Thursday, September 11, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.38: No I in Team

draṣṭā śrotā ca mantā ca kārya-karaṇam-eva ca |
aham-ity-evam-āgamya saṁsāre parivartate || 12.38

“The seer, the hearer, the thinker,

And the very act of doing of what is to be done –

All that is I.”
Having fallen into such thinking,

Around and round he goes in saṁsāra.

Today's verse sounds like a good explanation, from the standpoint of human psychology, of how saṁsāra continues and how it ceases.

Today's verse can be read as the 2nd in another series of four verses, in which case it is fitting that Arāḍa's gist seems to be negation of the “I” or the ego – since negation of the thinking subject belongs to the second or objective phase.

Arāḍa reminds me in today's verse of one or two Tibetan teachers I have seen on video describing how the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, when we study it and truly understand it, frees us of ego.

My sceptical response is that I don't accept I ever had anything called ego in the first place. So fuck off Sigmund.

If in yesterday's verse Aśvaghoṣa did indeed, as I suspect he did, invite us to see the opening up of a crack, then let's not allow the crack to be papered over by the pretty wallpaper of psychological explanations based on the existence of ego.

No, I am sorry Arāḍa, but fuck that for a game of cards.

What I do tend to have, and what I have tended to have as far back as I can remember, is what FM Alexander called “unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions.” These are not purely psychological phenomena, and nor is transcendence of them a psychological challenge – it is rather a function of acceptance and use of the whole self. It is a function of how I act; it is a function what I do and, more to the point, what I don't do.

Hence, again:

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.

It is nearly three months now since I came to spend the summer here by the forest in France. On the way here I broke the 70-mile cycle ride with a stay at a cheap hotel above a bar, half-way between the ferry port and this place. Tired from the journey, I fell asleep with the TV on, while watching a World Cup match, and woke up around 2 am guiltily realizing that the TV might have been keeping everybody awake. After getting up and drinking water and sitting for a while, in the middle of that warm June night, I found myself reciting, and working on the translation of, the closing verses of MMK chapter 26. On the back of the A4 print-out of my cycling route, I scribbled in pencil various English versions of MMK26.10-12. Consequently I have quoted those verses from MMK many times on this blog over the summer.

So here goes again:

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.

Speaking of MMK chapter 26, incidentally, I just this morning noticed that in his note to yesterday's verse, in connection with the verb abhi-niṣicyate, EHJ refers to verse 2 of this very chapter, which also ends with the verb niṣicyate.  (Consciousness seeps, on the grounds of doings, into the condition of being. / And so, consciousness having seeped in, psychophysicality is infused.//MMK26.2//)

Marjory Barlow used to say (I think she was quoting her uncle FM Alexander), “You are all perfect, except for what you are doing.”

This means, in other words, “You have the buddha-nature, except that you obscure it by the doings which are the root of saṁsāra.”

When we understand practice like this – I mean the practice of non-doing; you can call it Zen or call it Alexander work, or call it whatever you like – the essence of practice is simply not to do.

Insofar as the essence of practice is being free of “I” – “curing the ego” in the words of my old Zen teacher – then playing a team game like rugby might be a big help along the way. For there is, as per the gospel of David Brent, no i in team.

But gross physical activities like rugby, if truth be told, tend to involve a lot of doing – especially if, as I did, you belong to the pack of big ugly beings known as “forwards.”

I have the sense of having been enabled by Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna to say everything that I wanted to say when I started not only this blog but also its predecessors -- not that this sense of accomplishment, on this particular morning, is accompanied by a corresponding sense of satisfaction. Unless somebody really understands and appreciates what I am saying, what use is it? 

As I wrote when I wrote my profile six years ago:

From 1982 to 1997 I worked on the translation of Master Dogen's Shobogenzo, and understood the primary importance in the Buddha's teaching of full lotus sitting. Until 1994 my attitude to this sitting practice could be summed up in the words: "Don't think. Just do it!" Then in 1994 I returned from Japan to England to train to be a teacher of the FM Alexander Technique, and experiences with Alexander work woke me up to the opposite standpoint of "Don't just do. Think it!" Far from smoothing my path, however, Alexander insights (or reactions to them) caused a lot of trouble between me and my aging teacher in Japan. Then in 2008, seeking clearer water further upstream, I found a new lease of life in the extant Sanskrit works of the 12th ancestor in Dogen's lineage -- the great Indian teacher Ashvaghosha.

I think. I feel. But in just doing there is no I. Just doing is body and mind dropping off.

Does that sound like true Zen to you? Well if it does you are as innocent as the young Englishmen 100 years ago who couldn't wait to sign up to go and join all the fun in France.

Don't believe clever crap that sounds like true Zen, or else you might end up becoming an embittered old bastard like me; or like one of the broken veterans that returned to England shell-shocked, or with missing limbs.

A truer sentence to study might be what Marjory Barlow said to me:

You are perfect, except for what you are doing.”

From the standpoint of the one spoken to, that means:

Except for what I am doing, I (Sanskrit: aham) am perfect.

This morning, as probably reflected by my resort to bad language, I don't feel particularly in harmony with the universe. Is it because, after all these years, I still haven't cured my ego? Is it fuck. Is it fuck. If my old Zen teacher were here, here and now, and he told me again, as he told me 30 years ago, that we needed to cure ego, I would tell him to go fuck himself, that he did not know what he was talking about. 

If Marjory Barlow were here, here and now, and she told me that I was holding on to a lot of tension, needlessly, I might have to admit that she was right. I do tend, have always tended, easily to become too tense. It is not a fuction of the I, not a function of the ego, not a psychological problem. It is a problem of over-doing. It is a problem of what FM Alexander correctly identified as "unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions." 

So put that in your fucking pipe, Arāḍa, and smoke it. 

draṣṭā (nom. sg. m.): the seer
śrotā (nom. sg. m.): the hearer; the listener
ca: and
mantā (nom. sg. m.): the thinker
ca: and

kārya-karaṇam (nom. sg. n.): n. the doing one's duty
kārya: n. work or business to be done , duty , affair ; n. an effect , result ; n. motive , object , aim , purpose
karaṇa: mfn. doing , making , effecting , causing (esp. ifc. ; cf. antakaraṇa , uṣṇaṁ-k° , &c ); n. the act of making , doing , producing , effecting
(EHJ: the instrument of the effect)
kāryá-kara: mfn. efficacious
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and

aham (nom. sg. m.): I
iti: “...,” thus
evam: ind. thus, in this manner
āgamya = abs. ā- √gam: to come , make one's appearance , come near from (abl.) or to (acc. or loc.) , arrive at , attain , reach ; to fall into (any state of mind) , have recourse to [See also SN16.42: nivṛttim āgaccha ca tan-nirodhaṃ; realize its stopping as non-doing]
saṁsāre (loc. sg.): in saṁsāra
parivartate = 3rd pers. sg. pari- √ vṛt: to turn round , revolve , move in a circle or to and fro , roll or wheel or wander about ; to be reborn in (loc.) ; to abide , stay , remain

轉生我見聞 我知我所作
[Relation with Sanskrit tenuous]


Jordan said...

Over doing, again and again, I begin to think the only way to stop is death. And I’m not interested in being dead today.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan,

I had a nap this afternoon and felt a whole lot better after that -- a bit like a baby who is prone to temper tantrums.

Tomorrow is another day, another chance to hit the target, my old sharp-shooting friend, forgetting that I was wide of the mark today.

Thanks for staying the course. Tomorrow I am going to comment on a WWI marching chant. Hope it resonates with your good self.

George O'Donoghue said...

You say the problem is not having an 'I' or an ego, but rather of over-doing from over-excited fear reflexes. But aren't those reflexes the result of years of habit/conditioning which has congealed into an entity which could be referred to as the I or self? Not a disembodied ego-soul but the whole mass of factors which constitute our sense of identity?

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for your question, George.

When I speak of fear reflexes I am talking primarily about what we are born with... See for example

Some time during this past 3 months by the forest, remembering my old teacher's words "we have to cure ego," I realized I totally cured the problem.

I don't think it was in the way he intended. I think the way he intended was in the way that you understand it -- as the disappearance of some congealed entity.

But while I was sitting here in wonderful nature, the penny dropped that there is no such congealed entity, nor has their ever been any such a thing, not in me, not in you ... not even, as the Dalai Lama would seem to have us believe, in Vladimir Putin!

This does not mean, however, that we are out of the woods. Psychological problems may be illusory. But over-doing born of ignorance is very much a real problem.

And yes, I would venture to submit that a lot of over-doing is rooted in over-excited fear reflexes.

One such reflex is called the Moro reflex. There again to speak of one reflex is, in Sherrington's words, "a convenient fiction," since the human organism always works, for better or for worse, as a whole. And this phrase "convenient fiction" is one that I am sure Nāgārjuna would have approved. But that is another story...