Thursday, October 2, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.59: The Higher Knowledge or an Act of Knowing – Gap or No Gap?

samādher vyutthitas tasmād dṣṭvā doṣāṁś charīriṇām |
jñānam ārohati prājñaḥ śarīra-vinivttaye || 12.59

The man of wisdom, 
giving up the balancing act of that samādhi,

Having seen the faults of people possessed of bodies,

Rises to the challenge which is the act of knowing –

He rises up, in the direction of bodily extinction.

On first reading, again, one has the clear impression that a gap has opened up between Arāḍa's teaching and the Buddha's teaching.

The case for the prosecution is that Arāḍa is describing somebody who has diverged greatly or swerved (vy-utthitaḥ) from the Buddha's noble eightfold path, in which the ultimate practice is Zen practice of samādhi, and Zen practice in samādhi. This errant person – who Arāḍa in his non-Buddhist ignorance deems to be wise  has fallen into the religious view of seeing the body as originally sinful. With this religious view that sees all embodied beings as being inherently faulty, the errant and ignorant person, who Arāḍa deems to be wise, aspires to a higher state in which the spiritual intelligence is freed from the fetters of physical existence.

This conception of liberation is, in fact, much as Arāḍa will express it in five verses' time:
Thus, like a muñja stalk from its sheath, like a bird from its cage, / The knower of the field, escaped from the body, is said to be liberated.//12.64

So it looks like an open and shut case.

But not so fast.

Once again, as yesterday, we are required to ask if this case for the prosecution is proven beyond all reasonable doubt.

The case for the defence centres on the ambiguity of each element in Arāda's argument.

Thus, in the 1st pāda, vy-ud-√sthā, from which the past participle vy-utthitaḥ is derived, could express
(a) something errant, like veering away from the samādhi of accepting and using the self, which is the criterion of true Zen practice; or, ironically,
(b) a bit of nothing, or a bit of the buddha-nature, like going into movement and forgetting oneself.

A person who has been taught the Alexander Technique badly, or who has been taught well but has yet to get the point, is like a person who has been taught so-called Buddhist-based "mindfulness" badly. He or she tends to look self-conscious and stilted. Or even if he or she doesn't look like that on the surface, he or she will invariably be doing this and that below the surface. To be free of such doing, even when one has become aware of the problem, is not so easy. But the 1st pāda of today's verse can be read as pointing, ironically, to the possibility of such freedom. 

In Britain today there are Alexander teachers who are skilled at teaching non-doing, and Alexander teachers who are not so skilled. So sometimes the Alexander principle of non-doing is taught well and sometimes it is taught badly. But how can so-called Buddhist-based "mindfulness" be taught anything other than badly, when it is taught by people -- like professors of clinical psychology and professors of Buddhist studies -- who are experts in intellectual fields but who are not at all steeped in the principle of non-doing? 

The 2nd pāda could express
(a) a religious person seeing the body as inherently faulty; or, ironically,
(b) a man of real wisdom seeing a fault in the attitude of those who are, in various unenlightened ways, “body-conscious.” 

One such man of real wisdom – or more accurately, one such woman of real wisdom – was the Alexander teacher Marjory Barlow who often expressed disapproval of subtle forms of body-work (sometimes denigrated as “advanced physiotherapy”) going under the guise of Alexander work. The body-conscious, it turns out, generally tend in the direction of doing. Thus, in the teaching of Nāgārjuna as presented below, the body-conscious one may be taken as synonymous with the ignorant one, the doer.

In the 3rd pāda jñānam ārohati prājñaḥ could describe
(a) a religious person aspiring to the higher knowledge (derived from meditation on the one Universal Spirit); or, ironically,
(b) a man of real wisdom squaring up to the practical challenge which Nāgārjuna called jñānāsyaiva bhāvana, bringing-into-being just this act of knowing.

The MW dictionary gives jñāna as knowledge, (esp.) the higher knowledge (derived from meditation on the one Universal Spirit), and both EHJ and PO translate jñānam in today's verse as “knowledge.” EBC, in similar vein, translates the 3rd pāda  as “the wise man climbs to a yet higher wisdom.” But originally jñāna, like dhyāna, is an -na neuter action noun, and so “the act of knowing” is also accurate. "The act of knowing" is not only accurate but also – in sense (b) – meaningful.

In the 4th pāda the dative compound śarīra-vinivṛttaye could indicate
(a) that the aim is cessation of the activity of the body (so that śarīra is object of vinivṛtti); or, ironically,
(b) that the right direction is to practice the third noble truth, the truth of cessation, with the body (so that śarīra is the agent of vinivṛtti).

If one accepts that Aśvaghoṣa was playing with all this ambiguity, then the difficulty is to find a translation that does not come down too heavily on either side. If I have erred on the side of (b), I am in conscious in so erring that each of the three professors erred in every instance on the side of (a):

EBC: But rising beyond this contemplation, having seen the imperfections of all embodied souls, the wise man climbs to a yet higher wisdom in order to abolish all body.

EHJ: On emerging from that concentrated meditation, the wise man sees the evils that exist for those who have a body and betakes himself to knowledge for the cessation of the body.

PO: Seeing the faults of embodied beings, a wise man comes out of that trance / And sets his mind on that knowledge that would rid him of his body.

In conclusion, did Aśvaghoṣa wish us to expend all this energy on digging out these ambiguities and hidden ironies?

Since he is not here to confirm or deny it, we will never know for certain, at least not intellectually. 

If we follow the translations of the three professors, however, Arāḍa is spouting Brahmanical tosh which has no value at all as a needle to our sitting-Zen. Knowledge that would rid of us of our body is of no use to us. 

Whereas when we read today's verse as an ironic reminder of the Buddha's teaching of non-doing, then we are stimulated to ask afresh what it means to use the mainspring of a human body as the essential pivot for extinguishing ignorance....

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 the act 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.

samādheḥ (abl. sg.): m. putting together ; union ; setting to rights , adjustment , settlement ; concentration of the thoughts , profound or abstract meditation ; with Buddhists samādhi is the fourth and last stage of dhyāna or intense abstract meditation
vy-utthitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. greatly divergent in opinion ; strongly excited or agitated (» comp.) ; swerving from duty (with or scil. dharmāt)
vy-ud-√sthā: to rise in different directions (as light) ; to turn away from (abl.) , give up , abandon ; to swerve from duty , forget one's self
ut-thita: mfn. risen or rising (from a seat &c )
ut-tha: (ud- √sthā) to stand up , spring up , rise , raise one's self , set out; to rise (from the dead) ; to rise (from any occupation) , leave off
tasmāt (abl. sg. m.): that

dṛṣṭvā = abs. dṛś: to see
doṣān (acc. pl.): m. fault
śarīriṇām (gen. pl.): m. an embodied being , creature , (esp.) a man

jñānam (acc. sg.): n. knowing, becoming acquainted with , knowledge , (esp.) the higher knowledge (derived from meditation on the one Universal Spirit)
ārohati = 3rd pers. sg. ā- √ ruh: to ascend , mount , bestride , rise up; to venture upon , undertake ; to attain , gain
prājñaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a wise or learned man

śarīra-vinivṛttaye (dat. sg.): towards bodily cessation
vinivṛtti: f. cessation , coming to an end ; cessation of work, inactivity, Bcar.
vi-ni- √ vṛt: to turn back , return ; to turn away , desist or cease from (abl.); to cease , end , disappear ; to be extinguished (as fire)

於彼禪定起 見有身爲

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