Thursday, July 17, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.56: Horses for Courses

⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Sālā
evaṁ tu vaktuṁ bhavato 'nurūpaṁ sattvasya vttasya kulasya caiva |
mamāpi voḍhuṁ sadśaṁ pratijñāṁ sattvasya vttasya kulasya caiva || 11.56

For you to speak like this, in any event,

Befits your character, conduct, and noble house;

And for me also, to keep my promise

Is in conformity with my character, conduct, and noble house.

According to one interpretation of the Buddha's teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, since all is a tangled web of interdependence and the self is an illusion, “you” and “me” are convenient fictions.

But how is it in fact?

If we are talking about character, the look I saw in my son's eyes when he emerged into the world I saw again twelve or thirteen years later when we went shopping for his first cricket bat. Which is to say that when my son was born it was evident to me that he was not a tabla rasa, but was born with his own character. And subsequent events have seemed to me to confirm that perception. 

If we are talking about conduct, in the eyes of the law, if I break the speed limit, it is up to me to take the points on my driving license. If I ask my wife to take one for the team, that is what is known in law as “perverting the course of justice" -- and belief in the doctrine of  pratītya-samutpāda is no kind of defence that would stand up in court. The same is true for the law of karma; the one who reaps what I sow is nobody else but me; the one who reaps what you sow is nobody else but you.

If we are talking about noble houses, which the bodhisattva seems to see as the third element in delineating a difference between you and me, then two meanings of kula might be relevant. First kula means something genetic -- a race or family, and especially a noble one. If we follow that meaning, you and I might be different because of our respective genetic inheritances. But kula can also mean something which is not genetic -- the residence of a family, a house. If we follow that meaning, you and I might be different because we belong to different houses, or different lineages. 

So I think that when the bodhisattva is talking to King Bimbisāra of “your noble house” he has in mind the noble house of the kings of Magadha. But when the bodhisattva talks of “my noble house” he has in mind not so much the noble house of the Śākya royal family, rulers of Kapilavastu, but more the noble lineage of truth-seekers which he joined when he left home and went into the forest.

It is in this sense which Dogen begins Shobogenzo chap. 72, Zanmai-o-zanmai with the following sentence referring to a house:
Instantly surpassing the whole world and being, in the house of the Buddha-Ancestor, a great noble being, is full lotus sitting.

Again, in Dogen's lineage it is customary to regard the Buddha Śākyamuni as being the 7th in a line of Seven Ancient Buddhas. This might be because, for a practitioner in Dogen's lineage, the sense of belonging to a lineage is so fundamental to the practitioner's sense of who he or she is or isn't. Therefore the Buddha himself is also recognized as belonging to a lineage. 

In writing the above paragraph I am aware of a certain lack of consistency with what I wrote yesterday. It is hard to deny that there is a contradiction in saying with one breath how fundamentally important is the sense of a transmission that goes back in one line to the Buddha Śākyamuni, having with the previous breath severely criticized one's own teacher. But that is the contradiction from which, for my sins, I have been suffering for a long time. 

A less stubborn person would have taken an easier course, but in 1983, having left my then girlfriend back in England, I made a stern promise that I was going to do whatever I needed to do to help Gudo Nishijima translate Master Dogen's Shobogenzo into English... and that is one promise that I did keep. Too fucking heroic for words, really. And yet Gudo, many tough years later, after I had given him the translation that he wanted, with his name on top, acted like it was his own thing -- in a manner very much befitting a Japanese patriarch.

The criterion for the one-to-one transmission of the Buddha-Dharma, Dogen says right at the start of Shobogenzo, is the samādhi of accepting and using the self. And Gudo was very proud of having identified this state with balance of the autonomic nervous system. For several years I swallowed that teaching like an empty cup, but then I began to question it. 

BAKA YARO! Gudo swore at me loudly. Don't question my teaching! 

No, fuck off! Your teaching is wrong. Accepting the self has got a pyschological component, not only the function of the parasympathetic nerves. And using the self has got a rational component, as FM Alexander emphasized, so not only the function of the sympathetic nerves. 

So thus was the transmission between Gudo and me. Very far from ideal. But in relation to the translation of Shobogenzo, at least, I was the one who kept my promise.  Nobody else was going to keep that promise for me. 

In any event, and in conclusion, today's verse as I read it is an example of the kind of attitude which can never lead to sectarian strife. The view that “You are wrong, and I am right,” in the mind of a bodhisattva, might be nothing more than a view to be abandoned.

At the same time, if people say that according to the doctrine of pratītya-samutpāda (or “interdependent arising”), you and I become all blurred into one amorphous mass of interdependence, I think that also might be a view to be abandoned.

For example, I made a promise in regard to the translation of Shobogenzo. It was a promise to myself, and I kept it. In the process, by my endgaining, by my over-doing, I brought a lot of needless suffering on self and others. All that stuff I did, good and bad. I own what I did. It is mine, of me -- mama

A better way of understanding pratītya-samutpāda, in my book -- better than understanding it as a doctrine about the melting away of I and you -- is as a description of springing up in sitting-meditation.  Understood like that,  pratītya-samutpāda means  “springing up, by going back,” in which case the springing up might be, in the first instance, the springing up of one individual self.

Going further, you might rightly argue, the springing up of the self is the forgetting of the self. But in today's verse, as I read it, the bodhisattva is aware of whose shoes he is standing in. 

evam: ind. thus, in this way
tu: but ; pray! I beg , do , now , then; sometimes used as a mere expletive
vaktum = inf. vac: to speak
bhavataḥ (gen. sg. m.): of/for you, the gentleman present
anurūpam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. following the form , conformable , corresponding , like , fit , suitable

sattvasya (gen. sg.): n. being, reality ; true essence , nature , disposition of mind , character   
vṛttasya (gen. sg.): n. (also pl.) procedure , practice , action , mode of life , conduct , behaviour (esp. virtuous conduct , good behaviour)
kulasya (gen. sg.): n. family, noble house
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)

mama (gen. sg.): my, of me
api: also
voḍhum = infinitve vah: to carry , transport , convey ; to cause , effect ; to bear or carry on
sadṛśam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. conformable , suitable , fit , proper , right , worthy
pratijñām (acc. sg.): f. promise, vow ; a statement , assertion , declaration , affirmation

sattvasya (gen. sg.): n. being, reality ; true essence , nature , disposition of mind , character   
vṛttasya (gen. sg.): n. (also pl.) procedure , practice , action , mode of life , conduct , behaviour (esp. virtuous conduct , good behaviour)
kulasya (gen. sg.): n. family, noble house
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)

汝以名勝族 大丈夫禮義
厚懷處於我 樂同世歡娯
我亦應報徳 勸汝同我利

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