Sunday, July 20, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 11.59: Nirvāṇa as a Conscious Step, Out of the Monkey Trap

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
pade tu yasmin-na jarā na bhīr-na ruṇ na janma naivoparamo na cādhayaḥ |
tam-eva manye puruṣārtham-uttamaṁ na vidyate yatra punaḥ punaḥ kriyā || 11.59

Whereas that step in which there is no ageing, no fear, no disease,

No birth, no death, and no worries –

That alone I consider to be the highest human aim,

Wherein the same activity does not keep happening, again and again.

In today's verse Aśvaghoṣa does not use the words nirvāṇa and saṁsāra. But the step (pāda) he is describing is the same step described by the metaphor of the extinction of the flame of a lamp whose fuel has run out. Equally, the same activity being repeated over and over again (punaḥ punaḥ kriyā) would seem to be a kind of definition of the monkey trap of saṁsāra.

If the essence of what the bodhisattva aimed for and of what the Buddha taught is escape from the monkey trap, then Alexander work and bodhisattva practice are not two teachings in parallel with each other: they are essentially the same.

Hence in the first chapter of his book Freedom to Change, the Alexander teacher Frank Pierce Jones used escape from the monkey trap as a metaphor for Alexander work. The monkey trap as FPJ described it is nothing more than a peanut in a bottle whose neck is just wide enough to allow a monkey to reach in and grab the peanut, and just narrow enough to prevent the monkey from retrieving his clenched fist. Insofar as the monkey cannot let go, he is trapped. If the monkey were able to exercise reason, he would let go and take his unclenched fist out. But his strong desire for the peanut is liable to preclude the intervention of reason.
A lamp that has gone out reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky, / Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point: Because its oil is spent (sneha-kṣayāt) it reaches nothing but extinction (śāntim).// SN16.28 // In the same way, a man of action who has come to quiet reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky, / Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point: From the ending of his afflictions (kleśa-kṣayāt) he attains nothing but extinction (śāntim). // SN16.29 //

In this metaphor, extinction (śāntim) is synonymous with nirvāṇa. And in view of the teaching of the twelve links, perhaps we should understand that the original fuel, or the original affliction (kleśa), is ignorance.

The phrase activity repeated again and again (punaḥ punaḥ kriyā) brings to mind the famous quote that is often attributed, wrongly it turns out, to Einstein:
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

At the same time, what was it again that Nāgārjuna said about the relation between the cycle of saṁsāra and ignorance?

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.

avidyāyāṁ niruddhāyāṁ saṁskārāṇām asaṁbhavaḥ |
avidyāyā nirodhas tu jñānasyāsyaiva 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.

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.

The 4th dhyāna is described by Aśvaghoṣa in SN Canto 17 as a step in which the act of knowing (jñānam) is its own object:

yasmāt-tu tasmin-na sukhaṃ na duḥkhaṃ jñānaṃ ca tatrāsti tad-artha-cāri /
Since in this there is neither ease nor suffering,
and the act of knowing abides here, being its own object,
tasmād-upekṣā-smṛti-pāriśuddhir-nirucyate dhyāna-vidhau caturthe // SN17.55 
Therefore utter lucidity through indifference and awareness
is specified in the protocol for the fourth stage of meditation.

And yet, as demonstrated by the cautionary tale of the monk who mistook the 4th dhyāna for the fourth fruit of the dharma --  i.e. mistook the 
 4th dhyāna for an arhat's attainment of nirvāṇa itself -- Nāgārjuna was evidently pointing to the bringing-into-being of something (or a bit of nothing) beyond the 4th dhyāna. Nāgārjuna was pointing to a bit of something, or a bit of nothing, beyond the  4th dhyāna, that causes the fuel of the afflictions, starting with ignorance, to run out. 

We will have further opportunity to investigate this point in BC Canto 12, when Arāḍa describes his own experience of attaining and going beyond the four dhyānas, but not in such a way that the bodhisattva can accept it as a true description of escape from the monkey trap of saṁsāra. For, as the bodhisattva himself says (in EHJ's translation):
“I have listened to this doctrine of yours, which grows more subtle and auspicious in its successive stages, but I consider it not to lead to final beatitude, since the field-knower is not abandoned. For I am of opinion that the field-knower, although liberated from the primary and secondary constituents, still possesses the quality of giving birth and also of being a seed....” (BC12.69-70)

When Nāgārjuna spoke of ignorance being ceased through the bringing-into-being of jñānasyāsyaiva, “just this knowing,” I do not think he was talking about knowing a doctrine of dependent origination, or a doctrine of interdependent arising. Knowing a doctrine does not offer a means of escape from the monkey trap. What keeps us stuck in the monkey trap is blind unconscious doing, and the only means of escape might be, even if it is all in a single moment, a conscious act.

For that reason I like to translate pāda , as in today's verse, not as “state” but as per its original meaning as “a step.” 

For a start, a step is an action. At the same time, the word step reminds me of Dogen's teaching of learning the backward step of turning the light and letting it shine. But above all, the word step fits the essence of what Marjory Barlow taught me, which was to take a decision to move a leg... and then move it, as a conscious step, a conscious act. Just this act of knowing, in my book, is that step in which there is no ageing, no fear, no disease, no birth, no death, and no worries.

If we see the practice of sitting-zen in this light, it is more than the realization by sitting of the dhyānas described by Arāḍa. Sitting-zen might be a standard for all acts of knowing, or for all conscious acts.

If there is any merit in this post, I dedicate it to my mother who was taken into hospital a couple of days ago with heart failure. For the time being, I am staying put, here by the forest, where the rain is now pelting down. The reason I choose to remain here, in solitude, is because here, even if only for one moment in the day, I find conditions much more conducive to sitting as a conscious act.

pade (loc. sg.): n. step, state
tu: but
yasmin (loc. sg.): wherein
na: not
jarā (nom. sg.): f. ageing
na: not
bhīḥ (nom. sg.): f. fear
na: not

ruk = nom. sg. ruj: pain , illness , disease
na: not
janma (nom. sg.): n. birth
na: not
eva: (empatic)
uparamaḥ (nom. sg.): m. cessation , stopping , expiration; death
na: not
ca: and
adhayaḥ (nom. pl.): m. anxiety

tam (acc. sg. m.): that
eva: (empatic)
manye = 1st pers. sg. man: to deem, consider, think
puruṣārtham (acc. sg. m.): aim of man, human aim
uttamam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. uppermost, highest

na: not
vidyate: is found
yatra: ind. wherein
punaḥ punaḥ: ind. now-now ; at one time - at another time
kriyā (nom. sg.): f. doing , performing , performance , occupation with (in comp.) , business , act , action , undertaking , activity , work , labour; bodily action , exercise of the limbs ;

此亦爲非義 常求無足故
若無生老死 乃名大丈夫

No comments: