Thursday, October 16, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.73: Cause of Samsāra, Or Symptom of Ignorance?

yat karmājñāna-tṣṇānāṁ tyāgān mokṣaś ca kalpyate |
atyantas tat-parityāgaḥ saty ātmani na vidyate || 12.73

And as for liberation being brought about

Through letting go of karma, ignorance and thirsting,

There is no complete abandonment of them

So long as the soul persists.

For the sake of being clear what is going on here, at more than one level, I don't mind going over the same ground again and again – at the risk of boring even myself.

Arāda has concluded that liberation means the “knower of the field,” i.e. “the soul,” abandoning the body.

The bodhisattva in response is saying that, in his view, this soul also needs to be abandoned.

And one way of understanding this response is as if the bodhisattva
  • (a) is accepting that there is such a thing as a soul which can separate itself from a person's physical body, and
  • (b) is arguing that this soul, after it has abandoned the body, also needs to be abandoned.
But the way of understanding the bodhisattva's response which is, to use Aśvaghoṣa's word, anya (other, alternative, different), is to understand that the bodhisattva
  • (a) does never accept the religious notion of a disembodied soul, but rather
  • (b) is arguing that the whole ignorant religious notion of a separate soul needs to be abandoned.
In order truly to understand the anya/alternative nature of the bodhisattva's response, it seems to me, we have to be a person who in our sitting practice is anya, other, alternative, different, contrarian. That means being, in other words, a person who understands the principle that real change involves carrying out an activity against the habit of life. And such activty, I venture to submit, is what Nāgārjuna was pointing to when he wrote of bringing into being just that act of knowing (jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvana).

In translating the 4th pāda of today's verse “So long as the soul persists,” I have gone with EHJ's translation. This translation, ironically (since I don't think EHJ himself was aware of the alternative gist), covers well enough both the ostensible gist of the bodhisattva's argument, and also the real or alternative gist.

The irony is possible because of Aśvaghoṣa's use of the locative absolute. Saty ātmani suggests the soul continuing to be present in the area of karma, ignorance and thirsting, but without specifying any causal relation between the soul and karma, ignorance and thirsting

The bodhisattva's citing of karma, ignorance and thirsting refers back to what Arāḍa said in BC12.23:
a-jñānaṁ karma tṛṣṇā ca jñeyāḥ saṁsāra-hetavaḥ
Ignorance, karma, and thirsting are to be known as the causes of saṁsāra...

According to the ostensible gist of today's verse, then, the continued existence of the soul, even after it has escaped from a human body, is causal. It is a cause of the non-abandonment of karma, ignorance, and thirsting, which are themselves the causes of saṁsāra.

But the real, alternative gist might be that belief in a non-existent soul is symptomatic of ignorance. And it is this ignorance, not its symptoms, which leads to chequered karma and spiritual thirsting for heaven. Hence...
  1. ignorance avidyā
  2. doings saṁskārāḥ
  3. consciousness vijñānam
  4. psychophysicality nāmarūpam
  5. six senses ṣaḍ-āyatanam
  6. contact saṁsparśaḥ
  7. feeling vedanā
  8. thirsting tṛṣṇā
  9. grasping hold upādānam
  10. becoming bhavaḥ
  11. birth jātiḥ
  12. the suffering of aging and death, and so on, sorrows, lamentations...                            jarā-maraṇa-duḥkhādi śokāḥ saparidevanāḥ....

...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.

tasya tasya nirodhena tat-tan nābhipravartate |
duḥkha-skandhaḥ kevalo 'yam evaṁ samyaṅ nirudhyate ||MMK26.12
By the destruction of each,
Each is discontinued.
This whole edifice of suffering
Is thus well and truly demolished.

A further reflection on today's verse, lest this is all sounding too metaphysical, is that if we understand what Aśvaghoṣa is clarifying here, with regard to cause and symptom, we may be able to find applications for such understanding which are more pertinent to everyday life and current affairs.

When a lovesick bloke, for example, can't help thinking that if only he could get back together with his missing other half all his sorrows would be swept away, then he can't help seeing the suffering of being parted from his loved one as the central cause of his present struggling in saṁsāra. Whereas the deeper truth might be that what he is experiencing as suffering is only a symptom of his own ignorance.

Again, when stock markets fall, as has been happening this week, or when the price of other kinds of investment steadily declines, the suffering investor can't help thinking “If only the price could climb back to where it was x weeks, months or years ago,” as if the cause of saṁsāric suffering -- and hence the way out of saṁsāric suffering -- was within the remit of the behaviour of the market.

The general point, then, might be that our human mind is very prone, when faced with the symptoms of our own ignorance, to see those symptoms as if they were the cause of our trouble.

And that is bad enough when we do it on an individual level. But when the powers that be do it on the macro level, the result – sooner or later – is bound to be sorrows and lamentations on a global scale.

If the US stock markets continue to go down, the US president and his bankers, or the US bankers and their president, will doubtless do their best to address that symptom. But if the fall of the stock market is symptomatic of the bursting of a massive money bubble which has been inflating for twenty years or more, efforts to address the symptom will only lead to further inflating of the bubble.

yat: (relative pronoun) that “....”
karmājñāna-tṛṣṇānām (gen. pl.): karma, ignorance and thirst

tyāgāt (abl. sg.): m. leaving , abandoning , forsaking
tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit; to let go
mokṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. release, liberation
ca: and
kalpyate = 3rd pers. sg. causative passive kḷp: , to set in order , arrange ; to fix ; to declare as , consider as (with double acc.) ; to frame , form , invent , compose (as a poem &c ) , imagine

atyantaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. beyond the proper end or limit; excessive , very great , very strong ; endless , unbroken , perpetual ; absolute , perfect
tat-parityāgaḥ (nom. sg. m.): abandoning of that
parityāga: m. (ifc. f(ā).) the act of leaving , abandoning , deserting , quitting , giving up , neglecting , renouncing

sati = loc. sg. pres. part. as: to be
ātmani (loc. sg.): m. the self, the soul
na: not
vidyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive vid: to be found , exist , be ; (esp. in later language) vidyate , " there is , there exists " , often with na , " there is not "

無知業因愛 捨則名解者
存我諸衆生 無畢竟解脱 

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