Sunday, November 30, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.118: The Certainty of Buddhahood – Reptilian Wisdom, Ctd.

⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−⏑−   Vaṁśastha
yathā bhramantyo divi cāṣa-paṅktayaḥ pradakṣiṇaṁ tvāṁ kamalākṣa kurvate |
yathā ca saumyā divi vānti vāyavas tvam adya buddho niyataṁ bhaviṣyasi || 12.118 

As surely as flocks of blue jays wheeling through the sky

Keep you, O lotus-eyed one!, on their right wing,

And as surely as in the sky gentle breezes blow,

You today will be an awakened one, a buddha.”


The Sanskrit word for omen is śakuna: n. any auspicious object or lucky omen; and as a masculine noun the same word is used to mean a bird – śakuna: m. (said to be fr. √ śak) a bird (esp. a large bird or one of good or bad omen). The vṛddhi form śākuna means derived from or relating to birds or omens.

In Roman times, similarly, augury was practised primarily with reference to birds and to the sky – as explained in this Wiki entry. Apparently the powers that be in Rome were not above fabricating omens out of political convenience, much as the authorities in various countries today tinker with the inflation and unemployment numbers. 

On the face of it, then, Kāla the cobra is making a prediction about the future, based on reading certain signs. This is as per my comment of yesterday, in which I suggested that this particular snake was capable of weighing up probabilities.

But on further reflection, I decided to change the translation of yathā in yesterday's verse and today's verse from “since” to “as [surely] as.” So yesterday's verse becomes:
“As surely as the earth, O sage!, pressed down under your footsteps, rolls like thunder, / And as surely as the light of you shines forth like the sun, you today will enjoy the longed-for fruit.”

In that way, I think the snake is conveying not so much a supposition about what he thinks will happen in future (e.g. that black cloud will rain on me, with a probability close to 100%) and more a statement of what is imminent and beyond doubt (e.g. that raindrop, for certain, will continue running down the window pane;  that rat, for sure, will be my lunch).

In that case yathā... dhruvam in yesterday's verse and yathā... niyatam in today's verse, both mean, in other words, “as sure as night follows day" -- as in the quote from Hamlet...

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Maybe in the background to today's verse was a pre-Darwinian intuition about the direction of evolution, that direction being bodhāya, away from unconsciousness and ignorance and towards the supreme integral truth of bodhi, conscious awakening – as realized by only a buddha, an awakened one, together with a buddha.

That direction might be, in one word, up.

In my teacher's teaching the ultimate deathless step was a state. Primarily it was a state of balance of the autonomic nervous system. The aim of just sitting was to come back to this state. KAI-IN-ZANMAI was this state, the state like the sea. And BUTSU-KOJO-JI was this state, the ascendant state of buddha. Everything in the Buddha's teaching came back in the end to the balanced state of the autonomic nervous system. The ultimate deathless step was thus taught as something very static.

Alexander work, even when it involves just sitting still, or just lying still, struck me when I met it as much less static. 

Before receiving Alexander's teaching I was always in my sitting following my feeling of what felt right. My sitting was based on a wrong conception of right posture, and that bit of ignorance (avidyā) was the source of all kinds of doings (saṁskārāḥ) -- pull in here, push out there, make this and that symmetrical, etc. etc. But the antidote to building an edifice of suffering on the base of such foolishness is contained in Alexander's famous aphorism, “There is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a thing as a right direction.”

The truth of my teacher's teaching was always there, in the emphasis on coming back – the pratītya of pratītya-samutpāda may be understood as the absolutive of prati-√i, which means to come back. In the compound pratītya-samutpāda,  pratītya acts like an adjective modifying samutpāda. So springing up  (samutpādais akin to a main verb which is modified by an auxiliary verb, the absolutive coming back (pratītya). By just sitting we come back, and by having come back [auxiliary verb] there is the total springing up [main verb].

