Wednesday, November 12, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.100: Longing for Buddhahood (While Being Wary of Becoming)

atha kaṣṭa-tapaḥ-spaṣṭa-vyartha-kliṣṭa-tanur muniḥ |
bhava-bhīrur imāṁ cakre buddhiṁ buddhatva-kāṅkṣayā || 12.100

And so the sage

Whose body was evidently being tormented,
to no avail, by pernicious austerities,

Formed – while being wary of becoming –

The following resolve, in his longing for buddhahood.

Today's verse, as I read it now (not as I translated it six years ago, without understanding the grammar of imāṁ buddhim), is another verse that relates to the discussion in Chinese Zen of polishing a tile and wanting to make a mirror.

The concluding 21 verses of this Canto describe the bodhisattva forming two resolves, the first being the resolve to eat food; the second being the resolve to keep sitting in the cross-legged posture until fulfillment of his vow – bodhaye – in the direction of enlightened wisdom.

So imāṁ cakre buddhim, “he formed the following resolve” or “he made this decision,” in today's verse refers to the bodhisattva's first resolution, his decision to eat food.

The main clause – imāṁ cakre buddhim “he formed the following resolve” – sits in the middle, framed by two adverbial compounds, bhava-bhīruḥ and buddhatva-kāṅkṣayā.

buddhatva-kāṅkṣayā means “in his longing for buddhahood.” Hence EHJ: “in his longing for Buddhahood” and PO “longing for Buddhahood.” EBC translated “in his longing to become a Buddha.”

The latter translation is a red flag to Zen practitioners who are steeped in Dogen's teaching 莫圖作佛 (Jap: sa-butsu o hakaru koto nakare), “Don't try to become Buddha!”

So we need to understand, based on a verse like today's verse, that “Don't try to become Buddha!” is not a negation of the longing for buddhahood. 

"Don't try to become Buddha!" in terms of the tile and mirror metaphors, is not a denial of the possibility of making a mirror, nor a denial of longing in that direction. 

“Don't try to become Buddha!” can rather be understood, in light of Dogen's metaphor of the moon being reflected in a body of water, as a negation of becoming. Which is to say that when a human being realizes enlightened wisdom, nothing has become of reflecting subject and nothing has become of reflected object. 

“Don't try to become Buddha!” again, can be understood as a negation, a la Yoda in Star Wars, of trying. "Trying," FM Alexander observed, while Yoda was but a glint in his grandfather's eye, "is only emphasizing what you already know."

Broadly, I take “Don't try to become Buddha!”as a cautionary admonition to be alive to the danger of what FM Alexander called end-gaining, i.e. going directly for an end in view without due consideration of the means to be employed.

This attitude or approach of trying to become something, or end-gaining, is represented in today's verse as I read it by the word bhava, which I have translated as “becoming” so that bhava-bhīruḥ describes the bodhisattva as “wary of becoming.” 

Being wary of becoming – in other words, being alert to the dangers of end-gaining  is a very different thing from dreading existence, or being afraid of life itself. And yet “dreading continued existence” (EBC), “dreading existence” (EHJ) and “afraid of continued existence” (PO) are all perfectly literal translations of bhava-bhīruḥ

“Being afraid of life” is a perfectly literal translation of bhava-bhīruḥ, but it might be a very misleading translation.

A translation like EHJ's “dreading existence” conveys the sense that the bodhisattva was afraid of bhava (existence) as something out there. But I think the deeper meaning of bhava (becoming) in today's verse is as a tendency in here. 

The Chinese translation also failed to catch the deeper meaning with:
Fearing the suffering of birth and death
He sincerely sought the true cause of awakening.

For reference, here is how I translated today's verse back in 2008, wrongly taking imām to refer to the cycle of becoming. That looks to me now like a rookie translation error, which of course it was – but I don't regret making it.

Harsh ascetic practice, it was clear,
Was torturing his figure to no purpose, and so the sage,
Wary of this cycle of becoming,
Resolved, in his longing for buddhahood:

I regret any pain I have caused others by all my errors, but I don't regret any of the pain I have caused myself along the way, insofar as I am on the way to redeeming myself, by clarifying the original practical meaning of the Buddha's teaching of pratītya-samutpāda. 

Every verse that Aśvaghoṣa wrote is profoundly related with the practical teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, and today's verse is no exception. 

Today's verse is certainly no exception, because (a) samutpāda, or "Complete Springing Up," can be taken as synonymous with realization of buddhatva, buddhahood, and (b), pratītya "going back," can be taken as expressing the direction which is opposite to bhava, becoming.  
The Buddhist consensus is that pratītya-samutpāda means something like "Dependent Origination." But that is by no means the whole story. 

To the extent that pratītya-samutpāda means  "Dependent Origination" or "Conditional Arising," it is a kind of description of how reality is, in which case sitting-meditation is a means to realize that conditionally arisen reality. 

But framing it like that already contains a bit of a seed of becoming. 

So an alternative way of understanding  pratītya-samutpāda, "Springing Up, by going back," is as just sitting-meditation itself. 

Framed like that, pratītya-samutpāda already contains the negation of becoming. 

And in that case pratītya-samutpāda  "springing up, by going back,"  is synonymous with buddha-carita, "awakened action," and with saundara-nanda, "beautiful joy," and with 正法眼蔵SHOBOGENZO, "the treasury of the eye of true dharma." 

atha: and, and so, then
kaṣṭa-tapaḥ-spaṣṭa-vyartha-kliṣṭa-tanuḥ (nom. sg. m.): his body evidently tormented to no avail by pernicious austerities
kaṣṭa: mfn. bad, wrong ; painful ; grievous , severe , miserable ; injurious
tapas: n. ascetic practice
spaṣṭa: mfn. clearly perceived or discerned , distinctly visible , distinct , clear , evident , plain , intelligible
vyartha: mfn. useless , unavailing , unprofitable , vain
kliṣṭa: mfn. molested , tormented , afflicted , distressed ; wearied , hurt , injured , being in bad condition , worn ; connected with pain or suffering
tanus: n. the body
muniḥ (nom. sg.): m. the sage

bhava-bhīruḥ (nom. sg. m.): being afraid of becoming
bhava: m. coming into existence , birth , production , origin (= bhāva) ; becoming , turning into (comp.) ; being , state of being , existence , life ; worldly existence , the world (= saṁsāra L. ) ; (with Buddhists) continuity of becoming (a link in the twelvefold chain of causation) ; obtaining , acquisition (= āpti , prāpti)
bhīru: mfn. fearful , timid , cowardly , afraid of (abl. or comp.) ; (with paratra) dreading the beyond or the hereafter
imām (acc. sg. f.): this
cakre = 3rd pers. sg. perf. kṛ: to do, make

buddhim (acc. sg. f.): mind, intention (buddhiṁ- √kṛ or pra- √kṛ , to make up one's mind , resolve , decide)
buddhatva-kāṅkṣayā (inst. sg. f.): in his longing for buddhahood
buddhatva: n. the condition or rank of a buddha
kāṅkṣā: f. (ifc.) wish , desire , inclination
kāṅkṣ: to wish , desire , long for , hope for (with acc.) , expect , wait for , await (with acc.) , strive to obtain , look for anything (dat.)

怖畏生死苦 專求正覺因 

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