his time with the gods elapsed came back down again. //SN11.43//

In BC Canto 1, Aśvaghoṣa mentions Māndhātṛ in passing in describing the birth of the baby who would be the Buddha: 
Just as Aurva was born from the thigh, Pṛthu from the hand, Indra-equalling Māndhātṛ from the head, / And Kakṣīvat from the armpit: of that same order was his birth.//BC1.10//

We will encounter Māndhātṛ once more in BC Canto 11:
Even having obtained the ocean-cloaked earth, [men] desire to conquer what lies beyond the great ocean: / The world is left unsatisfied by pleasures, as the ocean by waters that flow into it. //BC11.12// Even when golden rain fell on him from heaven, even after he had conquered all four continents,/ And even after he had obtained half of the throne of 'the Mighty' Indra, Māndhātṛ was still unsatisfied with the objects of the senses. //BC11.13//

King Bimbisāra's reference to Māndhātṛ in today's verse, then, is full of irony. All Māndhātṛ's earthly power and heavenly experience didn't cause him to be satisfied in the end with the sensual objects he attained. Still less did he realize even the first fruit of dharma.

Thus was the comment that I prepared yesterday, but when I woke up this morning this level of understanding did not inspire me to want to get out of bed. In such situations, sooner or later, I get out of bed anyway and drag my uninspired bag of bones out to the shed/Zendo at the bottom of the garden, do three prostrations, while thinking mainly of my knees going “forwards and away,” and clamber onto the rustic sitting platform that I constructed a few years ago.

Gradually it occurs to me that there has to be something in today's verse for a bloke who sits, because there always is, if we dig for it.

And so, whether Aśvaghoṣa intended it or not, I read today's verse as having to do with the use, during sitting-meditation, of the two arms – or (for those who like Taiso Eka lack an arm), the two shoulders, or two sides of the body and of the self. The cornerstone of this use of the two arms is a primitive reflex known as the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex, sometimes nicknamed “the baby fencer reflex” or “the goalkeeper reflex” or – more pertinently to today's verse – “the baby archer reflex.”

Crossing the midline – as the tips of the fingers do in the sitting-meditation mudrā known in Japanese as 法界定印 (HOKKAI-JO-IN), “the mudrā of the universe [lit. “Dharma-world”] in balance” – represents the inhibition of this primitive reflex.

The third of Alexander's four directions, “to let the back lengthen and widen,” also, in my book, represents inhibition of this primitive reflex which, when it is aberrant, causes postural twists associated with shortening and narrowing.

Read in this light, “capable of conquering even the three worlds here and now” means, in other words, “capable of conquering even one's own mind.”

EHJ noted:
I follow T [Tibetan translation] in taking iha with kiṁ punar gām; this brings the verse into order.

So EHJ translated “capable of conquering even the three worlds, how much more this earth here?”

But I think iha goes with lokān api trīn, so that “here and now” in “the three worlds here and now” is pointing us to the truth expressed in the Lotus Sutra as 三界唯心 (SANGAI-YUI-SHIN), “the three worlds are the mind alone” or “the triple world is only the mind.” This is the title of Shobogenzo chap. 47, wherein it is explained, if I remember correctly, that the three worlds, or the triple world, means the whole universe in the past, present, and future, so that 三界 (SANGAI) is synonymous with the aformentioned 法界 (HOKKAI; “Dharma-world,” universe).

If we want to conquer the three worlds, then, King Bimbisāra in today's verse might be reminding us (even if it is unbeknowns to himself), we are required to attend to the use of our own two arms or, more broadly, to the two sides of ourself.

Now that, in my book, is a teaching worth getting out of bed for.

tad: ind. therefore, so
niṣphalau (acc. dual m.): mfn. bearing no fruit , fruitless , barren , resultless , successless , useless , vain
na: not
arhasi = 2nd pers. sg. arh: to ought
kartum = infinitive kṛ: to do, make
etau (acc. dual m.): these

pīnau (acc. dual m.): mfn. swelling , swollen , full , round , thick , large , fat , fleshy , corpulent, muscular
bhujau (acc. dual): m. the arm
cāpa-vikarṣaṇārhau (acc. dual m.): fit for drawing a bow
cāpa: mn. a bow
vikarṣaṇa: mfn. drawing (a bow-string)
arha: ifc. meriting; becoming , proper , fit (with gen. or ifc.)

māndhātṛvat: ind. like Māndhātṛ
māndhātṛ: name of a king (son of yuvanāśva , author of RV)
jetum = inf. ji : to conquer (in battle) , vanquish , defeat , excel , surpass
imau (nom. dual m.): these two
hi: for
yogyau (nom. dual m.): mfn. fit for the yoke ; useful , serviceable , proper , fit or qualified for , able or equal to , capable of (gen. loc. dat. inf. with act. or pass. sense , or comp.)

lokān (acc. pl.): m. world
api: even
trīn (acc. pl. m.): three
iha: here, here and now
kiṁ punar: ind. how much more
gām (acc. sg.): f. the earth (as the milk-cow of kings)

無令圓相身 徒勞而無功
曼陀轉輪王 王領四天下
帝釋分半坐 力不能王天
今汝傭長臂 足攬人天境

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