Thursday, November 6, 2014

BUDDHACARITA 12.94: The Grounds of the Bodhisattva's Ascetic Practice

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mtyu-janmānta-karaṇe syād upāyo 'yam ity atha |
duṣkarāṇi samārebhe tapāṁsy anaśanena saḥ || 12.94 

He intuited that here might be a means to end death and birth –

On which grounds, then,

He undertook harsh austerities,

Going without food.

The ayam (this, this here) of the 2nd pāda of today's verse ostensibly refers forward to ascetic practices centred on fasting.

So mṛtyu-janmānta-karaṇe syād upāyo 'yam ostensibly expresses a wrong thought in the bodhisattva's mind that led him to practise fasting --  “This [fasting] might be the means for ending death and birth." 

But the strong phrase syād upāyo 'yam, “This might be the means” or “Here may be a means” brings to mind the Buddha's ayam upāyaḥ of SN3.12:
"This is suffering; this is the tangled mass of causes producing it; this is cessation; and here is a means."

In this light, I would like to read ayam in today's verse, below the surface, as referring back to what is expressed in yesterday's verse about the mind leading and the senses following. Here might be the means for ending death and birth. 

The MW dictionary explains that ayam often refers to something immediately following, whereas etad points to what precedes. So the ostensible meaning of upāyo' yam is fasting as a means and the ostensible meaning of iti is to express what the bodhisattva thought about fasting as a means.

Hence, using indirect speech EHJ translated today's verse:
While he undertook extraordinary austerities by starvation thinking that that might be the method for ending death and birth.

EBC's translation, using direct speech, and keeping the direct speech closer to the end of yesterday's verse, allows the hidden meaning to come through (whether EBC noticed the hidden meaning or not):
And thinking, “this may be the means of abolishing birth and death,” he at once commenced a series of difficult austerities by fasting.

But another way of reading iti is not only as expressing a thought – whether false or true – but as expressing the grounds – the true grounds – upon which the bodhisattva made his mistake. Those grounds, I think, reading between the lines, are the bodhisattva's intuition or, in other words, the bodhisattva's bodhi-mind.

In Teach Yourself Sanskrit, Coulson explains:
Just as iti can be used without a verb of saying actually expressed to mean 'with these words', so it can be used without a verb of thinking actually expressed to mean 'with these thoughts, with this in mind'. iti thus becomes the equivalent of iti matvā, and represents English 'because' or 'since' where these have the sense of 'on the grounds that.'

The hidden meaning of today's verse, then, as I read it, is that the bodhisattva's intuition never let him down. The gist of his understanding about the means of ending death and birth was true. 

The means, the bodhisattva understood, must involve conscious use of the supreme inheritance of a thinking human mind, as opposed to instinctive, unconscious reliance on the senses.

On these true grounds the bodhisattva practised ascetic practises and deprived himself of food, until such time as he realized that this approach must be mistaken, since it wasn't working.

That ayam often refers to what follows rather than what proceeds weakens the case for this hidden reading. Conversely, the case is strengthened by the fact that yesterday's verse begins with the verb saṁpūjyamānaḥ (“was being greatly honoured” or “was being deferred to”) and the subject saḥ (“he”) is not supplied until the end of today's verse. The effect is to tie the two verses together, and therefore to permit a certain ambiguity about the means to which upāyo 'yam refers.

The ambiguity comes through better in EBC's translation of the two verses:
Being honoured by these disciples who were dwelling in that family, as they bowed reverently with their bodies bent low in humility, as the mind is honoured by the restless senses, //And thinking, ‘this may be the means of abolishing birth and death,’ he at once commenced a series of difficult austerities by fasting.//

EHJ's translation is less accommodating of the hidden meaning:
Thereon they served him reverently, abiding as pupils under his orders, and were humble and compliant because of their good training, just as the restless senses serve the mind; // While he undertook extraordinary austerities by starvation thinking that that might be the method for ending death and birth.//

