Monday, June 9, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.19: Make War on Ignorance, Not on Drugs?

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
āsvādam-alpaṁ viṣayeṣu matvā saṁyojanotkarṣam-atptim-eva |
sadbhyaś-ca garhāṁ niyataṁ ca pāpaṁ kaḥ kāma-saṁjñaṁ viṣam-ādadīta || 11.19

Knowing enjoyment of its taste,
among objects in the sensory realm, to be petty;

Knowing it to be highly addictive;
knowing it to be dissatisfaction itself;

Knowing it to be what disgusts the good;
and knowing it to be invariably bad;

Who would administer to himself the pernicious drug called desires?

To the various metaphors we have encountered so far – e.g. desires as fuel that feeds a raging fire, desires as waters flowing into insatiable ocean, desires as enemies calling themselves friends, and desires like venomous snakes – today's verse adds another metaphor for desires, namely desires as a pernicious drug, or a poison.

On the surface, then, the bodhisattva is   as per the Canto title in the form in which it has come down to us  kāma-vigarhaṇaḥ, Blaming Desires.

But if we ask the question that the bodhisattva asks – Who would administer to himself the pernicious drug called desires? – the answer to that question causes us again not to point the finger at desires per se, but rather to look further upstream towards ignorance. Because surely the answer to the bodhisattva's question is that “Only an ignorant person would administer to himself a pernicious drug, or a poison.”

One is caused to stop and reflect that America's War on Drugs might more usefully be framed as a War on Ignorance.

As discussed yesterday, I see as one component, or maybe as a manifestation, of this Ignorance a particular category of desires which FM Alexander called “end-gaining” desires.

By “end-gaining” desires FM meant desires to go directly for a target without prior consideration of a suitable/skillful means.

There again, Victory Over Māra, which is the title of SN Canto 13, must include some means of combatting the danger of desires – since Māra is another name for kāma-deva, the God of Desires.

But the Buddha's statement, in his teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, of the twelve links, leaves us in no doubt that enemy number one is not desires per se but is rather what lies behind desires, and that is namely ignorance.

How we approach the conduct of War against this enemy of Ignorance depends on how we see the enemy. Thus Matthieu Ricard, in the section of his book that I quoted yesterday, continues:
According to Buddhist analaysis, the world is a result of the coming together of an infinite number of causes and conditions that are continually changing. Just as a rainbow is formed at the precise moment that the sun shines on a collection of raindrops and disappears as soon as the factors that produce it are no longer present, phenomena exist in an essentially interdependent mode and have no independent and permanent existence. Ultimate reality is therefore described as empty of independently existing animate or inanimate phenomena. Everything is relationship: nothing exists in and of itself. Once this essential idea has been understood and assimilated, our erroneous perception of our ego and our world gives way to an accurate view of the nature of things and beings – wisdom.

In this view, then, which I must admit, a priori, does sound like it tallies in many ways with what Nāgārjuna writes in MMK, the opposition is between (a) misunderstanding of reality, or erroneous perception of ego and world, and (b) wisdom. So the enemy avidyā (ignorance), is opposed by the skillful means of bhāvana (meditation or “mind training” to develop wisdom).  

If Matthieu Ricard was put on this earth thus to manifest a teaching on wisdom whose excellence is demonstrable in practice, was I put on this earth, I begin to wonder, to clarify the vestibular aspect of ignorance?

I am talking here about ignorance as primarily a neuro-physiological rather than a psychological phenomenon. This is somewhat in accordance with the teaching of my Zen teacher, Gudo Nishijima – except that he saw ignorance as primarily a problem of the autonomic nervous system, whereas I see ignorance, particularly in myself but also in dyslexic children I have been privileged to work with, as primarily a problem of the vestibular system.

In Gudo's teaching the essence of ignorance was not any kind of misunderstanding about reality but was rather unconscious imbalance. And the fundamental means of opposing this unconscious imbalance was not any kind of recognition or understanding in the brain, but was simply the act of keeping the spine straight vertically.

The essence of the strategy was to fight unconsciousness with unconsciousness. 

A source of confusion for me in my 20s and 30s, and beyond, was that my teacher sometimes seemed incredibly true in his teaching and yet sometimes he seemed incredibly ignorant. Some of what he was saying was clearly original, insightful, and true, and so I was trapped by that like a moth drawn to a flame. But in some respects I knew in my bones that my teacher was just manifesting ignorance. Looking into the mirror of my teacher's ignorance enraged me, but at the same time forced me to try to understand what was the essence of his ignorance, and therefore what was the essence of my own ignorance, which was even deeper than his. 

I came to see the most glaring manifestation of my teacher's ignorance as his approach to correcting people's sitting posture. This generally consisted of placing his fingertips on his victim's chin and pushing the head several inches backwards, to cause, by direct intervention, the neck bones to become straight vertically. Such direct intervention is exactly what FM Alexander meant by “end-gaining.” It was the ignorance of end-gaining  or manifestation of the ignorance behind end-gaining  par excellence.

