Friday, August 8, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.4: A Sight for Sore Eyes, Sitting

¦⏑⏑⏑−¦¦−⏑−⏑¦⏑−⏑−   navipulā
tam-āsīnaṁ npa-sutaṁ so 'bravīn-muni-sattamaḥ |
bahumāna-viśālābhyāṁ darśanābhyāṁ pibann-iva  || 12.4

That son of a protector of men, sitting!

The best of sages sang his praises,

Eyes with admiration opened wide,

As if drinking him in: 

Since today's verse is the fourth in the opening series of four verses, we might expect it to refer, directly or obliquely, to the one great matter which is sitting – and indeed it does, with the word āsīnam, which ostensibly means “seated” (hence EBC: having seen the prince seated; EHJ: the seated prince; PO: after the king's son was seated); but which, below the surface, might be intended as an expression of that action, in progress, which embodies this teaching of the buddhas (etaṁ buddhāna' sāsanaṁ) referred to yesterday.

One particular point of interest in today's verse is Aśvaghoṣa's calling Arāḍa muni-sattamaḥ, “the truest of sages” or “the best of sages.” 

After listening attentively to Arāḍa's teaching, the bodhisattva will find a flaw in it. He will discern that Arāḍa's teaching, in the end, does not get down to the real root of suffering.

Doesn't that make Arāḍa one of the ignorant ones that Nāgārjuna wrote about?

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.

For better or for worse I don't know, but I was trained from an early age to see the teaching of buddhas in four phases.

And the best of Buddhist teachers in the world today, today's verse causes me to reflect, seem to see the core teaching of pratītya-samutpāda as a teaching at the 2nd phase – as a doctrine of interdependent origination that describes objective reality as a tangled web of causes.

But pratītya-samutpāda is more truly understood, in my book, as a teaching that belongs to the 3rd and 4th phases – as an expression of the truth of cessation, and ultimately as a pointer to sitting as the practice of non-doing. Thus, Springing Up (samutpāda) by going back (pratītya).

Sitting like that, as alluded to in today's verse as I read it, belongs to the fourth of four phases.

In some sense my own teacher, Gudo Nishijima, was the best of teachers. But by no stretch of the imagination could he be called a paragon of non-doing. He expounded with great clarity his "theory of four philosophies" or "three philosophies and one reality." And at the same time, he was a manager, an arranger, a manipulator, a fixer -- not only in his life as "a businessman in the modern ages" but also, following the example of Japanese Zen masters before him, in his approach to sitting posture. 

In my last couple of years in Japan I also visited and practised under Tsunemasa Abe, who was taught how to sit from a very early age (around ten or eleven) by Kodo Sawaki. And Abe Sensei placed great emphasis on not straining (Jap: kibaranai). But he also thought it was important to tuck the chin in, in order to stretch the neck. So this pernicious bit of doing, as I see it, was a kind of ignorance that was common to all the best Zen masters in Japan! 

Before sitting in the morning when I am in France I generally do just one prostration, as a chance to think the Alexander directions. When I do so, my first thought, in response to the direction "Let the neck be free," is to remember that this is nothing specific. And my second thought, in response to the direction "Head forward and up," is to remember that it is no kind of arrangement.  My third thought, in response to the direction "Back to lengthen and widen," is to remember that it has got nothing to do with symmetry. And my fourth thought, in response to the direction "Knees forward and away," is that it is an undoing, which has got nothing to do with deliberately tensing the abdomen in a bad imitation of a sumo wrestler. 

The four Alexander directions are thus a means by which I liberate myself from a kind of Zen ignorance that I practised quite religiously for a number of years when I lived in Japan, studying and practising under the truest of sages. 

tam (acc. sg. m.): him
āsīnam (acc. sg. m): mfn. sitting, seated
nṛpa-sutam (acc. sg.): m. the son of a protector of men, the prince

saḥ (nom. sg. m.): he
abravīt = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect brū: to speak, say, tell ; to speak about any person or thing (acc); to proclaim , predict
muni-sattamaḥ (nom. sg.): the best of sages
sat-tama: mfn. very good, the best, first
sat: mfn. real , actual , as any one or anything ought to be , true , good , right (tan na sat , " that is not right ") , beautiful , wise , venerable , honest

bahumāna-viśālābhyām (inst./abl. dual n.): wide with high esteem
bahumāna: m. high esteem or estimation , great respect or regard
viśāla: mfn. wide

darśanābhyām (inst./abl. dual): n. seeing; eye-sight ; eye
piban = nom. sg. m. pres. part. pā: to drink
iva: like, as if

梵志見太子 容貎審諦儀
沐浴伏其徳 如渇飮甘露

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