Wednesday, July 16, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.55: Pity the Worrier

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Bālā)
lakṣmyāṁ mahatyām-api vartamānas-tṣṇābhibhūtas-tv-anukaṁpitavyaḥ |
prāpnoti yaḥ śānti-sukhaṁ na ceha paratra duḥkhaiḥ pratighyate ca || 11.55

But he is to be pitied who,
though dwelling in the midst of great riches,

Is defeated by thirsting;

He fails to realize the happiness of peace here and now

And is held in the grip of sufferings to come.

In the 1st pāda of today's verse, great riches might mean the sky, clouds, sun, moon and stars; grass and trees; grass snakes, frogs and toads; beetles and worms and all manner of wild birds – the wren that came and perched on the open skylight this morning, trilling and poking its head in as it watched me sit; a wild fox cub that I saw coming down the hill but who didn't see me by the river because I was sitting still; switching on the radio and hearing genial people commentate on the cricket; the radish seedlings that have just appeared; the home-grown potatoes that I ate yesterday. Stuff, in short, that does not cost much, except attention.

In the 2nd pāda, being defeated by thirsting might mean pulling the head back in one's eagerness to get out of a chair.

In the 3rd pāda, failing to realize the happiness of peace might mean failing to enjoy pain here and now in the legs. 

And in the 4th pāda, sufferings to come might mean suffering that does not exist. 

Pain to be experienced hereafter” (EBC) or “suffering in the life beyond” (EHJ) and “suffering in the hereafter” (PO) is just pain and suffering that does not exist. This, I am sure, is Aśvaghoṣa's ironic intention. 

Sufferings to come are sufferings that in reality do not exist. But that is not to negate the reality of being held.

Yesterday I expressed criticism of my old teacher because he was such an utterly crap teacher of non-doing, when it came to his understanding, or lack of understanding, around the illusory notion that there might be such a thing as a right sitting position. For him, the right sitting position was simply something you did – by tucking in the chin “a little” to keep the neck bones straight vertically, and all the rest of it. It was all just a recipe for being defeated by thirsting.

On the other hand, I have to admit that there was one kind of doing that my teacher was really a master at not doing. I refer to the doing, or the forming of volitional formations, known as worrying. Aśvaghoṣa as I hear him is referring ironically in the 4th pāda to that particular saṁskāra, or volitional formation. 

Yesterday on BBC Radio 4 I heard an interview with Jeremy Farrar, who for 18 years before becoming director of the Wellcome Trust headed up a clinical research unit in Vietnam, studying infectious diseases like bird flu. While having evident very high regard for Vietnamese colleagues, he spoke of there being sometimes a need, in the interest of the progress of science, to counter the Asian tendency to revere seniority for its own sake. I could not agree more.

In certain areas my Zen teacher was a brilliant example of how to be, and was a man of great wisdom. In certain respects his teaching, and his translation work, was so fucking rubbish I don't have words to express how rubbish it was.

This kind of protestation on my part does not fit into people's preconceptions of how things ought to be between a Zen patriarch and his apprentice/disciple. But maybe people ought to be less grounded in Zen preconceptions and more inclined to approach the Buddha's teaching in the spirit of "I fucking love science." 

Anyway, the point of today's verse, as I read it, has to do with not worrying. And when it came to not worrying about right and wrong, my Zen teacher was a great exemplar. 

My teacher's teaching about right posture in Zazen was totally wrong, insofar as my teacher was ignorant in regard to the real meaning of non-doing. In his instruction about how to hold the neck and chin in Zazen, in particular, his teaching was outright pernicious. There was, as Marjory Barlow said when I demonstrated to her the meaning of “keeping the neck bones straight vertically,” no freedom in it.

And yet, in my teacher's blind belief that the way Kodo Sawaki had taught others to sit was the right way to do it, there was a kind of freedom. In the rigid adherence to a certain way of doing things, and a refusal to engage in Christian-style neurotic worry about the rights and wrongs of the situation, there was a certain freedom.

So the challenge for us who do not revere seniority for its own sake, but who revere seniority only insofar as it comes with real wisdom, might be to understand and emulate the freedom from neurotic Western-style worrying, while leaving out all the superfluous Japanese-style doing. Both the Western-style worrying and the Japanese-style doing might be volitional formations that the ignorant one, the doer, forms.

Again, what did Nāgārjuna say? 

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

The doings which are the root of saṁsāra

Thus does the ignorant one do.

The ignorant one therefore is the doer;

The wise one is not, because of reality making itself known.

Coming back to today's verse, then, in the 4th pāda as I read it Aśvaghoṣa is talking about what Marjory Barlow's husband, another protege of FM Alexander called Wilfred Barlow, used to call “static holdings.” To worry about right and wrong, good and bad, is just to be be held in the grip of those static holdings. To worry about future sufferings, again, is just to be be held in the grip of those static holdings.

Marjory taught, as the antidote to such static holding, “Say No, give your directions, and go into movement, without a care in the world. Let it come out in the wash.”

My Zen teacher was pointing roughly in the same direction when he would say, “We should just act.”

lakṣmyām (loc. sg.): f. a good sign , good fortune , prosperity , success , happiness ; wealth, riches
mahatyām (loc. sg. f.): great
api: though
vartamānaḥ = nom. sg. m. pres. part. vṛt: to be , live , exist , be found , remain , stay , abide , dwell ; to be in a partic. condition , be engaged in or occupied with (loc.)

tṛṣṇābhibhūtaḥ (nom. sg. m.): overwhelmed by thirst
abhibhūta: mfn. surpassed , defeated , subdued , humbled ; overcome
tu: but
anukaṁpitavyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. to be pitied

prāpnoti = 3rd pers. sg. pra- √āp: to attain to
yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
śānti-sukham (acc. sg. n.): the happiness of tranquillity
na: not
ca: and
iha: here, in this world

paratra: ind. elsewhere , in another place , in a future state or world , hereafter
duḥkhaiḥ (inst. pl. n.): pains, sufferings, hardships
pratigṛhyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive prati- √ grah: to take hold of , grasp , seize
ca: and

當哀爲王者 其心常虚渇
今世不獲安 後世受苦報

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