Sunday, June 8, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.18: What Makes Desires So Dangerous?

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
ugrāyudhaś-cogra-dhtāyudho 'pi yeṣāṁ kte mtyum-avāpa bhīṣmāt |
cintāpi teṣām-aśivā vadhāya tad-vttināṁ kiṁ punar-avratānām || 11.18

Again, 'Powerfully Armed' Ugrāyudha,
though armed with a powerful weapon,

On account of desires suffered death
at the hands of Bhīṣma 'The Terrible.'

Even the thought of those desires is pernicious,

Leading to their death men empowered with such practice –
to say nothing of those who go unprotected by the vow of practice.

In SN Canto 7, it is Jana-mejaya who, as a suitor of Bhīṣma's mother-in-law Kālī (aka Satyavatī), incurs the wrath of Bhīṣma the Terrible:

svargaṃ gate bhartari śantanau ca kālīṃ jihīrṣan jana-mejayaḥ saḥ /
Again, when Kālī's husband Śan-tanu had gone to heaven,
Jana-mejaya, 'Causer of Trembling among Men,' in his desire to marry Kālī,
avāpa bhīṣmāt samavetya mṛtyuṃ na tad-gataṃ manmatham-utsasarja //SN7.44
Came up against Bhīṣma 'The Terrible,' and accepted death from him,
rather than relinquish his love for her.

EHJ points out in his note to SN7.44 that there appears to be some overlapping of legends. But the reference in today's verse to Bhiṣma's killing of Ugrāyudha is not in doubt: It is corroborated, as noted by each of the three professors, in Harivaṁsa  (where, EBC notes, Ugrāyudha is described as armed with a discus). EBC gives the reference as Harivaṁsa ch xx, EHJ as Harivaṁsa 1082ff, and PO as Harivaṁsa 15.30ff. PO also cites MBh CE XII.27.10.

Desires are not mentioned by name in today's verse, but yeṣām and teṣām in the 2nd and 3rd pādas are understood to be referring back to those enemies called desires in yesterday's verse.

So what is it about desires that the very thought of them is a danger to life?

In spite of the title of the present Canto which ostensibly means “Blaming Desires,” if we go back again to what the Buddha tells Nanda in SN Canto 15, the problem is not so much in desires, which are like symptoms, as in what lies behind them, wherein lies the real source of trouble:

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. 

What ultimately lies behind desires, like a fire covered with ashes, we can all agree, thanks to the Buddha's statement of twelvefold linkage in connection with the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, is ignorance (Skt: avidyā, Pali: avijjā).

Matthieu Ricard, monk and teacher in the Tibetan tradition, I have no doubt, resides much higher up the pecking order of spiritual development than I do... and somewhere there are MRI brain-scan images to prove it! So I hesitate to disagree with his view on ignorance, but nevertheless I am now going to come at the problem from a different angle, which owes less to understanding of  bhāvana (developing / meditation) as practised with evident good results under excellent teachers in the Tibetan tradition, and owes more to development as I have studied it while working over the last 20 years, albeit in a small way, as an Alexander teacher and a developmental therapist helping children with immature reflexes.

In his excellent book The Art of Meditation, MR writes:
According to Buddhism, reality means the real nature of things, unmodified by the mental fabrications that create a discrepancy between the way things appear to us and the way they really are. This discrepancy is the source of continual conflicts with our world. Usually we perceive the external world as a composite of independent entities to which we attribute characteristics that seem to be an inherent part of them. Thus things appear to us as intrinsically 'nice' or 'not nice' and people as basically 'good' or 'bad'. The 'I' or the ego, that perceives all this also seems real and concrete to us. This misunderstanding, which Buddhism refers to as 'ignorance', brings about the powerful reflexes of attachment and aversion, which in turn lead to an endless succession of painful experiences.
In this view, then, ignorance is a kind of misunderstanding of the real nature of things – a failure to see the interdependent origination of all things, as described by the Buddha in his core teaching of pratītya-samutpāda.

When ignorance is described as MR describes it thus, I can't help feeling myself to be some kind of spectacular example of the ignorance he describes – an egotist whose powerful reflexes of attachment and aversion have led him to an endless succession of painful experiences.

But my own ignorance, as I have come to understand it, runs deeper than egotistical misunderstanding, or a failure of recognition. For me ignorance is deeply connected with dysfunction in the vestibular system, at which level the powerful reflexes it brings about are not so much the psychological reflexes of attachment and aversion as the four vestibular reflexes whose function I have described on this blog many times before.

