Thursday, July 3, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.42: Blaming Moonbeams

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Premā
gurūṇi vāsāṁsy-agurūṇi caiva sukhāya śīte hy-asukhāya gharme |
candrāṁśavaś-candanam-eva coṣṇe sukhāya duḥkhāya bhavanti śīte || 11.42

For garments which are heavy (guru),
and sticks of fragrant aloe wood (aguru),

Are agreeable in the cold but not so in the summer heat;

While moonbeams and fragrant sandalwood

Are agreeable in the heat but disagreeable in the cold.

The 1st pāda of today's verse contains a play on guru, which means heavy, and aguru, “not heavy,” which is the name given to the Aloe tree and the fragrant wood of that tree, used for incense (and for fragrant firewood?). 

Wordplay aside, the bodhisattva is illustrating the assertion he made yesterday that there is nothing absolute about desires. He made that assertion in order to justify his refusal to recognize that desires can be enjoyments. Because desires are not absolute, he is saying, they should not be called enjoyments. 

So even though what the bodhisattva observes in today's verse is true, his underlying reasoning still strikes me as false, and born of ignorance. 

We all know what it is like to go for a walk in spring or summer, or even on a sunny day in winter, wearing a layer that we didn't need to wear. The warm coat becomes unwanted baggage, a pain, an inconvience, something disagreable, not an enjoyment but something for suffering (duḥkhāya). But does that disqualify a warm coat, on a bitterly cold winter's day, from being called an enjoyment?

If the non-absolute nature of desires disqualifies them from being called an enjoyment, then what can be called an enjoyment?

Are plum flowers and cherry blossoms non-absolute desires?

If the answer is no, plum flowers are absolutely real, then when in the early spring a Zen master like Tendo Nyojo desired to see and to smell them, desires just there and then were absolute, and so the bodhisattva's premise is wrong.

If the answer is yes, plum flowers are relative and transitory, not absolute, then how come Zen masters in China like Tendo Nyojo so famously enjoyed the non-absolute plum blossoms when, in a brief window between winter and spring, the plum blossoms arrived? How come Zen masters could call their desires, despite the non-absolute nature of those desires, “enjoyment”?

Did Aśvaghoṣa intend us to ask such questions? I suspect he did. And if Aśvaghoṣa himself was responsible for the Canto title kāma-vigarhaṇaḥ, “Blaming Desires,” then I am damn sure he did. Because if we were to blame desires for human suffering, we might as well blame moonbeams and plum blossoms.

No, the real root of suffering is not desires, except insofar as those desires are born of ignorance.

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.

Yesterday in connection with these verses of Nāgārjuna's I had a Q & A session with myself along the following lines.

Question: What are saṁskārāḥ, the volitional formations? 
Answer: What the ignorant one, the doer, forms.

Question: What is jñānasya, this knowing? 
Answer: What the wise one, the non-doer, knows – as opposed to what the ignorant doer does not know.

Question: What is jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvana, the act of bringing-into-being just this knowing? 
Answer: It might be nothing intellectual but rather an integral act of allowing; naturally becoming one piece; body and mind spontaneously dropping away; a human being's original features emerging. 

When saṁskārān (nouns from the root saṁs-√kṛ) are understood like this, as a function of the ignorant doer, a translation of saṁskārān that presents itself is “doings.” In which case saṁskaroti (verb from the root saṁs-√kṛ) would naturally translated as “he does" -- except that "he does" might be too weak as a translation of saṁskaroti. 

Here is a somewhat interpretive translation then (interpretive inasfar as it resorts to square brackets), retaining "he forms":  

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

The doings which are the root of saṁsāra

Thus the ignorant one forms.

The ignorant one therefore is the doer;

The wise one is not, 
because of the act of realizing the truth [of non-doing].

I hope somebody else might find this helpful. For myself, I find that endeavouring to figure out how best to translate such core teachings helps me (unless I am deluding myself) in the direction of clarity. If there are any Alexander teachers reading this, I hope they at least would find this kind of translation helpful.

To come back again to today's verse, I think the relevance has to do with the ignorance behind the bodhisattva's dodgy reasoning. Which is to say that false reasoning might not always be the fruit of ignorance. But when false reasoning is used to justify the blaming of what does not deserve to be blamed -- that might be a true manifestation of ignorance. 

In general, for those of us who aspire to sit as the Buddha sat, as the act of bringing-into-being this knowing, our ignorance is not the ignorance of the gross sensualist. Our ignorance is more liable to be the ignorance of the aspirer, the striver, the doer. And for this reason, I suspect, Aśvaghoṣa is presenting the bodhisattva's words as a kind of case-study in how this more subtle form of ignorance operates.

I think that Aśvaghoṣa wishes us to see, by working it out for ourselves, that this more subtle form of ignorance is behind the bodhisattva's tendency to put the blame – as aspirants to sainthood are ever wont to put the blame – on desires, and especially sensual desires.

What is truly to blame, in the end, is not so much desires as ignorance. And so putting the blame on what is not truly to blame might be a subtle, or not-so-subtle, manifestation of a bodhisattva's not yet having ceased the ignorance that remains for a bodhisattva to cease.

If desires were the original cause of suffering, and if God existed, then the wise course, as the Dalai Lama has most perspicaciously pointed out, would be to pray for God's help in overcoming sinful desires.

But if the original cause of suffering resides in ignorance, then never mind about prayer, and never mind about desires: we are called upon somehow to stop doing what the ignorant one does, and somehow to bring into being instead what the wise one knows.

Mindful awareness evidently has a supporting role to play in this process. But fundamentally bhāvana, as an -na neuter action noun, might mean “an act of bringing-into-being” and jñāna similarly might mean “an act of knowing.” And so herein might lie the ultimate value of just sitting, as an act of non-doing.

Herein also might lie the very great difficulty of just sitting, insofar as it is akin to being required to knock over very many skittles with one ball.

All of which puts me in mind of the metaphor that sometimes you have to go and climb, or at least venture onto the foothills of, another mountain, in order to have a proper look at your home mountain. For me, investigating what bhāvana means to a monk like Ānandajoti Bhikkhu who is steeped in the Pali Suttas, and investigating what bhāvana means to a monk like Matthieu Ricard, who is steeped in the Tibetan tradition, has been that kind of excursion onto the foothills of another mountain in the chain – inspiring, and daunting, in equal measure.

gurūṇi (acc. pl. m.): mfn. heavy
vāsān (acc. pl.): m. a garment , dress , clothes
agurūṇi (acc. pl. m.): mfn. not heavy, light ; mn. the fragrant Aloe wood and tree , Aquilaria Agallocha.
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)

sukhāya (dat. sg.): for pleasure, pleasant
śīte (loc. sg. n.): in the cold
hi: for
asukhāya (dat. sg.): not for pleasure, unpleasant
gharme (loc. sg. m.): in the heat

candrāṁśavaḥ = nom. pl. candrāṁśu = candra-pāda: moon-beam
aṁśu: a filament, ray
candanam (nom. sg.): n. sandal (Sirium myrtifolium , either the tree , wood , or the unctuous preparation of the wood held in high estimation as perfumes
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and
uṣṇe (loc. sg.): in the heat, hot season (June, July)

sukhāya (dat. sg.): for pleasure, pleasant
duḥkhāya (dat. sg.): for pain, for discomfort, uncomfortable
bhavanti = 3rd pers. pl. bhū: to be, become
śīte (loc. sg. n.): in the cold

温衣非常樂 時過亦生苦
月光夏則涼 冬則増寒苦

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