Saturday, June 21, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.30: When Desires Are Like Fires

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Vāṇī)
yān-arcayitvāpi na yānti śarma vivardhayitvā paripālayitvā |
aṅgāra-karṣū-pratimeṣu teṣu kāmeṣu kasyātmavato ratiḥ syāt || 11.30

People do not secure happiness, 
however much they kindle them,

Augment them, and tend them.

When desires are like fires of charcoal in a pit,

Who in possession of himself would delight in those desires?

Today's verse begins with a textual uncertainty. EHJ gives the reading of the old Nepalese manuscript as yān-acc(??)ayitvāpi. EBC has yān-arcayitvāpi, which he translates “however they pursue them...” EHJ amended to yān-arjayitvāpi, and translated “Though men procure them...”

Further uncertainty attaches to aṅgāra-karṣū in the 3rd pāda. EHJ notes that the Chinese translation takes the simile to refer to walking over a fire-pit falsely covered over – whereon a person who treads will inevitably burn and die (蹈者必燒死). The Tibetan translates aṅgāra as 'cow-dung,' which EHJ thought perhaps better than 'charcoal.' But EHJ nonetheless translated “which are like trenches full of red-hot charcoal,” adding in his footnote:

I understand the simile to mean that red-hot charcoal in a trench (such as is sometimes used for cooking still) gives out no heat to those sitting by it and soon dies down, however much looked after. Aṅgārakarṣū is a regular simile for kāma; besides the lists referred to under 22 above and Windisch's quotation of Mhv., 2.327, 331, 332, note LV ch. 21.329.9, Sikṣāsamuccaya 79.5, Suttanipāta, 396 as typical instances.

In the passage quoted yesterday from Majjhima Nikāya 22, the relevant lines are

aṅgārakāsūpamā kāmā vuttā bhagavatā … 
with the simile of the pit of coals the Blessed One has stated that desires …

bahudukkhā bahupāyāsā, ādīnavo ettha bhiyyo”ti.
provide little gratification, much suffering and despair, and that the danger in them is still more.

Can arcayitvā be taken as the causative absolutive of arc, to shine, be brilliant? If so, then that fits with the sense of getting a fire going, kindling it, causing it to burn. In the end, I have decided to go with what I think is the spirit of the simile, reading as yān-arcayitvāpi and translating as “however much they kindle them.”

The rhetorical question as EBC translates it conveys again the ostensible meaning that desires are inherently dangerous and best avoided altogether:

What man of self-control could find satisfaction in those pleasures, which are like snatching up a hot coal....? [EBC]

EHJ's translation, especially taken in conjunction with his note interpreting the simile, invites a deeper reading:

What self-controlled man would delight in those passions, which are like trenches full of red-hot charcoal? [EHJ]

The first layer of deeper meaning in today's verse, as I read it, is related with EHJ's direct observation of the fact that red-hot charcoal in a trench (such as was still used for cooking in India in EHJ's day) soon dies down, however much looked after.

Whereas the ostensible point of the simile, then, is simply to emphasize how dangerous desires are, and how crazy it would be to accommodate them – like snatching up a burning coal with one's bare hands, in EBC's translation – a deeper understanding may be that if desires are left alone, they will subside all by themselves. The energy, in other words, as described by the 2nd law of thermodynamics, will dissipate, unless it is prevented from doing so by activation energy barriers. And in the case of desires – moreso than in the case of more solid phenomena like, say, a table or a stone tower that can go on defying gravity for hundreds of years – it is in fact very difficult to prevent the energy of desires from dissipating.

Just as yesterday's verse, as I read it, provided not only one but two (and maybe more) layers of hidden meaning below the ostenstible meaning, so too might today's verse have a second layer (and maybe further layers) of deeper hidden meaning.