The picture of ignorance in those terms is starker and more concrete – less generalized – than a selfish man mistakenly acting out his attachment and aversion. Ignorance as I picture it is like this:
  • (1) Fear – the pallid (white or blue) face of fear paralysis, or the flushed red face of panic, or both.
  • (2) Poor head balance – the head is either pulled back with too much extensor tone, or slumped forward with too little.
  • (3) Postural twists – the whole torso is pulled down and in by undue tension in some parts of the spiral musculature and undue laxity in others; the result is restricted breathing.
  • (4) Poor integration of top and bottom – the pelvis is pulled forward onto the legs as if it belonged to the legs, instead of belonging where it really belongs, as the base of the whole head-neck-back.
When ignorance is understood like this, the perfect antidotes to it, as we begin to understand what they really mean, are the following four verbal directions formulated by FM Alexander:
  • (1) Let the neck be free,
  • (2) To let the head go forward and up,
  • (3) To let the back lengthen and widen, while
  • (4) Sending the knees forwards and away.
Think these verbal directions, Alexander recommended, until they become one. By the time they become one, they have already ceased to be words and have turned into something else – for example, pure awareness of an act of just sitting.

In that state, it is not that there are no desires, but the desires are not so big and not so dangerous – like, for example, the desire to drink a cup of tea. Or the desire to pull up some unsightly weeds in the garden. Or the desire to publish a serviceable translation of four lines of Sanskrit poetry, together with a comment that stands a chance of helping both writer and reader in the right direction. In the direction, that is, of freedom from the many faceted darkness that the Buddha called avijjā (Pali) or avidyā (Sanskrit), ignorance.

Maybe that is enough for today, and I should leave it there. But I haven't yet ventured an answer to the question posed by today's verse as I read it, and by the title of this post – What Makes Desires So Dangerous?

My answer is again influenced by FM Alexander's recognition of the problems he called faulty sensory appreciation” and “end-gaining.”

Both these problems, again, have a strong vestibular component:
  • faulty sensory appreciation,” is ignorance centred, again, on vestibular dysfunction;
  • end-gaining” desires are unconscious impulses that tend strongly to be stimulated by an imperfectly integrated infantile panic reflex.
End-gaining desires in themselves, Alexander teachers like Marjory  Barlow demonstrated to me in practice, are harmless. They become harmful only when acted on, on the basis of faulty sensory appreciation. In that sense, end-gaining desires are as dangerous and as threating to life as an arboreal pit viper or a rattlesnake or a black mamba -- but not if we just leave them well alone. 

So my conclusion, to answer my own question, is that I think desires become particularly dangerous when they emerge from a base of unconscious imbalance.

In reaching this conclusion, ironically, whether I like it or not, I am reaching a very similar conclusion to the one reached by my Zen teacher himself – who saw the root of all suffering not so much in psychological shortcomings as in imbalanced states of the autonomic nervous system.

But there again, my Zen teacher was in some respects a very ignorant man. In some respects he was an infuriatingly ignorant man. If I had wished to find a mirror in which to look in detail at ignorance in the matter of correct sitting posture, for example, I could hardly have found a better mirror.

ugrāyudhaḥ (nom. sg.): m. “having powerful weapons,” name of a prince
ca: and
ugra-dhṛtāyudhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): being armed with a powerful weapon
ugra: mfn. powerful , violent , mighty , impetuous , strong , huge , formidable , terrible ; cruel , fierce , ferocious , savage
dhṛta: mfn. held, borne, armed
āyudha: n. a weapon
api: even

yeṣām (gen. pl. m.): [those desires] which
kṛte: ind. on account of , for the sake of , for (with gen. or ifc. e.g. mama kṛte or mat-kṛte , on my account , for me)
mṛtyum (acc. sg.): m. death
avāpa = 3rd pers. sg. perf. avāp: obtain
bhīṣmāt (abl. sg.): m. “The Terrible”; N. of a son of śāṁtanu and gaṅgā (in the great war of the bharatas he took the side of the sons of dhṛtarāṣṭra against the sons of pāṇḍu , and was renowned for his continence , wisdom , bravery , and fidelity to his word)

cintā (nom. sg.): f. thought , care , anxiety , anxious thought about (gen. loc.)
api: even
teṣām (gen. pl. m.): those
a-śivā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. unkind , envious , pernicious , dangerous
vadhāya (dat. sg.): m. the act of striking or killing , slaughter , murder , death , destruction

tad-vṛttinām (gen. pl. m): 'whose lives are spent in their service' (EBC)
vṛtti: f. mode of life or conduct , course of action , behaviour , (esp.) moral conduct ; mode of being , nature , kind , character , disposition ; practice , business , devotion or addiction to , occupation with (often ifc. " employed about " , " engaged in " , " practising ")
sad-vṛttinām [EHJ] (gen. pl. m): those of good conduct, doers of good
sad-vṛtti: f. good conduct
kiṁ punar: still more, how much more
avratānām (gen. pl. m.): mfn. lawless , disobedient , wicked ; not observing religious rites or obligations

如是修苦行 終爲欲所壞
當知五欲境 行道者怨家
千臂大力王 勇健難爲敵
羅摩仙人殺 亦由貪欲故 

[Relation with Sanskrit tenuous] 

No comments: