Tuesday, September 16, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.43: Asking about Means & End

iti vākyam-idaṁ śrutvā munes-tasya npātmajaḥ |
abhyupāyaṁ ca papraccha padam-eva ca naiṣṭhikam || 12.43

The prince, having listened

To these words of that sage,

Asked about the means;

And about the step, yes, which represents the end.

Here, I thought yesterday, is a verse for Jordan Fountain -- nothing too elaborate; no great perspicacity required.

The prince, having listened to these words of that sage, /
Asked about the means and about the ultimate step.//

Nice and simple. After all the ambiguity we have been investigating in Arāḍa's words, I thought to myself, today's verse is like a breath of fresh air. The bodhisattva, cutting through all philosophical problems, is simply asking, with a practical emphais, about means and end.

If only every problem in the world could be reduced to such plain simplicity, like killing people and breaking things.

But when I woke up in the morning, the emphatic eva in the 4th pāda was bothering me. 

And, yes, there is no getting away from it, the eva can be taken in at least two ways. So some perspicacity may be necessary after all.

Perspicacity is required, appreciation of irony is required, if we think the bodhisattva's question about means and ends is the question that was picked up by the Zen masters of ancient China, using the metaphor of polishing a tile and making a mirror.

One track of understanding is that buddhas take pains to encourage us bodhisattvas to attend primarily to the proper means, the next step, and not to be particularly interested in the ultimate end.

Hence, after taking the ultimate step, the Buddha spoke not in terms of ends but rather in terms of there being here a means:

iti duḥkham etad iyam asya samudaya-latā pravartikā śāntir iyam ayam upāya iti;
"This is suffering; this is the tangled mass of causes producing it; this is cessation; and here is a means." (SN3.12)

So even though the teaching of buddhas thus focuses our attention on a means, we bodhisattvas in our immaturity cannot help but be interested in the end.

The eva in today's verse can be read in this light, as a kind of ironic recognition of the bodhisattva's tendency – our immature tendency, yes – to take our eye off the ball.

FM Alexander, in the context of teaching a golfer how to eradicate faults in his game, looked in detail at this problem. He titled a chapter of his third book, “The Golfer Who Could Not Keep His Eye on the Ball.” 

In that chapter FM discusses the problem which he called “end-gaining” – going directly for the end without paying due attention to the means.

Overly conscientious Alexander students, however, misunderstanding Alexander's means-whereby principle, sometimes become shy about going ahead and gaining any end. 

A corollary in my experience, is the attitude of a devoted student of Zen Master Dogen who professes only to be interested in “just sitting” – as if enlightenment or nirvāna were mere words, like Father Christmas, with no basis in reality.

Alternatively, then, the eva in today's verse can be read as Aśvaghoṣa's affirmation, contrary to a certain strand of Soto Zen orthodoxy, that the ultimate step in the Buddha's teaching is nothing other than nirvāṇa. Hence:

uḥkha-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 //SN16.26
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.

dīpo yathā nirvṛtim-abhyupeto naivāvaniṃ gacchati nāntarikṣam /
A lamp that has gone out reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky,
diśaṃ na kāṃ-cid vidiśaṃ na kāṃ-cit sneha-kṣayāt kevalam-eti śāntim //SN16.28 
Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point:
Because its oil is spent it reaches nothing but extinction.

evaṃ kṛtī nirvṛtim-abhyupeto naivāvaniṃ gacchati nāntarikṣam /
In the same way, a man of action who has come to quiet
reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky,
diśaṃ na kāṃ-cid vidiśaṃ na kāṃ-cit kleśa-kṣayāt kevalam-eti śāntim //SN16.29
Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point:
From the ending of his afflictions he attains nothing but extinction.

asyābhyupāyo 'dhigamāya mārgaḥ prajñā-trikalpaḥ praśama-dvikalpaḥ /
A means for gaining that end is the path
of threefold wisdom and twofold tranquillity.
sa bhāvanīyo vidhivad budhena śīle śucau tripramukhe sthitena // SN16.30 //
It is to be cultivated by a wakeful person working to principle -
- abiding in untainted threefold integrity.

In conclusion, I think the eva in today's verse can be read in at least three ways:
  1. As a word that brings the number of syllables in the pāda up to the required eight; in so doing, though eva places a certain emphasis on the word that precedes it, the word does not have any meaning that can be adequately conveyed in English translation. In that case, ironically, I needn't have tried, after all, to be so persipicacious. 
  2. As an ironic negation of end-gaining.
  3. As an ironic affirmation which negates the negation of end-gaining.

Any way up, what we are studying on this blog, day by day, is the irony that resides in the gap between what is thought and what is really meant; or between what is expected and how things really turn out to be.

And as the Scottish Independence vote looms, I cannot help feeling that the whole bloody idea of an in-out referendum was misconceived from the start, and the whole thing will turn out to be a massive exercise in irony. 

If Scotland votes yes, with a view to prospering as an independent nation, a left-leaning Scottish economy is liable to go down the pan, facing unmanageable borrowing costs. If Scotland votes no, with a view to us all sticking together, we will probably be left more divided than we have been for 300 years. It already annoys me that my two sons have left university heavily in debt, whereas if we had been Scottish their fees would have been paid by the UK tax payer. 

IMHO, since the Big Bang in London in the 1980s, we as a United Kingdom have placed too much emphasis on money and finance, activities that have been more and more centred on London. We as a United Kingdom have not placed enough emphasis on helping people by making things.

Money is a means to an end. When we pursue it as an end in itself, money – ironically – becomes a hindrance. 
Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

iti: thus, these
vākyam (acc. sg.): n. words, speech, saying; an express declaration or statement (opp. to liṅga , " a hint " or indication) Sarvad.
idam (acc. sg. n.): this
śrutvā = abs. śru: to hear, listen

muneḥ (gen. sg.): m. the sage
tasya (gen. sg. m.): of him
nṛpātmajaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the self-born of the protector of men, the prince

abhyupāyam (acc. sg.): a means , an expedient
ca: and
papraccha = 3rd pers. sg. perf. prach: to ask, to ask after inquire about (acc.) ;

padam (acc. sg.): n. step, position, state
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and
naiṣṭhikam (acc. sg.): mfn. forming the end , final , last

太子聞斯説 復問阿羅藍
云何爲方便 究竟至何所 


Jordan said...

In my view, killing people and breaking things is not an end at all but rather a means whereby for continuing and not ending.

In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be a need for killing and breaking things. But as I watch the news I see reports of drug cartels working with Islamic terrorists. And this is happening just south of the U.S. southern border, that I'm 18 miles from... In addition to practice yoga with my girls, I’m going to teach them to shoot.

Mike Cross said...

I'll bet you will teach them to shoot straight as well, Jordan. But $64 words are also available.