Monday, October 20, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.77: Abandonment With No Freedom In It

saṁkhyādibhir amuktaś ca nir-guṇo na bhavaty ayam |
tasmād asati nairguṇye nāsya mokṣo 'bhidhīyate || 12.77

Again, when not freed from intellectual efforts like enumeration,

This [abandonment] does not become free of defining features;

Therefore, in the absence of freedom from defining features,

There is said to be no freedom in it.

Today's verse as I read it is about freedom in non-intellectual practice.

What today's verse as I read it is implying, below the surface, is that when there truly is liberation (mokṣaḥ) in the practice of abandonment, this abandonment (parityago 'yam) is a bit of nothing.

As a bit of nothing, this abandonment has no defining features (nir-guṇaḥ). Alternatively, it might reside in the state whose  defining feature is being without anything (nairguṇye--  see discussion of  nairguṇya,"the being-without virtue," in BC6.24 and BC6.38.

Either way, so long as this practice of abandonment is stuck in the area of saṁkhyā (saṁkhyādibhir amuktaḥ) then this abandonment has as its defining features a bit of something, and is therefore not yet a bit of nothing.

The meanings of saṁkhyā include: reckoning or summing up, numeration, calculation; a number, sum; deliberation, reasoning, reason, intellect. So being stuck in the area of efforts like saṁkhyā means being stuck in the area of miscellaneous intellectual philosophies – including, for example, the Sāmkhya philosophy and Vaiśeṣika philosophy of ancient India; and including also all approaches in modern Western philosophy ranging from the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle of the 1920s to the One True Buddhism so stupidly expounded by my own Zen teacher in Tokyo from the 1980s.

Why do I criticize my own teacher so severely, when he was so much more than a reader of books and an expounder of theory? Because, although my teacher was sincerely devoted through his life to sitting practice itself, he failed to see the practical value of thinking as the antagonist of doing. His objection to what FM Alexander called “thinking” was based only on his own intellectual thinking. In the final analysis, though he spent his whole life championing realism and reality itself, my teacher was not so practical.

People with some justification may point out a similar irony in me – maybe that I devoted myself to asserting the practical value of thinking as opposed to habitual doing, while at the same time hanging on to too many bad habits.

Still, if I am on the right track in reading today's verse as all about freedom in actual practice, then previous efforts to understand today's verse have been on the wrong track. And vice versa.

Way back in the 1890s EBC translated today's verse:
The soul does not become free from qualities as long as it is not released from number and the rest; therefore, as long as there is no freedom from qualities, there is no liberation declared for it.

In the 1930s EHJ translated:
And as the soul is not released from the activity of reason and the like, it is not devoid of attribute; therefore, as it is not devoid of attribute, it is not admitted to be liberated.

In a footnote in which he discussed today's verse from the standpoint of what he knew about Sāmkhya philosophy, EHJ added: 
The exact meaning of saṁkhyā here is uncertain; if it could be solved, we should perhaps know how the name Sāṁkhya arose. The use in Pali of saṁkhā is also enigmatical and not fully explained yet.... Here I take the reference to be to sampaśyan of verse 63, showing that the intelligence is still active, and I translate tentatively accordingly. What attributes are indicated by ādi also escapes me. It would be wrong to understand a secondary sense in the second line with reference to the guṇas of classical Sāṁkhya for the word guṇa in Aśvaghoṣa's day was ordinarily used in Sāṁkhya discussions of anything rather than the three factors of prakṛti, and in the Sāṁkhya known to the poet salvation was attained by the destruction of rajas and tamas only, sattva remaining alone in an enhanced state.

In 2005 Prof. Johannes Bronkhorst published a short paper titled Aśvaghoṣa and Vaiśeṣika in which he tentatively suggested that today's verse might better be read in light of Vaiśeṣika philosophy rather than Sāṁkhya. 

For Vaiśeṣika, the MW dictionary gives: 
name of the later of the two great divisions of the nyāya school of philosophy (it was founded by Kaṇāda , and differs from the "nyāya proper" founded by Gautama, in propounding only seven categories or topics instead of sixteen; and more especially in its doctrine of viśeṣa , or eternally distinct nature of the nine substances, air, fire, water, earth, mind, ether, time, space, and soul, of which the first five, including mind, are held to be atomic).
Based on EHJ's translation, JB translated today's verse (taking samkhyā to mean “number,” as "number" is meant in the Vaiśeṣika system) as follows:
And as the [soul] is not released from number etc.,it is not devoid of qualities; therefore, as it is not devoid of qualities, it is not admitted to be liberated.

