Friday, September 12, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.39: Minding the Gap

ity ebhir hetubhir dhīman janma-srotaḥ pravartate |
hetv-abhāvāt phalābhāva iti vijñātum arhasi || 12.39

Thus, O perspicacious one!,
in the presence of these causes

The stream of births starts flowing.

In the absence of causes, there is no effect,

As you are to investigate.

Is Arāḍa hitting the target?

Or is Arāḍa – albeit ever so slightly – wide of the mark?

It is a vital question since, if we are talking about doing vs non-doing, a miss is as good as a mile.

Yesterday I came down, rather too heavily, on the side of deciding that Arāḍa was wide of the mark. So today I would like to retreat somewhat, back under the cover of the cloud of unknowing.

But still I have my suspicions.

In BC12.23 Arāḍa seemed to show himself to be on the right lines with regard to causes of saṁsāra:
Ignorance, karma, and thirsting are to be known as the causes of saṁsāra; / A creature set in these three ways fails to transcend the aforementioned Sattva, Being //BC12.23//

But what in today's verse does Arāḍa mean by “these causes.” And why does he speak of these causes in the instrumental case?

In Nāgārjuna's wording, as we have seen, doings are the root of saṁsāra. In other words, we in our ignorance bring saṁsāra into being by our own faulty doing.

Arāḍa's description of saṁsāra seems to be subtly different. For Arāḍa saṁsāṛa seems to be something out there, like a rising tide or a rushing torrent that is liable to sweep us away. Thus in today's verse I originally translated pravartate using a passive which sounded right to my ear (the stream of births is set in motion). But while I was sitting this morning I realized that an active verb is closer to the original – the stream of births gets going, starts flowing, comes forths, originates, arises.

The implication of Nāgārjuna's wording is that we must take direct responsibility for causing the saṁsāra in which we are reborn. Whereas in Arāḍa's wording, saṁsāra generates itself, in the presence of the causes to which Arāḍa refers.

In the second half of today's verse, again, Arāḍa seems to be speaking words of wisdom. In saying that in the absence of the cause there is no effect, Arāḍa is presaging the Buddha's teaching:

doṣa-kṣayo jātiṣu yāsu yasya vairāgyatas-tāsu na jāyate saḥ /
In whichever realms of existence a man has ended faults,
thanks to that dispassion he is not born in those realms.
doṣāśayas-tiṣṭhati yasya yatra tasyopapattir-vivaśasya tatra // SN16.24 //
Wherever he remains susceptible to a fault,
that is where he makes his appearance, whether he likes it or not.

taj-janmano naika-vidhasya saumya tṛṣṇādayo hetava ity-avetya /
So my friend, with regard to the many forms of becoming,
know their causes to be [the faults] that start with thirsting
tāṃś-chindhi duḥkhād yadi nirmumukṣā kārya-kṣayaḥ kāraṇa-saṃkṣayādd hi // 16.25 //
And cut out those [faults], if you wish to be freed from suffering;
for ending of the effect follows from eradication of the cause.

duḥkha-kṣayo hetu-parikṣayāc-ca śāntaṃ śivaṃ sākṣi-kuruṣva dharmaṃ /
Again, the ending of suffering follows from the disappearance of its cause.
Experience that reality for yourself as peace and well-being,
tṛṣṇā-virāgaṃ layanaṃ nirodhaṃ sanātanaṃ trāṇam-ahāryam-āryam // 16.26 //
A place of rest, a cessation, an absence of the red taint of thirsting,
a primeval refuge which is irremovable and noble,

yasmin-na jātir-na jarā na mṛtyur-na vyādhayo nāpriya-saṃprayogaḥ /
In which there is no becoming, no aging, no dying,
no illness, no being touched by unpleasantness,
necchā-vipanna priya-viprayogaḥ kṣemaṃ padaṃ naiṣṭhikam-acyutaṃ tat // SN16.27 //
No disappointment, and no separation from what is pleasant:
It is an ultimate and indestructible step, in which to dwell at ease.

