Thursday, June 12, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.22: Owing Money vs Fully Possessing a Treasure

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
yatnena labdhāḥ parirakṣitāś-ca ye vipralabhya pratiyānti bhūyaḥ |
teṣv-ātmavān yācitakopameṣu kāmeṣu vidvān-iha ko rameta || 11.22

Secured and maintained with much trouble,

They cheat the trouble-taker,
and go back whence they came.

Desires are like loans.

Who, being in possession of himself, being wise,
being here and now, would delight in those desires?

Two verses ago, in BC11.20, the bodhisattva first hinted at the contrast between being in possession of oneself and being in thrall to fleeting desires.

That caused us to reflect on the metaphor of becoming free to accept and to use at will the treasure of oneself.

The metaphor as related by Matthieu Ricard is of a beggar who wanders around for a long time not knowing that he has a treasure buried under the floor of his hut. One could also cite the parable contained in the 4th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which tells the story of a son who runs away from his wealthy father in his youth and suffers hardship in fifty years of wandering in distant lands, after which, on the son's return, the father causes him to become aware only gradually, step by step, of the treasure which rightfully belongs to him.

Whether the means is bhāvana (meditation) employing a variety of antidotes to combat particular afflictive emotions, or whether the means is just to sit, nobody disagrees that the aim is to be free of ignorance. And being free of ignorance is likened to coming into possession of a great treasure which originally belongs to us.

Today's verse introduces a series of eleven verses all of which ask about the attitude towards desires of a man who is in possession of himself (ātmavat). And so, as a prelude to such consideration of self-possession, today's verse seems designed to underline the contrast between (a) true and full possession of the self, real possession of the self, as of a treasure, and (b) having something only on loan, like a financial liability.

That really being in possession of the treasure of oneself is a state of freedom from ignorance, is hinted at by the description in the 4th pāda of the self-possessed person as vidvān, which means knowing, mindful, wise, not ignorant.

This may be in accordance with the principle, transmitted from India and preserved over the centuries in Tibet, that the ignorance that lies behind desires is to be extinguished by the cultivation, over a lifetime or over many lifetimes, of wisdom.

At the same time, that really being in possession of the treasure of oneself is a state here and now, is hinted at by the description in the 4th pāda of the self-possessed person as iha, which means being present, being here and now.

This may be in accordance with the Zen principle, preserved over the centuries in China and Japan, that the mind here and now is just Buddha.

A man who some people think re-discovered the secret of Zen for our time, FM Alexander, used to say “We can throw away the habits of a lifetime in a few minutes if we use our brains.” 

In terms of the Buddha's statement of the twelve links, “the habits of a lifetime” might be synonymous with saṁskāra, the 2nd of the 12 links, going forward. And truly using one's brain might be synonymous with cessation of ignorance, avidyā  – the 1st of the 12 links, going forward; or the last of the 12 links, going backward.

Alexander's assertion, however, is not necessarily grounds for optimism, or for discarding the principle of gradually developing wisdom over many lifetimes. Because how many years, or how many lifetimes, does it take to become able to use one's brain?

A protege of FM Alexander named Patrick Macdonald is supposed to have said that the first twenty years are the worst. But then as he got older Macdonald changed his tune and said the first thirty years are the worst... and then the first forty... and so on. Then in a book of his jottings published after his death, he wrote of finality not being in sight.

However long it takes, to come back to oneself is the aim in Alexander work. And nothing more exotic than this is the ultimate aim of Zen. The gold standard for the Zen patriarchs' transmission of the Buddha-Dharma is simply, in Dogen's words, the samādhi of accepting and using the self.

My concluding thought, typed out with a mind short of sleep, having been over-stimulated last night by news of sectarian conflict erupting in Iraq, is that if we were ignorant we could see 1. being possession of oneself (ātmavān), 2. being wise (vidvān), and 3. being here and now (iha), as a trichotomy, and as such as a basis for a kind of sectarian strife. Especially the effort of a Tibetan or South-east Asian monk in the direction of cultivation of wisdom, and the resolve of a Zen practitioner just to realize mind here and now as Buddha, could easily be seen as mutually antagonistic approaches. But it strikes me this morning that the pre-condition for sectarian strife, wherever it raises its ugly head, is the ignorance of people who are not yet in full possession of themselves. I certainly have not been immune from demonstrating that kind of ignorance over the years. If I reflect back honestly, there might not be any kind of ignorance that I have been immune from demonstrating at one time or another, from the grossly neuro-physiological (rooted in vestibular dysfunction) to the highly psychological (stemming from the ego), and all shades in between.

And so in today's verse as I read it, those three virtues of self-possession, wisdom, and being in the moment, are presented as three peas in one pod. And the pod does not have any writing on it in any language. But if it did, and if the language was English, the words might be the mind here and now. Or, equally, the words might be cultivation of wisdom as the antidote to ignorance. Or, maybe best of all, because more richly redolent of the act and experience of sitting cross-legged in nature, like the Buddha under the bodhi tree, full possession of the treasure of oneself.

yatnena (inst. sg.): m. effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care , endeavour after (-ena " with effort " , " carefully " , " eagerly " , " strenuously ")
labdhāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. obtained
labh: to gain possession of , obtain , receive , conceive , get , receive
pari-rakṣitāḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. well guarded or preserved or kept
ca: and

ye (nom. pl. m.): which
vipralabhya = abs. vi-pra- √ labh: to insult , violate , to mock at , take in , cheat , deceive
pratiyānti = 3rd pers. pl. prati- √ yā: to go or come back , return to or into (acc.) ; to be returned or requited
bhūyaḥ: ind. again, anew

teṣu (loc. pl. m.): those
ātmavān (nom. sg. m.): mfn. self-possessed
yācitakopameṣu (loc. pl. m.): like
yācitaka: mfn. borrowed ; n. anything borrowed
yācita: mfn. asked , begged (borrowed) ; solicited or asked for (anything ,acc.) , entreated , importuned
yāc: to ask , beg , solicit , entreat , require , implore ; (with púnar) to ask anything back
upama: mfn. (ifc.) equal , similar , resembling , like

kāmeṣu (loc. pl.): m. pleasures, desires
vidvān (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who knows , knowing , understanding , learned , intelligent , wise , mindful; m. a wise man , sage , seer
iha: ind. in this world, here
kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who
rameta = 3rd pers. sg. optative ram: to be glad or pleased , rejoice at , delight in , be fond of (loc. instr. or inf.)

勤方便所得 而方便所護
不勤自亡失 非方便能留
猶若假借物 智者不貪著 

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