Thursday, June 26, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.35: How Objects Cause Bad Luck & Trouble (Or Otherwise)

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
gītair-hriyante hi mgā vadhāya rūpārtham-agnau śalabhāḥ patanti |
matsyo giraty-āyasam-āmiṣārthī tasmād-anarthaṁ viṣayāḥ phalanti || 11.35

For deer are lured to their death by songs.

Moths fly into the fire on account of its bright appearance.

The bait-hungry fish swallows the iron hook.

Thus do objects of desire result in trouble.

Is it really true that objects of desire result in trouble? If so, how does that trouble come about?

When we investigate the problem as Aśvaghoṣa may intend us to do, it is not the objects of their desire that cause the deer, moths, and fish to run into bad luck and trouble; nor is it desire itself; it is rather a lack of awareness of danger. The original cause of the problem, in short, is ignorance.

What today's verse does not say, but might imply, is that deer are NOT lured to their death by the bright appearance of a fire, hungry moths do NOT swallow iron hooks, and fish are NOT lured to their death by songs.

The power of an object to lead a creature to its death, therefore, is not evidence of anything inherently and universally irresistible in the object. Rather the object only has the power to attract providing that the subject (a) has an inherent tendency to be drawn to the object; and (b) lacks the awareness by which to inhibit the desire to go directly for the end.

Apropos of which, though I am not sure about the learning abilities of deer and moths, I had a friend once who liked pitting his wits against clever old carp in a deep pond, some of whom had evidently developed over the years the ability to remove bait from hooks in their mouths, and then swallow the bait and spit out the hook.

So today's verse is once again ostensibly putting the blame on kāmeṣu (desires or pleasures) and viṣayeṣu (objects of desire). But below the surface Aśvaghoṣa's ironic intention may be, again, to cause us to contemplate that the real root of all trouble is lack of awareness, or ignorance.

What was it again that Nāgārjuna said about ignorance?

saṁsāra-mūlaṁ-saṁskārān-avidvān saṁskaroty-ataḥ |
Volitional formations, the root of saṁsāra, thus the ignorant one forms. 
avidvān kārakas tasmān na vidvāṁs tattva-darśanāt ||MMK26.10||
The ignorant one therefore is the doer; 
the wise one is not, because of seeing reality. 

avidyāyāṁ niruddhāyāṁ saṁskārāṇām asaṁbhavaḥ |
In the ceasing of ignorance, there is the non-coming-into-being of formations./
avidyāyā nirodhas tu jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt ||MMK26.11||
The cessation of ignorance, however, 
is because of the bringing into being of nothing but this knowing.

“Nothing but this knowing” (jñānasyāsyaiva), if we endeavour to understand that phrase on the basis of what Dogen teaches in Shobogenzo, can only mean the practice and experience of just sitting. “Nothing but this knowing” can only mean, in other words, “nothing but the lifeblood.”

In terms of the words that Nāgārjuna wrote, “this knowing” seems to refer back to “the seeing reality” (tattva-darśana) which causes the wise one not to be the doer who forms volitional formations.

Can we say, then, that “this knowing” causes the practitioner of wisdom not to be the doer, that “this knowing” causes the practitioner to refuse to form the volitional formations which are the root of saṁsāra? 

And can we say, equally, that “the practice of just sitting” causes the sitting practitioner not to be the doer, that just this knowing causes the practitioner to refuse to form the volitional formations which are the root of saṁsāra? 

Speaking of knowing, in SN Canto 17, Aśvaghoṣa describes the 4th dhyāna like this:

yasmāt-tu tasmin-na sukhaṃ na duḥkhaṃ jñānaṃ ca tatrāsti tad-artha-cāri /
Since in this there is neither ease nor suffering, 
and the act of knowing abides here, being its own object,
tasmād-upekṣā-smṛti-pāriśuddhir-nirucyate dhyāna-vidhau caturthe // SN17.55 
Therefore utter lucidity through indifference and awareness 
is specified in the protocol for the fourth stage of meditation.

If we thought we had understood Nāgārjuna's words on this basis, however, we might be making the mistake of the famous bhikṣu of the 4th dhyāna, discussed in Shobogenzo chap. 90 (SHIZEN-BIKU). 
What Nāgārjuna is discussing at the end of MMK chap. 26 is, it turns out, not only what is known at the level of the 4th dhyāna: 

tasya tasya nirodhena tat-tan nābhipravartate |
By the ceasing of this one and of that one, 
this one no longer advances and that one no longer advances. /
duḥkha-skandhaḥ kevalo 'yam evaṁ samyaṅ nirudhyate ||MMK26.12||
 This whole aggregate of suffering in this way is well and truly ceased.