In his academic paper JB writes:
The difficulties surrounding the correct interpretation of saṁkhyā vanish when we consider the possibility that a Vaiśeṣika-like position is criticised here. The word saṁkhyā in classical Vaiśeṣika means number, and numbers are conceived of in this system as qualities (guṇa). Even a liberated soul will, from the Vaiśeṣika perspective, possess the quality ‘number’ by virtue of the fact that it has a number: each liberated soul by itself is one in number.

In 2008, following Bronkhorst in translating saṁkhyā as “number,” PO translated:
This soul is not attributeless when it is not released from number and the like; / And it is not viewed as released, when it's not free of attributes. //

PO added an endnote in which he credited Bronkhorst with having shown [sic] this and that. 
As Bronkhorst (2005) has shown, number here refers not to Sankhya, as had previously been thought, but to a category in the Vaisheshika system of philosophy. “Number” (saṁkhya) appears in a list of fourteen qualities in a soul. According to Vaisheshika, the first nine disappear in a liberated soul, whereas some of the remaining five headed by “number” remain. The Buddha says that when such qualities are present, a person cannot be viewed as liberated. Bronkhorst has shown that the entire argument of the following verses is also directed at doctrines of Vaisheshika rather than Sankhya.

In fairness to JB, he never claimed to have shown what PO claimed he had shown. JB's paper finishes with a concluding paragraph which is much more modest and tentative than that:
All this is of course pure speculation and should be taken as such. It may nonetheless be useful to ask the question whether the objection against Vaiśeṣika (if it is one) that we find in the Buddhacarita may also have occupied the minds of others, including the Vaiśeṣikas themselves, and whether the latter felt the need to find an answer to this objection.

Thus the conclusion of JB's paper is much less tainted by the sin of certainty than PO's own ineffably daft conclusion about Buddhacarita, which is that Aśvaghoṣa presents Buddhism as the crowning and consummation of the Brahmanical religion.

JB's more tentative and more modest approach is much better suited, in my view, to studying Aśvaghoṣa. The more enlightened approach of JB probably has something to do with the fact that JB's academic career, according to Wikipedia, began with study of Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy – fields in which the opinions of academic grandees, in the end, count for less than real evidence. But an approach which is still better suited to studying Aśvaghoṣa, I think, is to make an effort in the very direction which Aśvaghoṣa points his reader, which is the direction of understanding no teaching other than the Buddha's teaching. And that direction is followed primarily by seeking freedom on a round cushion.

Having praised JB for not manifesting the sin of certainty, I am now nevertheless going unwaveringly to assert that all four of the eminent professors made the same mistake, in assuming that ayam in today's verse necessarily referred to ātman, the soul. 

The basic wrong assumption, I think, is that Aśvaghoṣa might have been interested in engaging in any kind of philosophical debate about Saṁkhyā or Vaiśeṣika ideas about the soul. I think Aśvaghoṣa was not at all interested in debating those ideas, beyond totally negating the existence of “the soul” as a spiritual something that can leave a physical body like a bird flying out of a cage.

What the Buddha's teaching is about, and what I think in today's verse the bodhisattva is interested in, is the practice of abandonment (parityagaḥ) in which there is true freedom (mokṣaḥ).

For this reason, and also for the grammatical reason that ayam in today's verse is nom. sg. m., I read ayam in the 2nd pāda of today's verse as referring back in yesterday's verse to parityāgaḥ (nom. sg. m.), abandonment, and not to ātmani (loc. sg. m.), the soul.

When the subject of today's verse is thus understood to be the actual practice of abandonment (and not a non-existent soul), today's verse brings to my mind what Marjory Barlow told me when I showed here how I had been taught to sit in Japan -- pulling in the chin “a little” in order to keep the neck bones straight. Marjory took one look at what I was doing and said, “There is no freedom in it.”

I know almost nothing about Sāṁkha or Vaiśeṣika, and I have no intention of finding out more about those systems. But I do know that Zazen as I was taught it in Japan had some very definite defining features, one of which was the pulling in of the chin in order to keep the neckbones straight. And I know for damn sure that, so long as such a defining feature persists in a bloke's sitting, there is no freedom in it.

The irony was that for my teacher the chin being pulled in to keep the neck bones straight vertically was a kind of hallmark of action which is different from thinking. As my teacher saw it, when we are thinking something our neck is prone to incline slightly forward and the face to incline slightly upward. So to prevent this we should do something. We should make a postural adjustment, pulling the chin in slightly to keep the neck bones straight vertically.

saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the dopey one do.

