Tuesday, July 1, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.40: Glowing Appreciation of the Inhibitory Act

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Indravajrā)
yaḥ pitta-dāhena vidahyamānaḥ śīta-kriyāṁ bhoga iti vyavasyet |
duḥkha-pratīkāra-vidhau pravttaḥ kāmeṣu kuryāt-sa hi bhoga-saṁjñām || 11.40

For he who, when burning with a bilious fever,

Would consider a cooling action to be an enjoyment –

He is the one who, while engaged in counteracting suffering,

Might call desires an enjoyment.

Today's verse represents the conclusion of a series of five verses which began (in BC11.36) with the bodhisattva introducing for consideration the view that “desires (kāmāḥ) are enjoyments (bhogāḥ).”

And for each of the preceding four verses I have contrasted the ostensible meaning with a more profound hidden meaning.

The ostensible meaning has been that material objects of desire, like clothes, water, food, and a dwelling, are no more objects to be enjoyed than a disagreeable medical intervention (like a bitter medicine) is an object to be enjoyed. Today's verse fits that medical simile very well, with its discussion of a bilious fever and śīta-kriyā (EBC: “cold appliances”; EHJ: “cold treatment”; PO: “cold remedies”).

The hidden meaning, carrying on from the previous series of verses from BC11.22, has been that a wise person, a person in possession of himself, is just the person who is able to enjoy (or at least to appreciate for what they really are) all material things and immaterial phenomena in the universe. Thus desires, or objects of desire – even if, as the bodhisattva says in BC11.36, no desire is to be reckoned [intellectually] as “to be enjoyed” – can in fact be enjoyed, or appreciated as occupying their place in the Lotus Universe. I cited examples of washing up water being appreciated for its sweet taste of heavenly dew, and a secluded dwelling being enjoyed for its delightful seclusion.

I must admit, however, that such hidden meaning in today's verse is more difficult to find. Have I been guilty of hubris? Were the three professors in fact the ones who took the point simply, as Aśvaghoṣa intended? Have I, in trying to be too clever, led myself up the garden path?

Each of the three professors translates today's verse as if the subject is some kind of fool; and it is in fact, with a literal translation, difficult to escape that reading. Hence:

He who, when burned with the heat of bilious fever, maintains that cold appliances are an enjoyment, when he is only engaged in alleviating pain, — he indeed might give the name of enjoyment to pleasures. (EBC)

For he who, burning with a bilious fever, should decide that cold treatment was enjoyment, even he, when engaged in a remedial process, would have the idea that the passions were enjoyment. (EHJ)

A man who, as he's burning with bilious fever, decides 'cold remedies are enjoyments,' /He, indeed, while using remedies for suffering, would give the name 'enjoyments' to pleasures.' //(PO)

A literal translation that brought out the ostensible description of a sick fool might be like this:

For he who, when burning with a bilious fever, would contend that a cold application is an enjoyment,/ He is the one who, while engaged in counteracting suffering, might affix onto desires the name “enjoyment.” //

To dig out a hidden meaning, then, the first point is whether the wise one, the person in possession of himself (as opposed to the fool who is the ostensible subject), can be he who burns with a bilious fever.

Did the Buddha himself, for example, ever burn with a bilious fever? I am not sure, but certainly we know from the Pali Suttas that the Buddha was not immune from the intestinal disease he contracted shortly before his death.

On a deeper and more costly level of consideration, in Shobogenzo chap. 17, Hokke-ten-hokke (loosely translated: The Lotus Universe Turns Itself),  Dogen considers the metaphor of the burning house. Exactly who he describes as burning in there, I cannot remember off hand. Maybe I should look it up. 

In the 2nd pāda, then, a possible way out, a potential means of escape, appears in the ambiguous phrase śīta-kriyā, in which kriyā ostensibly means (as per the MW dictionary) “medical treatment” or “applying a remedy.” So śīta-kriyā ostensibly means something like the application of a cold treatment. First up, however, kriyā means act or action, and the compound śīta-kriyā is in fact defined in the dictionary in a non-medical context as “the act of cooling” (and referenced to mālavikāgnimitra).

You should be able to see for yourself where I am going with this. I agree that the reading I am working towards is far from obvious. And some would see it as far-fetched. But consider it like this:

Is Aśvaghoṣa suggesting that only a fool enjoys being deluded as part of a painful process?
Or is Aśvaghoṣa suggesting that only one who is wise can enjoy – in the sense of truly appreciating, and not shrinking in fear from – being deluded as part of a painful process?

If you agree with me that there is meaning in the latter, then why doesn't Aśvaghoṣa state the case less obliquely? Why doesn't he come straight out and say what he means? Why does everything have to be couched in such irony?

When I ask myself that question, several things come to mind in the way of partial answers.

The first is the classical economics which was my favourite A level subject nearly 40 years ago. I thought I was quite good at it. But what was I quite good at? Understanding a load of theoretical nonsense based on assumptions – like rational behaviour on the part of consumers and producers, and goal congruence between managers and shareholders, not to mention “perfect knowledge” -- that all turned out to be totally spurious. I might have been better off studying Shakespeare and getting from that at least a vicarious taste of cosmic irony.

Another justification might be the tendency for people who aspire to be the best, the purest, the holiest, the most reverend, to turn out to be the worst, the most sordid, the most despicable. I am talking about the kind of Catholic priest who has abused children in his care, and the kind of Buddhist master who has disseminated to his disciples mainly HIV. Thus, in the news today, a wholesome celebrity like Rolf Harris turns out not to have been so wholesome after all.

