Saturday, September 20, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.47: Theory & Practice – No False Dichotomy

saṁtoṣaṁ param-āsthāya yena tena yatas-tataḥ |
viviktaṁ sevate vāsaṁ nir-dvandvaḥ śāstra-vit ktī || 12.47

Staying close to the deepest contentment

With whatever, from wherever,

He abides in seclusion,

Free from dichotomies, 
a knower of the teaching, a man of action.

The irony in today's verse, as I read it, is that Arāḍa is ostensibly describing a step preparatory to realization of the first dhyāna, but his words can also be read as answering the bodhisattva's question about padaṁ naiṣṭhikam, the ultimate step.

The ultimate step, so they say, is nirvāna. And the Buddha on the night before he died, according to a sūtra quoted in the final chapter of Shobogenzo, said that a person of small desire already has nirvāṇa. 

The first two pādas of today's verse, then, read like mirrors of the first two truths of the eight truths of a great human being. These two are recorded in Chinese characters as 少欲知足 (Jap: SHOYOKU-CHISOKU), small desire, knowing contentment. 

In the 3rd pāda, the Zen master Arāda, as he gets round to describing the first dhyāna, by the book, speaks of separation or seclusion, using the Sanskrit terms vivikta and vivekaAśvaghoṣa, also evidently going by the book, uses these terms himself, as narrator in several places in his poems, in connection with the first dhyāna. See for example SN17.42 and BC5.11 below. (See also use of viviktam in BC5.8)

kāmair-viviktaṃ malinaiś-ca dharmair-vitarkavac-cāpi vicāravac-ca |
Distanced from desires and tainted things, 
containing ideas and containing thoughts,
viveka-jaṃ prīti-sukhopapannaṃ dhyānaṃ tataḥ sa prathamaṃ prapede || SN17.42
Born of seclusion and possessed of joy and ease, 
is the first stage of meditation, which he then entered.

adhigamya tato viveka-jaṁ tu parama-prīti-sukhaṁ manaḥ-samādhim |
But then, having experienced that most excellent state of joy and ease, 
born of separateness, which is integration of the mind,
imam-eva tataḥ paraṁ pradadhyau manasā loka-gatiṁ niśamya samyak || BC5.11
He proceeded to give consideration to the following evident fact 
– since, by means of the mind, he had clearly seen the way of the world.

In two verses time (BC12.49), again, the first dhyāna will be described as viveka-jam, “born of separateness” or “born of seclusion.”

Following the MW dictionary, the three professors, as also Linda Covill in her Handsome Nanda, translate viveka in this context as “discrimination." They take the separateness expressed by viveka to be separateness in the mind -- i.e. the kind of clear-cut thinking which is aided by drinking coffee (don't knock it!). But in today's verse, as in BC5.8 and BC5.11, the context is that Arāḍa is describing not only mental seclusion but also physical solitude or seclusion.

The word vivikta in the 3rd pāda, then, puts me in mind again of the dual meaning of viveka-jam, which I have worried about in the past, before concluding that “born of separateness” or “born of seclusion” are translations that adequately cover both physical and mental aspects of viveka.

If you enter “born of seclusion” in the search bar on this web-page, by the way, you will find a whole number of English translations of Pali texts in which the phrase "born of seclusion" appears.

The best known of these texts is probably Mahāsatipaṭṭhānasuttaṁ (DN 22), The Long Discourse about the Ways of Attending to Mindfulness.

The Sutta contains the following description of the first dhyāna (Pali, jhānaṁ):

Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sammāsamādhi?
Now what, monks, is right concentration?
Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi, vivicca akusalehi dhammehi,
Here, monks, a monk, quite secluded from sense desires, secluded from unwholesome things,
savitakkaṁ, savicāraṁ, vivekajaṁ pītisukhaṁ,
having thinking, reflection, and the happiness and joy born of seclusion,
paṭhamaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati. 
dwells having attained the first absorption.

