Wednesday, June 25, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.34: A Brief Study in Low-Down Ignorance

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
kāmārtham-ajñaḥ kpaṇaṁ karoti prāpnoti duḥkhaṁ vadha-bandhanādi |
kāmārtham-āśā-kpaṇas-tapasvī mtyuṁ śramaṁ cārchati jīvalokaḥ || 11.34

With desires in view the ignorant one acts pitiably;

He brings on himself the suffering
of lethal wounds, captivity and the rest;

With desires in view the world of the living,
being pitiable in its aspirations,

Veers wretchedly towards death and exhaustion.

In today's verse, at one level, the bodhisattva seems to be continuing to put the blame, as per the Canto title, on desires.

But at maybe a deeper level of understanding, following on from the sub-text of yesterday's verse, the bodhisattva is making the connection between (a) ignorance, acting through the medium of (b) desires, being manifested in (c) baseness of actions and aspirations.

As mentioned yesterday, it is not always easy for us who are ignorant to see clearly what ignorance is – as when a fire covered over with ashes is invisible. But our ignorance (or wisdom) is liable to be revealed in the ignobleness (or otherwise) of what we desire or seek, and in the ignobleness (or otherwise) of what we do (or don't do).

For that reason I have translated kāmārtham advisedly as “with desires in view.” EBC's “for the sake of pleasure” or EHJ's “for the passions' sake” or PO's “for pleasure's sake” allow more of a false sense to be conveyed that desire for pleasure is the root of all evil, the original sin, what causes us to go wrong. Another translation of  kāmārtham  which, though literal, would be more misleading is "on account of desires." What the bodhisattva is really saying, as I hear him, is that what originally causes us to go wrong is not our desires, but our not being in possession of ourselves, or in other words our ignorance.

Here is an episode from the Pali Suttas which illustrates well the point that what the Buddha was concerned with combating was ignorance. Female beauty that stimulates desire for sensual pleasure, clearly, was not any kind of a problem for the Buddha. The ignorance which causes beauty to become a problem, however, the Buddha took pains to remedy.
The Story … shows why the Elder Nun Nandā, amongst those who delight in meditation, was (placed) foremost. At the time of the Buddha Padumuttara, it seems, after being conceived in a good family home in Haṁsavatī, and afterwards, while listening to the Teacher teach the Dhamma, and after seeing the Teacher set a certain nun aside as being foremost amongst those who meditate, and doing helpful deeds, she aspired for that position herself. After being reborn amongst gods and men for one hundred thousand aeons, she was reborn before our Teacher, and was conceived in the womb of Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī, and was given the name Nandā, also Beautiful Nandā was said, and later, because of her supreme beauty, the name Country Beaut arose. After our One of Ten Powers had attained omniscience, and gradually come to Kapilavatthu, and given the going-forth to Rāhula and Nanda... she went forth. From the day of her going-forth, she thought: "The Teacher finds fault with beauty,” she didn’t go to attend on the Teacher, and when an occasion for instruction arrived, having sent another she had her bring the instruction. The Teacher, understanding that she was intoxicated with her own beauty, said: “Let each one receive the instruction herself after coming, she should not send another from amongst the nuns.” Then Beautiful Nandā not seeing another way, went for her instruction, but unwillingly. The Teacher, because of her conduct, created a beautiful woman with his spiritual power, who held a palmyra fan, and seemed to be fanning him. Having seen that, Beautiful Nandā thought: ‘Without reason I was heedless and I did not come, yet such beautiful women go about confidently in the presence of the Teacher. My beauty is not worth even a sixteenth part of the beauty of their beauty, not knowing this for such a (long) time I did not come!’ She stood there gazing at the woman’s form. The Teacher... spoke this Discourse: “Whether going or standing, sitting or lying... this citadel is made of bones, smeared over with flesh and blood, where old age and death, conceit and anger are lying hidden... He who would think to be proud of such a body, or would despise another (because of theirs), what is this except a lack of insight?" With that she was established (in knowledge) about the dissolution and destruction of beauty and attained Worthiness... Later as the Teacher was sitting in Jeta’s Wood, as he was assigning the places of the nuns in order, he placed the Elder Nun Nandā in the foremost position amongst those who meditate.
When we read today's verse in this light, a lethal wound might be a disastrous love affair stimulated by eye-popping female beauty and motivated by desire for sensual pleasure, but the real root cause of the lethal wound in that case is not desire; the real cause is rather ignorance, a lack of insight.