That deeper meaning is related with EHJ's observation that a trench of red-hot charcoal gives out no heat to those sitting by it – the point being that such a fire, far from being a terror to be avoided at all costs, can be, at least for a time, a real cause of relief, comfort, and happiness (śarman). Because all fires go out eventually, nobody can arrive at happiness. Nobody can secure happiness. Happiness, in other words, might not be anything to arrive at or to try to secure on a permanent basis. But sitting comfortably by a fire-pit might be a good place happily and impermanently to realize dharmas that really are for keeps. One such deathless dharma might be the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

This post is late because, though I prepared it on Thursday, I was travelling on Friday and wasn't able to access my Google account to publish it. This means I have slept on today's verse (or yesterday's verse) for two nights, and it has stimulated too many thoughts in me. 

While crossing the English channel on a ferry, I found a relatively secluded spot to sit and watching the calm and deep ocean being churned by the ferry's powerful turbines, I reflected that I was in a good place to develop developing like water. 

In so reflecting I reflected further in connection with today's verse that sitting by a pit of hot coals must be a favourable place for developing developing like fire....

Tejosamaṁ Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi,
Develop the meditation, Rāhula, that is to be even as fire,
tejosamaṁ hi te Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvayato
for, Rāhula, from developing the meditation that is to be even as fire,
uppannā manāpāmanāpā phassā cittaṁ na pariyādāya ṭhassanti.
appealing and unappealing contacts that have arisen in the mind will not take a hold there.
Seyyathā pi Rāhula paṭhaviyā sucim-pi ḍahati,
Just as, Rāhula, they burn what is clean in fire,
asucim-pi ḍahati, gūthagatam-pi ḍahati,
and they burn what is unclean, and they burn what has become dung,
muttagatam-pi ḍahati, khelagatam-pi ḍahati,
and they burn what has become urine, and they burn what has become spit,
pubbagatam-pi ḍahati, lohitagatam-pi ḍahati,
and they burn what has become pus, and they burn what has become blood,
na ca tena tejo aṭṭīyati vā harāyati vā jigucchati vā,
but the fire is not distressed, or ashamed, or disgusted by it,
evam-eva kho tvaṁ Rāhula tejosamaṁ bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi,
just so do you, Rāhula, develop the meditation that is to be even as fire,
tejosamaṁ hi te Rāhula bhāvanaṁ bhāvayato
for, Rāhula, from developing the meditation that is to be even as fire
uppannā manāpāmanāpā phassā cittaṁ na pariyādāya ṭhassanti.
appealing and unappealing contacts that have arisen in the mind will not take a hold there.

I stayed last night at a cheap hotel in a room over a bar and, despite repeated loud cheers as France scored five goals against Switzerland, fell asleep while watching the football. I woke up at 1.00 am with a sense of shame that my TV might have been keeping others guests awake. After getting up and sitting for a while, I looked up again what Nāgārjuna taught about bhāvana at the end of the penultimate chapter of MMK. I spent a couple of hours memorizing the following two verses and playing with various translations of them: 

saṁsāra-mūlaṁ-saṁskārān-avidvān saṁskaroty-ataḥ |
avidvān kārakas tasmān na vidvāṁs tattva-darśanāt ||MMK26.10||

Volitional formations, the root of saṁsāra,

Thus the ignorant/unwitting/unconscious one forms.

The ignorant/unwitting/unconscious one therefore is the doer;

The wise/knowing/witting/conscious one is not,
because of seeing/realizing reality/the truth. 

avidyāyāṁ niruddhāyāṁ saṁskārāṇām asaṁbhavaḥ |
avidyāyā nirodhas tu jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt ||MMK26.11||

While ignorance is held in check,

There is the destruction (the non-coming-into-being) of formations.

The cessation of ignorance, however,

Is because of the developing (because of the bringing-into-being)
of just this knowing.  

Developing, then, bhāvana, is by definition the bringing of something into being. And yet, ironically, developing is the cause of the volitional formations which are the root of saṁsāra NOT coming into being. It is rather the cause of their destruction, the opposite of their coming into being. 

The wording of MMK26.11, it occured to me in the wee small hours of this morning, with the opposition of asaṁbhavaḥ and bhavanaāt seems designed to bring out this irony -- which brings to my mind the Alexander aphorism that "direction is the truest form of inhibition." 

What, in practice, may be most important to understand in these two verses is the meaning of the two ablatives, which express the cause of cessation. Those two ablatives are tattva-darśanat and jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt. 

