Wednesday, May 14, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 10.35: Śreṇya Draws Near?

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
dharmasya cārthasya ca jīva-loke pratyarthi-bhūtāni hi yauvanāni |
saṁrakṣyamāṇāny-api dur-grahāṇi kāmā yatas-tena yathā haranti || 10.35

For, in the world of the living, youthful indiscretions

Are the enemy of dharma and of wealth.

However well we guard against those immature acts,
to get a grip on them is hard,

For which reason desires duly prevail.

Forty years ago a British newspaper titled the News of the World would invariably have, every Sunday, a story headlined something along the lines of “Vicar Runs Off with Exotic Dancer.” Vicars in their droves, in spite of their original desire to be beacons of Anglican morality, evidently were always falling prey to other desires. And Britains in their millions, with a healthy appetite for irony, liked to read about it, especially on a Sunday.

Another kind of irony is observed when, with the most honourable of intentions, a young single bloke desires a woman's hand in marriage but by going directly for the target he turns her off and pushes her away. In that kind of example, his sexual desires go unconsummated because of his desire in courtship to go directly for his end, relying on unskillful means. If he were more skilful, or cunning, he might have found that indirect means – or even playing hard to get – were more effective.

These are examples related to love or sex or pleasure (kāma). These are the kinds of problems that were studied in detail in ancient India, and with all due seriousness, in the Kāma-sutra, or "Book of Love." But similar ironies can readily be observed in people's desire for wealth or money (artha). The whole raison d'etre of hedge funds, for example, is to make money for their clients, but a surprisingly large proportion of hedge funds actually lose money and not a few every year go bust. So desire to make more money causes wealthy investors to invest in hedge funds, but this desire, ironically, sometimes causes them to lose money.

What has this got to do with matters related to the buddha's dharma  matters like sitting in full lotus and like the four noble truths?

To understand the connection there is nothing better, in my book, than Alexander work. The great irony in working as an Alexander teacher is observed when the teacher, with the best of intentions, desires to take a pupil up (i.e. to impart an upward direction to the pupil through his hands). What tends to happen, when the desire to gain this end of being a good teacher prevails, is that the teacher's grasping hands actually impart a downward direction.

So it is when a Zen practitioner sits in lotus and tries – albeit ever so subtly – to arrange himself in the direction, the upward direction, of a nice sitting posture. The desire to arrange it prevails, and the result is a bad sitting posture, a posture which is not free and fluid but which is more or less rigid, a posture that is a posture.

I see this as the fundamental basis for understanding all the irony in Aśvaghoṣa's writing, the irony of which he was evidently so fond.

My desire in sitting to go up all too easily causes me to pull myself down. If I truly desire to go up, if I truly desire to allow myself to go up, it seems that I am required to give up all desire of going up – in which irony lies, in my book, the essence of the Buddha's teaching of the four noble truths.

It is in this light that I read today's verse in which King Śreṇya is speaking, on the surface, as an apologist for pursuit of pleasures or desires (kāmān); but, below the surface (though unbeknowns to himself), as an observer of the real practical difficulty of realizing the truth of cessation.

In the former reading the 4th pāda is stating that is inevitable for a young man to give into pleasures or desires; but in the latter reading the 4th pāda is stating something much more profound and all too true – that end-gaining desires cause a person to act immaturely.

“When something goes wrong,” observed FM Alexander, “it is always down to a failure of inhibition.”

So when I read the 4th pāda, especially in light of my own recent desperate but vain bid to catch a ferry yesterday morning, the hidden meaning which I think Aśvaghoṣa buried there makes a lot of sense.

The three professors and their predecessors, however, seem to have found the 4th pāda, as recorded in the old Nepalese manuscript and in EBC's text, hard to grasp.

EBC translated:
Youth in this present world is the enemy of religion and wealth, — since pleasures, however we guard them, are hard to hold, therefore, wherever pleasures are to be found, there they seize them.  

It is not entirely clear from EBC's wording who (they) seize what (them). Hence EHJ noted:
In view of Aśvaghoṣa's syntax yataḥ in the final pāda cannot mean 'because', but indicates the consequence ; so it would make better sense in d to take haranti as intransitive or to read hriyante, as Gawronski suggested and T may do, so that youth would be the subject of the verb and tena pathā would correspond to yataḥ.... Alternatively Windisch's svena pathā.

Consequently EHJ followed Windisch in amending yathā to pathā and translated:
For, in the world of the living, youth is naturally opposed to dharma and wealth, and, however tightly checked, it is hard to hold, so that the pleasures carry it [youth] off by that path.

