Sunday, September 7, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.34: Into the Cloud of Unknowing

tatrālasyaṁ tamo viddhi mohaṁ mtyuṁ ca janma ca |
mahā-mohas-tv-asaṁmoha kāma ity-eva-gamyatām || 12.34

Among these, know obscuration to be sloth,

And delusion to be dying and being born;

But the great delusion, O undeluded one! –

Understand to mean desire.

If Arāḍa is saying that desire, per se, is delusive, I absolutely do not buy his argument.

True, some desires are delusions. If I strongly intend to flap my arms and fly away like a bird, that is a delusive desire. But there is nothing delusive about the desire to complete the digging of a vegetable patch, nor about the desire to grate and pour soy-sauce on radishes grown therein with a view to eating them.

Absolute certainty in regard to what Arāḍa is saying in today's verse, however, is impossible due to the wide range of possible meanings of kāma, which EBC translated, as I have done, as “desire,” but which EHJ and PO took to mean “passion.” Another possibility is love, or Love, and especially sexual love, as in the Kāma-sūtra. If Arāḍa is asserting that romantic/sexual Love is the great delusion, that argument might be more difficult to refute. 

So have cracks begun to appear or not? Is Arāḍa's statement about great delusion false or true?

Yesterday I wrote of Aśvaghoṣa requiring us to sharpen our critical faculties. Today it occurs to me that Aśvaghoṣa may have been intending in the present section to lead us into the cloud of unknowing, where we might be saved from the sin of certainty.

If there was one thing my Zen teacher was certain about, it was the absolute gap that exists between thinking and reality. 

It is in this gap that irony exists. 

Reading the history of the First World War, like reading Aśvaghoṣa's poetry, serves as a constant reminder of this gap and this irony. 

In the history of my country, which, at the time of writing, is still the United Kingdom, there was a gap between what people thought about war, and the real horrors that war involved at the front. 

In the writing of Aśvaghoṣa, there is a gap in the majority of verses between the ostensible meaning and the real meaning that Aśvaghoṣa wishes us to dig for. 

For my Zen teacher, Gudo Nishijima, the essence of Gautama Buddha's teaching was right there, in that gap, in that difference between what we think reality means and what reality really means. Our aim in practice, then, was to transcend thinking and feeling and realize reality. And the traditional method for this realizing of reality was to sit in the traditional sitting posture, keeping the spine straight vertically.

But here is an irony that Gudo did not see. When we investigate in practise what is involved in “keeping the spine straight vertically,” either as an act of doing or as an act of knowing, the view that thinking and reality are necessarily separate gets called into question. It seems to me that we are called upon to abandon even that view. 

For Gudo, keeping the spine straight vertically, in order to maintain the autonomic nervous system in balance, was an unconscious act of doing. Thus my teacher, who he and I had thought was the enlightened one, the one who, when it came to true Buddhist theory, had the answer to every question, turned out to be just the one who his hero Nāgārjuna described as the ignorant one.

The truly wise ones, in my experience, in the area of doing and non-doing, turned out all to be teachers of the FM Alexander Technique. These teachers point in the direction of sitting as a conscious act of non-doing, using means in which doing is opposed by what Alexander himself called “thinking.”

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.

When reality makes itself known, shattering people's optimistic thoughts about reality, as for example in the Battle of the Somme, reality does not commit the sin of certainty. When just this act of knowing is brought-into-being in us, in our practice of just sitting, again, nobody is commiting the sin of certainty. 

But when a Zen teacher asserts his view that thinking and reality are separated by an absolute gulf, and therefore thinking has no constructive role to play in the bringing-into-being of just this act of knowing, then, I venture to submit, that Zen teacher commits the sin of certainty. And Aśvaghoṣa, in his own subtle and indirect way in this Canto, below the surface, might be cautioning us against just that sin of certainty. 

Thus, in today's verse, I ask again: has a crack appeared yet in Arāḍa's teaching? Or is Arāḍa, even in his own not-fully-enlightened state, presaging the teaching of the fully-awakened Sambuddha? 

Who knows? 

tatra: ind. therein, in that group
ālasyam (acc. sg.): n. idleness , sloth , want of energy
tamaḥ (acc. sg.): n. darkness, ignorance
viddhi = 2nd pers. sg. imperative vid: to know

moham (acc. sg.): n. delusion
mṛtyum (acc. sg.): n. death
ca: and
janma (acc. sg.): n. birth
ca: and

mahā-mohaḥ (nom. sg. m.): great delusion
tu: but
asaṁmoha (voc. sg.): O one free of delusion
asaṁmoha: m. calmness , composure , deliberateness

kāmaḥ (nom. sg.): m. desire
iti: “...,” thus
eva: (emphatic)
gamyatām (3rd pers. sg. causative passive imperative gam): let it be understood
gam: (especially Pass. gamyate , " to be understood or meant ")

嬾惰名爲闇 生死名爲癡

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