What Nāgārjuna is discussing at the end of MMK chap. 26, rather, is what in SN17.56 Aśvaghoṣa calls winning of the worthy state (arhattva-lābha). Hence:

dhyānaṃ sa niśritya tataś-caturtham-arhattva-lābhāya matiṃ cakāra /
Consequently, relying on the fourth stage of meditation,
he made up his mind to win the worthy state,
saṃdhāya mitraṃ balavantam-āryaṃ rājeva deśān-ajitān jigīṣuḥ // SN17.56 
Like a king joining forces with a strong and noble ally
and then aspiring to conquer unconquered lands.

ciccheda kārtsnyena tataḥ sa pañca prajñāsinā bhāvanayeritena /
Then he cut the five upper fetters: with the sword of intuitive wisdom
which is raised aloft by cultivation of the mind,
ūrdhvaṁ-gamāny-uttama-bandhanāni saṃyojanāny-uttama-bandhanāni // 17.57
He completely severed the five aspirational fetters,
which are bound up with superiority, and tied to the first person.

bodhy-aṅga-nāgair-api saptabhiḥ sa saptaiva cittānuśayān mamarda /
Again, with the seven elephants of the limbs of awakening
he crushed the seven dormant tendencies of the mind,
dvipān-ivopasthita-vipraṇāśān kālo grahaiḥ saptabhir-eva sapta // 17.58
Like Time, when their destruction is due,
crushing the seven continents by means of the seven planets.

agni-drumājyāmbuṣu yā hi vṛttiḥ kavandha-vāyv-agni-divākarāṇām /
The action which on fire, trees, ghee and water
is exerted by rainclouds, wind, a flame and the sun,
doṣeṣu tāṃ vṛttim-iyāya nando nirvāpaṇotpāṭana-dāha-śoṣaiḥ // 17.59 
Nanda exerted that action on the faults,
quenching, uprooting, burning, and drying them up.

iti tri-vegaṃ tri-jhaṣaṃ tri-vicam-ekāmbhasaṃ pañca-rayaṃ dvi-kūlam /
Thus he overcame three surges, three sharks, three swells,
the unity of water, five currents, two shores,
dvi-grāham-aṣṭāṅgavatā plavena duḥkhārṇavaṃ dus-taram-uttatāra // 17.60
And two crocodiles: in his eight-piece raft,
he crossed the flood of suffering which is so hard to cross.

arhattvam-āsādya sa sat-kriyārho nirutsuko niṣpraṇayo nirāśaḥ /
Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served.
Without ambition, without partiality, without expectation;
vibhīr-viśug-vītamado virāgaḥ sa eva dhṛtyānya ivābabhāse // SN17.61 
Without fear, without sorrow, without pride, without passion;
while being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different. 

It might be in light of the above that we should endeavour to understand Dogen's exhortation
Learn the backward step of turning your light and letting it shine.

Body and mind will fall away spontaneously,

And your original features will emerge.

“Refusing to form volitional formations” or “withholding consent to doing,” incidentally, are expressions that will resonate with anybody who has delved into the writings and practical discoveries of FM Alexander. For Alexander, there was a very definite criterion for just this knowing (or “knowing the score”), and that was whether a person was going up or not.

I venture to suggest that Nāgārjuna, and before him the Buddha Gautama himself, might have been conscious of the same criterion: hence pratītya-samutpāḍa, Springing Up, by going back.

In the end, Qu'est-ce que vous voulez?

I should like to make my life meaningful by sitting in full lotus and truly demonstrating – if only for one moment, and if only to an audience of assorted lizards, grass-hoppers, wrens and blackbirds – what it really means, having gone back to the knowing of ignorance (or at least to the knowing of volitional formations as they form), to truly know Springing Up.

Or else if, in view of  bad luck and trouble that I caused in past lives just by myself, it would be wrong of me to expect to see flowers blooming in this lifetime,  then I hope I at least to carry on for a while making some kind of contribution in terms of connecting root and branch.

That connection between root and branch, I am convinced, will be made via increasing clarity on all sides with regard to the core teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, Springing Up by going back. 

gītaiḥ (inst. pl.): n. singing, song
hriyante = 3rd pers. pl. passive hṛ: to take, carry off; to enrapture , charm , fascinate
hi: for
mṛgāḥ (nom. pl.): m. deer
vadhāya (dat. sg.): m. the act of striking or killing , slaughter , murder , death , destruction

rūpārtham (acc. sg. n.): on account of a form
rūpa: n. any outward appearance or phenomenon or colour (often pl.) , form , shape , figure
agnau (loc. sg.): m. fire
śalabhāḥ (nom. pl.) m. a grass-hopper , locust (fabled to be the children of pulastya or of tārkṣya and yāminī) , a kind of moth (such as is attracted by a lighted candle?)
patanti = 3rd pers. pl. pat: to fly

matsyaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a fish
girati = 3rd pers. sg. gṝ: to swallow, devour, eat
āyasam (acc. sg.): n. iron ; n. anything made of iron
āmiṣārthī (nom. sg. m.): wanting food
āmiṣa: n. flesh; food, meat, prey
arthin: mfn. one who wants or desires anything (instr. or in comp. ; cf. putrārthin, wishing for a son)

tasmāt: ind. from that, therefore
anartham (acc. sg.): m. disappointing occurrence , reverse , evil
viṣayāḥ (nom. pl.): m. objects, objects of the senses ; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
phalanti = 3rd pers. pl. phal: to bear or produce fruit , ripen (lit. and fig.) , be fruitful , have results or consequences , be fulfilled , result , succeed; to bring to maturity , fulfil , yield , grant , bestow (with acc. , rarely instr.); to give out, emit (heat)

麋鹿貪聲死 飛鳥隨色貪
淵魚貪鉤餌 悉爲欲所困


Rich said...

lacks the awareness by which to inhibit the desire to go directly for the end.

How you tie all these great teachers together is great, especially the past couple of weeks.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Rich,

Some people would call it adulteration of the teaching...

"adulterate": to corrupt, debase, or make impure by the addition of a foreign or inferior substance or element.

I have been subject to that suspicion/accusation from more than one side.

There again, nobody has a monopoly on ignorance!