Sunday, September 14, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.41: Two Kinds of Knower of the Field? (On Seeing and Not Seeing the Gap)

¦−−−−¦¦−−−⏑¦⏑−⏑−   mavipulā
yathāvad-etad-vijñāya kṣetra-jño hi catuṣṭayam |
ājavaṁjavatāṁ hitvā prāpnoti padam-akṣaram || 12.41

For having properly fathomed this four,

The knower of the field

Abandons the rushing torrent of births and deaths

And realizes the undying step.

The present canto is turning out to be a particularly difficult one, and it seems to be getting more difficult with each verse. But the key may be, as always, to identify the ostensible and hidden meanings, and to understand-- with all due perspicacity – the significance of the gap. To understand, in other words, Aśvaghoṣa's use of irony.

My French neighbour has just turned 40, which is I suppose a cause for celebration. But the celebrations involved a party last night which kept going, energized by thumping bass, till 5 o'clock this morning. The result is that I tottered to my meditation hut this morning, later than usual, in the most fragile of conditions. In a bid to up my own energy, I hummed and recited out loud the verses I have memorized so far in the present canto, reflecting as I hummed what I had just recited and what I was going to recite next.

My thoughts came back to the matter of perspicacity – a word evidently frowned upon by the kind of reader of this blog who is steeped in killing people and breaking things.
perspicacious : having or showing an ability to notice and understand things that are difficult or not obvious

It occurred to me this morning how from an early age I have suffered from what might be labelled PDD, Perspicacity Deficit Disorder. From an early age I had a mind that was bright and – more to the point – sharp, so that I was precocious at reading and spelling and learning times tables. I was good, in other words, at learning things that were obvious and not difficult.

But when it came to noticing and understanding something that was difficult and not obvious, like the fact that the teaching of a Zen Master on such matters as Freudian psychology, could be totally wrong, I was the opposite of perspicacious and precocious. Among empty cups, there was none more vacuous than I was.

That is partly why I continue to feel angry about the modus operandi of my late teacher, Gudo Nishijima. He asked for an empty cup, filled my empty cup with a lot of crap, and then observing my efforts to empty it out again he called me, with no due sense of irony, a non-Buddhist.

Gudo had told me in the early days that without Sigmund Freud he would never have been able to understand true Buddhism.

I will leave each reader to explore for himself or herself the irony with which this statement was pregnant. But 30 years ago I totally failed to notice any irony in it. 

Taking my teacher's statement as a foundation stone, I read Freud's books one by one, trying to make sense of what was meant (in English translation from the German) by ego, id, and superego, as if those inconvenient fictions really existed.

I was particularly impressed by books like The Informed Heart and The Uses of Enchantment by psychologist Bruno Bettelheim – gullible sap that I was. On the surface, what BB wrote all seemed to make good sense. What was difficult, and not obvious, was that Bettelheim was committing the cardinal sin of failing to appreciate the neuro-developmental basis, rather than psychological basis, of the suffering of children on what is now called “the autistic spectrum.”

In general, the more fragile my condition is, the longer my blog posts tend to become. So I shall abruptly halt this digression here, and drag myself back to today's verse, bringing whatever shreds of perspicacity I can muster to an investigation of its ostensible and hidden meanings.

In these terms, the key to today's verse might lie back in BC12.20, in which Arāḍa seemed to distinguish between two kinds of kṣetra-jṇa, knowing/knower of the field:
Because it knows this field, the conscious is called Kṣetra-jña, “Knower of the Field.” At the same time, those who contemplate the ātman, the self, speak of the self as the knower of the field. //BC12.20//

One kind of kṣetra-jña, then, is the Kṣetra-jña, “Knower of the Field,” a disembodied consciousness as celebrated from darkest Indian antiquity in Sāṁkhya philosophy.

But another kind of kṣetra-jña might be a person, a human being in possession of himself or herself, who knows the unified field which has a dual aspect (Awake / Not Awake; Manifest / Not Manifest). That might be the person who, as discussed yesterday, is meeting the Tathāgata.

For the meaning of ājavaṁjavatām, EHJ refers us to an article in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (JRAS 1931, 569-70). But since I don't belong to the priesthood of academic scholars, I do not appear to be able to follow up that lead, at least not without paying a financial penalty.

