Thursday, November 13, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.101: A Sure Method (Definitely Not Doing)

nāyaṁ dharmo virāgāya na bodhāya na muktaye |
jambu-mūle mayā prāpto yas tadā sa vidhir dhruvaḥ || 12.101 

“This dharma is good neither for detachment,

Nor for awakening, nor for liberation.

What I realized back then, at the foot of the rose-apple tree –

That is a sure method.

By “this dharma,” the bodhisattva is speaking of a dharma – an ascetic dharma  of sitting in the full lotus posture. 

So when Dogen wrote of the Old Teacher Śākyamuni having done six years of upright sitting, 端坐, he was talking about six years of practising an ascetic dharma. 

The six years of practising “this dharma,”  the bodhisattva is saying in today's verse – insofar as “this dharma” was a dharma of ascetic self-denial – had not been taking him in the direction of detachment or of awakening or of liberation.

six years
upright sitting
The above characters, meaning "six years of upright sitting," are taken from the following sentences in the original version of Fukan-zazengi, which is thought to be written in Dogen's own hand. 

Fukan-zazengi, 2nd segment of scroll. Translation below
[Wanting to rise above perfection in ascending beyond, just] understand the experience of a target, down here, being hit. If, proud of our understanding and full of enlightenment, we obtain a special state of insight, attain the truth, clarify the mind, and manifest a zeal that pierces the sky, even if we have the ability to put our head in, still we lack the road of getting the body out. Moreover, the precedent exists already of the Old Teacher Śākyamuni, innate sage though he was, doing six years of upright sitting. Again, the traces remain of Great Master Bodhidharma, who transmitted the mind-seal, spending nine years facing the wall. The ancient sages were like that already: how could people today not make effort?  Therefore, go in the opposite direction from the intellectual activity of studying sayings and chasing words. Take the backward step of turning light and letting it shine. Spontaneously, body and mind will drop off and the original face will emerge. Wanting to get it, quickly practice sitting-zen. In general, a quiet room is good for Zen practice, and food and drink are taken in moderation. Just abandon all involvements. Let the ten thousand things be. Don't think good, bad. Don't care [right, wrong.]
So Dogen cited those six years of upright sitting, 端坐 , as a good example of real, sincere effort, as opposed to the intellectual effort of studying sayings and chasing words.

But the bodhisattva himself, in today's verse, is expressing his recognition that those efforts – because they were based on the notion of ascetic self-denial – had not been taking him in the right direction.

And so the bodhisattva thought back to the kind of effort, or non-effort, which, as recorded in BC Canto 5, had seemed in the past to have taken him in the right direction....
And desiring to be alone with his thoughts, he fended away those amicable hangers on / And drew close to the root of a solitary rose-apple tree whose abundant plumage fluttered agreeably all around.//BC5.8// There he sat upon the honest, verdant earth whose horizons shimmered like emeralds; / And, while reflecting how the living world arises and perishes, he dangled on the path of standing firmly upright, which is of the mind.//BC5.9// In stumbling upon firm upstandingness of the mind he was instantly released from worries, such as those associated with desires for objects; / He entered the first peaceful stage, in which there are ideas and thoughts, of the meditation whose essence is freedom from polluting influences.... // BC5.10//

The contrast, then, is between (a) sitting in the lotus posture as a form of ascetic striving, and (b) just sitting alone in nature, reflectively, with no particular fish to fry, and thereby allowing something to happen naturally and spontaneously.

When I translated today's verse six years ago, back in 2008, I translated it like this:

"This is not a way to detachment,
Or to awakening, or to release;
The state I realized at the foot of the rose apple tree:
How I was then is surely the way to be.

That translation reflected the understanding that vidhir dhruvaḥ must really have meant not so much a particular set method, but rather a way of being. It also reflected
  • (a) a lack of familiarity with Aśvaghoṣa's usage of vidhi (EHJ: procedure),
  • (b) too great a willingness not to worry about the grammar of dhruvaḥ, which modifies vidhi (hence EHJ: "a sure procedure"), and above all
  • (c) lack of appreciation of how pervasive was Aśvaghoṣa's use of irony.
Especially in view of Aśvaghoṣa's liking for irony, a more literal translation of vidhir dhruvaḥ that causes the reader to stop and think, like “a definite method” or “a set procedure,” might best serve Aśvaghoṣa's purpose. Even “a fixed act” or "a definite contrivance" would be literal enough translations of vidhir dhruvaḥ – though such a translation would be going too far, and would not make good sense. 

In any event, the irony is that the only sure thing about the sure method which the prince realized under the rose-apple tree was that it was nothing fixed nor any kind of contrivance. If it was a  method, it was a natural method, a method without method. Because, the way that Aśvaghoṣa tells the story, the prince just sat under the tree, without any idea of doing anything, and he -- in his youthful, healthy, well-fed condition -- thus stumbled by accident on the first dhyāna.

A monk asked Yakusan when Yakusan was sitting: 
How can we think ourselves into the zone of not thinking?

Yakusan's answer was: “Non-thinking.”

But what did Yakusan mean?

According to my Zen teacher, Yakusan was pointing to action itself, which is “different from thinking.” So go on! Just do it! 1-2-3 go! 

According to my teacher Yakusan's 非思量 meant “[Action which is] different from thinking.”

But translating Yakusan's words more strictly literally,  非思量 means “Non-thinking.”

And in the same way that 非仏“a non-buddha” means a buddha, but not one who conforms to anybody's pre-conception of how a buddha ought to be, I submit that 非思量 “non-thinking” might mean thinking, but not as people generally understand thinking.

This submission of mine is influenced by Alexander work.

Thinking, as it is practised in Alexander work, is practised as part of a sure means-whereby for stopping the doings which are the root of samsāra. As such it may be a dharma that is good for detachment, for awakening, and for liberation. 

The proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating. 

Alexander work is like a sticking plaster, Marjory Barlow reminded me once -- it works, for sure, but only when you apply it. 

na: not
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this
dharmaḥ (nom. sg.): m. dharma
virāgāya (dat. sg.): m. loss of colour/redness, dispassion, indifference

na: not
bodhāya (dat. sg.): m. waking , becoming or being awake , consciousness ; m. perception , apprehension , thought , knowledge , understanding , intelligence ; m. awakening , arousing
na: not
muktaye (dat. sg.): f. setting or becoming free , release , liberation , deliverance (= mokṣa)

jambu-mūle (loc. sg.): at the root of the rose apple tree
jambu: f. the rose apple tree
mayā (inst. sg.): by me
prāptaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. attained to , reached , arrived at , met with , found , incurred , got , acquired , gained

yaḥ (nom. sg. m.): [that] which
tadā: ind. at that time , then , in that case (often used redundantly , esp. after tatas or purā or before atha)
sa (nom. sg. m.): that, it
vidhiḥ (nom. sg.): m. any prescribed act or rite or ceremony ; method , manner or way of acting , mode of life , conduct , behaviour ; any act or action , performance , accomplishment , contrivance , work , business (ifc. often pleonastically e.g. mathana-vidhi , the [act of] disturbing)
dhruvaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. fixed , firm , immovable , unchangeable , constant , lasting , permanent , eternal ; settled , certain , sure

自惟非由此 離欲寂觀生
未若我先時 於閻浮樹下
所得未曾有 當知彼是道 

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