When today's verse is read in this light, a snake, even with its reptilian brain, even from its lower step on the evolutionary escalator, because it is on the escalator, is able to express with certainty what direction the bodhisattva is going in.

The bodhisattva is going up, in the direction of buddhahood.

In my teacher's teaching the original mind that we come back to is static; it is a state of the autonomic nervous system. But the deeper truth might be that the original mind is not always static. The truth might be that the original mind is on a kind of escalator of swimming, crawling, slithering, flying, swinging through trees, sitting still as a conscious act of non-doing, and so on and so forth, onward and upward.

Did FM Alexander himself realize what the bodhisattva called the ultimate deathless step (param amṛtam padam)?

As far as I know, Alexander himself did not make that claim. He did talk of “coming to quiet,” which brings to mind the metaphor of a lamp that went out when all its fuel had been used up.

And the metaphor of a flame or a fire that has gone out does, I have to admit, suggest a certain state of finality. But there again, Alexander also said that “We have barely scratched the surface of the egg.”

All I know for sure is that the direction my teacher thought was up, ironically, was down. Seeing that irony is the basis for a lot of my effort. Just like in translating Shobogenzo thirty years ago, seeing where my teacher went wrong shows me where there is work for me to do.

So now I am endeavoring to clarify the connection between the Buddha's core teaching of pratītya-samutpāda, and Alexander's realization of the truth that There is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a thing as a right direction.”

The part of BC Canto 14 in which the Buddha realizes pratītya-samutpāda is lost to us in Aśvaghoṣa's original Sanskrit, but retained in the Tibetan translation, which EHJ rendered into English.

Judging from EHJ's translation, Aśvaghoṣa himself does not appear to use the term pratītya-samutpāda in BC Canto 14 -- just as he omits to use the term in Saundarananda. A phrase that Aśvaghoṣa does use in SN Canto 3, in describing the Buddha's teaching of four noble truths, is dvādaśa-niyata-vikalpam “with its statement of twelvefold linkage.”

In a footnote to BC14.52 EHJ refers to this twelvefold chain of causal connections as “the pratītya-samutpāda.” EHJ's note reads: 
“The following description of the pratītya-samutpāda is on perfectly orthodox lines.”

In his summary of EHJ's English translation, PO writes: 
During the third watch, he [Siddhārtha] meditates on the true nature of the world. This leads gradually to the discovery of the causal chain known as Dependent Origination (pratītya-samutpāda) that leads to old age, sickness, and death.

This is in line with the conventional wisdom. Understood like this, pratītya-samutpāda is the causal chain; it is one of those dharmas, or timeless teachings, discussed in BC12.106:
Through meditation's progress are obtained dharmas, timeless teachings, by which is realized the deathless – / That hard-won, quieted, unaging, ultimate immortal step. //

What I am suggesting is that  pratītya-samutpāda is not the causal chain but is practice itself.  Total springing up (by going back), in other words, is not a dharma obtained through a buddha's sitting-meditation; it is sitting-meditation itself.

I am suggesting that when sitting Buddha was sitting Buddha, everything sprang up together (by a process of having gone back, to the root of suffering).

If it were otherwise, how could a snake spring up and predict it?

EHJ translates BC14.83 (from the Tibetan) like this:
Similarly the great seer understood that the factors [saṁskārāḥ; doings] are suppressed by the complete absence of ignorance [avidyā]. Therefore he knew properly what was to be known and stood out before the world as the Buddha.

So for EHJ 'the pratītya-samutpāda' is the twelve links beginning with avidyā and saṁskārāh, and the twelve links are the pratītya-samutpāda.

But another way of understanding it is that the pratītya expresses the going back to ignorance as the cause of doings and the root of suffering, and the samutpāda expresses Buddha springing up as Buddha, and thus standing out before the world as the Buddha.

This imminent springing up, I suppose, is what Kāla, using his reptilian brain, was able to intuit and foresee.

