Saturday, June 7, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.17: Desires As Tough Opponents (Who Would Pursue Them?)

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Vāṇī)
cīrāmbarā mūla-phalāmbu-bhakṣā jaṭā vahanto 'pi bhujaṅga-dīrghāḥ |
yair-nanya-kāryā munayo 'pi bhagnāḥ kaḥ kāma-saṁjñān mgayeta śatrūn || 11.17

Despite being clothed in strips of bark or rags
and subsisting on roots, fruit and water,

Despite wearing dreadlocks as long as snakes,

Despite having no extraneous duty,
sages have been defeated by them –

Who would pursue those enemies called desires?

To get a true perspective on what the bodhisattva meant by kāmaḥ, desires, and how exactly he saw desires in the overall scheme of things, is no easy task.

I found the same difficulty in translating SN Canto 15, whose opening verses are devoted to the Buddha's teaching on desires.

yatra tatra vivikte tu baddhvā paryaṅkam-uttamam /
In whatever place of solitude you are,
cross the legs in the supreme manner
ṛjuṃ kāyaṃ samādhāya smṛtyābhimukhayānvitaḥ //SN15.1
And align the body so that it tends straight upward;
thus attended by reflective awareness that is directed...

nāsāgre vā lalāṭe vā bhruvor-antara eva vā /
Towards the tip of the nose or towards the forehead,
or in between the eyebrows,
kurvīthāś-capalaṃ cittam-ālambana-parāyaṇam // 15.2
Let the inconstant mind be fully engaged with the fundamental.

sacet kāma-vitarkas-tvāṃ dharṣayen-mānaso jvaraḥ /
If some desirous idea, a fever of the mind, should venture to offend you,
kṣeptavyo nādhivāsyaḥ sa vastre reṇur-ivāgataḥ // 15.3
Entertain no scent of it but shake it off as if pollen had landed on your robe.

yady-api pratisaṃkhyānāt kāmān-utsṛṣṭavān-asi /
Even if, as a result of calm consideration, you have let go of desires,
tamāṃsīva prakāśena pratipakṣeṇa tāñ-jahi // 15.4
You must, as if shining light into darkness,
abolish them by means of their opposite.

tiṣṭhaty-anuśayas-teṣāṃ channo 'gnir-iva bhasmanā /
What lies behind those desires sleeps on, like a fire covered with ashes;
sa te bhāvanayā saumya praśāmyo 'gnir-ivāmbunā // 15.5 //
You are to extinguish it, my friend, by the means of mental developing, 
as if using water to put out a fire.

te hi tasmāt pravartante bhūyo bījād-ivāṅkurāḥ /
For from that source they re-emerge, like shoots from a seed.
tasya nāśena te na syur-bīja-nāśād-ivāṅkurāḥ // 15.6
In its absence they would be no more
-- like shoots in the absence of a seed.

arjanādīni kāmebhyo dṛṣṭvā duḥkhāni kāminām /
See how acquisition and other troubles stem from the desires of men of desire,
tasmāt-tān-mūlataś-chindhi mitra-saṃjñān-arīn-iva // 15.7
And on that basis cut off at their root those desires,
which are akin to enemies calling themselves friends. 

anityā moṣa-dharmāṇo riktā vyasana-hetavaḥ /
Fleeting desires; desires which bring privation;
flighty desires, which are the causes of wagging to and fro;
bahu-sādhāraṇāḥ kāmā barhyā hy-āśī-viṣā iva // 15.8
And common desires, are to be dealt with like poisonous snakes --

ye mṛgyamāṇā duḥkhāya rakṣyamāṇā na śāntaye /
The chasing of which leads to trouble,
the keeping of which does not conduce to peace,
bhraṣṭāḥ śokāya mahate prāptāś-ca na vitṛptaye // 15.9
And the losing of which makes for great anguish.
Securing them does not bring contentment.

tṛptiṃ vitta-prakarṣeṇa svargāvāptyā kṛtārthatām /
Satisfaction through extra-ordinary wealth;
success through the gaining of paradise,
kāmebhyaś-ca sukhotpattiṃ yaḥ paśyati sa naśyati // 15.10
And happiness born from desires:
he who sees these things comes to nothing.

calān-apariniṣpannān-asārān-anavasthitān /
Pay no heed to the changeable, unformed,
insubstantial and ungrounded desires,
parikalpa-sukhān kāmān-na tān-smartum-ihārhasi // SN15.11
Which are presumed to bring happiness;
being here and now, you need pay no heed to those desires.

