Tuesday, June 17, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.27: Being Strong Enough to Delight In a Hazardous Abode

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
yatra sthitānām-abhito vipattiḥ śatroḥ sakāśād-api bāndhavebhyaḥ |
hiṁsreṣu teṣv-āyatanopameṣu kāmeṣu kasyātmavato ratiḥ syāt || 11.27

People abiding in them are surrounded on all sides by adversity –

Adversity from friends and family even as from a sworn enemy.

When desires are as hazardous as a hazardous abode,

Who in possession of himself would delight in those desires?

EHJ cites SN16.79 for the use of api to co-ordinate two substantives [śubhasya and aśubhasya] opposed in sense:

yathā hi bhīto niśi taskarebhyo dvāraṃ priyebhyo 'pi na dātum-icchet /
For just as a man afraid of thieves in the night would not open his door even to friends,
prājñas-tathā saṃharati prayogaṃ samaṃ śubhasyāpy-aśubhasya doṣaiḥ // 16.79
So does a wise man withhold consent equally
to the doing of anything bad or anything good that involves the faults.

In a nice comedic touch, but one which EHJ himself probably did not intend, EHJ notes further that kinsfolk are a real danger in India, as in the note of the preceding verse. Did EHJ mean to imply that kinsfolk (or, more broadly, friends and relations) are not a real danger in, for example, England?

EHJ translated the second half of today's verse:

What self-controlled man would delight in those passions, which are like dangerous haunts?

But a more exactly literal translation, using EHJ's preferred vocabulary, would have been:

What self-controlled man would delight in those passions, which are dangerous, like haunts?

Using the vocabulary I have preferred, a more literal translation would be:

When desires are as hazardous as an abode, who in possession of himself would delight in those desires?

Aśvaghoṣa's phrasing thus seems designed to suggest that an āyatana is inherently dangerous or injurious.

How then should āyatana be translated?

Once again, in view of the many possible meanings of āyatana, a lot is liable to be lost in translation.

One dictionary definition of āyatana that lends itself immediately to an easily understandable translation is “a plot of ground, the site of a house”:

When desires are as hazardous as a building site, who in possession of himself would delight in those desires?

What is lost in this translation, however, is the sense that any place where one just idly dwells is an inherently dangerous place – the sense, in other words, that the biggest risk is not taking any risk. This sense might best be conveyed by translating āyatana as per the first dictionary definition, “resting-place” or “dwelling-place”:

When desires are as hazardous as a resting place, who in possession of himself would delight in those desires?

The dictionary definition of āyatana that poses most difficulty, but which cannot be overlooked, is “(with Buddhists) the five senses and manas (considered as the inner seats or āyatanas) and the qualities perceived by the above (the outer āyatanas)”:

When desires are as hazardous as the abodes of the senses, who in possession of himself would delight in those desires?

EBC went with this definition of āyatana, hence:

What man of self-control could find satisfaction in these pleasures, which, like the senses, are destructive...?

EHJ noted:
There is a suggestion here that āyatana refers to the twelve āyatanas, the six external ones of [sic] which are compared to thieves at Saṁyutta 4.175. T in fact renders it so. But the main sense is as above, in which I see no difficulty.

However āyatanopameṣu is translated, I think the hidden meaning once again is that, dangerous though desires are – as dangerous as a building site, or as dangerous as angry snakes, or as dangerous as a blazing torch, or as dangerous as borrowing money, or as dangerous as taking it easy, or dangerous as an abode of sensory perception – for a person who is truly and fully in possession of himself, those desires can still be something to delight in.

Thinking what there might be in the Pali Suttas to support this reading, I remember several places in the Mahāparinibbānasuttaṁ where the Buddha describes abodes he has dwelt in as ramaṇīyam, delightful, or to be delighted in.

Hence in the 17th section titled Ānanda's Failure:

Ekam-antaṁ nisinnaṁ kho āyasmantaṁ Ānandaṁ Bhagavā etad-avoca:
While sitting on one side the Gracious One said this to venerable Ānanda:
“Ramaṇīyā Ānanda Vesālī, ramaṇīyaṁ Udenaṁ Cetiyaṁ,
“Delightful, Ānanda, is Vesālī, delightful is the Udena shrine,
ramaṇīyaṁ Gotamakaṁ Cetiyaṁ, ramaṇīyaṁ Sattambaṁ Cetiyaṁ,
delightful is the Gotamaka shrine, delightful is the Sattamba shrine,
ramaṇīyaṁ Bahuputtaṁ Cetiyaṁ, ramaṇīyaṁ Sārandadaṁ Cetiyaṁ,
delightful is the Many Sons' shrine, delightful is the Sārandada shrine,
ramaṇīyaṁ Cāpālaṁ Cetiyaṁ.
delightful is the Cāpāla shrine.