Evidently, in enumerating the four dhyānas, Arāḍa was indeed going by the book, as were those who listed the four dhyānas in the Pali Sutta, as was Aśvaghoṣa himself in SN Canto 17. 

The foregoing discussion of viviktam in the 3rd pāda of today's verse, long-winded though the discussion is, is intended to lay the groundwork for me to attempt to explain how I read nir-dvandvaḥ in the 4th pāda.

Nir-dvandvaḥ describes the practitioner in EBC's translation as “indifferent to all feelings” and in EHJ's translation as free from the pairs of worldly life.” I think PO is closer to the mark with "free from the pairs of opposites." 

Aśvaghoṣa might have had in mind the false dichotomy alluded to above, between physical and mental seclusion – the truth being that the first dhyāna is born of both.

But what is more sure is that he was hinting at a false dichotomy between theory and practice, in juxtaposing the compounds śāstra-vit (knowing the śāstra, knowing the teaching, knowing the book), and kṛtī (being a man of action).  

Simply thinking, an iron man of Zen has eyes only for action, being as described in Fukan-zazengi ZETSU-GAKU MU-I, through with study and free of doing. An iron man of Zen, ostensibly, is not amenable to being described as śāstra-vit which, according to the MW dictionary, sometimes carries the pejorative connotation of “a mere theorist.”

The truth might be, however, that practice of non-doing involves working to a principle. The principle is the principle of non-endgaining; or, in other words, the means-whereby principle.

It is only by working to this principle, it seems to me, that we have any chance of meeting Nāgārjuna's invitation to bring into being that very act of knowing in which reality makes its presence felt.

Working to this principle was what FM Alexander was talking about when he said:
"When an investigation comes to be made it will be found that every single thing we do in the work is exactly what is done in Nature, where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously."

For the last six years of his life, apparently, FM Alexander and his niece Marjory Barlow who was so truly devoted to his teaching, did not speak to each other. Something happened that Marjory did not like to talk about; she refers to the incident in her book An Examined Life, written with Trevor Allan Davies, not describing what happened except to recognize that there was a general failure of inhibition. 

A strikingly ironic illustration of how hard it is to learn to do anything consciously.

It is not so hard in theory, but it can be excrutiatingly difficult in practice, especially when relations between family members are involved. Hence the Zen master Arāḍa spoke with good reason in yesterday's verse about leaving home, and hence he speaks with good reason in today's verse about abiding in seclusion. 

saṁtoṣam (acc. sg.): m. satisfaction , contentedness
param (acc. sg. m.): better, highest, of the highest order, supreme
āsthāya = abs. ā- √ sthā: to stand or remain on or by ; to ascend , mount ; to stay near , go towards ; to act according to , follow ; to undertake , perform , do , carry out , practise , use ; to side or take part with ; to maintain , affirm

yena tena: with whatever
yatas tataḥ: from wherever (" from any one so ever " , " from any quarter whatever ")

viviktam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. separated , kept apart , distinguished , discriminated; isolated , alone , solitary
sevate = 3rd pers. sg. sev: to dwell or stay near or in (loc.) ; to remain or stay at , live in , frequent , haunt , inhabit , resort to (acc.) ; to devote or apply one's self to , cultivate , study , practise , use , employ , perform , do
vāsam (acc. sg.): m. staying , remaining (esp. " overnight ") , abiding , dwelling , residence , living ; state , situation , condition
vāsaṁ- √vas , to take up one's abode , abide , dwell

nir-dvandvaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. indifferent to the alternatives or opposite pairs (of feelings , as pleasure and pain) , neither glad nor sorry &c
dvandva: n. pair, couple ; a pair of opposites (e.g. heat and cold , joy and sorrow &c ); strife , quarrel , contest , fight (esp. between two persons , a duel)
śāstra-vit (nom. sg. m.): mfn. acquainted with the śāstras , learned , a specialist (kevala-ś° , " a mere theorist ")
kṛtī (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who acts , active ; expert , clever , skilful , knowing ,

少欲知足止 精麁任所得
樂獨修閑居 勤習諸經論 

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