Thursday, May 15, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 10.36: 古仏心 - Śreṇya Draws Closer Still

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Ārdrā)
vayāṁsi jīrṇāni vimarśavanti dhīrāṇy-avasthāna-parāyaṇāni |
alpena yatnena śamātmakāni bhavanty-agatyaiva ca lajjayā ca || 10.36

The old are contemplative,

Steady, intent on stability;

They become peaceful with little bother –

Through sheer helplessness, and humbleness.

In today's verse on the surface King Bimbisāra (aka Śreṇya) is again recommending the bodhisattva-prince to enjoy sensual pleasures while young, leaving spiritual stuff (religious dharma) for the weak old folks who naturally tend towards those less physically demanding pursuits. On the face of it, then, helplessness or powerlessness or impotence (agati) and humbleness or shame (lajjā), like thin wrinkly skin and missing teeth, are part of the undesirable scenery of getting old.

Below the surface, as is frequently the case in Aśvaghoṣa's writing, the Buddha's truth might be being spoken out of the mouth of babes and sucklings.

In that case, the old (vayāṁsi jīrṇāni) means those who are fully developed, those who have grown out of adolescence, those no longer prey to immature acts – those who Dogen praised as 古仏 (KOBUTSU), “old buddhas” as in the title of Shobogenzo chap. 44, 古仏心 (KOBUSSHIN), The Mind of Old Buddhas.

In that chapter Dogen asserts that although the old of “old buddhas” is exactly the same as the “old” in “new and old,” [old buddhas] have completely transcended past and present and belong directly in eternity.

Hence in the Nishijima-Cross translation, the chapter title 古仏心 (KOBUSSHIN) is rendered The Mind of Eternal Buddhas.

As a description of such fully rounded individuals, contemplative (vimarśavanti) suggests something much more quick and alive than ponderous pondering about the past, and intent on stability (avasthāna-parāyaṇāni) suggests something much more adaptable than the attitude of an old fossil who is set in his ways and afraid of change.

And in that case, again, through sheer helplessness and humbleness (agatyaiva ca lajjayā ca) suggests helplessness not as an ignominious end but rather as a skilful and modest means; not a shame-inducing state of physical impotence or incontinence, but rather a way of realization which is conscious without being proudly self-conscious.

Going back to vimarśavanti, a translation that brought out the hidden meaning more explicity might be full of reflective awareness – “reflective awareness” being a translation of the Pali sati (Sanskrit smṛti) which, in the view of Ānandajoti Bhikkhu (and I agree with him) is more indicative than mindfulness. The following is taken from FN 7 in the Uddeso section of AB's translation of Mahāsatipaṭṭhānasuttaṁ, The Long Discourse about the Ways of Attending to Mindfulness:
The translation of sati as mindfulness is something of a compromise, as sati doesn’t really mean simply mindfulness, which in normal English is synonymic with carefulness; but nor is it simple awareness or bare attention... If it wasn’t so cumbersome reflective awareness might be more indicative than mindfulness.

I like reflective awareness as a translation of smṛti. Or maybe even directed awareness. In the latter case, given that the root √smṛ originally means to remember, it might be appropriate to understand that the direction in question is primarily backwards.

Going back, on further reflection, to agatyaiva ca lajjayā ca, I want to emphasize again the importance of understanding the irony that runs through all Aśvaghoṣa's writing, and which I am afraid is not generally appreciated among the academic community who tend to regard “Buddhist studies” as being on a par with Jewish or Christian or Islaamic studies.

Thus each of the three professors, in translations spanning the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 21st century, read agatyaiva ca lajjayā ca with only the negative connotation that belongs to the surface meaning. Hence,
EBC: unavoidably, and for very shame.
EHJ: partly from incapacity for anything else, partly from shame.
PO: because of shame and impotence.

All three professors failed to spot the ironic hidden meaning. Why? Lack of intelligence or understanding of Sanskrit, evidently, was not the reason. I suppose the reason was that they each assumed Buddhism to be a kind of religion like Judaism or Christianity or Islaam, and each therefore assumed Buddha-carita to be more akin to a religious text than an ancient book of jokes. So they were not on the look-out for ironic hidden meaning and failed to notice it, even when it was staring them in the face. 

Is there any merit in thus pointing out the three professors' mistake? I think it is worth it, in the direction of clarifying that the Buddha's teaching is not necessarily religious at all. It might be the most irreligious thing there is.

The Dalai Lama makes the point very eloquently when in this film he speaks of the folly of trying to combat ignorance with prayer. The real antidote to ignorance, as the Dalai Lama points out, is not religious prayer but irreligious study, knowing, wisdom. Perhaps in conclusion we can say that the antidote to ignorance is reflective awareness. Or maybe better still, in my book, directed awareness.

The Alexander teacher Marjory Barlow said that what Alexander called thinking has a lot in common with what Buddhist practitioners call mindfulness. But, Marjory added, in Alexander work there is this definite pattern that we are pursuing (as described by the words “neck free, head forward and up, back to lengthen and widen, knees forwards and away”); and so in Alexander work, Marjory asserted, we are far ahead of something like mindfulness. 

When I met Marjory I dared to correct her on that point, telling her that the pattern of which she spoke was inherent in the Buddha's teaching of sitting in full lotus, and pursuit of that very pattern had brought me to her door. 

So as a translation of smṛti I like “reflective awareness” but more indicative still might be “directed awareness.”

And of that direction, I believe there to be four cornerstones, not a fifth. But that might be a view to be negated in full next year, in connection with Nāgārjuna's writing.

vayāṁsi (nom. pl.): n. vigorous age , youth , prime of life , any period of life , age (sarvāṇi vayāṁsi , animals of any age)
jīrṇāni (nom. pl. n.): mfn. old
vimarśayanti [EBC] = 3rd pers. pl. causative vi- √ mṛś: to ponder , reflect on , consider
vimarśa-vanti [EHJ] (nom. pl. n.): mfn. reflecting , meditative , doubtful

dhīrāṇi (nom. pl. n.): mfn. steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave
avasthāna-parāyaṇāni (nom. pl. n.): mfn. having abiding/stability as their chief object
avasthāna: n. standing , taking up one's place ; residing , abiding , dwelling ; stability
parāyaṇa: (ifc.) making anything one's chief object , wholly devoted or destined to , engaged in , intent upon , filled or occupied with , affected or possessed by
ava- √ sthā: to abide in a state or condition (instr.) ; (with ind.p.) to remain or continue (doing anything)

alpena (inst. sg. m.): mfn. little, small
yatnena (inst. sg.): m. effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains
śamātmakāni (nom. pl. n.): mfn. calm or tranquil by nature

bhavanti = 3rd pers. pl. bhū: to become, be
agatyā: ind. (inst.) unavoidably, indispensably
agati: f. want of resort or resource , unsuccessfulness
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and
lajjayā (inst. sg.): f. shame, modesty
ca: and

耆年愧財欲 行法擧世宗 

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