Thursday, May 29, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.8: The Danger of Being Deluded by Desires/Objects

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Rāmā)
nāśīviṣebhyo hi tathā bibhemi naivāśanibhyo gaganāc-cyutebhyaḥ |
na pāvakebhyo 'nila-saṁhitebhyo yathā bhayaṁ me viṣayebhya eva || 11.8

For I am not so afraid of venomous snakes,

Or of thunderbolts falling from the sky,

Or of fires supplied with air,

As I am fearful of objects of the senses.

indhane sati vāyau ca yathā jvalati pāvakaḥ /
Just as a fire burns only where fuel and air co-exist,
viṣayāt parikalpāc-ca kleśāgnir-jāyate tathā // SN13.50 
So a fire of affliction arises, from an object and the forming of a conception.

abhūta-parikalpena viṣayasya hi badhyate /
For through an illusory fixed conception one is bound to an object;
tam-eva viṣayaṃ paśyan bhūtataḥ parimucyate // 13.51 //
Seeing that very same object as it really is, one is set free.

dṛṣṭvaikaṃ rūpam-anyo hi rajyate 'nyaḥ praduṣyati /
On seeing one and the same form this man is enamoured, that man is disgusted;
kaś-cid bhavati madhya-sthas-tatraivānyo ghṛṇāyate // 13.52
Somebody else remains in the middle;
while yet another feels thereto a human warmth.

ato na viṣayo hetur-bandhāya na vimuktaye /
Thus, an object is not the cause of bondage or of liberation;
parikalpa-viśeṣeṇa saṃgo bhavati vā na vā // SN13.53 
It is due to peculiar fixed conceptions that attachment arises or does not.

In view of what the Buddha thus tells Nanda in SN Canto 13, we should maybe understand that the bodhisattva in today's verse is fearful of objects not because there is originally any fault in objects themselves, but rather because sense objects become dangerous when they become the targets of the desirous senses of a person who lacks the detachment to see an object as it really is.

At the same time being afraid of viṣayebhyaḥ in the plural can mean being afraid of sensual attractions, or sensuality. So although the word viṣaya originally suggests something very objective – an object of the senses, or the reach of the senses – it can also include some more subjective sense of the activity of the senses. Bhayaṁ me viṣayebhyaḥ, therefore, could be translated as “my fear of objects targeted by the senses” or maybe more strictly accurately, in view of what the Buddha tells Nanda, as “my fear of targeting of objects by the senses.”

In a similar way, only the other way round, kāma, from the root √kam (to wish, to desire), ostensibly means something subjective. But just as in English a heart's desire is an object that the heart wants, and desires can mean objects of desire, so too in Sanskrit can kāmāḥ mean desires as objects.

So when in today's verse the bodhisattva confesses his fear of objects (viṣayebhyaḥ), and in tomorrows verse describes how desires (kāmāḥ) delude men's minds, even though viṣayebhyaḥ sounds originally more objective and kāmāḥ sounds originally more subjective, I think Aśvaghoṣa's intention is to indicate that in the coming speech the bodhisattva is going to use the two terms as more or less synonymous.

When a young bloke falls in love, as young blokes are prone to do – to fall “into love” as my Zen teacher used to phrase it, as if love were some kind of elephant trap – is he deluded by sensual objects, like lingerie and lip-gloss? Or is he deluded by his own desires? Is the cause on her or in him?

The apparently interchangeable use of viṣaya (object) and kāma (desire) seems to suggest that, as far as the bodhisattva was concerned, for practical intents and purposes, the distinction between the subjective and the objective was a nicety that could be transcended. The important thing, in the practice of a bodhisattva who desired release, was not to become too deeply ensnared in delusion.

A practical directive in this direction, a teaching directed by the Buddha to his son Rāhula, is recorded in the Mahārāhulovādasuttaṁ as follows:

Paṭhavīsamaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi.

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu translates this as:
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is to be even as the earth.

In a footnote, AB adds:
Develop the meditation - bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi, could be more literally rendered as “develop the development” if it wasn't so unidiomatic. 

Reflecting this morning that bhāvana in Sanskrit is an -na neuter action noun (from the causative of bhū, to be), it occurred to me that bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi might be translated still more literally as “develop the developing” or “develop the act of development”:

Paṭhavīsamaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi.
“Develop the act of development, Rahula, that is to be even as the earth.”
“Do the work of developing, Rahula, that is to be even as the earth.”

Most readers of this blog, I suppose, like me, have come to the Buddha's teaching primarily through the transmission of the Buddha-dharma through Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna in India, through Bodhidharma in India and China, through the Chinese Zen patriarchs in China, and through the Japanese Zen Master Dogen in China and Japan.