Non-Doctrinal Samutpāda

yathā: ind. as
bhramantyaḥ = nom. pl. f. pres. part. bhram: to wander or roam about , rove , ramble ; to move to and fro or unsteadily , flicker , flutter , reel , totter
divi (loc. sg.): heaven, the sky
cāṣa-paṅktayaḥ (nom. pl.): f. flocks of blue jays
cāṣa: m. the blue jay
paṅkti: f. a row or set or collection of five , the number 5 ; any row or set or series or number , a group , collection , flock , troop , assembly , company

pradakṣiṇam: ind. from left to right , so that the reverential side is turned towards a person or object (also ibc. ; cf. comp. below ; with √ kṛ and pra- √kṛ as above )
pradakṣiṇa: mfn. turning the right side towards , circumambulation from left to right of a person or object (gen. or comp. ; with √ kṛ or √1. dā dat. gen. or loc.) as a kind of worship
tvām (acc. sg.): you
kamalākṣa (voc. sg.): O lotus-eyed one!
kamala: n. a lotus
kurvate = 3rd pers. pl. kṛ: to do, make

yathā: ind. as
ca: and
saumyāḥ (nom. pl. m.): gentle, moony
divi (loc. sg.): the sky
vānti = 3rd pers. pl. vā: to blow (as the wind)
vāyavaḥ = nom. pl. vāyu: m. wind

tvam (nom. sg.): you
adya: ind. today
buddhaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. awakened , awake ; expanded, blown ; conscious , intelligent , clever , wise (opp. to mūḍha) ; m. m. a wise or learned man , sage ; m. (with Buddhists) a fully enlightened man who has achieved perfect knowledge of the truth and thereby is liberated from all existence and before his own attainment of nirvāṇa reveals the method of obtaining it , (esp.) the principal buddha of the present age (born at kapila-vastu about the year 500 B.C. his father , śuddhodana , of the śākya tribe or family , being the rāja of that district , and his mother , māyā-devī , being the daughter of rāja su-prabuddha MWB. 19 &c ; hence he belonged to the kṣatriya caste and his original name śākya-muni or śākya-siṁha was really his family name , while that of gautama was taken from the race to which his family belonged ; for his other names » ib. 23 ; he is said to have died when he was 80 years of age , prob. about 420 B.C. ib. 49 n. 1 ; he was preceded by 3 mythical buddhas of the present kalpa , or by 24 , reckoning previous kalpa , or according to others by 6 principal buddhas ib. 136)
niyatam: ind. certainly, without doubt
bhaviṣyasi = 2nd pers. sg. future bhū: to become, be

五百群青雀 右遶空中旋
柔軟清涼風 隨順而迴轉 
如斯諸瑞相 悉同過去佛


Rich said...

Enjoyed the pics. When I used the balanced state it was more of a tool to wake up from the dreams. Agree with no state only right direction.

Mike Cross said...

Except that the metaphor of the lamp going out does seem to suggest a final state...

A lamp that has gone out reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky,/
Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point: Because its oil is spent it reaches nothing but extinction. // SN16.28 //

In the same way, a man of action who has come to quiet reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky, /
Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point: From the ending of his afflictions he attains nothing but extinction. // SN16.29 //

So even if you agree with me, I don't necessarily agree with myself!

Rich said...

Just moving towards extinction has brought me some peace and joy so my understanding or lack thereof doesn't bother me. Trial and error has helped with the right direction of resolving some of the disagreements with myself.

Mike Cross said...

I salute your detachment and robust integrity, Rich. Unless you are deluding yourself, in which case I wish you a soft landing.

Rich said...

Thanks Mike. Delusions are endless so more sitting is necessary.

George O'Donoghue said...

Some thoughts on extinction by Thanisssaro Bhikkhu which you may find interesting.

Mike Cross said...

Hi George,

In the article Thanissaro Bhikkhu discusses a fire going out, whereas the metaphor that Aśvaghoṣa records in SN Canto 16 is of a lamp going out. So not quite the same thing – fire may go out here and flare up again there, but when an oil lamp runs out of oil, it is well and truly out.

