Friday, May 30, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.9: Investigation of Desires – Work in Progress

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
kāmā hy-anityāḥ kuśalārtha-caurā riktāś-ca māyā-sadśāś-ca loke |
āśāsyamānā api mohayanti cittaṁ nṇāṁ kiṁ punar-ātma-saṁsthāḥ || 11.9

For transient desires are robbers of the stuff of happiness.

They are hollow, and resemble phantoms in the world.

Even in their anticipation, they delude the mind of men.

How much more in their physical consummation?

In the 4th pāda of today's verse ātma-saṁsthāḥ, as a description of kāmāḥ (desires/pleasures), was translated by EBC as “when they take up their abode in the soul”; by EHJ as “their actual possession”; and by PO as “when actually possessed.”

Each of those efforts is fair enough as a translation of a term that could cover, and was probably intended to cover, a wide range of meanings.

kiṁ punar-ātma-saṁsthāḥ
How much more in their physical presence?
How much more when they have got under a person's skin?

The translation I have gone with, "How much more in their physical consummation?" is suggestive of consummation of sexual desires, and Aśvaghoṣa must have been aware of that as the most obvious meaning.

But what is true of sexual desires/objects may be equally true of other less tangible desires/objects.

In an Alexander lesson, for example, part of the teacher's job is to present the pupil with a stimulus – like, for example, “move your leg!” This creates in the mind of the pupil a desire to gain the end of moving a leg. And this desire to move the leg, unless the pupil is well and truly able to inhibit it, will delude the pupil's mind. The delusion of the mind, moreover, will be manifested, grossly or otherwise, in a change in muscle tone, along the lines of stiffening of the neck, pulling back and down of the head, and twisting of the torso resulting in shortening and narrowing of the back.

If the desire to move a leg thus deludes a pupil's mind even in anticipation of the act of moving a leg, how much more during the  consummation of that desire, by the actual act of moving a leg?

In Alexander jargon, the stimulus of the teacher's request that the pupil should move a leg is known as “the stimulus.” And the whole process – from presentation of the stimulus through to consummation of the desire to move the leg – is known as “the Work,” or “Work on the Self.”

For that reason a translation of nimitta that is both Alexander-friendly and fairly literal (since nimitta can mean “cause”) is stimulus. And a translation of bhāvana that is both Alexander-friendly and fairly close to how the Buddha seemed to use the word bhāvana (to mean something like “meditation” but with a practical/developmental as opposed to an intellectual emphasis) is Work.

Apropos of which, I would like to quote again a passage I have quoted on this blog several times before. The passage was written by FM Alexander in his seventies, for the preface of his fourth book, The Universal Constant in Living (1946), and I originally quoted it in an article I wrote ten or so years ago titled Practising Detachment.
The fact to be faced is that the human self was robbed of much of its inheritance when the separation implied by the conception of the organism as 'spirit,' 'mind' and 'body' was accepted as a working principle, for it left unbridged the gap between the 'subconscious' and the conscious. I venture to assert that if the gap is to be bridged, it will be by means of a knowledge, gained through practical experience, which will enable us to inhibit our instinctive, 'subconscious' reaction to a given stimulus, and to hold it inhibited while initiating a conscious direction, guidance, and control of the use of the self that was previously unfamiliar. I suggest that only those who become capable of translating into practice what is involved in the procedure just described can justly claim to have experienced detachment in the basic sense.

When Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow demonstrated to me in practice what FM was really talking about here, in the context of giving me the stimulus to move my leg, as described in this article, I got a first inkling of having been given a weapon with which, if I trained myself well enough, even I might eventually be able to kick Māra's arse.

Māra, it should be understood, is the King of Desire. And though people understand Alexander work to be all about good posture, which on the surface it seems to be about, the deeper truth is that what Alexander called “The Work” is all about inhibition, or cessation, of end-gaining desires.

