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

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