Tattva-darśana, whether it is translated as "realizing reality" or "seeing the truth" or "meeting Buddha" is a teaching that will be familiar to anybody who has read Dogen's writings. My teacher saw the whole point of Dogen's teaching as being concentrated in that phrase, and he took pains to point out that what the phrase expresses is just to sit upright with one's spine straight vertically and one's autonomic nervous system balanced. 

Jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvana ("developing of just this knowing"), however, is more challenging. That is why when I first came across the word bhāvana in Aśvaghoṣa's writing, hitherto generally translated as "meditation," I was somewhat stumped. What word in Dogen's writing, I wondered, corresponded to bhāvana? The answer I soon began to think, must be provided primarily by the Chinese character , as in 修行 (Jap: SHUGYO) training, practice -- though I had hitherto understood this phrase to have more of a physical connotation and not a meditative one. More long-distance running and less deliberately developing compassion as the antidote to ill-will. 

The phrase in Shobogenzo that would seem to correspond best to jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvana ("developing of just this knowing")would be 修智慧 (Jap: SHU-CHIE). 修智慧 (SHU-CHIE) appears as the 7th of the eight truths of a great human being quoted in the final chapter of Shobogenzo, where I originally translated it "to practice wisdom." In view of the probable derivation from bhāvana, evidently, "to cultivate wisdom" or "to develop wisdom" would be better. 

On further reflection, however, and coming back by a circuitous route to today's verse, I venture to suggest that another phrase in Shobogenzo that corresponds equally to  jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvana, might be 禅定 (Jap: SHU-ZENJO). 禅定 (SHU-ZENJO) is the 6th of the eight truths of a great human being quoted in the final chapter of Shobogenzo, where I originally translated it "to practice the balanced state of dhyāna." In view of the probable derivation from bhāvana, again, "to cultivate Zen balance" or "to develop Zen balance" would be better. 

To anybody who has stuck with me this far, in another unduly wordy comment (notwithtsanding the 8th in the eight truths, which is to refrain from prolixity), I would like to say firstly thank you, and  secondly that I hope it is evident that the challenge of translation, if one is sincere about it, is the challenge of practice itself. Which being so the making of mistakes, though regrettable, might be difficult to avoid. But the prize is a big one, and the prize might be to clarify how the Buddha's teaching, in whatever tradition it has been preserved, originally works to combat ignorance, through the development of wisdom which is not only an intellectual knowing but is a wisdom synonymous with balance like earth, balance like water, and balance like fire. 

yān (acc. pl. m.): [those desires] which
arcayitvā [EBC] causative abs. ṛc: to praise (?)
Or causative abs. arc: to cause to shine (?)
arjayitvā [EHJ] = causative abs. ṛj: to obtain , get , acquire [EHJ: 'Though men procure them']
api: even
na: not
yānti = 3rd pers. pl. yā: to go ; to go towards or against , go or come to , enter , approach , arrive at , reach
śarma (acc. sg.): n. shelter, relief, happiness [see also BC11.24]

vivardhayitvā = causative abs. vi- √ vṛdh: to cause to grow or increase or prosper , nourish , rear , enlarge , augment , advance , further , promote
paripālayitvā = causative abs. pari-√pāl: to guard
paripālana: n. the act of guarding &c ; fostering , nourishing
√pāl: to watch , guard , protect , defend , rule , govern

aṅgāra-karṣū-pratimeṣu (loc. pl. m.): 'like trenches of red-hot charcoal' [EHJ]; like hot charcoal and burning cow-dung
aṅgāra-karṣa-pratimeṣu (loc. pl. m.): 'like snatching up a hot coal' [EBC]
aṅgāra: m. charcoal , either heated or not heated
karṣū: f. a furrow , trench , incision ; m. a fire of dried cow-dung
karṣa (EBC): m. the act of drawing , dragging
pratimā: ifc. like , similar , resembling , equal to
teṣu (loc. pl. m.): those

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

如僞覆火坑 蹈者必燒死
貪欲火如是 智者所不遊 

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