My doubt is this: Arāda is talking in theory of an absence which he himself, in practice, has yet fully to realize. And right there lies the gap Dogen which cautioned so strongly against in the opening part of Fukan-zazengi.

Apropos of which I am going to include a long ramble that I indulged myself in writing yesterday, stimulated by dipping into Paul Fussell's book The Great War & Modern Memory.

Paul Fussell, according to Wikipedia, is best known for his writings about World War I and II, which explore what he felt was the gap between the romantic myth and reality of war.

That gap, again, is just the gap which Dogen cautioned against. Every verse that Aśvaghoṣa wrote, I venture to submit, was produced out of clear awareness of that gap.

It is the gap, of which my own Zen teacher was also acutely aware, between thinking and reality. Among modern-day philosophers, none seems to be more acutely aware of that gap than George Soros.

So never mind about mindfulness. What we are minded to mind, above all, on this blog, is that gap.

Every war is ironic, wrote Fussell in 1975, because every war is worse than expected.

Fussell's statement may be true not only of wars fought with real bombs and bullets but also true of the war of which the Buddha spoke, fought with the armour of awareness and the arrows of kindness, not to mention the eight mighty war elephants of the noble eightfold path.

We might say that every battle in the war against ignorance is ironic, because ignorance is always a tougher opponent than expected.

When I went to Japan in 1982, just past my 22nd birthday, in search of Zen enlightenment, it was like jumping into an icy swimming pool in a couple of ways. Four years previously, just past my 18th birthday, I had flown to Trinidad to spend some months travelling around Latin America; but the trip to Japan, strangely, considering I was four years older, involved much more of a culture shock. The culture which shocked me was Japanese, but with a strong dash of American influence, following America's defeat of Japan in WWII.

A big-hearted ex-patriot American at the karate dojo I went to train at, who is still my good friend, took me under his wing. He seemed to struggle to make sense of my self-deprecating humour, which must have sounded to him like the philosophy of a loser.

In general, it was as if I had spent 22 years nurturing a British sense of humour that was ironic, if not to say downright black, only then to be called upon to give up irony in favour of kick-ass Japanese/American sincerity.

Last week I listened to a BBC Radio 4 programme titled The Mother of the Sea, the blurb for which is here: 
Every year in Uto, a remote town at the Southern tip of Japan, a festival is held to celebrate a woman known locally as the Mother of the Sea. She's not a figure from folklore, or an ancient goddess, but a British scientist, who never even visited Japan. She was Kathleen Drew, and her work studying the lifecycle of edible seaweed on the North Wales coastline in the 1940s revolutionised the Japanese production of nori - that dried edible seaweed you find wrapped around sushi in high-end restaurants and convenience stores around the world. Her discovery, picked up by chance 6000 miles away from her lab in Manchester, enabled nori farmers in Japan to turn this nutrient rich food stuff from a gambler's harvest to a reliable large scale crop. Now they gather each year on 14th April at the Drew Monument, inscribed with Kathleen's image, to give thanks to her with Shinto prayers, offerings and specially composed songs. Looking out over the nori fields of the Ariake sea they ask Kathleen, who died not long after publishing her ground breaking study, to watch over them and increase their yields. Quentin Cooper has been fascinated by Kathleen's remarkable story since he heard about it by chance several years ago. He travels to Uto to celebrate the Drew Festival with the fishermen there and to hear why a scientist all but forgotten in her home country means so much to them.

The programme featured an interview with a young Japanese bloke -- I think he, like Kathleen Draw before him, was a scientist. The gratitude of this young Japanese was such that his emotion rendered him temporarily unable to speak. To a Brit with an ironic sense of humour it was a laughable display of sincerity almost on a par with the tearful public displays of love North Koreans are encouraged to show for their great leaders. But in Japan that kind of sincerity is esteemed as majime.

