Wednesday, November 19, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.107: Food the Foundation, of a Means to an End

tasmād āhāra-mūlo 'yam upāya iti niścayaḥ |
āhāra-karaṇe dhīraḥ ktvāmita-matir matim || 12.107 

Having therefore decided
that eating food is the foundation

Of this means to an end,

He, the firm and constant one,
whose resolve was beyond measure,

Resolving to take food...

The main verb of today's verse (kṛtvā in the 4th pāda being absolutive) does not appear until tomorrow's verse, in which uttatāra means “he came out of [the water].”

Aśvaghoṣa may have intended to convey an impression – enhanced by the euphonic play on amita and mati – of latitude, i.e. of not being in a desperate hurry to get to the end, not even of a sentence.

The bodhisattva, wasted away though he was almost to the point of starvation, was not in any kind of a hurry to stuff his face with food, as a means of realizing the ultimate step.

In a sense, having understood what he had understood, even in his emaciated state, the bodhisattva was already out of the water. He had arrived at a means to his ultimate end. And he was going to put that means into action step by step, gradually and methodically.

This is in accordance with what years later, as the enlightened Buddha, he will teach his brother Nanda:
Just as gold, washed with water, is separated from dirt in this world, methodically, and just as the smith heats the gold in the fire and repeatedly turns it over, / Just so is the practitioner's mind, with delicacy and accuracy, separated from faults in this world, and just so, after cleansing it from afflictions, does the practitioner temper the mind and collect it. // SN15.68 //Again, just as the smith brings gold to a state where he can work it easily in as many ways as he likes into all kinds of ornaments, / So too a beggar of cleansed mind tempers his mind, and directs his yielding mind among the powers of knowing, as he wishes and wherever he wishes. // 15.69 // Thus, by methodically taking possession of the mind, getting rid of something and gathering something together, / The practitioner makes the four dhyānas his own, and duly acquires the five powers of knowing: // 16.1 //The principal transcendent power, taking many forms; then being awake to what others are thinking; / And remembering past lives from long ago; and divine lucidity of ear; and of eye. // 16.2 // From then on, through investigation of what is, he applies his mind to eradicating the polluting influences, / For on this basis he fully understands suffering and the rest, the four true standpoints: // 16.3 // This is suffering, which is constant and akin to trouble; this is the cause of suffering, akin to starting it; / This is cessation of suffering, akin to walking away. And this, akin to a refuge, is a peaceable path. // SN16.4 //

Thus the bodhisattva speaks in today's verse of a means. He uses the words ayam upāyaḥ, this is a means. 

ayam upāyaḥ 
This is a means. 
Here is a means.

Here is a means to the ultimate end described in yesterday's verse.

This ayam upāyaḥ presages the Buddha's teaching as recorded in SN3.12:
"This is suffering; this is the tangled mass of causes producing it; this is cessation; and here is a means (ayam upāyaḥ)."

At the same time, this ayam upāyaḥ echoes the bodhisattva's words as recorded in BC12.94:
mṛtyu-janmānta-karaṇe syād upāyo 'yam
“Here might be a means to end death and birth.”

In whatever context it appears ayam upāyaḥ strikes me as being just about the most powerful two-word combination in all of Aśvaghoṣa's writing.

ayam upāyaḥ
Here is a means.
This is a means-wherby.
This is a means to an end.
Here is a means by which to gain the end.

With this in mind, it might be worth reflecting on exactly what the bodhisattva has just intuited to be the means whereby he is going to gain his end:
"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? //12.103// Contentment is properly obtained from constant appeasement of the senses; / By keeping the senses fully appeased, wellness of the mind is realized. //12.104// In one whose mind is well and tranquil, samādhi, balanced stillness, sets in. / In one whose mind is possessed of samādhi, dhyāna, meditative practice, progresses.//12.105// Through meditation's progress are obtained dharmas, timeless teachings, by which is realized the deathless – / That hard-won, quieted, unaging, ultimate immortal step.” //12.106//

As I noted in my comment to BC12.94, the means the bodhisattva was referring to then was ostensibly ascetic practice. But below the surface, I supposed, the bodhisattva might have been describing, as a means, a proper relationship between the bodhi-mind and the five senses. And so that supposition tends to be confirmed by BC12.103-106, which again discusses the proper relationship between a bodhisattva's mind and the senses.

