Monday, June 30, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.39: What Do the Wise Enjoy?

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
duḥkha-pratīkāra-nimitta-bhūtās-tasmāt-prajānāṁ viṣayā na bhogāḥ |
aśnāmi bhogān-iti ko 'bhyupeyāt-prājñaḥ pratīkāra-vidhau pravttaḥ || 11.39

To the people, therefore, objects in the sensory realm

Are factors in counteracting pain and suffering, and not enjoyments.

What wise one would admit “I am relishing enjoyments,”

While engaged in the counteraction?

The rhetorical question in the second half of today's verse, as in the series of verses from BC11.22, seems to invite the answer: No wise person would! No person who was truly wise, truly in possession of himself, would admit to that!

On the surface the bodhisattva is continuing to put the blame on kāmeṣu and viṣayeṣu, desires and objects of desire, as per the Canto title. Therefore, to interpret his rhetorical question further, he is asking: “What wise person would consider himself to be relishing enjoyments while he is taking that bitter medicine which is the remedy to suffering?”

And the expected answer is along the lines of: “Nobody would. To take the bitter medicine is not to relish any kind of enjoyment.”

Hence in the Reflections (Paccavekkhaṇā) traditionally recited in Sri Lanka et cetera....

Paṭisaṅkhā yoniso cīvaraṁ paṭisevāmi,
With proper discernment I make use of the robe,
yāvad-eva sītassa paṭighātāya, uṇhassa paṭighātāya,
only to ward off the cold, to ward off the heat,
ḍaṁsamakasavātātapasiriṁsapasamphassānaṁ paṭighātāya,
to ward off contact with gadflies, mosquitoes, wind, the heat (of the sun), and creeping things,
yāvad-eva hirikopīnapaṭicchādanatthaṁ....
only as a cover for the shameful parts....

And similarly for food, for a dwelling, and for medicine.

But wait a minute. Even in the Pali recitation there is something that doesn't quite fit with this surface reading of today's verse in which counteracting suffering is identified with bitter medicine. The verse on how to make use of a dwelling finishes with the phrase paṭisallānārāmatthaṁ, “so as to delight in seclusion.”

When we stop and think about it, what is so bitter about being protected from extremes of cold and heat, and from contact with gadflies, mosquitoes and creepy crawlies?

Again, referring back to the material things cited in BC11.37, starting with water, what is inherently bitter about using those objects? What is so bitter, when we are thirsty, about being able to drink drinking water?

In his introduction to his translation of the Reflections (Paccavekkhaṇā), Ānandajoti Bhikkhu describes these recitations as encouraging frugality and contentment. So therein might lie an alternative answer to the bodhisattva's question –
Q: “Who would admit to relishing enjoyments while engaged in counteracting suffering?”
A: “A wise person in possession of himself, being frugal and content, might admit to relishing enjoyments just in that very moment when engaged in the work of counteracting suffering.”

There again, a verse recited after a meal eaten in the formal manner, in a Zen temple in Japan, begins:
This water I have used to wash my bowl,
Tastes like sweet dew from heaven...

As regards the second half of today's verse, for the moment, I rest my case.

Having understood the second half of today's verse like this, what are we to make of what the bodhisattva says in the first half?

One way of understanding is in terms of the distinction between the mass of living creatures or ordinary human beings (prajānām) who are not wise yet, and a wise man (prājñaḥ) who is wise already. For the former, simple material requisites like water, food, a dwelling and a robe have not yet become objects whose use is associated with true enjoyment. For the latter, to use those objects well, with frugality and contentment, in the context of the living of a simple life, might be the very essence of enjoyment.

For those of us still included in the former group, incidentally, i.e. for those for whom work on the self remains to be done, for those for whom developing remains to be developed, for those like Nanda was before his realization of the worthy state, the Buddha recommended the practice of bhāvana employing a variety of nimitta, usually translated “a subject of meditation,” but more literally “a cause,” “a factor” or (to borrow a key term from Alexander work on the self) “a stimulus.” So the appearance of the word nimitta in the 1st pāda may well be intended as an allusion to such work on the self.