And so in the search for a less ignorant approach to postural re-education, I came back to England to train as a teacher of the FM Alexander Technique, in which field of work we are actively encouraged to investigate the ignorance that FM called “faulty sensory appreciation” and “end-gaining.”

Both the faulty sensory appreciation and the end-gaining, I have come to understand over the last twenty years, can be seen as rooted in vestibular dysfunction and in particular in the aberrant functioning of four vestibular reflexes.

So, on the basis of whatever wisdom has been cultivated in me by Alexander work, I think Gudo was correct in seeing the essence of ignorance as unconscious imbalance. My teacher never tired of explaining this unconscious imbalance in terms of imbalanced states of the autonomic nervous system. And for Gudo the antidote to this imbalance was simply to keep the spine straight vertically. Direct action. Just do it. 1-2-3 Go!

Fight unconsciousness with unconsciousness. 

But here is the problem with Gudo's direct approach. It doesn't work. As far as I could see, it never worked with any of his students. The direct approach was not effective. It did not lead any of us in the right direction, except insofar as any of us somehow developed the wisdom with which to abandon our teacher's direct approach.

FM Alexander's wisdom is rather to reverse the 1-2-3 Go! process with 3-2-1 No!

While three times – before, during, and after – saying No! to the desire to go directly for the gaining of the end, the Alexander practitioner comes back to the directions I enumerated yesterday:

(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.

These verbal directions, given “altogether, and one after another,” eventually turn into a means-whereby for going ahead to gain an end in a way that is more or less free of vestibular ignorance, on what FM called “the plane of conscious control.”

Matthieu Ricard talks of the messenger becoming the message. This is also a central principle of teaching the FM Alexander Technique. Especially when the teacher is putting hands on the pupil, the teacher cannot be the messenger without being the message. 

In the context of Dogen's teachign, I think the central message is that the simple act of just sitting can be the means and the very manifestation of the cessation of ignorance. 

That, at least, for everybody who follows the teaching of Zen Master Dogen, is something to work towards.

But being hopeful, I read somewhere, is no kind of an investment strategy.

Here follows, in any case, the essence of Dogen's Zen message, loud and clear, in his own words: 

What is called 'sitting-zen' is not learning Zen.
It is just a Dharma-gate of peace and ease.
It is a practice and experience that perfectly realizes the Buddha's awakening.

Therein lies the wonderful simplicity of Dogen's teaching. 

And therein lies the very great difficulty.

As followers of Dogen, we don't have a menu of antidotes against the pernicious drug of ignorance. But that doesn't stop us from learning from those, like excellent teachers in the Tibetan tradition, who do. That doesn't stop us from learning from those, like excellent teachers of the Pali suttas and vinaya, who do. And that hasn't stopped me, for one, from learning from excellent teachers of the FM Alexander Technique.

To be continued...

āsvādam (acc. sg.): m. eating with a relish , tasting , enjoying (also metaphorically) ; flavour, taste
alpam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. small, meagre
viṣayeṣu (loc. pl.): m. objects, sensual enjoyments
matvā = abs. man: to think, consider, deem ; to perceive , observe , learn , know , understand , comprehend

saṁyojanotkarṣam (acc. sg. m.): involving fettering to an excessive degree
yojana: n. joining , yoking , harnessing
saṁyojana: n. the act of joining or uniting with (instr. or loc.) ; all that binds to the world , cause of re-birth ; copulation, sexual union
utkarṣa: mfn. superior ; much , excessive, exaggerated , boastful ; m. excess , abundance
atṛptim (acc. sg.): f. dissatisfaction
eva: (emphatic)

sadbhyaḥ (abl. pl. m.): from the good
ca: and
garhām (acc. sg.): f. censure , abuse ; disgust expressed in speech
garh: to accuse , charge with , reproach , blame , censure any one or anything (acc.) ; to be sorry for , repent of (acc.)
niyatam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. tied to (loc.); fixed , established , settled , sure , regular , invariable , positive , definite ; ind. (am) always , constantly , decidedly , inevitably , surely
ca: and
pāpam (acc. sg.): n. evil , misfortune , ill-luck , trouble , mischief , harm ; sin

kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who?
kāma-saṁjñam (acc. sg. n.): called 'desires'
viṣam (acc. sg.): n. " anything active " , poison , venom , bane , anything actively pernicious
ādadīta = 3rd pers. sg. optative ā- √ dā: " to give to one's self " , take , accept ; to seize , grasp , take or catch hold of ; to choose (a path)

況我刹利種 不爲欲所牽
少味境界欲 子息長彌増
慧者之所惡 欲毒誰服食

[Relation with Sanskrit tenuous]

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