guṇino hi guṇānāṁ ca vyatireko na vidyate |
rūpoṣṇābhyāṁ virahito na hy agnir upalabhyate || 12.78
For between things defined by features
and the defining features
and the defining features
There is no gap –
Bereft of form and heat,
No fire, for example, is realized.
I think our task in today's verse is neither to read it in light of Sāṁkhya philosophy nor to read it in light of Vaiśeṣika philosophy, but rather to read it in light of the Buddha's noble truth of cessation.
The bodhisattva's present speech covers fourteen verses, which can, as usual, usefully be divided into four phases that broadly correspond to the progression of the four noble truths which have to do with
- 1. subjective experience (in particular suffering),
- 2. objective causality,
- 3. the principle of cessation or inhibition, and
- 4. practical application of that principle.
In memorizing the bodhisattva's speech so far, I have thus used as a memory-aid
- 1. for the first two verses, BC12.69-70, ahaṁ manye (I think);
- 2. for the next six verses, BC12.71-76, pratyaya (causality); and
- 3. for the series of three verses that started yesterday, BC12.77-79, nairguṇya (the being-without virtue).
In the concluding series of three verses, looking ahead to BC12.80-82, the bodhisattva will express, naturally enough, his conclusion.
So the 14 verses in the present speech I am memorizing in a 2-6-3-3 formation.
And seeing this progression helps me to be clear that whereas ostensibly today's verse seems to be about something – fire – which has its conspicuous defining features, what today's verse might really be all about is the absence of fire, in which case there are no defining features of fire.
The bodhisattva's point, below the surface, might be that freedom also is like that – a bit of nothing.
In the paper referred to yesterday, Johannes Bronkhorst writes:
The possibility that stanza 12.77 does not deal with, and therefore does not criticise Sāṁkhya ideas is strengthened by the immediately following stanza... Johnston's translation, in which I [JB] have substituted ‘qualities’ for ‘attributes’, reads:
For no distinction exists between the qualities and the possessor of the qualities; for instance, fire is not perceived, when devoid of outward appearance (rūpa) and heat (uṣṇa).
Outward appearance (rūpa) and touch (sparśa), of which hot touch is but a variety, are qualities of fire both in Sāṁkhya and in Vaiśeṣika. The mention of these two does not therefore allow us to determine what position is criticised here. However, the denial of a distinction between qualities and the possessor of qualities makes no sense if Sāṁkhya is criticised. The Sāṁkhya of the Ṣaṣṭitantra — as testified by various early authors, among them Bhartṛhari, Mallavādin, and Dharmapāla (Bronkhorst, 1994) — maintained that objects are nothing but collections of qualities. Aśvaghoṣa's own description of Sāṁkhya (Buddhacarita 12.18 f.) includes the qualities as final evolutes among its fundamental tattvas, which seems to indicate that this form of Sāṁkhya, too, saw material objects as collections of qualities. Vaiśeṣika, on the other hand, has always distinguished between the two.
So JB's assumption, tentatively expressed though his views wisely are, seems to be that Aśvaghoṣa devoted a large section of the present Canto to his own description of Sāṁkhya. Whereas my point has been that Arāḍa's whole speech, right up to its wrong conclusion, can be read as an excellent formulation of the Buddha's teaching which owes nothing whatsoever to Sāṁkhya sand-counting.
True, Arāḍa's formulation has been presented in words that sound like words used in Sāṁkhya philosophy. But that in itself might be intended as a reminder to us that we should look behind words and not react stupidly to what they sound like.
The bodhisattva in today's verse, though he may sound like he is still discussing ātman, the soul, is really still discussing ahaṁ-kāra-parityāgaḥ, dropping off the self-consciousness of “I-doing.”
For true freedom to exist in this practice of dropping off, yesterday's verse seems to say, the practice has to be nair-guṇye. Nair-guṇye means in a state which is free of the guṇas, defining features or qualites. At the same time, as touched on yesterday, nairguṇya can suggest the condition in which prevails the guṇa of naiḥ, the quality of being free, the virtue of being without.
Chandaka uses nairguṇya with this ironic meaning in two verses in BC Canto 6:
api nairguṇyam asmākaṁ vācyaṁ nara-patau tvayā |
nairguṇyāt tyajyate snehaḥ sneha-tyāgān na śocyate || 6.24
Indeed, speak to the king of our being-without virtue. / Because of the being-without virtue, attachment is abandoned. Because of abandoning attachment, one does not suffer grief."//
yad apy ātthāpi nairguṇyaṁ vācyaṁ nara-patāv iti |
kiṁ tad vakṣyāmy abhūtaṁ te nir-doṣasya muner iva || 6.38Though you have said that the being-without virtue is to be communicated to a ruler of men,/ How am I to communicate what in you is absent – as is absent in a faultless sage?//
Ostensibly then, at least according to the translations of the four professors, the bodhisattva is comparing something that continues to exist – the soul – to something else that conspicuously exists together with its defining features of heat and light – a fire.
But below the surface the bodhisattva seems to be considering what a bit of nothing, a bit of absence, a state of freedom, might be.
And the particular freedom in view is freedom from the self-consciousness of “I-doing.”
So the analogy might be this: just as the absence of fire is synonymous with absence of heat and light, so freedom from the self-consciousness of “I-doing” might be synonymous with absence of the defining features of self-consciousness of “I-doing.”
And what that might mean, to put it in concrete terms, might be the sound of a stone pinging against a big bamboo, as in the case of the Chinese Zen master known in Japanese as Kyogen Chikan. Or it might be the sight of peach blossoms blooming in the valleys below, as in the case of Rei-un Shigon.
“The right thing,” FM Alexander emphasized, “does itself.”
Or, as Nāgārjuna put it:
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 dopey one do. / The dopey one therefore is the doer; the wise one is not, because reality makes itself known.//
This morning as I sat I remembered the motto of The Japan Times --
All the News Without Fear or Favour.
The New York Times' famous slogan is --
All the News That’s Fit to Print.
It occured to me that Nāgārjuna's words would make an excellent slogan for a newspaper. Or maybe a good title for a blog --
avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ
Thus Does the Dopey One Do.
There again, a fitting title for most people's autobiography, and certainly for my own, might be --
Thus Did the Dopey One Do.
It must have been thirty years ago now that I expressed to Gudo Nishijima disbelief in regard to how stupid I had been in a certain matter. “Human life is stupid,” he said in reply. Many things he got wrong, but he certainly got that one right.
guṇinaḥ (nom. pl. m.): mfn. " furnished with a string or rope (as a hunter) " and " endowed with good qualities " ; containing parts , consisting of parts ; " possessing qualities " or (m.) " quality-possessor " , object , thing , noun , substantive ; m. " furnished with a string " , a bow
guṇānām (gen. pl.): m. string or thread ; a quality , peculiarity , attribute or property ;
vy-atirekaḥ (nom. sg.): m. distinction , difference , separateness , separation , exclusion
ati-reka: m. surplus, excess; redundancy; difference
na vidyate: is not found, there is not
rūpoṣṇābhyām (inst. dual): form and heat
rūpa: n. any outward appearance or phenomenon or colour (often pl.) , form , shape , figure
uṣṇa: mn. heat , warmth
virahitaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. abandoned , deserted , solitary , lonely , separated or free from , deprived of (instr. gen. , or comp.)
agniḥ (nom. sg.): m. fire
upalabhyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive upa- √ labh: to seize , get possession of , acquire , receive , obtain , find ; to perceive , behold , hear , to understand , learn , know , ascertain