To come back, however, to the main point...
Q: Why did Master Tendo Nyojo refuse from an appreciative donor a gift of gold bullion?
A: Because the Chinese Zen Master, in his real wisdom, being one who knew the score, was simply enjoying his simple life.

In today's verse the bodhisattva calls the wise one, the one who knows, prajñaḥ, whereas Nāgārjuna at the end of MMK chapter 26 calls him vidvān. But sitting on one round black cushion witnessing breath passing in and out of his nostrils, he might have been the same shaven-headed person. He might have been a prajñaḥ, a wise man, and a vidvān, one who knows, as a result of developing just this knowing...

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 reality making itself known.

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

tasya tasya nirodhena tat-tan nābhipravartate |
duḥkha-skandhaḥ kevalo 'yam evaṁ samyaṅ nirudhyate ||12||
By the ceasing of this one and of that one,

This one no longer advances and that one no longer advances.

This whole aggregate of suffering

In this way is well and truly ceased.

Just this knowing might be what the Buddha knew by sitting under the bodhi tree, and might be what the Buddha knew on the night before he died when, in teaching the truth of alpecchu-saṁtuṣṭi, “wanting little and being content,” the Buddha asserted that a person of small desire already has nirvāṇa.

I have again laboured the point. But the point I am making deserves to be laboured at least to the extent that previous translators have not got it. In Aśvaghoṣa's writing irony is every-present, and today's verse is no exception. But the irony is wicked, and so it has tended to be missed, almost completely, by Buddhist scholars who have seen Aśvaghoṣa as some kind of goody-goody Buddhist evangelist. (Thus, for example, EHJ: What wise man engaged in a remedial process would assume that he is partaking of enjoyments? PO: What wise man, while employing remedies, would think 'I am relishing enjoyments?')

The irony in today's verse, to sum it up, might be that the very thing that the wise relish most, is the work of counteracting suffering – while drinking their washing-up water, while entering a simple dwelling in a secluded place, while putting on a seven-stripe robe, and so on... but primarily with their sitting bones placed on a round meditation cushion.

duḥkha-pratīkāra-nimitta-bhūtāḥ (nom. pl. m.): being causes of counter-acting suffering ; EBC: means for remedying pain; EHJ: means for remedying [people's] suffering
pratīkāra: m. requittal, revenge ; opposition , counteraction , prevention , remedy
nimitta-bhūta: mfn. become or being a cause or reason or means
nimitta: a butt , mark , target ; cause , motive , ground , reason [but see SN Canto 16]
bhūta: mfn. actually happened , true , real (n. an actual occurrence , fact , matter of fact , reality); (ifc.) being or being like anything , consisting of , mixed or joined with

tasmāt: ind. therefore, from that
prajānām (gen. pl.): f. living creatures, mankind, people
viṣayāḥ (nom. pl.): m. objects, sensual enjoyments, objects of the senses
na: not
bhogāḥ (nom. pl.): m. enjoyment ; any object of enjoyment (as food , a festival &c )

aśnāmi = 1st pers. sg. aś: to eat, consume, enjoy
bhogān (acc. pl.): m. enjoyment ; any object of enjoyment (as food , a festival &c )
iti: “...,” thus
kaḥ (nom. sg. m.): who?
abhyupeyāt = 3rd pers. sg. opt. abhy-upa-√i: to go near ; to admit as an argument or a position
prājñaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a wise man

pratīkāra: m. requital ; revenge; opposition , counteraction , prevention , remedy
pratīkāra-vidhau (loc. sg.): the counteracting
vidhi: m. use , employment , application ; a means , expedient for ; (ifc. often pleonastically e.g. mathana-vidhi , the [act of] disturbing)
pravṛttān (acc. pl. m.): mfn. going to , bound for (acc. loc.); devoted to (loc.)
pravṛttaḥ [EHJ] (nom. sg. m.): mfn. purposing or going to , bent upon (dat. loc. , or comp.) ; engaged in , occupied with , devoted to (loc. or comp.); acting , proceeding , dealing with (loc.)

是故應當知 五欲非自在
如人得熱病 求諸冷治藥

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