Saturday, November 15, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.103: Physicality of Mind, and the Most Mental Thing There Is

kṣut-pipāsā-śrama-klāntaḥ śramād asvastha-mānasaḥ |
prāpnuyān manasāvāpyaṁ phalaṁ katham anirvtaḥ || 12.103 

"Worn out by hunger, thirst and fatigue,

With a mind that, from fatigue, is not well in itself,

How can one obtain the result 
which is to be realized by mental means –

When one is not contented?

Today's verse points – within the wider truth of psycho-physical unity – to the physicality of mind. Today's verse, as I read it, very ironically, also points to the task that the Buddha will accomplish in BC Canto 14, by means of the most mental thing there is.

My own body-mind has tended over the past ten or so years to be happiest when it has been living the simple, solitary life by the forest in France.

When I come back to Aylesbury and work with people, people don't seem to appreciate my work, which I find discouraging. Or else they seem to believe in me too much, which makes me nervous, and I wish they would leave me alone.

One string to my bow is Alexander work, which Alexander himself called “the most mental thing there is.” At the same time, Alexander work has a lot to do with getting round the problem that Alexander called “faulty sensory appreciation.” And faulty sensory appreciation tends very much to be rooted in immature primitive reflexes, and especially the infantile panic reflex, or Moro reflex. These primitive reflexes are automatic whole-body responses to a stimulus, which are hard-wired into a baby's brain. One might say that primitive reflexes are the most physical things there are – within the wider truth of psycho-physical unity.

I came to Alexander work, ironically, out of interest in what I conceived to be the most physical thing there was -- namely, correct sitting posture. 

Having thus arrived where I am after many  years of pushing in the wrong direction, I see things now as I see them now. I hope I am more alive than I would have been 25 years ago to the irony in a verse like today's verse. Maybe I am deluding myself out of vanity, but I think that if my efforts ever do come to be appreciated, my efforts might be appreciated in the context of an understanding of pratītya-samutpāda which is different from the one now generally held in Buddhist circles.

Before I came to Alexander work, my understanding of the meaning of the Buddha's enlightenment was – within the wider truth of psycho-physical unity – extremely physical. This was largely because of the emphasis that my Zen teacher placed upon the autonomic nervous system and the central importance of correct sitting posture, as opposed to intellectual knowledge. (This was somewhat ironic since intellectual knowledge was one of my teacher's strongest suits.) Thus, in the edition of our Shobogenzo translation published in 1994, the Sanskrit glossary under anuttara-samyak-saṁbodhi quotes the MW dictionary definition of bodhi as “perfect knowledge or wisdom (by which a man becomes a buddha), the illuminated or enlightened intellect.” But to that I felt compelled to add, Note: In Shobogenzo, bodhi is not intellectual knowledge but a state of body and mind.

I wrote the note as if I knew what I was talking about. But in truth I was only parrotting what I had heard. Far from having obtained the result that is realized by mental means, my sitting was almost totally -- in the high nineties percentage-wise --  unconscious. 

In BC Canto 14 as reconstructed by EHJ from the Tibetan (see bottom of this page),
Aśvaghoṣa gives his own account of how the Buddha, in contrast, really did realize the supreme integral awakening rightly called anuttara-samyak-saṁbodhi. And that account in BC Canto 14 is very much bound up with the teaching of pratītya-samutpāda.

Pratītya-samutpāda is generally translated along the lines of “dependent origination,” in which case samutpāda means origination and pratītya describes the origination as dependent or conditional. MW defines pratītya-samutpāda as “the chain of causation.” So in this understanding pratītya (lit. “having gone back to”) seems to describe each causal link in the chain as going back to, or being dependent on, the previous causal link.

Understood like this pratītya-samutpāda is a teaching that belongs to the 2nd of the four phases in the four-phased philosophical system which my Zen teacher taught. Understood like this pratītya-samutpāda has to do with the rule of cause and effect.