For us, therefore, the emphasis is somewhat problematic that the Buddha and the Indian patriarchs Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna evidently placed on bhāvana, using a variety of nimitta nimitta being conventionally understood as meaning something like “a subject for meditation.” It is problematic since in the Buddha's teaching as we have received it, all that is necessary is just to sit, dropping off body and mind. Nobody has transmitted to us an a-la-carte menu of nimitta. Our dumb arses have been happily sitting as if in the cheap seats where only one set menu is served.

But now, in the writings of Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna, we are confronted with talk of bhāvana (meditation), in which are implicated various nimitta (subjects of meditation); and these terms evidently hark back to what the Buddha taught the likes of his son Rāhula, as recorded in the most ancient Pali texts.

In SN Canto 16 I translated bhāvana as “mental development” (sarvāsravān bhāvanayābhibhūya na jāyate śāntimavāpya bhūyaḥ; He prevails over all pollutants, by the means of mental development, and, on finding peace, is no longer subject to becoming. SN16.5). And I translated nimitta, somewhat non-committally as "a factor":

pragrāhakaṃ yat-tu nimittam-uktam-uddhanyamāne hṛdi tan-na sevyam /
That factor said to be "garnering" does not serve when the emotions are inflamed,
evaṃ hi cittaṃ praśamaṁ na yāti [viś]vāyunā vahnir-iveryamāṇaḥ //16.53
For thus the mind does not come to quiet, like a fire being fanned by the wind.

śamāya yat syān-niyataṃ nimittaṃ jātoddhave cetasi tasya kālaḥ /
A factor ascertained to be calming has its time when one's mind is excited;
evaṃ hi cittaṃ praśamaṃ niyacchet pradīpyamāno 'gnir-ivodakena //16.54
For thus the mind subsides into quietness, like a blazing fire doused with water....

Near the beginning of the Mahārāhulovādasuttaṁ, Rāhula is described like this:

Tato paṭinivattitvā aññatarasmiṁ rukkhamūle nisīdi.
Therefore having turned back he sat down at the root of a certain tree.
Pallaṅkaṁ ābhujitvā, ujuṁ kāyaṁ paṇidhāya,
After folding his legs crosswise, and setting his body straight,
parimukhaṁ satiṁ upaṭṭhapetvā.
he established mindfulness at the front.

In this passage ujuṁ (straight) corresponds to the Sanskrit ṛjum, which the MW dictionary defines as “tending in a straight direction, straight, upright.” So in some sense we can understand that sitting-meditation as Dogen taught it is our bhāvana, and this word ujum or ṛjum (tending upright) expresses the only nimitta that some of us have personally received from a teacher, as a means with which to practise our bhāvana.

In that case, it struck me as I sat this morning, it may be important for us to recognize that this very simple practice of sitting-meditation that we like to practise is also – because the Buddha called it so – a bhāvana, a Developing, or an Act of Development.

Since tending in a direction, and uprightness, are essentially vestibular problems; and since in human development the vestibular system is precocious, that all sort of makes sense to me.

But the proof of the pudding – for bodhisattvas who desire release, and who therefore fear ensnarement in delusion induced by desires/objects – may be in the eating.

That being so, who in Dogen's line in the world today can truly claim, by his detachment with regard to desires/objects, to have kicked Māra's arse? 

Don't look at me, because I certainly haven't, at least not on a permanent basis.

Perhaps we who follow Dogen would all do well to go back to the ancient texts, in Sanskrit and in Pali, and think again, in light of what is recorded there, about the sitting practice that has been transmitted down to us.

Ironically, though it may only be subjective prejudice re-asserting itself, I find those ancient texts to be supportive of the heretic non-Buddhist effort I have been making these past 20 years, in which I have become progressively less interested in Buddhism as a religion, and more interested in scientific discoveries to do with human development (bhāvana), centred on the working of the vestibular system. Chief among the modern pioneers of such bhāvana, in my book, has been FM Alexander.

na: not
āśīviṣebhyaḥ (abl. pl.): m. a kind of venomous snake
hi: for
tathā: ind. so, to that extent
bibhemi = 1st pers. sg. bhī: to fear, be afraid

na: not
eva: (emphatic)
āśanibhyaḥ (abl. pl.): f. the thunderbolt , a flash of lightning
gaganāt (abl. sg.): n. the atmosphere , sky , firmament
cyutebhyaḥ (abl. pl. f.): mfn. falling

na: not
pāvakebhyaḥ (abl. pl.): m. fire or the god of fire
anila-saṁhitebhyaḥ (abl. pl. m.): combined with air
anila: m. air or wind
saṁhita: mfn. put together ; joined or connected or endowed or furnished with , abounding in , possessed of , accompanied by (comp.)
saṁ- √ dhā: to combine, connect with

yathā: ind. as, to such an extent
bhayam (acc. sg.): n. fear
me (gen. sg.): in/of me
viṣayebhyaḥ (abl. pl.): m. sphere (of influence or activity); objects, ends to be gained ; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
eva: (emphatic)

不畏盛毒蛇 凍電猛盛火
唯畏五欲境 流轉勞我心 

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