PO translated: For the time of youth in this human world is the enemy of dharma and wealth; Though well guarded, youth is hard to secure, as by that path pleasures carry it [youth] off.

I think EHJ was correct in thinking that it makes better sense to take haranti as intransitive, so that Śreṇya is saying that desires, in the end, win out or prevail.  And because desires tend to prevail it is so hard to prevent, or to get a grip on, youthful indescretions or immature acts (yauvanāni). 

Even though it is so hard, mind you, the Buddha managed it, as related in BC Canto 13, "Victory Over Māra." 

Part of the difficulty in today's verse and in the next Canto is the many levels of meaning carried by the word kāma, which means not only pleasure (as in the ancient Indian triad of dharma, wealth and pleasure) but also desire, and not only desire but also object of desire. Moreover, as desire, kāma includes not only what we might call “red desire” but also what we might call “golden desire.” Red desire was behind the kind of folly I manifested through Monday night and into Tuesday morning, the fuel for unconscious and unskilful striving. Golden desire was expressed by the Buddha when, for example, he told Nanda:
How great it is that you have reached the deepest tranquillity, like a man making it through a wasteland and gaining possession of treasure. / For everybody in the flux of saṁsāra is afflicted by fear, just like a man in a wasteland. // SN18.32 // 'When shall I see Nanda settled, given over to the living of a forest beggar's life?',/ So thinking, I had harboured from the start the desire to see you thus (āsīt purastāt-tvayi me didṛkṣā). What a wonderful sight you are for me to behold! // SN18.33 //

The title of the next Canto, BC Canto 11, is kāma-vigarhaṇaḥ, or "Blaming Pleasures/Desires" (EHJ: "The Passions Spurned"). And the enemy identified in BC Canto 13 is Māra, aka kāma-deva, the God of Love/Pleasure/Desire.

So on the surface kāma, pleasure, or Love with a capital L, or Desire with a capital D, is our big enemy as Zen practitioners. But one of the wisest things my Zen teacher ever said to me was “In general, we should have what we desire.”

On that basis, each of us made our efforts to give the other what he desired. Some might say we were at least partially successful. Some might say I was at least partially successful in my effort to get home yesterday, since I did get home. I did gain the end, but the process was not at all pretty. Others might say that Gudo Nishijima and I totally fucked up, and that desires duly prevailed (kāmā yathā prahanti).

As I cycled through Monday night, and very often when I wake up in the middle of a more ordinary night in bed, my overriding feeling was and is a powerful sense of the latter. A sense of having made a mess of everything. A sense that something went very wrong, due to failures of inhibition.

dharmasya (gen. sg.): m. dharma
ca: and
arthasya (gen. sg.): wealth
ca: and
jīva-loke (loc. sg.): the world of living beings

pratyarthi-bhūtāni (nom. pl. n.): akin to an enemy
pratyarthin: m. an adversary , opponent , rival
hi: for
yauvanāni (nom. pl.): n. (fr. yuvan) youth , youthfulness , adolescence , puberty , manhood (also pl. = juvenile deeds or indiscretions)

saṁrakṣyamāṇāni = nom. pl. n. pres. part. passive saṁ- √ rakṣ: to protect , guard , watch over , defend , preserve
api: even
dur-grahāṇi (nom. pl. n.): mfn. difficult to be seized or caught or attained or won or accomplished or understood
grah: to seize , take , grasp , lay hold of ; to arrest , stop ; to catch , take captive , take prisoner , capture , imprison ; to seize , overpower

kāmāḥ (nom. pl.): m. desires, pleasures
yataḥ: ind. (often used as abl. or instr. of the relative pron.) from which or what , whence , whereof , wherefrom ; as , because , for , since (often connecting with a previous statement)
tena (inst. sg. m.): by that
tena: ind. (instr.) in that direction , there (correl. to yena , " in which direction , where ") ; in that manner , thus (correl. to yena , " in what manner ") ; on that account , for that reason , therefore (correl. to yena, yasmāt, yatas).
yathā: ind. in which manner or way , according as , as , like ; because , since (yathā-tathā , " as " - " therefore ") ; as , for instance , namely (also tad yathā , " as here follows ") ; as it is or was (elliptically) ; according to what is right , properly , correctly (= yathāvat)
yathāvat: ind. duly , properly , rightly , suitably , exactly
pathā [EHJ] = inst. sg. pathin: m. way, path
haranti = 3rd pers. pl. hṛ: to carry off ; A1. (older and more correct than P.) , to take to one's self , appropriate (in a legitimate way) , come into possession of (acc.) , receive (as an heir) , raise (tribute) , marry (a girl) ; to master , overpower , subdue , conquer , win , win over (also by bribing)

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