And last but not least I think of my own experience, both before and since stumbling upon the discoveries of FM Alexander, who taught us with great clarity to see that what we feel to be up is liable to be down.

To put it another way, Alexander work showed that in trying to do the up, I the ignorant one (avidvān), the doer (kārakaḥ), fixed and pulled myself down... and the consequences of my ignorance were many and regrettable.  

On the bright side, however, when I inquire into the meaning of the three verses of Nāgārjuna's quoted yesterday, I have got plenty of raw material on which to draw. 

Yesterday as I sat, the two ablative phrases seemed to be demanding deeper inquiry --  tattva-darśanāt (because of reality making itself known) and jñānasyāyaiva bhavanāt (because of bringing-into-being just this knowing).

Both ablative phrases can be read as pointing to the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda.

In the usual reading of pratītya-samutpāda, as “dependent/conditional origination,” seeing reality or reality making itself known is synonymous with dissolution of egocentric ignorance, and, equally, this knowing means penetrating, or really understanding, the doctrine of dependent origination.

But Nāgārjuna was a Zen patriarch whose teaching Bodhidharma transmitted into China primarily by the act of sitting facing a wall. Thinking further in that light about the meaning of jñānasyāsyaiva, it occured to me that jñāna is another one of those -na neuter action nouns, in which case it can literally be translated as “act of knowing” and so jñānasyāsyaiva means “just this act of knowing” or “nothing but this act of knowing.”

Again, thinking still further along these lines, and sitting further along these lines, not only jñāna but also bhāvana and darśana are -na neuter action nouns. So a translation of tattva-darśanāt which conveys more of a sense of action, and which at the same time fits with the sense of the wise one not being the doer, is “because of reality's act of making itself known.”

My point is that before the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda suggests primarily psychological and intellectual realizations like dissolution of the ego and understanding of a doctrine, pratītya-samutpāda suggests to me something more contained in action. Something more akin to what is called in practical Alexander work “going up” – going up not by doing but as an act of spontaneous springing up, having come back to quiet, having come back to oneself. 

Not so much an act of doing as an act of non-doing. Not so much an act of doing as an act of knowing. 

So not so much the doctrine of dependent origination as the act of Springing Up, having gone back. In short, Springing Up by going back. 

Going back, or going deep. I don't know. Getting up out of bed, in the depth of burning delusion, and, as the ignorant one, the habitual unenlightened doer, going to sit.

saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ |
avidvān kārakas tasmān na vidvāṁs tattva-darśanāt ||MMK26.10||
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's act of making itself known.

avidyāyāṁ niruddhāyāṁ saṁskārāṇām asaṁbhavaḥ |
avidyāyā nirodhas tu jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt ||MMK26.11||
In the ceasing of ignorance,

There is the non-coming-into-being of formations.

The cessation of ignorance, however,

Is because of the act of bringing-into-being just this knowing.

tasya tasya nirodhena tat-tan nābhipravartate |
duḥkha-skandhaḥ kevalo 'yam evaṁ samyaṅ nirudhyate ||MMK26.12||
By the destruction of each,

Each is discontinued.

This whole edifice of suffering

Is thus totally demolished.

Translated like this, these verses fit well with the identification Gudo Nishijima made between the 3rd noble truth (originally the truth of cessation) and what he called the philosophy of action – wherein, in the present moment, Gudo asserted, lies the solution to all problems in human life.

In Alexander work, analogously, it is said that direction is the truest form of inhibition.

Coming back finally to today's verse in Aśvghoṣa's epic tale of Awakened Action, is there some sense, then, in which śīta-kriyā, which the dictionary gives as “the act of cooling” might be synonymous with jñānasāsyaiva, “just this act of knowing” – just, in other words, this inhibitory act of sitting?

Is the ultimate secret of the simplicity of Zen that this single inhibitory act, all by itself, has the power to bring the whole edifice of suffering tumbling down?

sarva-dṛṣṭi-prahāṇāya yaḥ saddharmam adeśayat |
anukampām upādāya taṁ namasyāmi gautamam ||MMK27.30||
In the direction of abandoning all views,

He taught the true dharma,

Using compassion.

I bow to him, Gautama.

yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
pitta-dāhena (inst. sg.): m. a bilious fever
pitta: n. bile , the bilious humour (one of the three humours [cf. kapha and vāyu] or that secreted between the stomach and bowels and flowing through the liver and permeating spleen , heart , eyes , and skin ; its chief quality is heat)
dāha: m. burning, heat
vidahyamānaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. vi- √ dah: to burn up

śīta-kriyām (acc. sg.): f. the act of cooling
śīta: mfn. cold , cool , chilly , frigid; dull , apathetic , sluggish , indolent ; n. cold , coldness , cold weather
kriyā: f. doing , performing , performance , occupation with (in comp.) , business , act , action , undertaking , activity , work , labour ; medical treatment or practice , applying a remedy , cure
bhogaḥ (nom. sg.): m. an enjoyment
iti: “..,” thus
vyavasyet = 3rd pers. sg. opt. vy-ava-√so: to differ (in opinion) , contest , quarrel ; to ponder , reflect , consider

duḥkha-pratīkāra-vidhau (loc. sg.): a means of counter-acting suffering
pravṛttaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. engaged in
kāmeṣu (loc. pl.): m. desires
kuryāt = 3rd pers. sg. kṛ: to do, make
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
hi: for
bhoga-saṁjñām (acc. sg. f.): the name “enjoyment”

貪求止苦患 愚夫謂自在
而彼資生具 亦非定止苦

又令苦法増 故非自在法

[Relation with Sanskrit tenuous] 

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