Monday, November 24, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.112: The Middle Way as Means-Whereby

ktvā tad-upabhogena prāpta-janma-phalāṁ sa tām |
bodhi-prāptau samartho 'bhūt saṁtarpita-ṣaḍ-indriyaḥ || 12.112 

He caused her, by eating that food,

To attain the fruit of her birth,

And he became capable of attainment of awakening,

His six senses now being fully appeased.

In today's verse saṁtarpita-ṣaḍ-indriyaḥ (“his six senses being fully appeased”) harks back to the saṁtarpitendriyatayā of BC12.104:
"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 keeping the senses constantly appeased; / By full appeasement of the senses, 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//

These four verses linger in the mind as a concise summary, in the words of the bodhisattva, of what the Buddha's teaching is all about.

They remind us that wellness of the mind is not our ultimate end. Wellness of the mind is rather part of the means-whereby, a step in the middle way leading in the direction of the ultimate step. And a step in the direction of wellness of the mind is full appeasement of the senses.

So ascetic endeavor to negate the senses is no kind of M.W. and being in thrall to the senses is no kind of M.W. either. Those two approaches are not part of the means-whereby and are nowhere on the middle way.

Rather, appeasement of the senses is a middle path between those two extremes, leading to that wellness of the mind which is conducive to enjoyment of samādhi, which leads to progress in Zen practice, by which means are attained dharmas on the side of awakening.

In today's verse EBC translated the 4th pāda “all his six senses being now satisfied,” and EHJ as “through the satisfaction of the six sense faculties.” 

But as a translation of saṁtarpita in BC12.104, EHJ favoured the word “appeasement” (“from the full appeasement of the senses the mind becomes well-balanced”).

Origin of APPEASE

Middle English appesen, from Anglo-French apeser, apaiser, from a- (from Latin ad-) + pais peace 

EHJ's translation was first published in 1936, just before the word “appeasement” started to acquire some seriously negative barnacles.  In 1938 Neville Chamberlain famously claimed to have secured peace for our time, but history typically took an ironic turn and appeasement has been regarded since as a misguided policy. 

I am finding the history of the 20th century seriously interesting at the moment. Yesterday I finished reading a book titled Lords of Finance. It is the one book that the recently retired head of the US Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, recommended to anybody who wanted to understand the financial crisis that surfaced with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. 

The Lords of Finance of the title were the central bankers of the UK (Montagu Norman), US (Benjamin Strong / George Harrison), France, and Germany. The narrative of their efforts is not a bad way of understanding the broad sweep of 20th century history --  from the Pax Britannica founded on the gold standard, through the First World War, the US stock market bubble, and crash of 1929, the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the ensuing period of post-war prosperity during the Pax Americana. 

The monetary authorities in the United States have evidently been at pains NOT to repeat the mistakes of the Lords of Finance that led to the Great Depression of the 1930s. In so endeavoring, many modern-day goldbugs believe, the monetary authorities have gone too far and caused to inflate a money bubble which could burst at any time. To mix metaphors, the money bubble, because of the exponential growth of financial derivatives (e.g. oil futures contracts, or “paper oil,” as opposed to oil itself), is now like an avalanche waiting to happen, when the final snowflake falls.

These reflections bring me back to something F.M. Alexander wrote very presciently, back in 1923, in his book Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual: 
"It is owing to this habit of rushing from one extreme to another -- a habit which, as I have pointed out, seems to go hand in hand with subconscious guidance and direction -- to this tendency, that is, to take the narrow and treacherous sidetracks instead of the great, broad, midway path, that our plan of civilization has proved a comparative failure."

The ultimate arbiter of the great, broad, midway path, as I see it, is the human sense of balance. Insofar as the sense organs responsible for balance are located in the inner ear, the sense of balance corresponds to the second of the five sense organs traditionally enumerated as GEN-NI-BI-ZETSU-SHIN, eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body. But in today's verse Aśvaghoṣa refers not as before to the five sense organs but to the six senses, i.e. GEN-NI-BI-ZETSU-SHIN-I, eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind.

The sixth of these six senses, in my understanding, is the compound sense of proprioception, or the overall sense of oneself in space. And this sense is very much centred on the vestibular system. In this context “the vestibular system” means not only the balance organs of the inner ear but also vestibular nuclei in the brainstem, plus the cranial nerve that joins the ear and the brainstem, plus also the cerebellum which forms another vital part of the inner-ear system.

I may seem to have digressed but the point might be that in this complex system in which we are living, everything is connected with everything else -- for better or for worse. 

Some say that to become enlightened is to see this interdependent connectedness (pratītya-samutpāda), in which case all the barriers of ego come tumbling down. 

For me the Buddha's teaching of pratītya-samutpāda was not originally the expression of such an enlightened view. It was rather, originally, an expression of the physical springing up in sitting-meditation which the Buddha realized by going back to the original root of deluded suffering. 

So I think the ut- in samutpāda  is vital. The  ut-  is up. And the ultimate arbiter of up, for a human being, is the vestibular system. 

My own Zen teacher, Gudo Nishijima, was an ineffably ignorant man who preached the virtues of upright sitting posture, but ultimately did not know the difference between up and down. 

Worse, my teacher did not know that he did not know. 

"World history," he observed, "is a kind of twirling flower."  

Or, thanks to leaders like him, a kind of slaughter-bench. 

kṛtvā = abs. kṛ: to make, cause, effect
tad-upabhogena (inst. sg.): by eating that
upabhoga: m. enjoyment , eating , consuming

prāpta-janma-phalām (acc. sg. f.): obtainment of the fruit of her birth
prāpta: gained ; accomplished , complete , mature , full-grown
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
tām (acc. sg. f.): her

bodhi-prāptau (loc. sg.): realization of awakening
samarthaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. very strong or powerful , competent , capable of , able to , a match for (gen. dat. loc. inf. , or comp.)
abhūt = 3rd pers. sg. aorist bhū: to be, become

saṁtarpita-ṣaḍ-indriyaḥ (nom. sg. m.): his six senses being fully appeased
saṁtarpita: mfn. (fr. Caus. saṁ- √ tṛp) satiated , satisfied
saṁ- √ tṛp: to satiate or refresh one's self with (gen.) : Caus. -tarpayati , to satiate , refresh , invigorate , gladden , delight

菩薩受而食 彼得現法果
食已諸根悦 堪受於菩提 

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