śarīre khāni yāny asya tāny ādau parikalpayan |
ghaneṣv api tato dravyeṣv ākāśam adhimucyate || 12.61
Of spaces which are openings in his body,
First he forms a picture;
Then in solid masses also
He affirms empty space.
With the ambiguity of words, and consequently with the irony of words, Aśvaghoṣa seems to wish to save us from the sin of certainty.
If the previous block of four verses seem on the surface to be idealistic nonsense born of what Patrick Olivelle calls “the Brahmanical religion,” but below the surface can be read, ironically, as the profound teaching of the buddhas, then this next set of four verses might be the other way round. Though they sound on the surface to resonate with Zen Buddhist philosophy around emptiness, Aśvaghoṣa's intention may be that we recognize the intention behind these verses as hollow, vacuous, devoid of real meaning -- culminating as they do in a religious conclusion about a liberation of the Knower of the Field, this liberation being synonymous with a Supreme Spiritual Being, namely, Brahma.
It is this conclusion which the bodhisattva is able to recognize as not the ultimate truth which he is seeking.
For that reason – not because of the words themselves, but because of the wider context in which today's verse appears – I think the irony switches in today's verse so that on the surface, and taken alone, Arāḍa's words might sound valid; but below the surface, in context, he is talking random nonsense.
The superficial validity of Arāḍa's words is that it might sometimes be constructive to form a picture, for example, of air passing through open nasal passages, and to think of space, for example, in the hip joints. These are in fact directions that I have often used in my own sitting practice.
But such directions do not belong here. Which is to say that if Arāḍa was truly describing practice beyond the fourth dhyāna, what he would be discussing is not directions, or visualizations, like these – which might more properly belong to the first dhyāna. He might rather be discussing how to make the four noble truths into one's own possession. He might rather be discussing, as key to the cessation of suffering, the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, or springing up by going back.
The readings and construction of the first half of today's verse, EHJ notes, are uncertain. EHJ considers the pros and cons of amending asya to asmin, but concludes: The sense anyhow is clear, the object of the trance being to suppress all sensation of matter with regard to the body and to substitute for it the sensation of unoccupied space.
With regard to the second half of today's verse EHJ notes further that adhimucyate is a troublesome word, for which I would refer to the employment of adhimukti and adhimokṣa in AK [Vasubandhu's abdhidharma-koṣa], and to the discussions there. The general idea is of an act of mental attention which leads a man to approve a particular object or course of action, so that he makes up his mind to attain or do it, as the case may be.
Perhaps Aśvaghoṣa chose such a troublesome word as adhimucyate because its very ambiguity suited his purpose.
śarīre (loc. sg.): n. the body , bodily frame , solid parts of the body
khāni (acc. pl.): n. a cavity , hollow , cave , cavern , aperture ; an aperture of the human body (of which there are nine , viz. the mouth , the two ears , the two eyes , the two nostrils , and the organs of excretion and generation)
yāni (acc. pl. n.): [those] which
asya (gen. sg.): of this one, of him
asmin [EHJ] (loc. sg. n.): this
tāni (acc. pl. n.): those
ādau: ind. in the beginning , at first
parikalpayan = nom. sg. pres. part. pari- √ kḷp: to fix , settle , determine , destine for (with acc.); to perform , execute , accomplish , contrive , arrange , make ; to suppose , presuppose Sarvad.
parikalpa: m. illusion Buddh.
parikalpana: n. fixing , settling , contriving , making , inventing , providing , dividing , distributing
parikalpanā: f. making , forming , assuming
rūpa-parikalpanā: f. the assuming of a shape (Rāmāyaṇa)
ghaneṣu (loc. pl.): mfn. compact , solid , material , hard , firm , dense
tataḥ: ind. then, from that
dravyeṣu (loc. pl.): n. a substance , thing , object ; the ingredients or materials of anything ; (phil.) elementary substance
ākāśam (acc. sg.): m. a free or open space , vacuity; the ether , sky or atmosphere ; n. (in philos.) the subtle and ethereal fluid (supposed to fill and pervade the universe and to be the peculiar vehicle of life and of sound) ; n. brahma (as identical with ether)
adhimucyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive adhi-√muc: EBC: he exerts his will to experience a feeling of [void space]; EHJ: he obtains a clear idea of [space]; PO: he focuses his mind on [the empty space]
adhi: ind. , as a prefix to verbs and nouns , expresses above , over and above , besides
√muc: to loose , let loose , free , let go , slacken , release , liberate
adhimukta: mfn. inclined ; confident ; also 'intent on'
adhimukti: f. propensity ; confidence.
adhimokṣa: (= adhimukti)