Wednesday, June 11, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.21: Succumbing to Immoderate Desire – Temporary Setback, or Game Over?

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Sālā)
jñeyā vipat kāmini kāma-saṁpat-siddheṣu kāmeṣu madaṁ hy-upaiti |
madād-akāryaṁ kurute na kāryaṁ yena kṣato dur-gatim-abhyupaiti || 11.21

To be known as a setback, when a man is desirous,
is consummation of desires;

For in realizing desires he tends to become intemperate.

Being intemperate leads him to do what should not be done,
not what should be done.

Thus diminished, he passes in the direction of difficulty.

Today's verse causes me to reflect how the injunction “Go to hell!” is born of sheer ignorance. A much better thing to say to somebody who has offended one, by making what one judges to have been a mistake, might be “May you pass through difficulty and then truly, having gone back, spring up!”

There is no such thing as a right position,” said FM Alexander, “but there is such a thing as a right direction.” That truth came as news to me when I first heard it, circa 1994, having spent the best part of 13 years trying in vain to solve the problem of how to sit in the right position. “You all fix,” said FM Alexander. “It's your worst evil.”

Today's verse I think is best understood in that light. It ostensibly describes a dreaded outcome occurring as a result of desires. But if we think less in terms of outcomes and more in terms of direction, it is also possible to read today's verse as describing a temporary setback in a process of development, or growth, that is going in the right direction. In support of the latter reading, the first definition given in the MW dictionary for abhy-upa-√i is to go near, to approach; and both the prefixes abhi- and upa- are given as meaning “towards.” 

So I have understood and translated the 1st pāda of today's verse in that light, translating vipat as “setback” and eschewing other more damning dictionary definitions of vipat like calamity, failure, ruin, death.

On the face of it, in the 4th pāda again, the desirous subject in today's verse is described as coming to an evil end, like hell (dur-gatim). Hence EBC: he falls into a miserable end; EHJ: he obtains rebirth in a lower sphere; PO: they come to an unhappy end.

These translations, especially those of EBC and PO, have an air of finality, as would befit the words of a judgemental sort who was condemning desires as the original evil.

But what exactly was the bodhisattva saying? And what in the Buddha's teaching is really regarded as the original evil?

Is it possible to hear the bodhisattva as not necessarily worried about this or that end, like heaven or hell? Might the bodhisattva's words rather proceed from recognition of the existence of this and that direction, like upward and downward?

Once we realize that there is such a thing as a right direction, then the only truly vital thing might be to go in it, to grow in it, without worrying unduly about mistakes made along the way. Unfortunately, however, this realization has to be more than just an intellectual recognition. Twenty years after first coming across Alexander's truth of a right direction, I am still working through its implications... and showing my workings, for better or for worse, on this blog.

If fear of the fires of hell and damnation is a useful disincentive to going in the wrong direction, and therefore a useful stimulus to growth in the right direction, then it might be constructive to translate abhyupaiti dur-gatim, as per the second definition of dur-gatim in the dictionary as “he arrives at hell.”

But the spirit of Dogen's teaching is never like that. Hence, as I noted in the comment to BC11.10,  Dogen at the end of Shobogenzo chap. 4, Ikka-no-myoju, reminds us not to worry about falling or not falling into the six states of cause and effect – i.e. hell, hungry ghosts, animals, angry demons, human beings, and gods in heaven.

When one looks back on Dogen's life of teaching as recorded in Shobogenzo, the essence of his teaching never changes; the same essence is expressed in Fukan-zazengi, both earlier and later versions. That essence, summed up in two words, is: just sit!

For a follower of Dogen, then, the big sin is not practising. In the whole of Shobogenzo Dogen never once condemns anybody for a mistake like consummating a desire in a desirous state.

What Dogen rather condemned in the strongest terms was the behaviour of so-called monks in China who purported to teach the Buddha's teachings when actually distorting those teachings out of a personal desire for their own fame and profit.

What kind of ignorance was that? Was it the ignorance of a selfish, false and distorted perception of reality? Was it the kind of ignorance that is deeply rooted in vestibular dysfunction?

To put it another way, what does it mean to take possession of oneself, as was discussed in connection with yesterday's verse, and as will be discussed in connection with the coming series of verses?

I tend to think of taking possession of oneself as primarily a vestibular happening, rather than anything psychological. But there again, FM Alexander did describe his work as “the most mental thing there is.” And the theme of the Buddha's teaching recorded in SN Canto 15 is vitarka-prahāṇaḥ, Abandoning Ideas. 

Abandoning Ideas in that canto means abandoning three ideas in particular, viz: 
  • (1) the distinction between my own family and other people; 
  • (2) the fantasy of “the other monastery,” a place where all is peace and ease and the fires of affliction do not burn; and 
  • (3) the idea that I am young and strong and not likely to die any time soon.

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.

Form is just emptiness and emptiness is just form, the famous sutra says. 
If that assertion is true, then perhaps the Zen / vestibular-based explanation need not be understood as falsifying the Tibetan / ego-based explanation, or vice versa.

Certainly when I reflect on myself, I can't claim to be free of either aspect of ignorance. But I haven't heard the referee blow his final whistle yet.

My final reflection, having indulged in the above musings yesterday, and slept on them, is that in an impermanent world the original evil may well be, as FM Alexander said, to fix. At the same time, in an impermanent world, to fix may be ignorance itself.

Whether we attempt to understand fixing as a neuro-physiological phenomenon rooted in the vestibular system, or whether we attempt to understand fixing as a psychological phenomenon rooted in a false appreciation of the myriad fleeting interdependencies of self and world, to fix may be ignorance itself.

Alexander work, developmental therapy, translation work, and Zen practice thus begin to dovetail more and more into an arrow pointing in one direction, back towards enemy number one, which is fixing, aka ignorance.

jñeyā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. to be known
vipat: f. going wrongly , misfortune , adversity , calamity , failure , ruin , death
kāmini (loc. sg. m.): mfn. desirous , longing after ; loving , fond , impassioned , wanton ; m. a lover , gallant , anxious husband
kāma-saṁpat (nom. sg. f.): success in desires ; being lucky in love
sampad: f. success , accomplishment , completion , fulfilment , perfection ; good fortune , prosperity , riches , wealth

siddheṣu (loc. pl. m.): mfn. accomplished , fulfilled , effected , gained , acquired
kāmeṣu (loc. pl.): m. pleasure, sensual desire
madam (acc. sg.): m. hilarity , rapture , excitement , inspiration , intoxication
hi: for
upaiti = 3rd pers. sg. upa- √i: to go or come or step near , approach , betake one's self to , arrive at , meet with ; to come near to , reach , obtain , enter into any state , fall into

madāt (abl. sg.): m. hilarity , rapture , excitement , inspiration , intoxication
akāryam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. not to be done , improper ; n. a criminal action
kurute = 3rd pers. sg. kṛ: to cause
na: not
kāryam (acc. sg.): n. work or business to be done , duty , affair

yena (inst. sg.): whereby, by which
kṣataḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. wounded , hurt , injured ; broken , torn , rent , destroyed , impaired ; diminished , trodden or broken down
dur-gatim (acc. sg.): f. misfortune , distress , poverty ; hell
abhyupaiti = 3rd pers. sg. abhy-upa-√i: to go near , approach , arrive at , enter

世間謂爲善 即皆是惡法
衆生所貪樂 生諸放逸故

放逸反自傷 死當墮惡趣 

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