Hence, twenty years ago, the way I would have understood this teaching of pratītya-samutpāda was something like this: pratītya-samutpāda is an expression of the real, causal (i.e. dependently-originated) Universe that the Buddha realized, primarily by the physical means of eating healthy food, and sitting in the correct posture, in natural surroundings, without any egoistic agenda.

But this understanding, as I see it now, is not quite true. It fails to take full account of what Alexander called “the most mental thing there is,” and equally fails to take account of what the bodhisattva means in today's verse by manasāvāpyaṁ phalaṁ, “the fruit which is for the mind to reap” or "the result to be realized by mental means"  (EBC: “the end which is to be attained by his mind”; EHJ: “the result to be attained by the mind”; PO: “the fruit that the mind alone can attain”).

In the compound pratītya-samutpāda, samutpāda means arising, origination, production. At the same time the prefix sam- means complete or integral, the prefix ut- means up or upward, and pāda is from the root √pad, which means to stand, to fall, or to go. ut-√ pad means to rise or to originate. But the dictionary gives sam-ut-√pad as to spring up together, be brought forth, to arise, to happen.

So in the reading of pratītya-samutpāda that I am putting forward, what arises or comes forth or springs up together is primarily this instrument of practice itself, the most physical thing there is, this whole human body-mind. In that case, within the four phases, the teaching of  pratītya-samutpāda  belongs not only to the 2nd phase, but rather to the 4th phase -- as an expression of the Buddha's sitting itself. 

And so I read  pratītya, as the absolutive form of prati-√i, to come back, as expressing what Alexander called “the most mental thing there is,” which is coming back to the original cause on which the whole edifice of suffering is built, and solving the problem at source.

This coming back cannot be understood as primarily a physical process. The doings which are the root of saṁsāra cannot be stopped by doing something.

For the record, when I translated this verse in 2008, I didn't understand the grammar and so wrongly took mānasaḥ to be the subject, hence:

"Clapped-out by hunger, thirst, and fatigue,
A mind that, through fatigue, is not itself,
Is reaching for the fruit that is for a mind to enjoy:
But how, if the mind is uneasy, can it enjoy that fruit?

I was a work in progress then, and I am a work in progress now. My vestibular system is as dodgy as it ever was. I have not been through my life a shining beacon of high morals, iron discipline and compassion. At the same time, my Zen teacher did tell me thirty years ago that I had a good mind for solving philosophical problems, and so here I have applied my mind to the problem of what the Buddha, what Aśvaghoṣa, and what Nāgāruna, really meant by pratītya-samutpāda.

I think the intention of those three great teachers was not only to describe the real Universe as dependently originated, but was rather to express the supreme integral Awakening of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi itself, as a complete springing up of the whole body-mind, as the result of a mental process of coming back.

kṣut-pipāsā-śrama-klāntaḥ (nom. sg. m.): fatigued by hunger, thirst, and exertion
kṣudh: f. hunger
pipāsā: f. thirst
śrama: m. fatigue , weariness , exhaustion ; exertion , labour , toil , exercise , effort either bodily or mental , hard work of any kind
klānta: mfn. tired , fatigued , exhausted , languishing , wearied
klam: to be or become fatigued , be weary or exhausted
śramāt (abl. sg.): fatigue, exhaustion
asvastha-mānasaḥ (nom. sg. m.): with mind not being firm in itself
asvastha: mfn. not in good health , sick , feeling uneasy; not being firm in itself
mānasa: n. the mental powers , mind , spirit , heart , soul 

prāpnuyāt = 3rd pers. sg. optative pra- √āp: to attain to ; reach , arrive at , meet with , find ; to obtain
manasā (inst. sg.): n. by the mind ;  ind. in the mind ; in thought or imagination ; with all the heart , willingly
avāpyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. to be obtained

phalam (acc. sg.): n. fruit, result
katham: ind. how?
anirvṛtaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. discontented ; unhappy
nirvṛta: mfn. satisfied , happy , tranquil , at ease , at rest ; extinguished , terminated , ceased

心安順寂靜 靜爲禪定筌

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