In today's verse it is undeniable – though somewhat contrary to the gist of my commentary yesterday – that the bodhisattva is casting desires in the role of enemy. But what kind of enemy? A mortal enemy to be hated and destroyed? Or a tricky opponent to be studied, beaten and befriended? And if they are enemies, desires are enemies to be dealt with by what means? By extinguishing them, as if they were a blaze to be put out by water? By hunting down and destroying them as if they were venomous snakes? By leaving them well alone, as if they were venomous snakes?

Though what the Buddha teaches Nanda in SN Canto 15 does not provide definitive answers to these questions, there are nonetheless a couple of evident parallels between that teaching and the 4th pāda of today's verse.

First is the parallel between the phrases kāma-saṁjñān śatrūn (enemies / opponents called friends) and mitra-saṃjñān-arīn-iva (akin to enemies calling themselves friends; SN15.7).

Second is the parallel use of verbs from the root mṛg, which means to chase or pursue, or to seek out, or to hunt down. The same verb appears in today's verse in kaḥ mṛgayeta (who would pursue?) and in  ye mṛgyamāṇā duḥkhāya (the chasing of them leads to trouble; SN15.9).

Each of the three professors translated śatrūn in today's verse as “enemies.”

Who would seek these enemies bearing the name of pleasures...? (EHJ)
Who would seek after the enemies known as the passions...? (EBC)
Who would seek the enemies called pleasures...? (PO)

But is there a case for translating śatrūn as “opponents” – in the sense that contestants in a sporting match, or a political debate in a civilized society, regard each other as opponents, but without the enmity, or outright hatred, that goes with seeing the other as an enemy in some kind of a war?

If there is such a non-violent case, the snake metaphor might be taken as supporting it – at least if we take a tolerant, progressive view of venomous wildlife. On the other hand, the case for a less aggressive-sounding translation tends to be negated by SN15.4, where the Buddha tells Nanda:

tamāṃsīva prakāśena pratipakṣeṇa tāñ-jahi
You must, as if shining light into darkness, 
abolish them by means of their opposite.

In this line, jahi is the imperative of han, which is not the friendliest verb in the dictionary. It means to slay, kill, destroy; to put to death, to cause to be executed.

My tentative conclusion about desires, then, is no firm conclusion... except maybe the recognition of being, in Ānanda's striking phrase, a trainee with much to do (sekho sakaraṇīyo).

The equivalent expression in Sanskrit might be śaikṣaḥ sa-karaṇīyaḥ, in which case "a beginner with much to do" might also fit. 

Having much to do, ironically, might mean still having far to go in the direction of non-doing. Vital in this process, the Buddha suggests (in SN15.5 above), is the use – like using water to put out a fire – of bhāvana.

In the matter of understanding what bhāvana is and how to practise it, again, I can speak only as a beginner with much to do.

But the metaphor in SN15.5, of using water to put out a fire, provides some kind of a clue. And here follows some further information about bhāvana that I hope is reliable, at least as a starting point.

Literally bhāvana, an -na neuter action noun from the causative of the root √bhū (to be) means bringing into being, or developing.

For examples of the Buddha's usage of the -na action noun bhāvanam, together with the corresponding imperative from the causative of √bhū, we have many phrases in The Long Discourse Giving Advice to Rāhula, translated by Ānandajoti Bhikkhu, in which the Buddha repeats many times to Rāhula:

bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi...
“Develop developing...”

In practice, as the following examples show, “meditation” tends to fit better than “developing” as a translation of bhāvana, as per the translations of Ānandajoti Bhikkhu (which are copied and pasted below in italics).

Again, when a teacher in the Tibetan tradition such as Matthieu Ricard writes in hs book "The Art of Meditation" about the application of antidotes, he is not describing what I was taught in Japan as Zazen, “sitting-dhyāna,” but he does appear to be describing the practice which the Buddha called bhāvana, and which is described in SN Canto 17 in connection with the use of various nimitta (factors, causes, stimuli, subjects of meditation) as antidotes.

So as a translation of bhāvana, “meditation” seems to fit. But to translate bhāvana as “developing” may also be instructive. Thus:

Paṭhavīsamaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is to be even as the earth. 
Develop developing, Rāhula, in balance like the earth.

Āposamaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is to be even as water.
Develop developing, Rāhula, in balance like water.

Tejosamaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is to be even as fire.
Develop developing, Rāhula, in balance like fire.

Vāyosamaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is to be even as the wind.
Develop developing, Rāhula, in balance like the wind.

Ākāsasamaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is to be even as space.
Develop developing, Rāhula, in balance like space.

Mettaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is friendliness.
Develop friendly developing, Rāhula.

Karuṇaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is kindness.
Develop compassionate developing, Rāhula.

Muditaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is gladness.
Develop joyful developing, Rāhula.

Upekkhaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is equanimity.
Develop unconcerned developing, Rāhula.

Asubhaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, on the unattractive.
Develop non-beautiful developing, Rāhula.

Aniccasaññaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is the perception of impermanence.
Develop developing, Rāhula, being conscious of impermanence.

But the first example, before all the above examples, and also the final example, after all the above examples, comes when the Buddha tells Rāhula:

Ānāpānasatiṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi.
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is mindfulness while breathing.
Develop the developing, Rāhula, which is reflective awareness while breathing out and in.

From there, we have an evident connection back to what the Buddha tells Nanda about using bhāvana in SN15.5, and also back to what the Buddha tells Nanda, as quoted yesterday, in SN15.64:

tasmād-eṣāṃ vitarkāṇāṃ prahāṇārthaṃ samāsataḥ /
So for the giving up, in short, of all these ideas,
ānāpāna-smṛtiṃ saumya viṣayī-kartum-arhasi //SN15.64
Reflective awareness while breathing out and in, my friend,
you should make into your own possession.

“Reflective awareness,” incidentally would be Ānandajoti Bhikkhu's preferred translation of sati / smṛti, if not for its unwieldiness. But since “reflective awareness while breathing out and in” is more unwieldy than “mindfulness while breathing,” AB tends to go with the latter in translation.

But the more I reflect on it, the more I prefer “reflective awareness while breathing out and in,” and never mind if it is unwieldy.

I am not here to win any prizes for succinctness – which, looking back on this long and winding comment, is just as well.

A final reflection stimulated by all of the above is how useful it has been for me over these past six years to have been forced by the Zen patriarch Aśvaghoṣa to turn to translations and teachings by teachers like AB and MR who are not from the Zen tradition. This, I hope, has helped me not only to put into perspective the weaknesses and shortcomings that I have exhibited and come across as a Zen practitioner, but also to see afresh the inherent simplicity and strength of the practice that Dogen called 坐禅, sitting-dhyāna, sitting-zen.

So that when for example MR writes of application of specific antidotes, he is evidently writing of a teaching that Aśvaghoṣa took pains to record, but which somewhere between Aśvaghoṣa and Dogen was more or less neglected and forgotten. 

When MR writes of not identifying with emotions, however, that does I think tally with what Dogen described as the central task of sitting-dhyāna – i.e., when something springs up in the mind, just come back to consciousness of sitting; or, in short, “just wake up.” That, as I read it, is the implicit or hidden message, the secret teaching, the Zen teaching, embedded in SN15.11, which concludes with the word ihārhasi, "Here and now, you should [be]." 

To be continued...

cīrāmbarāḥ (nom. pl. m.): with clothes of rags
cīra: n. a strip , long narrow piece of bark or of cloth , rag , tatter , clothes ; the dress of a Buddhist monk
ambara: n. clothes , apparel , garment
mūla-phalāmbu-bhakṣāḥ (nom. pl. m.): living on roots, fruit, and water
mūla: root
phala: fruit
ambu: water
bhakṣa: m. drinking or eating , drink or (in later language) food (often ifc., having anything for food or beverage , eating , drinking , living upon)

jaṭāḥ (acc. pl): f. the hair twisted together (as worn by ascetics )
vahantaḥ = nom. pl. m. pres. part. vah: to to take or carry with or about one's self , have , possess ; to wear (clothes)
api: also, even
bhujaṅga-dīrghāḥ (acc. pl. f.): long as snakes

yaiḥ (inst. pl.): by who
na: not
anya-kāryāḥ (nom. pl. m.): other work to be done, extraneous task
kārya: n. work or business to be done , duty , affair ; occupaton
munayaḥ (nom. pl.): m. sages
api: even
bhagnāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. broken (lit. and fig.) , shattered , split , torn , defeated , checked , frustrated , disturbed , disappointed

kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who?
kāma-saṁjñān (acc. pl. m.): called desires
saṁjñā: f. a name , appellation , title , technical term (ifc. = " called , named ")
mṛgayeta = 3rd pers. sg. optative mṛg: to chase , hunt , pursue ; to seek or strive after , aim at , endeavour to obtain (acc.)
śatrūn (acc. pl.): m. (said to be for śat-tru , fr. √2. śad) , " overthrower " , an enemy , foe , rival , a hostile king (esp. a neighbouring king as a natural enemy)
√2. śad: to fall , fall off or out ; (causative) to cause to fall off or out or asunder , hew or cut off , knock out; to fell , throw down , slay , kill

被服於草衣 食果飮流泉
長髮如垂地 寂默無所求

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