In this regard, when push comes to shove, am I able to practise what I preach? There are times when I feel I am forced to admit: Am I hell.

At those times, I should like to resort to the credo of arrogant hypocrites everywhere – please do as I say, not as I do.

But I am still working on it. Still working above all, four times every day, on the Act of Development which is just to sit. And on this blog, for whose if anybody's benefit I am not sure, probably mainly my own, I am endeavouring to show my workings.

In general I write these comments on the day before I publish them, so that I sleep on them and sit in the morning for an hour, wearing a kaṣāya, before editing the translation and commentary and adding anything I want to add. In this way I reassure myself that whether the translation and commentary are good or bad, they are the by-products of a process that is being directed (not by me but by sitting itself) in the right direction.

Most of the above comment was written very early on Thursday morning, or the middle of Wednesday night, after I woke up before 3 am and knew I wasn't going to get back to sleep. That being so, the above could probably do with further polishing to take some of the sharper and more ragged edges off of it. But instead of being inspired to edit what I wrote already, this morning in my sitting I was rather led to reflect on the distinction that the Buddha made (e.g. in the Ariyapariyesanasuttaṁ) between pursuit of desires that are transient, subject to ageing and death, and pursuit of the ageless and deathless nirvāṇa which is not subject to ageing and death.

In SN Canto 12, the Buddha uses the metaphor of the gods' ambrosia, the deathless nectar, the nectar of immortality, to represent that ageless and deathless nirvāṇa. He says to Nanda:

sarva-duḥkhāpahaṃ tat-tu hasta-stham-amṛtaṃ tava /
But that deathless nectar which prevents all suffering you have in your hands:
viṣaṃ pītvā yad-agadaṃ samaye pātum-icchasi // SN12.25
It is an antidote which, having drunk poison, you are going in good time to drink.

This comment is going to get very long. But as I said already, these are not my conclusions but my workings, written mainly for my own benefit.

The verse that, this morning as I sat, I really felt inspired to go back and read, was SN16.28. Here it is in its original context: 

doṣa-kṣayo jātiṣu yāsu yasya vairāgyatas-tāsu na jāyate saḥ /
In whichever realms of existence a man has ended faults, 
thanks to that dispassion he is not born in those realms.
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.

taj-janmano naika-vidhasya saumya tṛṣṇādayo hetava ity-avetya /
So my friend, with regard to the many forms of becoming, 
know their causes to be [the faults] that start with thirsting
tāṃś-chindhi duḥkhād yadi nirmumukṣā kārya-kṣayaḥ kāraṇa-saṃkṣayādd hi //16.25
And cut out those [faults], if you wish to be freed from suffering; 
for ending of the effect follows from eradication of the cause.

duḥkha-kṣayo hetu-parikṣayāc-ca śāntaṃ śivaṃ sākṣi-kuruṣva dharmaṃ /
Again, the ending of suffering follows from the disappearance of its cause. 
Experience that reality for yourself as peace and well-being,
tṛṣṇā-virāgaṃ layanaṃ nirodhaṃ sanātanaṃ trāṇam-ahāryam-āryam // 16.26
A place of rest, a cessation, an absence of the red taint of thirsting, 
a primeval refuge which is irremovable and noble,

yasmin-na jātir-na jarā na mṛtyur-na vyādhayo nāpriya-saṃprayogaḥ /
In which there is no becoming, no aging, no dying, no illness, 
no being touched by unpleasantness,
necchā-vipanna priya-viprayogaḥ kṣemaṃ padaṃ naiṣṭhikam-acyutaṃ tat // 16.27 
No disappointment, and no separation from what is pleasant: 
It is an ultimate and indestructible step, in which to dwell at ease.

dīpo yathā nirvṛtim-abhyupeto naivāvaniṃ gacchati nāntarikṣam /

A lamp that has gone out reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky,
diśaṃ na kāṃ-cid vidiśaṃ na kāṃ-cit sneha-kṣayāt kevalam-eti śāntim // 16.28
Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point:
Because its oil is spent it reaches nothing but extinction.

evaṃ kṛtī nirvṛtim-abhyupeto naivāvaniṃ gacchati nāntarikṣam /
In the same way, a man of action who has come to quiet 
reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky,
diśaṃ na kāṃ-cid vidiśaṃ na kāṃ-cit kleśa-kṣayāt kevalam-eti śāntim // 16.29
Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point:
From the ending of his afflictions he attains nothing but extinction.

