Monday, October 6, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.63: Utter Vacuity? True Emptiness? Ultimate Ambiguity. And War on Ignorance.

adhyātma-kuśalaṣ tv anyo nivartyātmānam ātmanā |
kiṁ-cin nāstīti saṁpaśyann ākiṁcanya iti smtaḥ || 12.63

But one who is different,
being conversant with the Supreme Self
– or being skilful in regard to his own self –

Having got rid of the self with the self
– having dropped off the self, using the self –

Realizing that there is nothing there,

Is known as a man of being without anything.

In the end, what is the Buddha-dharma?

The 6th Zen patriarch in China said 不会, [I] don't know, don't understand.

In the final analysis, it might not be amenable to the “What is?” question.

So Nāgārjuna described it in the end not in the nominative but in the dative.

sarva-dṛṣṭi-prahāṇāya yaḥ saddharmam adeśayat |
anukampām upādāya taṁ namasyāmi gautamam || MMK27.30

In the direction of abandoning all views,
He taught the true dharma,
Taking pity.
I bow to him, Gautama.

The true Buddha-dharma, Nāgārjuna concludes, even though we don't know what it is, has its direction. And that direction is towards the abandoning of all views.

Would this principle have been news to Aśvaghoṣa?

I very much think not.

So today's verse, along with the preceding verses in Arāḍa's speech, can be read as including a reminder not to be too quick to embrace any view – because every view, in the final analysis, is a false view, a wrong view, a view to be abandoned.

In that spirit, I might need to reconsider the view I took in connection with yesterday's verse (BC12.62) and the preceding verse (BC12.61).

In the eleven verses from BC12.46 to BC12.56, I remain convinced, there is no gap between Arāḍa's description of the four dhyānas and Aśvaghoṣa's description of them in SN Canto 17. Moreover, I continue to think, having recited these verses several times over the weekend in the effort to commit them to long-term memory, that in the block of four verses from BC12.57 to BC12.60, the hidden meaning of Arāḍa's words is, again, as per the teaching of buddhas.

My first thought about the present series of verses was that BC12.61 was an expression of internal vacuity, BC12.62 of external vacuity, BC12.63 of utter vacuity, and BC12.64 onwards of that Ultimate Vacuity which irrational people worship as the God called, among other names, Brahma.

But clearly visible below the surface of today's verse, as I read it, is the essence of Dogen's teaching of sitting as the dropping off of body and mind. That teaching, in other words, is the teaching of pure action as the realization of emptiness.

So BC12.61 can be read as an ironic affirmation of the reality of inner space or emptiness, BC12.62 as an ironic affirmation of the reality of outer emptiness or objective space, and today's verse as an affirmation of space itself, as the stage of action, or an affirmation of emptiness itself, as the just in just sitting. 

Read like that, verses BC12.61-63 do not represent the opening up of a gap, yet, between Arāda's teaching and the Buddha's teaching, in relation to the effort that is to be made beyond the fourth dhyāna – in which case, I have to confess to (1) having jumped the gun, and (2) having thought light of the allusion to the teaching of emptiness which has both an inner spatial aspect (BC12.61) and an outer objective aspect (BC12.62).  

In the second half of BC Canto 14, it appears from EHJ's translation from the Tibetan, after the bodhisattva's identification of the 12 causal links, beginning with ignorance, whose cessation causes the whole edificie of suffering to come tumbling down, the bodhisattva sees that there is no permanent centre, no self, anywhere in the world.

In that light, we can read all of Arāḍa's speech up to here -- at least in its ironic sub-text -- as presaging the progress that the bodhisattva is about to make in Cantos 13 and 14, when he defeats Māra and becomes the fully awakened Buddha. 

My broad conclusion about today's verse, then, is that I think Aśvaghoṣa intended it to be the last word in ambiguity, so as to shake us out of complacency and to cause us to carry on in the direction of abandoning all views.

And for evidence in support of that conclusion we need go no further than the contrasting readings of EBC and EHJ in regard to the meaning of adhyātma-kuśalaḥ, which EBC translates as “profoundly versed in the supreme Self” and EHJ as “skilled in regard to the inner self.” Hence:

EBC: Another one of those who are profoundly versed in the supreme Self, having abolished himself by himself, sees that nothing exists and is called a Nihilist. 
EHJ: But another, skilled in regard to the inner self, causes his self to cease by his self and, since he sees that there is nothing, he is declared to be one for whom nothing exists.

NB: Since we are comparing and contrasting translations, it should be noted that EBC's text has for the 1st pāda: adhyātma-kuśaleṣv anyo.

PO's text and translation as usual follows EHJ:
But another versed in the inner self, effacing his self with the self, / Perceives that there exists nothing at all; tradition calls him one for whom nothing exists at all.

If we refer to the MW dictionary for compounds in which adhyātma appears, it is difficult not to think that the primary meaning of adhyātma is the Supreme Spirit (lit. the Over-Self) – see Vocabulary section below. EBC's reading of adhyātma-kuśala as “profoundly versed in the supreme Self” would therefore seem to be the ostensible one. But EHJ's reading of “skilled in regard to the inner self” fits the ironic hidden meaning which Aśvaghoṣa surely also intended.

Further evidence for an ironic hidden meaning is provided by anyaḥ, which, as discussed many times in these comments, Aśvaghoṣa often uses to indicate a buddha as one who is not a slave to social conventions and human habits of thought and action but who is other, different, alternative. 

