Wednesday, October 1, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.58: Zen's Vast Rewards

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asya dhyānasya tu phalaṁ samaṁ devair bhat-phalaiḥ |
kathayanti bhat-kālaṁ bhat-prajñā-parīkṣakāḥ || 12.58

Whereas, truly, the fruit of this act of meditating,

Like the abundant fruit of the Bṛhat-phala deities,
the Gods of Fat Profit,

Is immensely long-lasting,

Say those who investigate the vast real wisdom.

Yesterday's verse reminds us that to take the fourth dhyāna as ultimate liberation, is a mistake born of conceit. But, today's verse reminds us further, that is no reason to think light of Zen practice. On the contrary, Arāḍa is suggesting -- presaging Zen Master Dogen by many hundreds of years -- that not even the buddhas themselves can fathom the limitless fruits of everyday Zen practice. 

When the monk who mistook the fourth dhyāna put the blame on the Buddha and went to hell, the fault was not in the fourth dhyāna but was in the monk's conceit. The contrasting example is the monk in Upagupta's order who, having mistaken the fourth dhyāna, was able with all due humility to recognize his mistake, after which the fourth dhyāna did indeed for him, eventually, bring forth the fat fruit of arhathood, the fourth fruit of the noble dharma.

The turning word in today's verse, repeated three times in the original and rendered five times in translation, is bṛhat, which I have rendered as abundant, Bṛhat, Fat, immensely long, and vast. 

I considered translating  bṛhat as "abundant" in every instance, for the sake of conformity, but on further reflection decided to translate bṛhat differently according to the context set by a four-phased progression through today's verse. 

In four phases, today's verse can be read like this: 
  1. that Zen practice will produce its reward is sometimes a hopeful idea, a bit of idealism; 
  2. Fat Profit is redolent with materialism; 
  3. Time, as the immense stage upon which karma plays out, belongs to the third phase;
  4. and the vast real wisdom of prajñā is the object, and indeed the subject, of our dedication.
But on first reading today's verse does not easily give up such meaning. On first reading, one suspects that the gap between Arāḍa's teaching and the Buddha's teaching is beginning to open up. Hence, 

EBC: The fruit of this contemplation which is on an equality with the Vṛhatphala deities, those who investigate the great wisdom call the Vṛhatphala.

EHJ: But those who investigate the transic knowledge of the Absolute describe its fruit as enduring for many ages with the Bṛhatphala deities.

PO: Those who explore the knowledge of the Great, however, describe the fruit of this trance / As lasting over a great span of time together with the Brithat-phala gods. 

EHJ added in a footnote: I take bṛhat in d to be a synonym of brahman (neuter). 

Hence EHJ translated bṛhat-prajñā "knowledge of the Absolute" and PO followed suit with "knowledge of the Great." 

This is the kind of reading that leads PO to assert that Buddhacarita presents Buddhism as the crowning and consummation of the Brahmanical religion. 

I think that possibly Aśvaghoṣa may have been inviting us to read Arāḍa's words in that light. Aśvaghoṣa's wish may have been to save us from the sin of certainty.  In any event, bṛhat-prajñā, as I read the compound, more really points not to the God Brahma but rather to the unfathomable vastness of prajñā, real wisdom. And those who investigate this vastness of prajñā, I venture to submit, do so from the inside of sitting practice. 

Read in that light, the parīkṣakāḥ  in the 4th pāda of today's verse can be taken as contrasting with the upekṣakaḥ of BC12.56. Which is to say that in the context of the fourth dhyāna, upa-√īkṣ, to look on with indifference, is a virtue. But beyond the fourth dhyāna what is really profitable might be pari-√īkṣ, to investigate, to look into something and find out all about it, and not only from the outside looking in. 

In outlining the four dhyānas, Arāda has now mentioned gods at each of the four levels.
  1. In relation to the first dhyāna, he described how the immature person is liable to get stuck in a brahma-world, an abode of pious divinities (BC12.51).
  2. In relation to the second dhyāna, he pointed to the danger of becoming fixed among Ābhāsvara deities, the Shining Gods (BC12.53).
  3. In relation to the third dhyāna, he cautioned against wallowing in ease in the company of Śubha-kṛtsna deities, the Gods of Resplendent Wholeness (BC12.55).
  4. In today's verse, in relation to the fourth dhyāna, he discusses gods again in the form of  the Bṛhat-phalah deities, the Gods of Great Reward, or Abundant Fruit, or Fat Profit.
Again, I suspect that this progression might contain a kind of set-up for the unwary. The first three references to gods cause an association to form between gods and going astray or getting stuck. If a prejudice against gods has thus been formed, then today's verse, when we study it in depth, might be out to challenge or break the prejudice. 

