⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑− Vaṁśasthaato yuvā vā stha-viro 'tha-vā śiśus-tathā tvarāvān-iha kartum-arhati |
⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−yathā bhaved-dharmavataḥ kṭātmanaḥ pravttir-iṣṭā vinivttir-eva vā || 11.63.
So, whether as a young blood or as a venerable elder,
– or else as a child –
One should act quickly, here and now, in such a way
That, being possessed of dharma, and realizing oneself,
One might lead the life approved as good, the life
of progressive activity – or indeed of cessation of activity.
of progressive activity – or indeed of cessation of activity.
In today's verse, which is the concluding verse of the four verses whose theme is old age, the bodhisattva as I hear him is hinting precociously at a buddha's wisdom.
Thus, later on, the Budda will tell Nanda:
tasmāt pravṛttiṃ-parigaccha duḥkhaṃ pravartakān-apy-avagaccha doṣān /
Comprehend, therefore, that suffering is doing;
witness the faults impelling it forward;
nivṛttim-āgaccha ca tan-nirodhaṃ nivartakaṃ cāpy-avagaccha mārgam // SN16.42
Realise its stopping as non-doing;
and know the path as a turning back.
The Buddha's wisdom thus discriminates between pravṛttim (doing, progressive activity) and nivṛttim (non-doing, cessation of activity). The bodhisattva refers to the same two elements in today's verse.
The irony in the story of how the bodhisattva became the Buddha, of course, is that the bodhisattva subjected himself to six years of extreme ascetic doing before giving all that up and being struck by the truth of non-doing.
So the main hint that presages the Buddha-wisdom comes at the end of the verse, with an expression that comes across as an afterthought – vinivṛttir-eva vā, “or indeed of cessation of activity.”
But another hint that presages this Buddha-wisdom might be contained in the phrase that also comes across like an afterthought at the end of the 1st pāda – atha vā śiśuḥ “or else as a child.”
The effect is to cause the reader to reflect that a young blood tends to be positively fizzing with active doing; whereas a venerable elder, with all his experience of how things should properly be done, sees himself in a better position to call the shots – telling juniors, and fellow elders less senior than him, to do this, do that, and do the other. But the best way to make the truth of non-doing into one's own possession might be to wander off on one's own, with child mind, and contemplate the wonder of it all.
Speaking of child mind and non-doing, a couple of experiences in Alexander lessons spring to mind.
My habitual way of standing, by the time I had my first few Alexander lessons at the age of 34, was probably in the manner of a not very good martial artist. So to snap me out of that, I suppose, my first Alexander teacher asked me to think of standing in front of my mother.
Some years later, after I had come back to England and trained as an Alexander teacher myself, a very experienced master-teacher at the beginning of one lesson, seeing me arranging myself with expert subtleness as I sat on a chair ready to stand up, asked me: “How would it be if you didn't know anything about the Alexander Technique?”
The truth to which Aśvaghoṣa is alluding, then, in today's verse as I read it, is that there is the kind of doing that is rooted in youthful energy, and there is the kind of doing associated with knowing how things should be done. There is the doing of ambition and there is the doing of tradition -- neither of which are bad in themselves. Both might be approved as very good. But non-doing is a whole other ballgame.
For example, who knows how to breathe?
Some Zen masters would like to teach you how to breathe. They might be the ignorant ones that Nāgārjuna was talking about. Some Zen masters, again, would like to teach you how to sit. Though they may seem to be experts in their field, the truth might be, again, that they are the ignorant ones.
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.
In conclusion, though irony is not to the fore in these concluding verses of the Canto, a subtle irony in today's verse might be in the suggestion that the true buddha-wisdom sometimes resides not in the mind of the elder, and not in progressive activity approved as good, but rather in the child mind, and in the giving up of doing.
ataḥ: ind. from this, hence
yuvā (nom. sg.) mfn. young , youthful , adult (applied to men and animals) , strong , good , healthy ; m. a youth , young man , young animal
stha-viraḥ (nom. sg.): mfn. broad , thick , compact , solid , strong , powerful ; old , ancient , venerable; m. an old man, (with Buddhists) an elder
atha: ind. and, else
śiśuḥ (nom. sg.): m. a child , infant , the young of any animal (as a calf , puppy &c ; also applied to young plants , and to the recently risen sun ; often ifc.); a pupil, scholar ; mfn. young , infantine
tathā: ind. in that manner
tvarāvān (nom. sg. m.): mfn. expeditious
iha: here and now
kartum = inf. kṛ: to do, make
arhati = 3rd pers. sg. arh: to ought
yathā (correl of tathā): in such a manner
bhavet = 3rd pers. sg. opt. bhū: to be ; to fall to the share or become the property of , belong to (with gen. )
dharmavataḥ (gen. sg. m.): mfn. virtuous , pious , just ; accompanied by dharman or the law
kṛpātmanaḥ (gen. sg. m.): mfn. tender-hearted, Bcar.
kṛpā: f. pity , tenderness , compassion
kṛṭātmanaḥ [EHJ] (gen. sg. m.): mfn. one whose spirit is disciplined
kṛta: mfn. done , made , accomplished , performed ; prepared, made ready ; cultivated
pravṛttiḥ (nom. sg.): f. moving onwards , advance , progress ; active life (as opp. to ni-vṛtti [q.v.] and to contemplative devotion , and defined as consisting of the wish to act , knowledge of the means , and accomplishment of the object)
iṣṭā (nom. sg. f.): mfn. sought ; desired, wished for ; regarded as good , approved ; valid
vinivṛttiḥ (nom. sg.): f. cessation , coming to an end; omission , discontinuance ; cessation of work, inactivity, Bcar.