Saturday, August 30, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.26: Self-Consciousness – Primary Interference

bravīmy-aham-ahaṁ vedmi gacchāmy-aham-ahaṁ sthitaḥ |
itīhaivam-ahaṁ-kāras-tv-anahaṁ-kāra vartate || 12.26

I speak, I know,

I go, I stand firm –

It is thus that here, O unselfconscious one!, 

Self-consciousness carries on.

In his footnote to BC12.24 EHJ comments that ahaṁkāra as part of the eightfold prakṛti (as cited in BC12.18) should be understood differently from ahaṁkāra as cited in BC12.24 and as defined in today's verse.

Thus, whereas EBC had translated ahaṁkāra throughout as "egotism," EHJ translates ahaṁkāra as part of prakṛti (in BC12.18) as “the ego-principle” whereas in BC12.24 and today's verse EHJ translates ahaṁkāra as “wrong attribution of personality.”

On reflection, I agree with EHJ that ahaṁkāra should be understood differently in the two contexts – but not necessarily translated differently, since the original word in Sanskrit is the same.

Consistency is not always a terrorist. Sometimes, it occurs to me this morning, consistency is the translator's friend! 

If we accept Arāḍa's drawing of a distinction between what is primary (prakṛṭi) and what is secondary (vikāra) – which in general seems a wise enough distinction to make – then we need to choose a translation of ahaṁkāra in BC12.18 that conveys a sense of what is truly primary.

The MW dictionary defines ahaṁkāra as:
  • conception of one's individuality, self-consciousness;
  • the making of self, thinking of self, egotism;
  • pride, haughtiness ;
  • (in sāṁkhya phil.) the third of the eight producers or sources of creation , viz. the conceit or conception of individuality , individualization
Of these definitions, “self-consciousness” (or “sense of self”) might best fit the bill for a translation of ahaṁkāra in BC12.18, and also, it occurs to me just this morning, in today's verse. 

In BC12.24 and today's verse, where ahaṁkāra is being cited as a reason for failing to transcend, “egotism” would be the obvious choice, except that the word, since the 1890s when EBC chose it as a translation of ahaṁkāra, has acquired many unhelpful barnacles courtesy of Sigmund Freud and his English-speaking interpreters. 

PO translates ahaṁkāra in all three instances as “ego” (BC12.18, BC12.24: “ego”, BC12.26: “the ego”). 

PO's ego seems to me to be more problematic that EBC's egotism. Egotism expresses a view or a tendency, an -ism which, as such might be a useful word for expressing something that we are required to drop off. But in the English translations of Freud's writings which discuss the ego and the id, the impressionable reader (such as I was in the 1980s) is easily led to believe in the existence of something that Freud discovered called “the ego.” Nowadays it is commonplace to speak of a person having a big ego or a fragile ego or a strong ego. But talking in that way might generally be unhelpful, insofar as it reinforces belief in something called ego.

By translating ahaṁkāra in today's verse as “the ego,” PO in some sense brings the translation of Aśvaghoṣa up to date, in light of Freud's discoveries and their absorption into popular culture and language. “The ego” is concise and natural-sounding as a translation of ahaṁkāra in the 3rd pāda of today's verse, and “You who are free of ego!” is, to the modern ear, a natural-sounding translation of the vocative an-ahaṁkāra in the 4th pāda of today's verse. And yet those translations, in my book, are somehow dangerously misleading.

My Zen teacher liked Sigmund Freud's ideas; especially he liked the writings of a Freudian psychologist named Karl Menninger. “We have to cure the problem of ego,” I remember my teacher saying once, while we were having lunch in a restaurant near his office in Ichigaya. In writing this post thirty years later, it occurs to me, I am solving the problem right here and now. Though I doubt if anybody will notice! 

On another occasion I remember my teacher asserting that ego was another word for “deformed mind.” On still another occasion he attributed to Dogen the concept of “the true ego.” I am not sure what Japanese words he was translating when he came up with the latter assertion – maybe 真我

In any event, I have come to see it as unhelpful to think of wrongness in terms of a psychological entity such as the so-called “ego” has been supposed to be. I find it more constructive, when I am able to remember to think in this way, to think of wrongness in terms of wrong tendencies and wrong habits. This is how one is taught to think in Alexander work. 

In years gone by if people told me that I had a big ego or a fragile ego, I might have been inclined to believe them.

The way that nowadays I tend to understand – primarily in myself – what people call “a fragile ego” is in terms of what FM Alexander called “undue excitement of fear reflexes and emotions.” 

Again, one of the things I learned from Peter Blythe, whose teaching I praised yesterday, was that a strong secondary psychological symptom of an immature Moro reflex is a tendency to low self-esteem.

Peter Blythe's sagacity was to see vestibular matters as primary and psychological explanations as secondary. In this Peter Blythe's approach was similar to Gudo Nishijima's, which saw the autonomic nervous system as primary and psychological matters as secondary.

When it came to clear discrimination and a means-whereby for dealing with the problem of egotism, however, both of those modern-day sages, in my book, were behind FM Alexander.

Coming back to the translation of ahaṁkāra in today's verse, then, I think that “egotism,” fits the bill better than “ego.” But “self-consciousness” fits the bill best, as an expression of what is primary in our search for the truth as human beings, and at the same time as an expression of the first thing to be abandoned in that search. 

In conclusion, if we look for harbingers of the Buddha's truth in what Arāḍa is saying in the present Canto about ahaṁkāra, self-consciousness, firstly as a primary matter, and secondly as an obstacle or interference, the truth that Arāḍa is expressing may be closely related to the famous teaching of Zen Master Dogen about learning and forgetting the self:

To learn the Buddha's truth is to learn the self.

To learn the self is to forget the self.

To forget the self is to be experienced by the myriad things.

To be experienced by the myriad things is to let one's own body and mind, 
and the body and mind of the external world, fall away.

bravīmi = 1st pers. sg. brū: to say, speak
aham (nom. sg. m.): I
aham (nom. sg. m.): I
vedmi = 1st pers. sg. vid: to know

gacchāmi = 1st pers. sg. gam: to gp
aham (nom. sg. m.): I
aham (nom. sg. m.): I
sthitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): standing

iti: “...,” thus
iha: in this place, here; in this world; in this system
evam: ind. in this way
ahaṁ-kāraḥ (nom. sg.):m. conception of one's individuality , self-consciousness ; the making of self , thinking of self , egotism ; pride , haughtiness ; (in sāṁkhya phil.) the third of the eight producers or sources of creation , viz. the conceit or conception of individuality , individualization

tu: but
an-ahaṁ-kāra (voc. sg.): O one without ego!
vartate = 3rd pers. sg. vṛṭ: to turn ; to move or go on , get along , advance , proceed

如是等計我 是名我作轉

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