And in the 24th section titled Ānanda's Fault at Rājagaha:

tattheva Rājagahe viharāmi Maddakucchismiṁ Migadāye,
I was living right there near Rājagaha, 
in the Deer Park at (the place called) Crushing Womb,
tatra pi kho tāhaṁ Ānanda āmantesiṁ:
in that place, Ānanda, I addressed you, (saying):
‘Ramaṇīyaṁ Ānanda Rājagahaṁ ramaṇīyo Gijjhakūṭo pabbato,
‘Delightful, Ānanda, is Rājagaha, delightful is the Vulture's Peak Mountain,
ramaṇīyo Gotamanigrodho ramaṇīyo Corapapāto,
delightful is the Gotama Banyan Tree, delightful is the Thieves' Precipice,
ramaṇīyā Vebhārapasse Sattapaṇṇiguhā ramaṇīyā Isigilipasse Kāḷasilā,
delightful is the side of the Vebhāra (mountain) in the Seven Leaves Cave, 
delightful is the side of the Isigili (mountain) on Black Rock,
ramaṇīyo Sītavane Sappasoṇḍikapabbhāro ramaṇīyo Tapodārāmo,
delightful is the Cool Wood, at the Snake Tank Slope, 
delightful is the (River) Tapodā Monastery,
ramaṇīyo Veḷuvane Kalandakanivāpo ramaṇīyaṁ Jīvakambavanaṁ,
delightful is the Squirrel's Feeding Place in Bamboo Wood, 
delightful is Jīvaka's Mango Wood,
ramaṇīyo Maddakucchismiṁ Migadāyo.
delightful is the Deer Park at (the place called) Crushing Womb....

If I think back to examples in Shobogenzo of people who dared to dwell in hazardous abodes, for Master Tendo Nyojo hazardous abodes were plum flowers, and for Master Rei-un Shigon hazardous abodes were peach blossoms. The latter truly came into possession of himself, the story goes, one day when out on a picnic, he saw peach blossoms blooming in profusion in the valley below him. In such cases, Dogen commented, there was no second person. In such cases, in other words, Zen practitioners had truly come into full possession of themselves.

Not with the intention to have verbal insights that I can post on this blog do I park my backside every morning on top of a round black cushion. On the contrary. But things that I want to write down in words nevertheless come up, for which I would like to pin the blame on Aśvaghoṣa for stimulating me unduly with his poetry.

This morning I was caused to reflect on a conversation I had on Sunday with my son, about developmental work. We discussed a friend of his who is exceptionally gifted in the intellectual and academic spheres, and spends a lot of time in the gym to boot, doing power lifting so that he is also well developed, or over-developed, in the muscle department. When it comes to balance and coordination, however, this brainy gorilla is not so highly developed. My son told me that BG was always being approached by rugby players to turn out for the university rugby team, but he refused on the basis that despite his evident physical attributes, he lacked the necessary coordination to be good at rugby. According to my son, BG is very sincere about self-development. He goes to the gym in order to be a better person. But his approach is to play to his strengths. Implicit in that approach, of course, is to avoid dealing with weaknesses. So during the course of the conversation, and reflecting on it afterwards, I realized that BG is a good mirror in which to see myself.

The Buddha tells Nanda in SN Canto 16:

tad-deśa-kālau vidhivat parīkṣya yogasya mātrām-api cābhyupāyam /
Having given due consideration to the time and place
as well as to the extent and method of one's practice,
balābale cātmani saṃpradhārya kāryaḥ prayatno na tu tad-viruddhaḥ // 16.52
One should, reflecting on one's own strength and weakness,
persist in an effort that is not inconsistent with them.

What does this mean for a bloke who is acutely aware of being weak in the auditory channel – or the auditory abode (āyatana), if we follow the Sanskrit terminology literally?

Is the Buddha advising Nanda to develop his strengths and to avoid the kind of stimuli that might show up his weaknesses? That might be to encourage weakness itself.

Reflecting along these lines it occurred to me that, in the thirty-odd years since taking the bodhisattva precepts, I have shown conspicuous weakness in a couple of areas.

The first is in my weakness to noise, but more than that in my attitude towards the anger which noise tends to stimulate in me. I understand that the anger I feel when surrounded on all sides by noise is related with an auditory Moro reflex, and as such this anger is a whole lot more than an egotistical thought, to be dealt with via primarily psychological means. But over the years I have sort of given in and accepted that in this area I am weak – in marked contrast to my teacher who once laughingly told red-faced me, as I struggled to cope with the noise from a daisy-wheel printer in his office, “I am strong to noise!”

