ayam ādau ghān muktvā bhaikṣākaṁ liṅgam āśritaḥ |
samudācāra-vistīrṇaṁ śīlam ādāya vartate || 12.46
“First, having left home
And adopted the beggar's emblem,
Having taken to the way of integrity
which is riveted with acts done well,
The one in question carries on.
The most important word in today's verse, as I read it, is the last word, vartate, which expresses action going on.
I hear Arāḍa emphasizing that the primary thing is action. And so the word that expresses action, vartate, is given pride of place as the concluding word of the verse.
EBC translates vartate as “goes on,” and PO as “lives.” Inexplicably, however, the professor whose translations are usually the most reliable reflection of the grammar of Aśvaghoṣa's Sanskrit, EHJ, omits to translate vartate. Hence:
The devotee (ayam), in the beginning (ādau), having left his house (gṛhān muktvā), and assumed the signs of the mendicant (bhaikṣākaṁ liṅgam āśritaḥ), goes on (vartate), following a rule of conduct which extends to the whole life (samudācāra-vistīrṇaṁ śīlam ādāya).
The aspirant (ayam), after first leaving his family (ādau gṛhān muktvā) and
assuming the mendicant's badges (bhaikṣākaṁ liṅgam āśritaḥ), takes on himself a rule of discipline which covers all proper behaviour (samudācāra-vistīrṇaṁ śīlam ādāya). [no vartate]
At the outset (ādau), he (ayam) leaves his home (gṛhān muktvā), puts on a mendicant's emblem (bhaikṣākaṁ liṅgam āśritaḥ), and lives (vartate) adhering to a rule of life embracing all standards of good conduct (samudācāra-vistīrṇaṁ śīlam ādāya).
Apropos of the primary thing being action, and with an eye to Arāḍa's forthcoming enumeration of the four dhyānas, it may be worth remembering that dhyāna is originally an -na neuter action noun. So though a dhyāna is generally understood and translated as a stage or a state of meditation or absorption, dhyāna is originally an -ing word; it literally means thinking or meditating.
In the same way, Nāgārjuna's jñāna in MMK26.11 originally means not so much knowledge as knowing, or an act of knowing. Ulimately it might mean the act of knowing, i.e. just sitting.
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.
I am coming to the end of a 3-month stay by the forest, and as I do so I would like to finish as I began by reflecting on this teaching of Nāgārjuna about doing and non-doing.
Non-doing does not mean not acting. Nor does it mean not going ahead, in due course, and gaining an end.
What we are saying “no” to, in the practice of non-doing, is the desire to go ahead and gain the end directly, by an act of doing, without due attention to the proper means-whereby.
It is not that we wish to replace acts of doing with emptiness, with nothing doing. The challenge is to give up an act of doing and bring into being in its place an act of knowing.
Hence Marjory Barlow summarized the essence of the work like this:
Say No, give your directions, and go into movement, without a care in the world – let it come out in the wash.
It is in light of my Zen teacher's “philosophy of action,” that I understand (or fail to understand) the primacy of vartate in today's verse. At the same time, I see vartate in today's verse as very much corresponding with Marjory's "going into movement."
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this man, the one in question (EBC: the devotee; EHJ: the aspirant)
ādau: ind. (loc.) in the beginning, first up
gṛhāt (abl. sg.): m. house, family
muktvā = abs. muc: to leave, quit
bhaikṣākam (acc. sg.): n. mendicancy, Bcar.
liṅgam (acc. sg.): n. a mark , spot , sign , token , badge , emblem , characteristic ; guise
āśritaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. attaching oneself to, joining; having recourse to; receiving anything as an inherent or integral part Mn.
samudācāra: proper or right practice or usage or conduct or behaviour MBh. R. &c
sam-ud-ā- √ car: to move or travel about ; to practise, accomplish, do
sam-udācāra-vat: mfn. one who conducts himself well MBh
vistīrṇa: mfn. strewn or covered or studded with (instr. or comp.) ; spread out , expanded , broad , large , great , copious , numerous
śīlam (acc. sg.): n. habit , custom , usage , natural or acquired way of living or acting , practice , conduct ; good disposition or character , moral conduct , integrity , morality , piety , virtue ; a moral precept (with Buddh. there are 5 fundamental precepts or rules of moral conduct cf. pañca-śīla)
ādāya = abs. ā- √ dā: " to give to one's self " , take , accept ; to take or carry away with one's self ; to put on (clothes) ; to undertake, begin
vartate = 3rd pers. sg. vṛt: to turn; to move or go on , get along , advance , proceed; to abide