At, majime is explained thus:
Sincerity is an especially valued commodity in Japan. When expressing gratitude or conveying an apology, it is especially important to speak and act as though your words come from the heart.  Japanese often make apologies and express thanks to each other with bows, deeply emotive tonality, and repetitions of the same words. To a Westerner, this can easily come across as melodramatic or even maudlin. On the other hand, the cool detachment that is so prized in the West is often interpreted as insincerity in Japan.

In Paul Fussell's book about WWI, Douglas Haig comes across, not very well, as the epitome of a different kind of sincerity -- the sincerity of the stiff upper lip. But what both kinds of sincerity -- straight-laced British and traditional Japanese -- have in common, is lack of any sense of irony. 

On Christmas Day 1909, five years before the Great War broke out, and 50 years to the day before I was born, my great-grandparents Bill and Maggie Haworth were married. They got married on Christmas Day because she was up the duff with my grandma and 25 December was their first available day off work. After my grandma was born they took precautions not to have any more children, which they could ill afford to bring up. This led Bill to complain that he had only ever had one “gradely do.” (Gradely is Lancashire dialect for good.) On their diamond wedding anniversary in 1969 Bill and Maggie were featured in a national newspaper. I have the cutting somewhere. They were pictured holding their congratulatory telegram from the Queen. In the article Bill, looking back to his early years, states his view that far from being the good old days, “Them were the bad old days!”

For Bill Haworth, evidently, “the good old days” was a phrase whose irony was not to be passed over. 

Bill Haworth, as I knew him in my childhood and early teens, was a quiet man of deadpan humour. He had lived through, though not fought in, the two world wars, and put up with a lot, including Maggie's long-standing infidelity with a bloke my mother knew as Uncle Jack. Shortly before his death Bill told my grandma, referring to her mother, his wife, “Hers made my life a misery.” Happy ever after might have been another phrase whose irony was not lost on Bill Haworth. 

Bill liked poetry and on special occasions he would like to recite one verse in particular:

Today's [my daughter's wedding] day.
A thousand pounds I'll give away!
On second thoughts, I think it best.
To put it back in the old oak chest.

I have just googled this ironic gem and – in what I take as an encouraging sign that all this blather is getting somewhere – it turns out to be a marching chant from none other than the Great War.

In a section titled Soldiers Songs of the Great War, in the website of the Western Front Association, the chant is recorded thus:

1st voice

- Today’s my daughter’s wedding day

Ten thousand pounds I’ll give away

Others - Hip hip hip hurray! loud cheers.

On second thoughts I think it best

I’ll lock it in my old oak chest

iti: thus
iha [EHJ]: ind. here
ebhiḥ (inst. pl. m.): these
hetubhiḥ (inst. pl.): n. causes
dhīman (voc. sg.): O
dhīmat: mfn. intelligent , wise , learned , sensible
dhī: f. thought , (esp.) religious thought , reflection , meditation , devotion , prayer (pl. Holy Thoughts personified) ; understanding , intelligence , wisdom (personified as the wife of rudra-manyu BhP. ) , knowledge , science , art

janma-srotaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the stream of births
pravartate = 3rd pers. sg. pra √ vṛt: to roll or go onwards (as a carriage) , be set in motion or going ; to come forth , issue , originate , arise , be produced , result , occur , happen , take place

hetv-abhāve [EBC] (loc. sg.): in the absence of the cause
hetv-abhāvāt [EHJ] (abl. sg.): through absence of the cause
phalābhāvaḥ (nom. sg. m.): absence of result

iti: “...,” thus
vijñātum = infinitive vijñā: to know, understand
arhasi = 2nd pers. sg. arh: to ought

縁斯計我故 隨順生死流
此因非性者 果亦非有性


Jordan said...


Why did you choose to use a
$64.00 word when a $5.00 word would do?

Mike Cross said...


having or showing an ability to notice and understand things that are difficult or not obvious

Some things can't be achieved by breaking things and killing people!