Again, a lethal wound might be a bad investment that turns into a big financial loss, motivated by the desire for a big profit; and captivity might be attachment to a Zen word that is akin to a stake to which to tie a donkey for 10,000 years, this attachment being motivated by a desire for Zen enlightenment. But in all such cases in which the ignorant one brings suffering on himself, the real root cause of the suffering is not desires; the real root cause is the ignorant one's ignorance.

In the 2nd half of today's verse, as I read it, the bodhisattva's words allude to the fundamental dichotomy NOT between desire and no desire; but rather between two kinds of desires manifested in two kinds of search – one noble, leading to the refuge of deathless nirvāna; the other ignoble leading to exhaustion and death.

Thus, going back again to the Pali texts, in the second section of Ariyapariyesanasuttaṁ, The Discourse about the Noble Search, the Buddha clarifies the dichotomy between these two kinds of search.

The two kinds of search, as I see them, are again a function of two kinds of desire, namely: (1) end-gaining desires, i.e. desires to go directly for a given end, without giving due attention to the means, whether the end be sensual, spiritual, or mundane; and (2) the desire to follow a means; i.e. in the context of the Sutta, the desire to follow a path that leads to nirvāna, or the ending of suffering rooted in ignorance.

In today's verse the ignorant one is called ajñaḥ; at the end of his discussion of the 12 links, Nāgārjuna calls the ignorant one avidvān. But sitting on a round black cushion, they may turn out to be the same person. What was it that Nāgārjuna wrote about that person?

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

Volitional formations, the root of saṁsāra, thus the ignorant one forms./ The ignorant one therefore is the doer; the wise one is not, because of seeing reality. //MMK26.10//

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

In the ceasing of ignorance, there is the non-coming-into-being of formations./ The cessation of ignorance, however, is because of the bringing into being of just this knowing.//MMK26.11//

Whatever is meant by “the bringing into being of just this knowing” (jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvana)that might be the original and fundamental meaning of what is described in the Pali Suttas as bhāvanam, and of what is practised and maintained in the Tibetan tradition as bhāvana.

Even though Nāgārjuna is a Zen patriarch, ironically, the closest thing to bhāvana that would seem to have been transmitted in the Chinese and Japanese Zen tradition from Nāgārjuna via Bodhidharma is 坐禅 (Jap: ZAZEN), “sitting-Zen,” in which compound (ZEN) stands not for the Sanskrit bhāvana but rather for the Sanskrit dhyāna.

One task for us who sit in the Zen tradition, then, as the children and grandchildren of Zen Master Dogen, is clearly to understand where our practice of sitting-Zen, or just sitting, fits into the scheme of the Buddha's core teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, whereby ignorance is opposed by the developing or cultivating or bringing-into-being (bhāvana) of wisdom – or of what Nāgārjuna calls “just this knowing.”

kāmārtham (acc. sg. n.): for the sake of desires
ajñaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. not kwowing, ignorant, unwise, stupid
kṛpaṇam (acc. sg.): n. wretchedness , misery ; mfn. inclined to grieve , pitiable , miserable , poor , wretched , feeble ; low, vile
karoti = 3rd pers. sg. kṛ: to do, make

prāpnoti = 3rd pers. sg. pra- √āp: to arrive at, meet with, incur ; to suffer (capital punishment)
duḥkham (acc. sg.): n. suffering, hardship
vadha-bandhanādi (acc. sg. n.): death, captivity, etc.
vadha: m. one who kills , a slayer , vanquisher , destroyer; a deadly weapon (esp. indra's thunderbolt); the act of striking or killing , slaughter , murder , death , destruction ; (in law) capital or (more commonly) corporal punishment ; vadha-bhūmi , place of execution ; stroke , hurt , injury
bandhana: n. catching , capturing , confining , detention , custody , imprisonment or a prison

kāmārtham (acc. sg. n.): for the sake of desires
āśā-kṛpaṇaḥ (nom. sg. m.): being miserable in their aspirations
āśā: f. wish , desire , hope , expectation , prospect
kṛpaṇa: inclined to grieve , pitiable , miserable , poor , wretched , feeble; low, vile ; miserly, stingy
tapasvī (nom. sg. m.): mfn. distressed , wretched , poor , miserable ; practising austerities ; m. an ascetic

mṛtyum (acc. sg.): m. death, dying
śramam (acc. sg.): m. fatigue , weariness , exhaustion; toil
ca: and
archati = 3rd pers. sg. ṛ: to go to
jīvalokaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the world of living beings (opposed to that of the deceased) , living beings , mankind

貪愛令人賤 鞭杖驅策苦
愛欲卑希望 長夜形神疲

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