Finally, for more detailed exploration of the meaning of emptiness (Chinese: ; Japanese: KU) and being without anything (Chinese: ; Japanese: MU), Zen Master Dogen addresses those subjects in detail in Shobogenzo chap. 22, Bussho, The Buddha-nature. 

This afternoon I am going to give a talk on reflexes at a local primary school. This kind of talk is something I have done every so often over the past 15 years since training as a neuro-developmental therapist in 1998-99. I give talks to Alexander teachers more often, which is in a sense less challenging because I am one of them, and because FM Alexander explicitly recognized that his technique helped sufferers to deal with what FM called "unduly excited reflexes and emotions." 

But being asked to talk to primary school teachers causes me to ask afresh who the hell do I think I am? 

Reflecting on this as I sat just now, I thought I would begin my talk by asking the teachers in the audience how they saw ignorance, and how they see the way to combat ignorance. 

In particular, is ignorance primarily a medical problem? Or is it primarily an educational problem? There again, is ignorance a religious problem? 

As educators, I assume (I may be proven wrong, yet again), they will tend to see ignorance as an educational problem, and will tend to see educational means as the best way to combat ignorance. And with that I will be largely in agreement. 

But developmental work with reflexes, or developmental re-education as it is sometimes called, is in the Middle Way between medicine and education. 

That, incidentally, is why I will be giving my talk gratis. If I was a medical professional or was qualified as a school teacher in the educational system, I might be more liable to get paid; but developmental re-education, in general, is not well recognized and not well funded. 

What I shall demonstrate to the school teachers this afternoon, in any event, is that certain kinds of ignorance that tend to hamper children's educational progress are rooted in immature primitive reflexes. I shall touch on four of these reflexes, which I regard as four cornerstones of the vestibular system, which, in turn, provides the foundation for learning and for living. 

Insofar as ignorance is rooted in immature primitive reflexes, and in dysfunction of the vestibular system, school teachers are generally no better equipped to deal with its root causes than are brain surgeons with their drills and scalpels, or religious leaders with their hopeful prayers for God's help. 

I might also reflect this afternoon about what a pest I used to be at school, causing Miss Whittle to tell my parents at a parent-teachers meeting when I was aged 8, "Michael is very bright, but his behaviour is disgusting." 

Miss Whittle was keenly aware that being top of the class at reading and doing sums, in no way immunized my eight-year old self from being thoroughly ignorant. It may have been that, because I had worked out ways of compensating, my immature reflexes had not hampered my own educational progress too  much, but my manner of compensating hampered Miss Whittle very much in her efforts to teach the class. 

To answer my own question, then, who the hell do I think I am, to turn up, with no recognized medical or teaching qualifications, presuming I can enlighten a group of professional school teachers? 

I think I am a bit of an expert in ignorance, having been steeped so deeply in it from an early age. And the primary root cause of the ignorance I have been steeped in for so long might be what FM Alexander called "unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions." 

This talk of ignorance in the classroom may sound like a digression, but it is stimulated by Arāḍa's teaching, which echoes Aśvaghoṣa's own teaching in Saundarananda, that the fourth dhyāna is not so much a conclusion as a kind of starting point. The fourth dhyāna, to use Aśvaghoṣa's own metaphor, is an ally in whose company one is ready to begin in earnest the war on ignorance. 

adhyātma-kuśalaḥ (nom. sg. m.): steeped in the Supreme Spirit ; skilful with regard to the inner self
adhyātma: n. the Supreme Spirit ; mfn. own , belonging to self
adhyātmam: ind. concerning self or individual personality
adhi: ind. , as a prefix to verbs and nouns , expresses above , over and above , besides
adhy-ātma-cetas: m. one who meditates on the Supreme Spirit
adhy-ātma-jñāna : n. knowledge of the Supreme Spirit or of ātman
adhy-ātma-dṛś: knowing the Supreme Spirit
adhy-ātma-rāmāyaṇa: n. a rāmāyaṇa , in which rāma is identified with the universal spirit (it forms part of the brahmāṇḍa-purāṇa
kuśala: mfn. proper, suitable, good; well , healthy , in good condition , prosperous ; fit for , competent , able , skilful , clever , conversant with (loc., gen. or in comp.).
tu: but
anyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. other, different, alternative

nivartya = causative abs. ni- √ vṛt: to turn back i.e. shorten (the hair) ; to lead or bring back , reconduct , return ; to give up , abandon , suppress , withhold , refuse , deny ; to annul , remove , destroy ; to bring to an end i.e. perform , accomplish (a sacrifice &c )
ātmānam (acc. sg.): m. the self
ātmanā (inst. sg.): m. the self (ātman in the sg. is used as reflexive pronoun for all three persons and all three genders)

kiṁ-cin na: not anything, nothing
asti (3rd pers. sg. as): there is
iti: thus
saṁpaśyan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. sam- √ paś: to see at the same time , survey ; to see , behold , perceive , recognize

ākiṁcanyaḥ (nom. sg.): m. a nihilist, Bcar. xii, 63
ākiṁcanya: n. (fr. a-kiṁcana) want of any possession , utter destitution ;
kiṁ-cana (originally -ca na , negative = " in no way ") , to a certain degree , a little
a-kiñcana: mfn. without anything , utterly destitute ; disinterested ; n. that which is worth nothing
iti: “...,” thus
smṛtaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. remembered , recollected , called to mind , thought of ; termed , styled , named (nom. with or without iti)

善於内寂靜 離我及我所
觀察無所有 是無所有處

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