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 // SN16.30 
It is to be cultivated by a wakeful person working to principle
-- abiding in untainted threefold integrity.

None of the above will be news to anybody who follows this blog. But I wanted to write it out in full again, mainly for my own benefit, reading the English next to Aśvaghoṣa's original Sanskrit, as he puts the noble eightfold path into its proper context. That context, as indicated by the word bhāvanīyaḥ in the last line of SN16.30, which means "to be cultivated" or "to be developed" (lit. to be caused to be brought into being"), might be a developmental one. 

(Marjory Barlow, now I come to think of it, once reminded me that Alexander work has to do with growth, and as such nothing in it can be hurried along. If there is any wisdom in me proceeding with this blog at the snail's pace of one verse per day, therein may lie the source of the wisdom.)

Mindfulness at present is much in vogue. It even raised its ugly head last night on Newsnight, when Arianna Huffington was talking about it. But the word mindfulness is a not very good translation, chosen by British Buddhist scholars back in the 19th century, of the Pali sati (Sanskrit smṛti) which, paired with samādhi, forms the aforesaid twofold tranquillity in the noble eightfold path.

Many years ago I remember reading a book or pamphlet by Ajahn Sumedho whose memorable title was Mindfulness, the Path to the Deathless.  But more exactly speaking, the path to the deathless is the noble eightfold path, of which reflective or meditative awareness is a vital and integral part – primarily in the context of sitting with legs crossed, wearing a kaṣāya, and pointing one's body in an upward direction. 

kāmāḥ (nom. pl.): m. pleasures, desires
hi: for
anityāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. inconstant, transient
kuśalārtha-caurāḥ (nom. pl. m.): being robbers of prosperity and purpose (EBC: the robbers of our happiness and our wealth; EHJ: “robbers of the treasury of good”)
kuśala: n. welfare , well-being , prosperous condition , happiness
artha: aim, purpose ; substance , wealth , property , opulence , money ; (hence in astron.) N. of the second mansion , the mansion of wealth
caura: a thief, robber

riktāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. emptied , empty , void ; hollow , hollowed (as the hands); idle, worthless ;
ca: and
māyā-sadṛśāḥ (nom. pl. m.) resembling phantoms
māyā: f. illusion , unreality , deception , fraud , trick , sorcery , witchcraft, magic ; an unreal or illusory image , phantom , apparition ib. (esp. ibc. = false , unreal , illusory ; cf. comp.)
ca: and
loke (loc. sg.): m. the world

āśāsyamānāḥ = nom. pl. m. passive pres. part. ā- √ śaṁs: to hope for , expect ; to wish to attain , desire ;
api: even
mohayanti = 3rd pers. pl. causative: to stupefy , bewilder , confound , perplex , cause to err or fail
cittam (acc. sg.): n. mind

nṛṇām (gen. pl.): m. men
kiṁ punar: ind. how much more?
ātma-saṁsthāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. based on or connected with the person
ātman: m. the individual soul , self , abstract individual ; the person or whole body considered as one and opposed to the separate members of the body; the body
saṁstha: mfn. standing together , standing or staying or resting or being in or on , contained in (loc. or comp.); being in, belonging to (comp.); partaking or possessed of (comp.)

五欲非常賊 劫人善珍寶
詐僞虚非實 猶若幻化人
暫思令人惑 況常處其中
五欲爲大礙 永障寂滅法

No comments: