Tuesday, July 8, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.47: The Royal State of Exhausting Self for Others

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Ārdrā)
yadā ca jitvāpi mahīṁ samagrāṁ vāsāya dṣṭaṁ puram-ekam-eva |
tatrāpi caikaṁ bhavanaṁ niṣevyaṁ śramaḥ parārthe nanu rāja-bhāvaḥ || 11.47

And when it is realized that,
even after a king has conquered the whole earth,

Only one city can serve as the royal seat –

And in that city, again, only one palace can be lived in
[or only one field can be cultivated] –

Is not the royal state the exhausting of oneself for others?

In preparing today's verse a couple of things suggested to me that, notwithstanding the self-doubt which tends to plague me when I wake up every morning (or middle of the night), I might be on the right track in my efforts to understand the current series of verses.

First of all, in commenting on yesterday's verse, even before studying today's verse, I had the idea to say something further about who, empirically thinking, has the confidence that allows them to breathe easy.

That person might be someone who, to a principle that he or she knows works in practice, is working constructively for others. 

I thought of a brain surgeon like Henry Marsh, going to Ukraine out of the very best of motives.

I thought of past lives in which I myself have been empowered by taking on a leadership role (there being, as per the gospel of David Brent, no “i” in team).

For a more predictable example, one thinks of the Dalai Lama.

For an example closer to home there is Frederique the exacting (Fr: exigeant) builder who is making a racket next door as I write – though Frederique's constructive ethos, and ease of breathing, must be compromised by his habit of drawing extremely deeply on French cigarettes.

Anyway, the point is that the confidence that allows us to breathe easy is not always a function of gazing at our own navel – it rather tends to emerge from sincere effort, forgetting ourself, to help others.

And that track of thought which yesterday's verse stimulated me to follow, it now turns out, is tending to be confirmed by the gist of today's verse, in the bodhisattva's suggestion that the royal state is exhausting oneself for others.

The second encouraging sign was that when I prepared the vocabulary for today's verse some weeks ago, I copied and posted only the ostensible meaning of bhavana: n. a place of abode , mansion , home , house , palace , dwelling. But when I came yesterday to study the verse in earnest, in light of the layer of hidden meaning unearthed hitherto, I checked the dictionary again to see if any secondary meaning of bhavana might be relevant, and sure enough found this one: n. the place where anything grows.

That secondary meaning seemed to me to hit the target bang in the middle. Because in the final analysis, there might be only one criterion for a good place to live in and to cultivate. (Niṣevyam includes both these meanings of “to be inhabited” and “to be cultivated”, and many more meanings also). And the criterion might be that the place should be a place of growth, a place where one can develop.

That development, I should like to argue again, might ultimately be in the direction of non-doing – in which case, a quiet, secluded place might be good.

Again, in llight of Nāgārjuna's words as quoted yesterday, it might be more accurate to say that – in the business of non-doing – what we are called upon to develop or to cultivate or to bring into being,  is just an act of knowing:

avidyāyāṁ niruddhāyāṁ saṁskārāṇām asaṁbhavaḥ |
avidyāyā nirodhas tu jñānasāsyaiva bhāvanāt ||MMK26.11

In the ceasing of ignorance,

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

The cessation of ignorance, however,

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

Just a little over 20 years ago when I was writing my introduction to the Shobogenzo translation, I focused in on the Chinese characters 無為, Wu-wei (Jap: MU-I), and their relation with the Sanskrit asaṁskṛta. In the first sentence of Shobogenzo, Dogen describes sitting-Zen as 無為, MU-I. My teacher Gudo Nishijima originally translated 無為 as "natural," but I changed to "without intention" in order to preserve the negative. The Jap-Eng dictionary gives "idleness, inactivity."

At that time, strange as it may sound, I was not familiar with the words "non-doing." If I were translating that opening sentence now I would want to go out of my way to translate 無為 as "non-doing” or “free of doing”:
When the buddha-tathāgatas, each having received the one-to-one transmission of the splendid Dharma, experience the excellent truth of bodhi, they possess a subtle method which is supreme and free of doing.

When todays' verse is read in this light, the irony implicit in today's verse might be that when the most excellent truth of bodhi is seen or realized (dṛṣtam) by buddha-tathāgatas, those ones who are wise tend to become very active, and not at all idle, in doing what can be done to transmit the truth of non-doing to others.

This seems to be supported by what the Buddha tells Nanda at the end of SN Canto 18:

vihāya tasmād-iha kāryam-ātmanaḥ kuru sthirātman para-kāryam-apy-atho /
Therefore forgetting the work that needs to be done in this world on the self,
do now, stout soul, what can be done for others.
bhramatsu sattveṣu tamo-vṛtātmasu śruta-pradīpo niśi dhāryatām-ayam // 18.57
Among beings who are wandering in the night, their minds shrouded in darkness,
let the lamp of this transmission be carried.

A final reflection, having prepared the above and then slept on it and sat, is that today's verse can be read as pointing to the first four of the eight realizations of a great human being. Which is to say that, for a realized king of dharma, there is satisfaction  in small desire  (being content with one seat); there is enjoyment of peace and quiet (one field conducive to growth); and there is persistent effort (exhausting self to help others).

It was Dogen's record of this teaching in Chinese and Japanese which, above all, inspired me to want to go back and find the original source of it in Sanskrit.

yadā: since
ca: and
jitva = abs. ji: to conquer, win ; to be victorious , gain the upper hand
api: even
mahīm (acc. sg.): f. the great earth
samagrām (acc. sg. f.): mfn. whole, entire

vāsāya (dat. sg.): m. staying , remaining (esp. " overnight ") , abiding , dwelling , residence ; place or seat of (gen.) ; state , situation , condition
dṣṭam: ind. (acc. sg. n.): being seen, visibly, evidently
puram (nom. sg.): n. city
ekam (nom. sg. n.): one
eva: (emphatic)

tatra: ind. there
api: even
ca: and
ekam (nom. sg. n.): one
bhavanam (nom. sg.): n. a place of abode , mansion , home , house , palace , dwelling ; n. coming into existence , birth , production ; n. the place where anything grows (ifc. = field).
niṣevyam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. to be frequented or enjoyed
ni-√sev: to stay in , abide or have intercourse with (loc.) ; (with acc.) to frequent , inhabit , visit , serve , attend , honour , worship , follow , approach , enjoy (also sexually) , incur , pursue , practise , perform , cultivate , use , employ

śramaḥ (nom. sg.): m. fatigue , weariness , exhaustion ; exertion , toil
parārthe: ind. for another or for others or for something else)
nanu: ind. (interr.) not? is it not?
rāja-bhāvaḥ (nom. sg. m.): being a king; the rank of a king

雖王四天下 用皆不過一
營求於萬事 唐苦何益身

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