Also I noticed in the article that TB gives the five “heaps” (khanda) as form, feeling, perception, thought processes, and consciousness. In this list “thought processes” translates what is rendered in Sanskrit as saṁskārāḥ (Pali: saṅkhārā).

But as you will know as a regular reader of these outpourings, recently I have become convinced that the best way of understanding the Sanskrit word saṁskārāh is as “doings.”

Hence, in Nāgārjuna's words:
saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do.

If we translate saṁskārān in this line as “thought processes” or (as per Ānandajoti Bhikkhu) “[volitional] processes,” the sense is not conveyed so well.

I challenge anybody to come up with a translation of saṁskārān in MMK26.10 that works better than “doings.”

saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ |
avidvān kārakas tasmān na vidvāṁs tattva-darśanāt ||MMK26.10

The doings which are the root of saṁsāra
Thus does the ignorant one do.
The ignorant one therefore is the doer;
The wise one is not, because of the act of reality making itself known.

avidyāyāṁ niruddhāyāṁ saṁskārāṇām asaṁbhavaḥ |
avidyāyā nirodhas tu jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt ||MMK26.11

In the ceasing of ignorance,
There is the non-coming-into-being of doings.
The cessation of ignorance, however,
Is because of the bringing-into-being of just this act of knowing.

tasya tasya nirodhena tat-tan nābhipravartate |
duḥkha-skandhaḥ kevalo 'yam evaṁ samyaṅ nirudhyate ||MMK26.12

By the destruction of each,
Each is discontinued.
This whole edifice of suffering
Is thus well and truly demolished.

I think Thanissaro Bhikkhu is a venerable bhikkhu with a brilliant mind. But my teacher, the Reverend Gudo Nishijima, was also a venerable person with a brilliant mind. When it came to the practical matter of non-doing, however, my teacher was not so enlightened. So in this matter of doings, at least, I think I might have something to teach Thanissaro Bhikkhu – not because my own teacher was so good, but on the contrary because my own teacher was so bad, stimulating me to get to the bottom of his, and therefore my own, ignorance.

George O'Donoghue said...

I took the flame analogy in a different way. Since Nibbana in Buddhism is usually linked to the image of a candle being blown out, I don't think the type of flame- lamp, candle, fire- nor type of fuel- wick, oil, wood- is at issue. It's the conception the Buddha's contemporaries would have had of any sort of flame- that when it's extinguished it doesn't cease to exist, but becomes part of an ineffable reality beyond our concepts of being/nonbeing.

Mike Cross said...

Aśvaghoṣa's analogy is of an oil lamp going out, when it's oil is used up.

This comment of yours, Dear George, might be a kind of oil. It sounds kind of clever, but really it is sheer dopiness.

This much I know: A wrong conception of "right posture" results in all kinds of doings.

saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the dopey do.

George O'Donoghue said...

I'm not talking about posture, or non-doing. I'm talking about an idea proposed by an expert on the Pali Canon that could shed light on a much misunderstood Buddhist concept. If there is anyone who is attached to their own rightness to the point of not even really paying attention to what the other is saying, it would be you, my capriciously perspicacious friend.

Mike Cross said...

Hi George,

It seems to me that the mirror principle is always operating in these internet exchanges between people who don't actually know each other in person. We use the other as a mirror to see and to criticize our own faults and mistakes.

That is one part of the dynamic, operating both ways. Another element, from my side, is that I have a tendency, as my wife sees it, to drive people away.

You say that you read Thanissaro Bhikkhu's teaching as "an idea proposed by an expert on the Pali Canon."

I say that I hold Thanissaro Bhikkhu's teaching in higher esteem than that.

You sound like a scholar in a Buddhist Studies department who would like to relegate the Buddha's teaching of nirvāṇa into a "Buddhist concept."

Thanissaro Bhikkhu does not seem to me to make that mistake. But you seem to make that mistake.

The mirror principle at work?