There may be a parallel with what I regard as a second conspicuous show of weakness, which I exhibited after my teacher and his putative co-translator of Nāgārjuna's MMK found they could not maintain a translation partnership and my teacher asked me to step back into the seat of translation co-pilot. I made a start on Coulson's Teach Yourself Sanskrit, but woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of one night and decided I wasn't up to the task. I didn't feel strong enough, on this occasion, to do what my teacher wanted me to do. But in retrospect that feeling might have been false. Having doggedly refused for many years to wimp out of a commitment, however painful circumstances got, finally I was faced with an internal obstacle that I felt not strong enough to break down. But in retrospect maybe I could have broke it down and should have broke it down. Coulda, woulda, shoulda... 

The point is that sometimes we are faced with fences and walls, external and internal, that seem like unsurmountable obstacles. But just because they seem unsurmountable does not mean they are unsurmountable. It may rather be a matter of retaining the determination to develop what can be developed, and not being so weak as to take no for an answer.

The implicit message of today's verse, then, in these terms, is that being weak to noise, or being susceptible to hazards in any other sensory abode, is not the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is not being truly and fully in possession of oneself. And not being truly and fully in possession of oneself might be synonymous with not having developed what remains to be developed in the way of prajñā (wisdom, knowing), śīla (moral integrity, virtue), and samādhi (balanced stillness, integration, concentration). 


Tatra pi sudaṁ Bhagavā Vesāliyaṁ viharanto Ambapālivane,
There also the Gracious One, while living in Vesālī in Ambapālī's Wood,

etad-eva bahulaṁ bhikkhūnaṁ Dhammiṁ kathaṁ karoti:

spoke frequently to the monks about the Teaching, (saying):

“Iti sīlaṁ, iti samādhi, iti paññā,

Such is virtue, such is concentration, such is wisdom,

sīlaparibhāvito samādhi mahapphalo hoti mahānisaṁso,

when virtue is well-developed it yields great fruit
and brings great advantages in regard to concentration,

samādhiparibhāvitā paññā mahapphalā hoti mahānisaṁsā,

when concentration is well-developed it yields great fruit
and brings great advantages in regard to wisdom,

paññāparibhāvitaṁ cittaṁ sammad-eva āsavehi vimuccati,

when wisdom is well-developed the mind is completely liberated from the pollutants,

seyyathīdaṁ: kāmāsavā bhavāsavā avijjāsavā.” ti

that is to say: the pollutant of sensuality,
the pollutant of (craving for) continued existence, 
the pollutant of ignorance.”

yatra: ind. (used for the loc. of the relative pron.) wherein
sthitānām (gen. pl. m.): mfn. standing , staying , situated , resting or abiding or remaining ; engaged in , occupied with , intent upon , engrossed by , devoted or addicted to (loc. or comp.); fixed upon (loc.); resting or depending on (loc.)
abhitaḥ: ind. near , in the proximity or presence of (gen.) ; (with acc.) on all sides , everywhere , about , round
vipattiḥ (nom. sg.): f. going wrongly , adversity , misfortune , failure , disaster

śatroḥ (abl. sg.): m. " overthrower " , an enemy , foe , rival , a hostile king
sakāśāt (abl. sg. m.): mfn. having appearance or visibility , visible , present , near
api: even, also
bāndhavebhyaḥ (abl. pl.): m. (fr. bandhu) a kinsman , relation (esp. maternal relation) , friend

hiṁsreṣu (loc. pl. m.): mfn. injurious , mischievous , hurtful , destructive , murderous , cruel , fierce , savage
teṣu (loc. pl. m.): those
āyatanopameṣu (loc. pl. m.): like a resting-place; like a sanctuary; like a building site; like the [twelve] abodes of the senses
āyatana: n. resting-place , support , seat , place , home , house , abode ; the place of the sacred fire ; a sanctuary; a plot of ground , the site of a house ; (with Buddhists) the five senses and manas (considered as the inner seats or āyatanas) and the qualities perceived by the above (the outer āyatanas)

upama: (ifc.) equal , similar , resembling , like
kāmeṣu (loc. pl.): m. pleasures, desires
kasya (gen. sg.): who?
ātmavataḥ (gen. sg. m.): being self-possessed
ratiḥ (nom. sg.): f. pleasure , enjoyment , delight in , fondness
syāt = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be

晝夜自守衞 如人畏重怨
東市殺標下 人情所憎惡
貪恚癡長標 智者常遠離

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