Thus the gods in question in today's verse are known as  bṛhat-phalah, in which compound bṛhat is cognate with brahma, both words deriving from the root bṛh, to grow fat. Hence, ironically, in the 2nd pāda bṛhat is redolent with real reward or material fat, but  in the 4th pāda the derivation from the root bṛh led EHJ to translate bṛhat as the least material thing there is, namely the Absolute -- i.e. the Supreme, the Indefinable, Immutable, Eternal, of Whom there is None but Him and whose Ultimate Prophet, some vociferously assert, is nobody but Mohammed. 

I am finding it hard to get the register of this comment right. The difficulty may reflect the skill with which Aśvaghoṣa, using various means like the interlocution of Arāḍa, 1. wishes absolutely to smash religious views, 2. wishes that the smashing should take place in a manner in which the smasher himself or herself might be saved from any kind of sin of religious certainty. 

A couple of weeks ago on the radio, in an edition of Great Lives devoted to Dorothy L. Sayers, a letter was read out in which a listener complained to the BBC for broadcasting a play that Sayers (herself a Christian) had written about Our Lord Jesus Christ. In this play, which was broadcast around the time of WWII, Sayers had dared to portray Our Saviour as if he were a normal human being. The writer of the letter sounded very much like an Islaamic fundamentalist of the present era complaining about representation of the Prophet. 

So here was cause to reflect that, somehow, in some respects, we in Britain have been going in the right direction, away from religious fundamentalism. Away, in other words, from religion itself. 

This, I venture to submit, is one of the rewards of Zen practice, if one sticks with it and follows the principle of non-doing. At least in my experience, this practice tends to make a person less religious. And I hope the present translation, the first draft of which all being well I will complete in the spring of 2015, will reflect that progress, and thus find a receptive audience among the irreligious. There again,  I'm not good at making predictions, a wise man once said, especially about the future.

When I read Patrick Olivelle's translation six years ago, I loved it. I loved the translation and I loved the Clay Sanskrit Library book. It was such a useful resource for me starting out on the path of studying Aśvaghoṣa, and it has continued to be a useful resource. But the Buddha's teaching is studied among academics as if "Buddhist studies" belonged in a department similar to Christian studies or Islamic studies. Whereas I would argue that the Buddha's teaching as Aśvaghoṣa presents it is a cut above all religions. And the vast real wisdom to which Arāḍa alludes in today's verse is not the kind of knowledge that can be gleaned from the outside of sitting-Zen practice. 

asya (gen. sg.): n. this
dhyānasya (gen. sg.): n. dhyāna, act of meditating
tu: but
phalam (nom/acc. sg.): n. result, fruit

samam (nom/acc . sg. n.): same , equal , similar , like , equivalent , like to or identical or homogeneous with (instr.)
devaiḥ (nom. sg.): m. god
bṛhat-phalaiḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having large fruit bringing great profit or reward ; m. pl. N. of a class of Buddhist gods
bṛhat: mfn. lofty , high , tall , great , large , wide , vast , abundant , compact , solid , massy , strong , mighty ; full-grown , old
bṛh: to be thick , grow great or strong , increase

kathayanti = 3rd pers. pl. kath: to tell , relate , narrate , report , inform , speak about , declare , explain , describe (with acc. of the thing or person spoken about)
bṛhat-kālam (acc. sg. n.): for vast swathes of time
kālam: ind. for a certain time (e.g. mahāntaṁ kālam , for a long time)
bṛhat-kāla-jñāna: n. " the large kāla-jñāna or knowledge of times " , N. of wk.
bṛhat-prajñā-parīkṣakāḥ (nom. pl. m.):
parīkṣaka: m. a prover , examiner , judge
pari- √īkṣ: to look round , inspect carefully , try , examine , find out , observe , perceive

任彼四禪報 得生廣果天
以彼久壽故 名之爲廣果 

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