What I can glean from the dictionary is that ājavaṁjavatām is probably formed from java, which means swift. EHJ translated it as “the rushing torrent of birth and death,” and so I have followed EHJ. PO also translated “the stream of births and deaths.” EBC, while suspecting that his text might be corrupt, had read ārjavaṁ javatām and translated “[having abandoned] all (ideas of) straightness or quickness.”

EHJ notes further that she second half of today's verse is equivalent to a line in the Mahā-bhārata (xii, 87675): Tad vidvān aksaraṁ prāpya jahāti prāṇajanmānī.

My tentative conclusion about today's verse, then, is that it can once again be read either as

  • (a) harking back to ancient Indian concepts, like the Sāṁkhya concept of kṣetra-jña, “Knower of the Field,” by which was meant the consciousness which distinguishes between the Awake and the Not Awake, and the Manifest and the Not Manifest;
  • (b) presaging the Buddha's teaching in which, by an act of knowing, the doings which are the root of saṁsāra are not done, and thus the whole edifice of suffering is brought crashing down.

In terms of four phases, however, the progression which has seemed to fit the first 40 verses of this Canto well enough, may now be breaking down. Which is to say that if we take today's verse as presaging the Buddha's teaching, then realizing the deathless step would most naturally belong to the fourth phase, as a pointer, like yesterday's verse, to the one bright pearl.

Here, for the record, is the progression so far as I have been using it, in four-phased blocks, to memorize the present Canto:

BC12.1 – ideal moon
BC12.2 - spatial dimensions
BC12.3 – subject and object meet at the place of purity
BC12.4 - Sitting

BC12.5 – ideal vessel
BC12.6 – dogged constancy, unromantic negation of emotion
BC12.7 – nothing miraculous
BC12.8 – something miraculous

BC12.9 - vi- √ jñā 1. to know
BC12.10 - vi- √ jñā 2. being known
BC12.11 - vi- √ jñā 3. knowing
BC12.12 – Like realization

BC12.13 – I esteem your teaching like...
BC12.14 – skepticism (Can it be explained?)
BC12.15 – Arāḍa acts (his own teaching)
BC12.16 – Listen!

BC12.17 – Intro; concepts / birth, death, aging 
BC12.18 – Prakṛti - what is really primary (not what you think) 
BC12.19 – Vikāra - physical bits and bobs; equally, the mind 
BC12.20 – Knowing the [Unified] Field  (= meeting the Tāthagata) 

BC12.21 – distinction 1; Awake vs Not Awake
BC12.22 – distinction 2: Manifest vs Not Manifest
BC12.23 – causes of saṁsāra
BC12.24 – the eight concrete causes

BC12.25, 26 – wrong grounding, selfishness
BC12.27, 28 – blurring (x2)
BC12.29, 30 – lack of discrimination, wrong means
BC12.31, 32 – attachment, pulling down

BC12.33 – thus, fivefold ignorance
BC12.34 – tamo, moha, mahā-moha
BC12.35 -  mahā-moha = kāma
BC12.36 – tamīsram (x2) 

BC12.37 – duḥkha (saṁsāra as 1st noble truth)
BC12.38 – negation of “ego” (ironic affirmation of aham)
BC12.39 – truth of cessation
BC12.40 – back to meeting the Tāthagata

BC12.41 - ??

yathāvat: ind. duly , properly , rightly , suitably , exactly
etat (acc. sg. n.): this, this here
vijñāya = abs. vi- √ jñā : to distinguish , discern , observe , investigate , recognize , ascertain , know , understand ; to have right knowledge

kṣetra-jñaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the knower of the field
hi: for
catuṣṭayam (acc. sg.): n. set of four

ājavaṁjavatām (acc. sg. f.): [EHJ] the rushing torrent of birth and death
java: mfn. ( √ ju , or jū) swift
jū: to press forwards , hurry on , be quick ; to impel quickly , urge or drive on , incite
hitvā = abs. hā: to abandon, leave

prāpnoti = 3rd pers. sg. pra- √āp: to attain to ; reach , arrive at , meet with , find ; obtain
padam (acc. sg.): n. step, state
akṣaram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. imperishable , unalterable ; m. a sword ; n. final beatitude religious austerity , sacrifice
kṣara: melting away , perishable ; m. a cloud ; n. water ; n. the body

若知此四法 能離生老死生老死既盡 逮得無盡處 

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