PO's translation has the merit of being readable, but it too fails to accommodate the hidden meaning:
As they waited upon him with reverence, living as pupils under his control and obedient because of their training, like fickle senses waiting on the mind // – he then undertook fierce austerities by fasting, thinking that that was the means whereby death and birth are destroyed. //

I have tried to translate the two verses so as to allow the hidden meaning to come through:
He was greatly honoured by those five humble followers. While, being obedient, because of training, they deferred to him, abiding as disciples under his dominion, like the restless senses deferring to the mind, // he intuited that here might be a means to end death and birth – on which grounds, then, he undertook harsh austerities, going without food. //

The reason I labour the point is that we are living in a world where
(a) people think that Pilates and the FM Alexander Technique boil down to the same basic issue of core stability,
(b) people confuse Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction (as taught by psychologists who have no real practical grounding in the Buddha's teaching) with the Buddha's teaching, as transmitted in a one-to-one face-to-face transmission.

I labour the point, again, in view of
(a) Alexander's statement that this work is the most mental thing there is; and
(b) the Buddha's famous statement about the wheel following the foot of the ox that pulls the cart:

manopubbaṅgamā dhammā,
Things have the mind as their forerunner,
manoseṭṭhā manomayā,
Have the mind as their leader, have the mind as their substance.
manasā ce paduṭṭhena
If anybody, with a polluted mind,
bhāsati vā karoti vā,
says or does anything,
tato naṁ dukkham anveti
then suffering follows that person
cakkaṁ va vahato padaṁ.
Like a wheel follows the foot of the ox that pulls the cart.

manaḥpūrvaṅgamā dharmā
manaḥśreṣṭhā manojavāḥ |
manasā hi praduṣṭena
bhāṣate vā karoti vā |
tatas taṁ duḥkham anveti
cakraṁ vā vahataḥ padam ||

pūrva-gama: m. (ifc.) a predecessor
pūrva-ga: mfn. going before, preceding
śreṣṭha: most excellent , best , first , chief (n. " the best or chief thing ") , best of or among or in respect of or in (with gen. loc. , or comp.)
pra-√duṣ: to become worse , deteriorate ; to be defiled or polluted , fall (morally)
vā: as, like (=iva)

The statements of the Buddha and of FM Alexander, as I read them, are not philosophical propositions about mind. Rather, they are the records of the words of practical men who had worked out a means to get to the bottom of the suffering whose original root is greed, hatred and other pollutants of the mind. These pollutants may be taken as synonymous with avidyā, ignorance, in the words of Nāgārjuna which recently I like to come back to at every opportunity:
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 reality making itself known. //MMK26.10// In the destruction of ignorance, there is the non-coming-into-being of doings./ The destruction of ignorance, however, is because of the allowing-into-being of just this act of knowing.//MMK26.11// By the destruction of this one and that one, this one and that one are discontinued. / This whole edifice of suffering is thus well and truly demolished.//MMK26.12//

mṛtyu-janmānta-karaṇe (loc. sg. n.): putting an end to dying and being born
anta-karaṇa: n. causing an end of, abolishing (comp.), Bcar.

syāt = 3rd pers. sg. opt. as: to be
upāyaḥ (nom. sg.): m. coming near , approach , arrival ; a means
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this (often refers to something immediately following , whereas etad points to what precedes)
iti: thus
atha: and, then, now

duṣkarāṇi (acc. pl. n.): hard to do, arduous ; rare , extraordinary ; wicked, bad ; n. difficult act ; austerity
samārebhe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. sam-ā- √ rabh: to take in hand , undertake , begin , commence (with acc. or inf.

tapāṁsi (acc. pl. n.): ascetic practices, austerities
anaśanena (inst. sg.): n. abstinence from food , fasting (especially as a form of suicide adopted from vindictive motives)
saḥ (nom. sg. m.): he

菩薩勤方便 當度老病死
專心修苦行 節身而忘餐

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