Pulling in the chin was a defining feature of my teacher's teaching. The suggestion in today's verse, as I read it, is that this kind of defining feature is symptomatic of practice that is not yet freed from the influence of intellectual effort. I dare say that this was true in my own teacher's case. By following my teacher's teaching as sincerely as I could, I found a fault in it. Or rather I presented myself to Alexander teachers who were able to show me the fault in me. 

The silver lining here, unless I am deluding myself, is that making my mistake so thoroughly, guided by my teacher's wrong teaching, has given me a good basis from which to understand what Aśvaghoṣa is really wishing to convey in today's verse. A better basis, at least, than intellectual understanding of ancient Indian philosophical systems. 

The final thing I have to acknowledge on this post, however, as a P.S., is that for my understanding that the compound nairguṇya might mean not only, as per the dictionary, "absence of virtue," but also, ironically, "the virtue of absence" or "the virtue of being without," I am pretty  much totally indebted to Gudo Nishijima, who clarified that principle for me in connection with the Chinese Zen teaching of 仏性MU-BUSSHO, "being without, the Buddha-nature." 

saṁkhyādibhiḥ (inst. pl.): from numeration and the like
saṁkhyā: f. reckoning or summing up , numeration , calculation ; a number , sum , total ; deliberation , reasoning , reflection , reason , intellect ; name , appellation (= ākhyā)
saṁkhya: mfn. counting up or over , reckoning or summing up
sāṁkhya: mfn. (fr. saṁ-khyā) numeral , relating to number ; n. (accord. to some also m.) N. of one of the three great divisions of Hindu philosophy (ascribed to the sage kapila [q.v.] , and so called either from " discriminating " , in general , or , more probably , from " reckoning up " or " enumerating " twenty-five tattvas [» tattva] or true entities [twenty-three of which are evolved out of prakṛti " the primordial Essence " or " first-Producer "...
amuktaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. not loosed , not let go , not liberated from birth and death , not liberated from rāhu , still eclipsed
mukta: mfn. loosened , let loose , set free , relaxed , slackened , opened , open; liberated , delivered , emancipated (esp. from sin or worldly existence) Mn. MBh. &c (with instr. or ifc. = released from , deprived or destitute of ;)
ca: and

nir-guṇaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having no cord or string ; having no good qualities or virtues , bad , worthless , vicious ; devoid of all qualities or properties ; having no epithet (said of the Supreme Being)
guṇa: m. string or thread ; a quality , peculiarity , attribute or property ; (in sāṁkhya phil.) an ingredient or constituent of prakṛti , chief quality of all existing beings (viz. sattva , rajas , and tamas i.e. goodness , passion , and darkness , or virtue , foulness , and ignorance; a property or characteristic of all created things (in nyāya phil. twenty-four guṇas are enumerated , viz. 1. rūpa , shape , colour ; 2. rasa , savour ; 3. gandha , odour ; 4. sparśa , tangibility ; 5. saṁkhyā , number ; 6. parimāṇa , dimension ; 7. pṛthaktva , severalty ; 8. saṁyoga , conjunction ; 9. vibhāga , disjunction ; 10. paratva , remoteness ; 11. aparatva , proximity ; 12. gurutva , weight ; 13. dravatva , fluidity ; 14. sneha , viscidity ; 15. śabda , sound ; 16. buddhi or jñāna , understanding or knowledge ; 17. sukha , pleasure ; 18. duḥkha , pain ; 19. icchā , desire ; 20. dveṣa , aversion ; 21. prayatna , effort ; 22. dharma , merit or virtue ; 23. adharma , demerit ; 24. saṁskāra , the self-reproductive quality) ; good quality , virtue , merit , excellence

na: not
bhavati = 3rd pers. sg. bhū: to be, become
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this , this here , referring to something near the speaker

tasmād: ind. therefore
asati (loc. abs.): there not being
nairguṇye (loc. abs.): n. absence of qualities or properties ; want of good qualities or excellencies ; mfn. having no connection with qualities

na: not
asya (gen. sg. m.): this
mokṣaḥ (nom. sg.): m. liberation, release
abhidhīyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive abhi- √ dhā: (in classical Sanskrit generally) to set forth , explain , tell , speak to , address , say , name ; abhi- √ dhī: to reflect upon , consider [see BC12.64]

是故有求那 當知非解脱 
求尼與求那 義異而體一

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