Sunday, July 6, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.45: Pre-eminent Power & Final Knowledge

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Vāṇī)
ājñā n-patye 'bhyadhiketi yat syān-mahānti duḥkhāny-ata eva rājñaḥ |
āsaṅga-kāṣṭha-pratimo hi rājā lokasya hetoḥ parikhedam-eti || 11.45

As for the point 
that to a protector of men accrues pre-eminent power,

For that very reason are a king's sufferings great;

For a king is like a wooden peg –

He becomes worn down, for the sake of the world.

If a buried layer of meaning is to be dug out of today's verse, the ambiguity might centre on the first word of the verse, ājñā, used in connection with those expressions – protector of men (nṛpa) or king (rājan) – which Aśvaghoṣa so frequently uses when speaking metaphorically about a/the king of dharma.

The MW dictionary gives ājñā as: f. order, command; authority, unlimited power; permission.

In the Pali Suttas, however, aññā (“final knowledge”) expresses the destination of ekāyano, “a one-way path.” Thus in the final section of The Long Discourse about the Ways of Attending to Mindfulness (Mahāsatipaṭṭhānasuttaṁ;DN 22), the Buddha promises:

Yo hi koci, bhikkhave, ime cattāro satipaṭṭhāne evaṁ bhāveyya sattavassāni,
Whoever, monks, should develop these four ways of attending to mindfulness in this way for seven years,
tassa dvinnaṁ phalānaṁ aññataraṁ phalaṁ pāṭikaṅkhaṁ:
for him, out of two results, a particular result is to be expected:
diṭṭhe va dhamme aññā; sati vā upādisese anāgāmitā.
final knowledge in this very life; or, there being some attachment remaining, the state of non-returner.

The title of SN Canto 18 is ājñā-vyākaraṇaḥ, in which compound ājñā is thus ambiguous – it could mean the Buddha's order / permission to Nanda to teach; or it could mean Nanda's own final knowledge. Again, not only ājñā but also vyākaraṇa is ambiguous: it could mean Nanda's manifestation of his final knowledge; or it could mean the Buddha's revelation of his order; or it could mean the Buddha's affirmation of Nanda's final knowledge. So the only thing I feel confident about in translating that Canto title “Knowing / Affirmation,” is that Aśvaghoṣa – assuming he did indeed compose the title – intended the ambiguity.

As in the title of SN Canto 18 then, so also I suspect in today's verse, Aśvaghoṣa is utilizing the ambiguity of ājñā to cause the bodhisattva's words to speak to us on two levels.

Ostensibly the bodhisattva is continuing to make the argument that life is not all pleasure even for a king. Even the life of a monarch, he is accurately perceiving, is full of disagreeable duties – like having to shake hands with a lot of disagreeable dignitaries (saltaire-waving Scottish first minister Alex Salmond springs to mind) in the process of launching a new battleship, to cite one example from this week's news.

But at the unconscious level, at the level at which the bodhisattva may not know what he is saying, what might the bodhisattva be saying?

In what sense are the sufferings great of one who has caused the whole edifice of suffering to be demolished?

Again, do the efforts that a king of dharma makes on behalf of humanity cause him to become exhausted, or energized, or both? Do those efforts wear him out and wear him down, or do they cause him to develop and to grow?

These might be questions that we can only truly answer on the basis of what an arhat knows, for, as the Buddha tells Nanda in SN Canto 18:

avaiti buddhaṃ nara-damya-sārathiṃ kṛtī yathārhann-upaśānta-mānasaḥ /
An arhat, a man of action whose mind has come to quiet,
knows the Buddha as a charioteer of human steeds who needed taming:
na dṛṣṭa-satyo 'pi tathāvabudhyate pṛthag-janaḥ kiṃbata buddhimān-api // SN18.51 
Not even a truth-seer appreciates the Buddha in this manner:
how much less does an ordinary person, however intelligent he may be?

Perhaps it is because I am grumpy old bastard, but when I read this verse it confirms me in my prejudice that bearded professors of clinical psychology who take it on themselves to teach the “ancient wisdom” of mindfulness while sitting on chairs, and commentators grounded in scientific method who, while also sitting on chairs, understand pratītya-samutpāda as if it were a doctrine about how everything in the world arises depending on everything else, are both somehow missing the most fundamental point.

Thus, talking of mindfulness in SN Canto 15, the Buddha as Aśvaghoṣa records him says:

yatra tatra vivikte tu baddhvā paryaṅkam-uttamam /
In whatever place of solitude you are, cross the legs in the supreme manner
ṛjuṃ kāyaṃ samādhāya smṛtyābhimukhayānvitaḥ // SN15.1 //
And align the body so that it tends straight upward;
thus attended by mindfulness that is directed...

And in so writing Aśvaghoṣa was singing from the same hymn sheet that is recorded in many Pali Suttas which contain very similar phraseology, for example:

Katamā c' Ānanda ānāpānasati?
Now what, Ānanda, is mindfulness while breathing?
Idh' Ānanda bhikkhu araññagato vā, rukkhamūlagato vā,
Here, Ānanda, a monk who has gone to the wilderness, or to the root of a tree,
suññāgāragato vā, nisīdati.
or to an empty place, sits down.
Pallaṅkaṁ ābhujitvā, ujuṁ kāyaṁ paṇidhāya,
After folding his legs crosswise, setting his body straight,
parimukhaṁ satiṁ upaṭṭhapetvā,
and establishing mindfulness at the front,
so sato va assasati, sato passasati.
mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out.

So both these sources, Sanskrit and Pali, for a practitioner who has found a place of solitude, observe a certain order, viz:
(1) Crossing the legs – Skt: baddhvā paryaṅkam; Pali: pallaṅkaṁ ābhujitvā;
(2) Causing the body to tend straight upwards – Skt. ṛjuṃ kāyaṃ samādhāya; Pali: ujuṁ kāyaṁ paṇidhāya;
(3) Existence of mindfulness – Skt. smṛti; Pali: sati.

The use of absolutive forms in these  quotes I see as significant. The absolutive form expresses precedence of one verb over another -- so crossing the legs, and then directing the body up, and then establishing mindfulness. Of course it doesn't mean that one shouldn't be mindfully aware even in the process of going to a secluded place and sitting down. The use of the absolutives rather suggests, to me at least, how the matter of crossing the legs was seen as being of primary importance. 

Of course in saying this I am playing to my own practical strength (and I use the singular advisedly) because sitting in lotus is one thing I have not been lazy in practising over the past 30 years. But in my book, for one, the Buddha's teaching of smṛti/sati, and of pratītya-samutpāda, are totally bound up with the act of sitting with the legs crossed in the supreme manner.

In SN Canto 17 Aśvaghoṣa charts Nanda's progress along the one-way path leading to final knowledge. When he arrives at this final, liberating knowledge, Nanda sings the praises of the compassionate teacher through whose own final, liberating knowledge the dart was extracted:

Tasyājñayā kāruṇikasya śāstur-hṛdi-stham-utpāṭya hi rāga-śalyam /
For through the liberating knowledge of the compassionate teacher
who extracted a dart of passion that was lodged in my heart,
adyaiva tāvat su-mahat sukhaṃ me sarva-kṣaye kiṃ-bata nirvṛtasya // SN17.65 
Now such abundant ease is mine 
-- Oh! how happy I am in the loss of everything!

On the way to this final knowledge, Nanda has realized one by one the four fruits of the noble dharma, has passed through the four dhyānas, and has cut the ten fetters, the last of which is ignorance.

Along the way Nanda makes much of mindfulness – both before and after his realization of four stages of sitting-meditation. Before he gets to the first dhyāna, he employs the four ways of attending to mindfulness like four arrows (SN17.25); he employs the five powers, including mindfulness, to break new ground; and employs the eight branches of the path, including mindfulness, like eight war elephants (SN17.26). Having already realized the fourth dhyāna he employs the seven limbs of awakening, including mindfulness, again, like seven war elephants (SN17.58).

All this war effort culminating in the destruction of ignorance is in fact predicated in the first place on mindful awareness. Hence:

ṛjuṃ samagraṃ praṇidhāya kāyaṃ kāye smṛtiṃ cābhimukhīṃ vidhāya /
By first directing the whole body up,
and thus keeping his awareness turned towards the body,
sarvendriyāṇy-ātmani saṃnidhāya sa tatra yogaṃ prayataḥ prapede // SN17.4
And thus integrating in his person all the senses,
there he threw himself all-out into practice.

But this mindful awareness, in turn, is predicated on sitting with the legs crossed:

sa pādayos-tatra vidhāya śaucaṃ śucau śive śrīmati vṛkṣa-mūle /
Having washed his feet there, 
Nanda, by a clean, auspicious, and splendid tree-root,
mokṣāya baddhvā vyavasāya-kakṣāṃ paryaṅkam-aṅkāvahitaṃ babandha // SN17.3 
Girded on the intention to come undone, and sat with legs fully crossed.

In conclusion, then, today's verse as I read it, below the surface, is a stimulus to keep working constantly in the direction of final, liberating knowledge (ājñā). And we might not know yet what that knowledge is, but we can be sure that, in the Buddha's day at least, the work was done primarily by sitting with the legs crossed.

ājñā (nom. sg.): f. order , command ; authority , unlimited power
nṛ-patye = dat. sg. nṛpati: m. " lord of men " , king , prince , sovereign
abhyadhikā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. surpassing ; exceeding the common measure , pre-eminent , extraordinary
iti: “....,” thus
yat: (relative pronoun) that
syāt: ind. (3. sg. Pot. of √1. as) it may be , perhaps , perchance

mahānti (nom. pl. n.): mfn. great
duḥkhāni (nom. pl.): n. pain, suffering, hardship
ataḥ: ind. from this, hence
eva: (emphatic)
rājñaḥ (gen. sg.): m. a king

āsaṅga-kāṣṭha-pratimaḥ (nom. sg. m.): like a wooden peg
āsaṅga-kāṣṭha: n. a peg, Bcar. xi, 45.
āsaṅga: m. the act of clinging to or hooking on
kāṣṭha: n. a piece of wood or timber , stick
pratimā: f. likeness (ifc. like , similar , resembling , equal to )
hi: for
rājā (nom. sg.): m. king

lokasya (gen. sg.): the world
hetoḥ (gen. sg.): for, on account of
parikhedam (acc. sg.): m. lassitude , weariness , exhaustion
pari- √ khid: to be depressed or afflicted , feel uneasy ; Caus. -khedayati , to trouble , afflict , destroy
khid: to strike , press , press down ; to be depressed or wearied
eti = 3rd pers. sg. i: to go to or towards (with acc.)

教令衆奉用 以王爲勝者
教令即是苦 猶擔能任重

普銓世輕重 衆苦集其身 

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