Thursday, October 23, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.80: The Right Thing Knows Itself

kṣetra-jño vi-śarīraś ca jño vā syād ajña eva vā |
yadi jño jñeyam asyāsti jñeye sati na mucyate || 12.80 

Again, a disembodied knower of the field

Must be either a knower or else unknowing.

If he is a knower, something remains that he should know,

And in something remaining that he should know,
he is not liberated.

There is nothing wrong, in the teaching of Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna as I understand it, in being the knower of a field.

If we go to a dentist, or take the car to be serviced, or ask for a plumber's help, we are grateful for their expertise in their given field. In an academic field like Buddhist studies, needless to say, being a knower is the most important thing. Ph.D.s are not given out for solitary practice of intuitive wisdom. 

But when Nāgārjuna writes of ignorance being eliminated by allowing just this act of knowing (jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt; MMK12.), the act of knowing to which he refers might not depend on the knowledge of a knower.

The point, in other words, might be that for a knower of any field, there is always more to know, in which case a knower of a field, so long as he fails to drop off his body and mind as a dentist, or a car mechanic, or a plumber, or a professor, is not yet liberated.

And yet if, dropping off the body and mind of the knower, and sitting, for example, on a round black cushion, he or she is able to allow into being just this act of knowing, then ignorance might be eliminated at once, in which case the whole edifice of suffering might come tumbling down.

This being so, I submit that to understand today's verse, we don't need to know anything at all about Sāmkhya or Vaiśeṣika. All we need is true understanding of the Buddha's four noble truths. 

For an expression of the fourth of those truths, we have the words of the 6th Zen patriarch in China (34th counting from the Buddha) that the Flower of Dharma turns the Flower of Dharma. In my book those words are on the same page as FM Alexander's  "The right thing does itself." 

Johaness Bronkhurst argues that the “curious line of argument which the Bodhisattva presents in stanzas 12.80-81,” tends to confirm that “what Aśvaghoṣa is criticising here shares some essential features with early Vaiśeṣika.”

I don't think Aśvaghoṣa at this point is concerned with criticising anything specific in any particular philosophy. What JB calls a curious line of argument is simply an ancient form of ghost busting. Aśvaghoṣa is recording how the bodhisattva utterly rejected Arāḍa's irrational and ungrounded belief in the existence of a disembodied knower, a separate spiritual soul. The belief the bodhisattva is blowing out of the water thus shares its essential feature not only with early Vaiśeṣika but also with Judaism, with Christianity, with Islaam, and with Aum Shinrikyo.

In conclusion, today's verse as I read it serves as a reminder that the fourth noble truth, the way of cessation of suffering, is not so much the way of a knower as it is the way of a practitioner devoted to an act of knowing. 

This act is not something that I do. It might rather be a bit of nothing in which the right thing is allowed to know itself.  

The wise one, therefore, is not the wise one because of doing something or because of knowing something. The wise one is the wise one because of the Lotus Universe turning itself. Because of the right thing doing itself. Because of reality making itself known. Hence, 

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 of reality making itself known.

avidyāyāṁ niruddhāyāṁ saṁskārāṇām asaṁbhavaḥ |
avidyāyā nirodhas tu jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt ||MMK26.11
In the ceasing of idiocy,
There is the non-coming-into-being of doings.
The cessation of idiocy, however,
Is because of the allowing-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.

Since I have five minutes before I can publish today's post at 8.00am UK time, I will mention apropos of nothing that the flag counter on this blog indicates that the blog attracts an average of about 15 new visitors per day. But I have observed that on most days recently the flag counter records one new visitor a day from Iceland. This means either that I have got a disproportionately dense concentration of readers following this blog in Iceland;  or else there is one loyal reader in Iceland whose every visit is recorded by the flag counter as a new one. 

As my son laughingly pointed out last night, it is hard to avoid the implication that, rather than attracting 15 new visitors per day, this blog is more likely to be amassing 15 global hits per day. 

kṣetra-jñaḥ (nom. sg. m.): the knower of the field; the soul
vi-śarīraḥ (nom. sg. m.): without a body
vi: ind. apart , asunder , in different directions , to and fro , about , away , away from , off , without
ca: and

jñaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. knowing ; intelligent , having a soul , wise
vā: or
syāt = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be
ajñaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. not knowing ; ignorant , inexperienced ; unconscious ; unwise
eva: (emphatic)
vā: or

yadi: if
jñaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. knowing ; intelligent , having a soul , wise
jñeyam (nom. sg. n.): [something] to be known
asya (gen. sg.): of / for it
asti: there is

jñeye (loc. abs.): [something] to be known
sati (loc. abs.): there being
na: not
mucyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive muc: to be loosed , to be set free or released ; to deliver one's self from , to get rid of , escape (esp. from sin or the bonds of existence)

又知因離身 或知或無知
若言有知者 則應有所知
若有所知者 則非爲解脱 

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