An ascetic has one view of that relationship. At the other extreme is the viewpoint of the gross sensualist. The ascetic tries, in vain, to assert mind over matter. The sensualist leaves himself defenceless and is beleaguered by the senses.
saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the dopey do.

In the middle way between those two extreme views, ayam upāyaḥ, here is a means, this is a means to an end.

Zen is the means, and the means is Zen, whose foundation is eating food. At the same time, the means is sitting. The means is sitting-Zen.

People think and say that Zen flowered in China after Bodhidharma went there. But long before Bodhidharma told Emperor Wu that he didn't know who he was, long before Bodhidharma sat facing the wall at the Shaolin temple, Aśvaghoṣa, it gradually turns out – as verse by verse we get to know him – was as Zen as anything.

Having written this long comment yesterday, and then slept on it, I asked myself this morning when I sat what the hell I mean in today's verse by translating upāyaḥ "a means to an end."

At a superificial level, rather pathetically, I answer my own question by resorting to the dictionary: the MW dictionary says that upāya means that by which one reaches one's aim.”

And has not the bodhisattva just identified the deathless (amṛtam) as the end he has in view?

Well, yes, sort of. But more accurately he has spoken of the ultimate immortal step. And padam in Sanskrit can mean a station, standpoint, or a state. But a step can also be something less stationary than a station, less fixed than a standpoint, and less static than a state. A step can be a movement in a certain direction – generally forward, but sometimes backward.

So I have translated upāyaḥ in today's verse as “a means to an end” advisedly – even if the consideration involved was mainly unconscious. At least it was unconscious till I made it conscious just now.

My conclusion this morning, then, with regard to a means to an end, or with regard to a means to a step, is this: 

There might not be any such step as an ultimate standpoint, but there might be such an ultimate step as movement in the right direction.

And in the background to this conclusion is investigation of three truths, as expressed by Gautama Buddha, Zen Master Dogen, and FM Alexander.
  • The Buddha taught a teaching that is preserved in Sanskrit as pratītya-samutpāda, which I translate as “springing up, by going back.”
  • Zen Master Dogen wrote of EKO-HENSHO no TAIHO, “the backward step of turning light and letting it shine.”
  • And FM Alexander emphasized that “There is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a thing as a right direction.”

The right direction, I submit, for those of us whose main business is the cessation of suffering, is primarily backward. Backward means in the direction of the real root of the problem. But less this all becomes too abstract and the danger arises of disappearing into contemplation of our own navel, the ultimate criterion might be, with the whole self, to spring up.

So I think that what it all comes down to, in the end, is the Buddha's most excellent teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, “springing up, by going back.”

Not for nothing did the Buddha say that to realize this teaching is to realize the Buddha-dharma.

tasmād: ind. therefore, on those grounds
āhāra-mūlaḥ (nom. sg. m.): rooted in food
āhāra: m. taking food, food
mūla: ifc. = rooted in , based upon , derived from
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this

upāyaḥ (nom. sg.): m. coming near , approach , arrival ; that by which one reaches one's aim , a means or expedient (of any kind) , way , stratagem , craft , artifice ; (esp.) a means of success against an enemy
iti: “...” thus
niścayaḥ (nom. sg.): m. inquiry , ascertainment , fixed opinion , conviction , certainty , positiveness (iti niścayaḥ , " this is a fixed opinion ")

āhāra-karaṇe (loc. sg.): the taking of food
karaṇa: mfn. doing , making , effecting , causing
dhīraḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave

kṛtvā = abs. kṛ: to do, make
amita-matiḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. of unbounded wisdom, Bcar.
a-mita: mfn. ( √3 mā) , unmeasured , boundless , infinite
mati: f. thought , design , intention , resolution , determination , inclination , wish , desire; the mind , perception , understanding , intelligence , sense , judgement
matim (acc. sg.): f. the mind (matiṁ kṛ: to set the heart on , make up one's mind , resolve , determine)


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