tac ca dhyāna-sukhaṁ prāpya tat-tad eva vitarkayan |
apūrva-sukha-lābhena hriyate bāliśo janaḥ || 12.50
Experiencing this state of meditative ease,
While thinking various things
– this but also that –
The immature person is carried away
By enjoyment of the new-found happiness.
Ostensibly Arāḍa is going through the four dhyānas one by one, in their proper order, dryly, by the book. Below the surface, however (though it could be just me projecting my own joy at finally getting to grips with the four dhyānas), I can't help feeling something joyfully ironic -- humurous and subversive -- running through this description of the first dhyāna.
In the background, I wanted for many years to have a clear explanation of the four dhyānas – ever since reading Shobogenzo chap. 90 whose title Shizen-biku means The Bhikṣu in the Fourth Dhyāna. This refers to the salutary example of a monk who, on attaining the fourth dhyāna, proudly considered himself to have realized the fourth fruit of the Buddha-dharma, which is the state beyond study, the worthy state of an arhat, an enlightened being.
But no satisfactory explanation was available to me while I lived in Japan. The Buddhist dictionaries had abbreviated descriptions in Chinese characters that could have meant almost anything.
So when I started studying Aśvaghoṣa in Sanskrit, my attention was quickly drawn to his description of the four dhyānas, in this Canto and also in SN Canto 17. Looking back on it now, I still feel grateful to have found Aśvaghoṣa's description, and happy to see their correspondence with the Mahāsatipaṭṭhānasutta (DN 22) quoted yesterday.
At the same time, I can't help feeling that the joke has been on me -- a bit like making an effort and spending money to have an Alexander lesson with a teacher of high repute, only to find that what was on offer, ultimately, was a bit of nothing.
If I am justified in reading today's verse in this light, then the key hint to this ironic meaning might be the emphatic eva in the 2nd pāda, which places stress on the second tad. So tat tad vitarkayan means thinking various things, thinking this and that, but tat tad eva vitarkayan means something like “thinking this but especially that” or “thinking this, not to mention that," or "thinking this, but not forgetting that."
So “thinking this” might mean, for example, noticing that the thumbs are no longer in contact with each other and directing the tips of the thumbs together. Directing the thumbs together means thinking thumbs to lengthen and thinking tips of the thumbs together. Responding to the stimulus of what has been noticed not by doing something directly, not by making a postural adjustment, but as an exercise in thinking.
Again, “thinking this” might mean thinking ahead to the second of the four stages of sitting-meditation, and thinking beyond the fourth dhyāna towards the worthy state of the arhat.
But “thinking that” might mean, for example, thinking about what I dreamt last night, or thinking what I am going to have for dinner.
When we go by the book, "thinking this" is the kind of thinking that rightly belongs to the first stage of sitting-meditation.
But when we set the book aside, and investigate how it really is on the inside of sitting practice, the truth is that sitting is ever liable to contain a whole lot of extraneous "thinking that."
One thing is for sure. Since I am heading back to England tomorrow and still have a whole load of the winter radishes that I grew in the vegetable patch I dug in July, today's menu is once again going to involve grated radish.
And while the mind is joyfully given over to thinking that, the fingers curl, as if around the handle of a mattock, and the thumbs again drift apart...
tat (acc. sg. n.): that
dhyāna-sukham (acc. sg. n.): meditative pleasure
prāpya = abs. pra- √āp: to attain to ; reach , arrive at , meet with , find; to obtain
tat-tad (acc. sg. n.): this and that
vitarkayan = nom. sg. m. pres. part vi- √ tark: to reflect , ponder , think , believe , suppose , conjecture , consider
apūrva-sukha-lābhena (inst. sg.): by the attainment of ease not experienced before
apūrva: unpreceded , unprecedented ; not having existed before , quite new
sukha: n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness
lābha: m. meeting with, finding; obtaining, enjoying
hriyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive hṛ: to be carried away
bāliśaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. young , childish , puerile , ignorant , simple , foolish
janaḥ (nom. sg.): m. person