Wednesday, May 28, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.7: Facing the Terror of Ageing & Dying

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Mālā)
ahaṁ jarā-mtyu-bhayaṁ viditvā mumukṣayā dharmam-imaṁ prapannaḥ |
bandhūn-priyān-aśru-mukhān vihāya prāg-eva kāmān-aśubhasya hetūn || 11.7

Having become aware of the terror of ageing and dying,

I with desire for release have taken to this dharma,

Leaving behind beloved tear-faced relatives –

Still more have I left behind desires, the causes of mischief!

In the 2nd pāda of today's verse dharmam-imam means the dharma of a wandering mendicant who has gone forth seeking freedom. In this context, then, the masculine noun dharma seems to express a way or path of practice. EBC translates “this path of religion”; EHJ and PO “this dharma.”

Also in the 2nd pāda mumukṣayā is the instrumental form of the noun from the desiderative of  muc, to let go or release. So mumukṣayā means “with desire for release.”

Then by translating mumukṣayā as “with desire for release” and kāmān-aśubhasya hetūn as “desires, the causes of mischief,” I have either created the impression of an inconsistency of logic which Aśvaghoṣa did not intend to imply, or else I have highlighted an irony of which Aśvaghoṣa was well aware.

EBC translated mumukṣayā as “in my desire for liberation”; EHJ as “out of longing for salvation” and PO as “seeking release”; but all three professors avoided translating kāmān in the 4th pāda as “desires” (EBC: those pleasures which are the causes of evil; EHJ: the passions, the causes of evil; PO: pleasures that cause evil).

I think Aśvaghoṣa was very well aware of the kind of irony that was inherent when the bodhisattva, in his desire for freedom, condemned desires. 

It is the kind of irony that has confronted blokes through the ages on their wedding nights, when, in the context of wishing to consummate their sexual desire, they have been impeded in the consummation of their desire by the very desire to consummate their desire. 

A similar irony is observed in Alexander work, over and over again, whereby a person's desire to perform any task well gets in the way of that task being allowed to perform itself.

In this situation, there is basically nothing that anybody can do for the better. But there is a lot that to be observed, wih the kind of reflective awareness that the Buddha called sati (in Pali) or smṛti (in Sanskrit) and which is now very much in vogue as the practice of "mindfulness." 

On the subject of observing what is to be observed, with regard to desire, a leading protege of FM Alexander named Walter Carrington said:

"Non-doing is, above all, an attitude of mind. It's a wish [or a desire]. It's a decision to leave everything alone and see what goes on, see what happens. Your breathing and your circulation and your postural mechanisms are all working and taking over. The organism is functioning in its automatic way, and you are doing nothing.... If you're going to succeed in doing nothing, you must exercise control over your thinking processes. You must really wish [desire] to do nothing. If you're thinking anxious, worried thoughts, if you're thinking exciting thoughts that are irrelevant to the situation at hand, you stir up responses in your body that are not consistent with doing nothing. It's not a matter of just not moving--that can lead to fixing or freezing--it's a matter of really leaving yourself alone and letting everything just happen and take over.... This is what we're aiming at [desiring] in an Alexander lesson, and if we're wise, and we understand, it's also what we aim at [desire] in our own practice of non-doing. It is something that requires practice. Like most other things in life, it isn't something that you can achieve by simply wishing [desiring] to do so, by just thinking, 'Well, I will now leave myself alone and not do anything.' Unfortunately, it doesn't work out like that. The whole process requires a lot of practice, and a lot of observation. Out of this process a tremendous lot of experience is to be gained..."

Apropos of understanding that non-doing is a wish -- or maybe stronger than a wish --  I once said to another veteran Alexander teacher named Nelly Ben-Or, "It is a wish, isn't it?" Her memorable reply was that yes, it is a wish, but it is a wish that won't take No for an answer! 

A final reflection is that the terror of ageing and dying (jarā-mṛtyu-bhayam) would seem at first glance to relate to the 12th in the 12 links that the Buddha investigated, in forward and backward directions, under the bodhi tree. But when I examined myself sitting in lotus this morning, it seemed to me that the 1st in the 12 links, ignorance (avidyā), is intimately and profoundly related with what FM Alexander called “faulty sensory appreciation.” And faulty sensory appreciation is profoundly and intimately related with what Alexander called “unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions” – or, in a word, terror.

That may sound absurd. Just sitting in the quiet of a rainy morning, what is there to be terrified of? 

Even when there is nothing outwardly to be afraid of, deep below the surface what may be operating in some of us, almost all the time, is fear of fear itself. In which case, Complete Springing Up, by going back (pratītya-samutpāda), has to be much  more than an intellectual exercise. It has to be a function of development. Its rightful basis might be what the Buddha, Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna called bhāvana.

aham (nom. sg. m.): I
jarā-mṛtyu-bhayam (acc. sg.): the terror of aging and death
viditvā = abs. vid: to know , understand , perceive , learn , become or be acquainted with , be conscious of , have a correct notion of (with acc.)

mumukṣayā (inst. sg.): f. the desire for release
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. dharma ; that which is established or firm , steadfast decree , statute , ordinance , law; usage , practice , customary observance or prescribed conduct , duty ; the law or doctrine of Buddhism (as distinguished from the saṅgha or monastic order)
imam (acc. sg. m.): this
prapannaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. arrived at , come to (śaraṇam , for protection) , got into (any condition)
pra- √ pad: to fall or drop down from (abl.) , throw one's self down (at a person's feet) ; to go forwards set out for , resort to , arrive at , attain , enter (with acc. ); to fly to for succour , take refuge with (acc.) ; to come to a partic. state or condition , incur , undergo (acc.)

bandhūn (acc. pl.): m. connection, relation ; a kinsman (esp. on the mother's side) , relative , kindred
priyān (acc. pl. m.): mfn. fond, beloved
aśru-mukhān (acc. pl. m.): tear-faced
vihāya = abs. vihā: to leave behind

prāk: ind. before the eyes; at first , formerly , previously , already ; still more
eva (emphatic)
kāmān (acc. pl. m.): desires, sensual pleasures
aśubhasya (gen. sg.): n. a shameful deed , sin ; m. misfortune , harm , mischief.
hetūn (acc. pl. m.): causes

畏生老病死 欲求眞解脱
捨親離恩愛 豈還習五欲

No comments: